Tag Archives: Imaginative Play

Budkins Dolls and London Bus

With it being a very London-centric year, I thought a review of this gorgeous bus from Budkins might be apt. I bought the bus for DG’s Christmas present as she’s always loved playing with vehicles and is drawn to buses in particular. We’ve not got a traditional dolls’ house but we have a Sylvanian Families house and wooden farm set which more than replace any ‘need’ for one!

The Budkins dolls are just… gorgeous. Sized for most traditional wooden dolls’ houses, they also fit reasonably with Sylvanian Families (although are a bit larger) and the Plan Toys wooden farm sets (which also warrant their own review at some point), not to mention the over-size Kinderkram Noah’s Ark / Pirate Ship (another review?!) and probably much more. Besides which, they don’t need any special playsets, just a child’s imagination…

There are a huge variety of Budkins Dolls to choose from, to fit any child’s interests. From the traditional horror trio of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy (on my wish list); to historical figures; to pirates, knights, princesses and fairies; to almost everything in between. One negative I have is there is too much gender stereotyping in the roles for my liking (female cleaner, male mechanic, female nurse, male doctor etc) but as they’re sold individually (as well as in sets of three) that can be avoided as much as possible!

The London Bus is a wooden bus. It doesn’t make sounds, it doesn’t have an engine. What it is, is beautiful, and very big. The roof and top deck lift out so that you can put the passengers in the bus. Because the roof lifts off, you immediately have a tourist open-top bus as well as the traditional double decker. It seats up to 11 passengers – be they Budkins or, also in our case, Sylvanian Families animals. It may seat up to 11, but it’s amazing how many my children can fit in…

It comes with one figure, the bus driver / conductor, to start you off. The paint does wear off the corners with use, but I’ve yet to find a painted wooden toy that doesn’t (or at least one that can withstand the affections of my daughters!)

There is lots of play value in this bus, and it’s a beautiful object too. Learning-wise it covers a whole realm of areas from imaginative play, to talking about London or transport in general, to one-to-one correspondence (people to seats), to addition/subtraction (getting on/off bus), to… pretty much anything the children show an interest in inspired by their play.

Budkins dolls cost about £6 each or £15 for sets of three; the bus £45. The bus would be a lovely special present for a transport-mad child and Budkins characters are great to collect over time for all sorts of imaginative play.

Disclaimer: I was not sent any Budkins by PlayMerrily for review but I have had a discount account with PlayMerrily since August 2011 and therefore paid a reduced price for these products. All my reviews have been written because I loved the products and are for items I freely chose to buy for my daughters, unless otherwise stated. I choose to review for PlayMerrily because of their fantastic and friendly service.

BigJigs Pink Flower Kitchenware Set and Tin Tea Set

Merry from Patch of Puddles and PlayMerrily has a competition on at the moment to win a BigJigs picnic plus runners-up prizes for every 50 likes on the PlayMerrily Facebook page. The competition is open until midnight 30th April. MG and DG have far too much wooden play food so I’m not entering but what a fantastic competition!

I thought I’d take the opportunity to review some play kitchen accessories because MG and DG love playing tea parties and cooking games. Around MG’s first birthday a 2-weekly magazine with kitchenware and tea set accessories started to come out. I subscribed to it thinking that by the time it was finished (assuming it would be 18 months – 2 years) we’d have a lovely set for MG to play with. There were lots of great items, but the partwork didn’t seem to have any system to it and after a year it felt more like they were getting rid of unsold items rather than making a coherent set. I persevered then cancelled after two years with far too much stuff. Two years after cancelling I got even more fed up of the bits being spread everywhere all over the house so made a deal with the children – they would get new kitchenware and tea sets but in return we got rid of the Strawberry Shortcake things!

I was torn between the Pink Flower Kitchenware Set and the Stainless Steel Kitchenware Set but of course my girls chose the pink flowers! There really is more than enough here for play cooking – two pans with lids, a frying pan, a wok, baking pan, 2 wooden spoons, pan holder and mini tablecloth (which doubles perfectly as a picnic blanket). My initial thoughts were that everything was smaller than I imagined, but that’s because the original set we had was oversized for a kitchen set. MG and DG have no such preconceptions and think the whole set is great, making lots of different pretend meals for us all. MG and DG like to use beads as pretend cooking ingredients making for very colourful meals.

Again I was torn between two picnic baskets but MG and DG prefered the basket with this set and the design exactly matches the pink flower kitchenware set which they also prefered. This set comes with a lovely picnic basket, teapot, four teacups, four saucers, four plates, four spoons and a fabric holder for the spoons (which matches the material in the kitchenware set). Being made of tin there’s no breakages to worry about. I do love porcelain tea sets but my daughters are not dainty (for which I am glad of, they play wholeheartedly!) The lid of the teapot fits very securely (at first I thought it didn’t come off but my daughters disproved that theory) so less chance of falling off and getting lost (little pieces disappear in the Chaos household regularly!) The tea cups are so cute, as are the dinky saucers that go with them. A big hit in this house, we’ve had a constant tea-party in the week since they arrived. And I’ve halved the amount of stuff by boxing up the other set for charity which means less mess and more structured playtime instead of “let’s spread everything over every room in the house” play 😆

Now is a fantastic time to buy BigJigs toys from PlayMerrily with 15% off until the end of April. See my reviews for other BigJigs products here (we do love BigJigs in this house!) There’s also 10% off Orchard Toys Games and Puzzles (I must review some, all the ones we have are fantastic) until mid-May. If that wasn’t enough to send you to fill your shopping basket at PlayMerrily, there’s free shipping with orders over £50 and Ramblings of a Suburban Mummy has a code for an additional 10% off everything until the end of May! Shhh, don’t tell Mr Chaos I’ve been stocking up on presents 😉

Disclaimer: I was not sent these sets by PlayMerrily for review but I have had a discount account with PlayMerrily since August 2011 and therefore paid a reduced price for these products. All my reviews have been written because I loved the products and are for items I freely chose to buy for my daughters, unless otherwise stated. I choose to review for PlayMerrily because of their fantastic and friendly service.

John Crane GoGo Magnetic Blocks

I bought these blocks about six months ago and they have been very popular with MG and DG from the start. The box contains 32 wooden blocks and 2 axles, 28 of the blocks have magnets on some sides and 4 are wheels. There is a sheet with twenty ideas of things to build and a cotton bag for keeping the bricks in if you don’t keep the box. The box has been sturdy enough to survive the last six months intact so we’ve used that instead of the bag, apart from when the blocks turn into shopping for other imaginative play.

The magnets in these blocks are quite strong but are also very easy to part so constructions can be made and played with but easily re-made when required. I managed to hold up 9 bricks under one magnet, but that was stretching the magnet’s strength. In the picture there are seven bricks held by one magnet, and that fell apart soon after, but they are that strong. There are more than enough blocks for one child to construct and play. When both MG and DG use the blocks together it’s possible but not as much fun for them, but they’re sisters so fight over everything most of the time 😆

The age says 3+ but these blocks are great for toddlers because they reduce the frustration of blocks falling apart. Of course you need to be careful with magnets but these are well fitted into the blocks and after six months of being battered around they’re showing no signs of wear so it’s extremely unlikely that the magnets would stray and the blocks are big enough to be difficult to swallow!

One of the things I love best is that you can build shapes that don’t quite follow the rules of gravity. It makes for some fun constructions. MG has followed some of the patterns because she likes to do that, and DG has insisted I make something from the patterns for her but generally they both make their own constructions and the ease in which the blocks connect mean even younger children can make fairly complex constructions.

I was going to write that the only downside is the price, when compared to non-magnetic blocks they do seem expensive. However I’ve just done some searching online (Google, Amazon and eBay) and found that (a) there are not many magnetic building block sets available in the first place, (b) these John Crane / GoGo blocks appear to be the best value for wooden magnetic blocks and (c) Play Merrily are very competitively priced.

These are not just standard building blocks though, they are magnetic and this does add significantly to the play value. MG and DG barely look at “ordinary” building blocks (and we have some really beautiful Haba ones) but will play with these for hours. Not to mention all the educational value they’re getting learning about forces and gravity and magnets of course… We love these blocks and don’t hesitate in recommending them.

Disclaimer: I was not sent these blocks by PlayMerrily for review but I have had a discount account with PlayMerrily since August 2011 and therefore paid a reduced price for this product. All my reviews have been written because I loved the products and are for items I freely chose to buy for my daughters, unless otherwise stated. I choose to review for PlayMerrily because of their fantastic and friendly service.

BigJigs Roadway Zebra Crossing Set

When Merry from Patch of Puddles put out a Twitter call for reviewers for Manhattan Toy products, I jumped at the chance before remembering that actually I don’t have any children young enough any more… However Merry also offered products from the BigJigs Road and Rail series, which we love.

It is no secret that I adore wooden toys, and I do think that wooden rail sets are up there as one of the ‘must have’ toys for children (right up the top of the list with boxes, sticks and mud!) I’ve been fortunate to be sent the BigJigs Level Crossing Set to test for compatibility with other Road sets, and when I was looking at that I fell for the Zebra Crossing Set which Merry kindly sent to us for review.

The first lovely surprise on receiving the package was how the set was presented in its box. Often these sets are in closed boxes with only pictures on the outside but with this you can see what you’re actually getting, which was very exciting for DG as she helped me unwrap.

The box had already been torn before I took the picture, but I glued it back together. Sharp eyes will see the join! The box has been battered somewhat so just look at the lovely things inside...

As a hit on its own, it worked as DG instantly tore the box open and started playing (and has selected it independently on many occasions since). However, we do have other road and rail pieces so these were soon added into play, along with other cars and trains. DG got the first play because MG was at school when the parcel arrived, but MG has also stolen it from DG played with it regularly too.

Here's the Zebra Crossing in action with some Plan City roadway. DG is driving a train carriage over the road bridge, of course... This is a set-up in order to take the picture because I stupidly didn't take any when the girls were actually playing with the crossing, but it looks fab doesn't it?!

This set includes a zebra crossing road piece, two other road pieces, one car, two orange beacons, a street lamp, a children crossing warning sign and two wooden children. The fact that the whole set is based on UK road signs is a huge bonus, and therefore can also be used in conversations to talk about how to cross safely. My children quite enjoyed running over the wooden people at this point, I don’t think that was quite what I meant to get across to them!

Zebra Crossing Set and Level Crossing (no other sets included in this picture). Please don't take the fact that our Level Crossing is broken as any sign of the quality of the product. It's just my children leave their toys in weird places and some idiot in big boots didn't notice it was on the floor where it shouldn't have been and stepped on it *cough*

As a toy in isolation, this set probably isn’t quite enough to keep attention for too long. However, it doesn’t need a huge amount to give it longer play life. It would be great with one of the starter road sets, but the addition of the Level Crossing Set not only gives a connection to any existing rail sets you may have but also includes two slopes that make the transition from carpet road to wooden road easier for the cars, trains, trucks or whatever vehicles the children have chosen to use.

There's a reason she's called Destructo-Girl... I think she might be running a child over in this, back to the drawing board with road sense education...

All in all, a definite hit with MG and DG, and a great addition to any wooden road and/or rail sets. I’m really grateful to Merry for giving me the opportunity to review this. If you don’t already read Merry’s blog then I also heartily recommend going to Patch of Puddles to catch up.

Disclaimer: We were sent a BigJigs Zebra Crossing Set from Play Merrily Toys in exchange for a review post. No other financial reward was given and the opinions are my own.

Buttons!

I’m trying to blame the wonderful Clara Vulliamy for my button obsession, which is not entirely fair, as I’ve only been talking to her for a couple of months and this was the state of the button collection before she reminded me of my button obsession:

I forget who it was but someone in my childhood had a button tin. An old biscuit tin that was filled with buttons. These were all buttons that had probably been saved from old clothes over many years, unlike the purpose bought buttons in my collection, but I loved looking through that tin. There were always different things to find each time, it was a mini Aladdin’s cave of discoveries.

The memories of this have never left me so having a collection of buttons seemed an essential thing to have available to my daughters. I used to save all the spare buttons from my clothes from years before I even thought of having children to be honest, a collection of buttons is just in my psyche.

I may have ‘accidentally’ purchased one or two (or seven) hundred more recently… Yes, I’m not sure how it was accidental either!

With the lovely new buttons, I thought they ought to be organised more so sorted most of them by colour:

And then others by shape, material and patterns:

Now there isn’t that huge box for my girls to discover new things each time. Or to use as pretend food in imaginative play. But I like them organised. Ho hum. I can’t see the buttons remaining organised for long, and until then they’ve still got the messy box of ribbons:

I really ought to do something crafty with my girls and all these bits and pieces! Fortunately there’s lots of inspiration on Clara’s website. And lots of buttons. And lots of felt. And…

My Daughters Like to Sit in Boxes

With the C-word less than 6 weeks in the future, there have been a few packages arriving at the house and therefore a few more boxes than usual. As one of my favourite picture books from my childhood is My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes (Eve Sutton & Lynley Dodd, see Six Books), this blog post just had to be…

The children next door like to play video games, but my daughters like to sit in boxes:

So-and-so’s cousin’s daughter is learning French, but my daughter likes to sit in boxes:

My big sister is tidying the play area, but I like to sit in boxes:
Mummy and Daddy are sitting on chairs, but I like to snuggle in boxes:
Expensive toys are all very well but my daughter likes to pretend this box is a boat:
You can tell the pictures taken by DH, they’re the good ones:
Other children have beds but my daughters like to put their duvets in boxes:
Mummy thinks it looks messy, but we love to play in boxes:

The boxes were boats, cars, trains, planes, beds etc but the girls were also quite happy just to snuggle up in them to watch TV too! I am ruining their fun by recycling the cardboard boxes – but not until they’ve been thoroughly coloured in and torn first – and filling up the plastic boxes. Mean mummy! There will always be an empty box somewhere though, even if they have to empty everything out of it first… 🙂

BigJigs Wooden Eggs

[Written: December 2010]

Quick review: There’s not a huge amount to add to the description above for these eggs. On the one hand, yes, they are just six wooden eggs. On the other: they’re realistic so appeal to children more, they’re lovely to hold, they generally appear in most of my girls imaginative food-based play (and there is a lot of that). An absolute essential for any toy kitchen / market / shop / picnic / tea set…

BigJigs Shipping Container Yard (for Wooden Railway)

[Written: September 2010]

Background: I have two daughters, aged 3.5 years and 15 months. They have a variety of wooden railway pieces – no big sets but various smaller sets, buildings, trains and accessories from the four main toy wooden railway manufacturers (Big Jigs, Brio, Plan and Thomas). I look for pieces that create interesting and non-limiting play options for them.

Review: Big Jigs Rail Container Shipping Yard is a fantastic addition to an existing wooden railway set. It comes with the main track piece that has an extended area for a building and the (removable) magnetic crane, plus a lorry, a canal boat, a train carriage and two shipping containers with magnetic tops (many of the Big Jigs Rail individual carriages have removable containers with magnetic tops so lots of combined play if you already have some of these carriages.)

There is a separate wooden ramp that the lorry can drive up to the yard – this allows the train set play to start connecting with other vehicles that you might already have (e.g. cars, wooden or otherwise, and perhaps a garage, airport, play mat etc.) The picture doesn’t show it very well but this set does come with a small barge / canal boat which can hold one shipping container. This gives three loading / unloading options: onto or off the barge onto or off the lorry onto or off train carriages. The magnetic crane has a slightly flimsy cord which is a little too long (the weight of the containers pulls it down) but kids seem to be drawn to anything magnetic and the unloading/loading options, plus circling the crane between the barge, lorry and train has kept my girls amused for some time (a definite plus in its favour!)

Being Big Jigs, it is cheaper than other wooden rail sets and therefore excellent value for money for the variety of play options it provides. A very good gift for train-mad children who already have a wooden rail set.