Tag Archives: Play Merrily

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.

John Crane Wooden Tube Sorting Board

I bought this to put aside for Christmas so this is a sneak-peek review before it’s been really played with. I thought my two-year old would enjoy this (she likes putting things inside each other) and as she was napping I opened the box to have a look inside.

“Ooh, can I have that?” asked my 4.5 year old

“Okay… It’s a present for Christmas so you can’t have it but you can test it out for me.” I handed it over.

She put all the tubes in their spaces on the board, matched the shades of colours inside each other and then mixed up the colours putting them inside each other.

“So what do you think?” I asked.

“It’s boring.” she said, as she made a tower with all the cylinders and then started matching the sizes together again. Eventually I managed to retrieve all the pieces and pack it back away for Christmas before her sister woke up. 🙂

I’m not sure what the game is, as there were no instructions in the box, but I’m sure my girls will make up many games themselves. They never follow directions anyway! I really liked this sorting board. It’s got tons of educational appeal: different diameter cylinders (biggest/smallest) shades of colour (lighter/darker) making towers fitting correct sizes into the board sequencing widest to thinnest, tallest to shortest… It’s a tactile, sensorial game too: the wood is beautifully smooth and the colours are vibrant. It would not be out of place in a Montessori toddler room. Forgetting the educational appeal, its beauty will shout out for children to choose it for play and its versatility will keep it in play again and again.

Bigjigs Wooden Roadway

Wooden railway sets are fantastic – there are so many different shaped track pieces, practically all the different brands are compatible with each other and there are accessories to fit every budget – from stations and engine sheds to shipping docks and cement works. Plus all the engines and rolling stock. The main brands are Brio, Thomas Wooden RailwayPlan City and Bigjigs. Brio is great for the serious train fan with a selection of famous trains and great quality sets. Thomas fans have all the Thomas trains to choose from with Thomas Wooden Railway, although I’m not as keen on the Thomas track as it doesn’t connect as well with other brands. Plan City is the most expensive but is beautiful. Bigjigs is the budget range but, comparing cost and quality, it’s also the best value for money.

As well as railway, Plan City has wooden roadway which adds to the play as you can then connect parking garages, petrol stations, airports… You don’t need roadway but the Plan City vehicles are so nice they deserve their own road 😉 There are more serious arguments for roadway: increasing the complexity of a rail/road system gives greater problem solving skills and the varied interest keeps them being played with. I had bought some Plan City roadway for MG and DG, so I was really pleased to see Bigjigs had bought out a range so there is more scope for expanding our existing pieces. I must have missed Brio’s roadway range being released, so I can only assume it’s fairly new too but I love that there is now roadway from three of the major wooden railway brands.

I’m not a huge fan of ‘sets’ when it comes to wooden railways. I feel that it’s nicer to be able to pick and choose pieces to build up the railway, which is why I haven’t mentioned any of the high street store brands when it comes to wooden railways. On the whole, they seem to offer a ‘small’ set and a ‘big’ set and nothing else. With Brio, Bigjigs, Plan City and Thomas Wooden Railway there are a huge selection of track pieces, rolling stock, buildings and accessories to slowly build up a unique and tailor-made set that suits your own children’s preferences (and your budget).

My favourite online toyshop, Play Merrily, very kindly sent me the Level Crossing Set to test for compatibility with Plan City roadway. Looking online, Bigjigs roadway looks like it has been designed to be most compatible with Brio roadway – both have white centre markings and slightly raised edges; whereas Plan City roadway has grey centre markings and slightly depressed edges.

Brio on left; Bigjigs on right:

Plan City compatibility (Bigjigs on right; Plan City on left):

The Bigjigs roadway is slightly wider than Plan City and there are the differences in colour marking and edge but otherwise they fit together well and the differences will make no difference to play value – besides, in the real world, roads do vary 😆


Review of the Bigjigs Level Crossing Set: I am so glad I was sent this set, I’d wanted to get MG and DG a level crossing for their train/road but the cost of the Plan City one had put it on hold (approx £12 + p&p) The Bigjigs level crossing has more play value because the gates not only stop the road traffic, they can be pushed ninety degrees to stop the trains instead. All this for under £5 (+ p&p). If you have no other roadway, it’s worth getting this version of the level crossing because it includes ramps so road play can move onto the carpet if prefered but then there’s the option to add roadway in the future (and it’s the same price as the railway level crossing).

I will definitely buy more Bigjigs roadway, in fact I plan to get the Zebra Crossing Set next. Not only does it look fun to add to the girls’ existing pieces but I can sneak some roadsense education in whilst they’re playing. Even without any other items of roadway this looks like a great set to talk through road crossing scenarios with small children.