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I became aware of the Crayola range of magic art kits through gifts from my Mother in law when she visited the kids. She bought them a magic colouring book and a painting version. I then bought the kids a Toy Story colouring book each as they were Toy Story obsessed at the time, so that one was popular, so I decided to get my youngest son the colour explosion one as a little present last Christmas. The recommended age on this is 6 plus, but I always feel with this sort of thing if you can hold a pen sensibly, then you are ok to use this, so though he was only 3 and a half at the time, I did feel he was old enough to play with it. The set comes contained in a plastic bag, which I found I needed a pair of scissors to cut the top of the bag, as I know from previous experience that you are best trying to keep all the bits together. I don't know if it is just my kids, but I have to keep pens and pencils under my control otherwise they end up everywhere and then the dog tries to make a feast out of them. This set didn't come with too much to keep an eye on. There is an 18 page colouring book and 2 chunky black pens that are designed to use on the special paper in this book. The last page in the book was a stencil sheet with various pictures on it. You had to tear this out of the ringed binding to be able to use it, and I found that this was not really thick enough for my smaller child to use. He has used stencils before from a young age that are plastic, but this time the stencil just kept getting bent and frustrating him. We had a little bit of fun initially drawing onto the special black paper and seeing a brighly rainbow coloured picture appear from the page, but overall, it was something both my kids were tired of after a few very quick pictures, and the book is still half completed now. If you shut the book while the picture is wet, you find that some of your colour is transferred to the back of the page before, and kids are not the most patient of creatures so most of their efforts are a bit smudged and not that impressive. I don't know if they didn't enjoy it as much because they preferred the structured colouring pages from the other colour magic books we tried, but whatever the problem was, it was just not as popular as their other books and once they had seen the magic trick they lost interest and moved onto more shiny things. While it is not terrible, and an older kid with better drawing skills might get more out of it, this was distinctly average for my children, and they are the sort of kids who are always colouring for themselves on little bits of paper. It's something I could persuade them to use again for 5 minutes if they were bored, but they never ask me for this. Once out of sight, they can't be bothered with it. The only upside is that you can create colourful pictures with minimal resources and mess, so it is the sort of thing I might buy if we were about to go away and I needed to take something with me to entertain them on the journey. For around £5-6, it is certainly good enough value for what you get, but I could buy two kids magazines for the same sort of price and entertain them longer.
My job is teaching children who have moderate learning difficulties. I've found that, as a general rule, children become reasonably competent readers long before they become competent writers. This can be for a variety of reasons, but chief amongst them tends to be a poor visual memory which hampers progress with spelling. By the time they get to me, they often get incredibly stressed the second they are asked to pick up a pencil, with some children point-blank refusing to write. Usually I can win them round with carefully structured work, cut and stick activities and using malleable materials like plasticine and pipe cleaners to produce writing. Last year, though, I taught a little boy called Mark who, whilst he made great progress in reading, calmly and cheerfully refused to write. In fairness to the child, he was very dyslexic and was offered no support in class, so he'd learned that it was easier to opt out than to put a lot of effort in only to have his teacher yell at him because his work wasn't perfect. None of my usual strategies worked and I was starting to get a bit worried. Eventually, when browsing around in Snyth's one day, I spotted this and thought it might work. ~*~What is it?~*~ If you're a child of my generation or before, you might remember spending hours colouring in sheets of paper in rainbow hues, rubbing a wax candle over the top, plastering it with thick black crayon and then scraping through the crayon with a butter knife or chopstick to create multicoloured whorls and pictures that showed through the crayon. It was messy, time-consuming and the results were never that great. Crayola have obviously realised that modern children have a plethora of gizmos to entertain them and so won't be arsed to spend ages colouring, waxing and crayoning, so they have produced magic paper which does pretty much the same thing, albeit with the use of a marker rather than a butter knife. Given how pugilistic some of my children are, this is all to the good. ~*~What do you get?~*~ The booklet and two markers come in a sealed bag. It's wise to try and keep this reasonably intact for storage, as the magic paper doesn't work as well if it gets wet and the black coating goes a bit funny. Similarly, if the prospect of magic paper has made your little one a bit sweaty-pawed with anticipation, some of the black stuff will transfer onto their hands and get a wee bit sticky. In the booklet are 18 magic pages, plus a page of stencils which are hole-punched in such a way that you can take them out and slot them in front of any page. The stencils in my pack are pleasingly random: a monster face, a swirl, a moose head, a butterfly, a dog, a cat, a palm tree and, bizarrely, a CND symbol. ~*~Is it any good?~*~ The markers provided are nice and chunky and a good size for little hands. The nibs of the pens are thick and sturdy and don't crush easily, although they will start to pick up the black coating from the pages after a while. I'm not sure what the fluid in them is, but there's no solvent smell and nor does it irritate skin if you accidentally dab the pen on yourself. The paper is thick - almost as thick as card - and is perforated so each completed sheet can be removed from the book easily. The results are very impressive; the colours used are vibrant and the patterns vary from page to page. For my purposes, this paper is a godsend: the children love using it and view it as a really good reward which, in turn, gives them an incentive to write. I hesitate in recommending it, though, as there are an awful lot of negative points. First of all, whilst Crayola recommend you keep the paper and your hands dry, in practice it doesn't really matter how meticulous you are, some of the coating will still end up on your mitts. It has the same staying power as felt tip marker: about 3 thorough hand washes are required to get rid of it. I've never had it transfer to clothes but the packaging assures me that it should come out from any fabrics that can be laundered. The next downside is how long the markers last. When I've used them just for writing with the children, they've been fine but when I was doing a few sample pictures for this review I noticed that one of the markers seemed to be running out of juice after just a couple of pages of pictures. Young children don't often want to do simple line drawings when there's the option of creating scribbly coloured-in masterpieces and I really don't think that the two markers would last for 18 pages of that. The markers themselves could do with being a bit more varied. As it is you get just one thickness of pen which means that if you want to colour in a large area you have to go laboriously back and forth, checking what areas you need to go over. Creating areas of light and shade is tricky as once the pen is applied the coating fades away completely regardless of how hard you press. You could, I suppose, create tonality using cross-hatching but I think those kind of skills are a bit beyond the grasp of the average primary school aged child. The manufacturer's recommendation is for 36 months and up and, whilst I reckon a 3 year old would be initially delighted, older children may quickly find this frustrating if they want to use it for 'proper' pictures; once the marker pen is applied it takes a second or so for the black coating to fade and the colour to come through which means that the child has to draw a line, pause, see how it looks, draw another line, pause, see how it looks etc. Unless your child is a very confident freehand artist they will find this annoying and their pictures won't come out how they hoped. The biggest problem, though, is the price. I bought mine on offer at two packs for £10 but the average price now seems to be £6+. That means that each page costs over 30p which is absolutely scandalous for what is, essentially, a colouring book. My advice would be to stick to ordinary colouring books or equip yourself with colouring pencils, a candle, black crayons and enormous reserves of patience. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzYzVMcgW​hg