Product Type: ELC Art / Craft
Newest Review: ... the next day. As the packaging (and website) state that you should only use the ELC whiteboard markers with the whiteboard, these are exa... more
Mini Picasso At Work
ELC Blue Art Centre Easel
Member Name: sandemp
ELC Blue Art Centre Easel
Advantages: Sturdy, durable, no splinters
Disadvantages: No accessories
Two year old Freddy loves his Arts and Craft time, so when he received a ELC gift card for his birthday, it was no brainer that I was going to put it towards something to add to his craft collection. As he already has more paints, crayons, chalks and collage materials than you can shake a tail at, we decided to buy him an easel. While there are a number of different types of easel available, we chose the ELC Art Centre Easel that was on offer at just £30 as opposed to the standard price of £45. Although the Art Centre is also available in a pink colour scheme, we picked the blue and red version, and to be honest even if Freddy had been a girl I would have chosen the same as I think that the pink is rather restricted in terms of passing it on once the child grows out of it. While not heavy (1kg) the Art Centre comes in a rather large and unwieldy box that is quite difficult to carry, I know this because I picked one up from my local town and carried it home on the bus while pushing a stroller, which is not something I would recommend you try, so if possible get it delivered.
On opening the box the Art Centre requires very minimal assembly, there are no fiddly screws to position or bolts to tighten, it's simply a case of opening the main body out and securing it with the tray. Both the main section and the tray are formed of tough, durable moulded plastic, that is easy to wipe clean, weatherproof and fairly lightweight. The main body is formed from blue plastic and double sided. On one side there is a blackboard while the other side features a magnetic whiteboard each of which is surrounded by letters of the alphabet moulded into the frame. Both of the drawing surfaces are slightly smaller than A3, giving a reasonably large area to draw on. There are also a pair of clips on each side that can be used to hold sheets of paper. The tray that holds the easel open is a bright red and has indents to hold pens, crayons, chalks or pots of paint and brushes. When opened the easel stands 106cm tall and takes up 55cm by 69cm of floor space, but by removing the tray can be folded to take up far less room. One important aspect to note is that the Art Centre does NOT come with any art supplies, so you will also need chalks and whiteboard pens to use the two surfaces as well as any other art equipment your child needs.
The chalking surface starts out a nice dark black which gives a good contrast when drawn on with chalk. Freddy loves chalking on this side and will spend a good half hour covering it with different colour chalks, but even though he is just about within the 2-8 year recommended age group and a taller than average two year old he can only comfortably reach about three quarters of the way up the board. We don't find this a problem though as it just means that we know that the easel is going to last him a good few years. It would have been nice for the easel to have come with a blackboard eraser though, we use a duster to wipe off the chalk between uses, which leaves the board with a fine layer of dust. Then in the evening I clean the board with a damp cloth which leaves the surface almost as new for the next day.
As the packaging (and website) state that you should only use the ELC whiteboard markers with the whiteboard, these are exactly what we use. The combination of whiteboard and pens is great for drawing, with it taking very little pressure to make marks. As the ink doesn't actually dry on the board, pictures do smudge easily and the ink transfers to hands a little too easily. To be perfectly honest we only get the whiteboard pens out just before a bath as Freddy does tend to get a lot of the ink on his hands. As with the blackboard a whiteboard eraser would have been a nice addition as paper towels do not do a fantastic job at wiping the board. As with the blackboard, I tend to clean it after use with a damp cloth and so far the board looks as good as new with no sign of staining.
The magnetic aspect of the whiteboard adds another element to play when combined with magnetic letters, numbers or shapes. How well the magnets stick depends on the quality of the magnets themselves, but I can say that even fairly heavy fridge magnets stick well. One of our favourite ways of playing with magnets on the board is to draw round them with whiteboard pens and then remove them to see what pattern they've made.
As well as being a chalk and whiteboard the easel is brilliant for holding paper for drawing and painting. The clips hold even a single piece of paper securely and the easel is large enough to use with both A4 and A3 sheets of paper., but smaller sheets aren't held quite as securely. While the tray is handy for holding bottles of paints, paintbrushes and paint and water pots, we were a little disappointed that it isn't large enough to hold Freddy's ELC paint palette. We tend to stick to using the whiteboard side of the easel for painting and any splashes easily wipe off of the board with a damp cloth. In fact paint wipes easily from the whole of the easel, as it doesn't soak into the plastic surface. Although the weather hasn't been particularly pleasant lately, in the summer we will also be taking the easel out in the garden for some outdoor painting sessions. That's the great thing about this easel, unlike those made of wood, this can be used outside without worrying that it will become damp and rot.
Although as far as Freddy is concerned he is just having fun as he chalks on the blackboard, draws on the whiteboard or paints, I'm happy in the knowledge that this easel is helping him develop all important skills and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. As he draws and paints his hand-eye coordination, fine motor and imaginative skills are developing all he is starting to develop all important pre-writing and pre-reading skills. By joining in with him and drawing pictures for him to attempt to copy, I am helping him learn to make sense of the squiggles that we call pictures and words. As he gets older he will be able to copy the letters on the edge of the board, or simply practise his writing and drawing. The magnetic aspect means that we will be able to use magnetic words to practise making sentences, magnetic letters to make words or magnetic numbers to practise sums. With a recommended age range of two to eight years, I can well imagine that this easel is going to be used for quite a few years to come and I'd say that the age range is just about right. There's absolutely nothing about it that would cause a safety hazard to the younger end of the age range, even though they may struggle to reach the top and at the top of the age range it may be just a little small and babyish. Saying that I could well imagine those over the age of eight still using it, even as an adult I find the chalking and drawing irresistible.
As it is suitable for such a large age range, it's hardly surprising that the easel is well made and appears very sturdy and durable. I love that as it is formed of plastic it is easy to clean and doesn't soak up paint or other moisture meaning that I don't need to worry that it will rot. I also love that I don't need to worry that it will splinter or that metal hinges will start working loose or that it's so flimsy that it shuts with a nudge and traps fingers.
In case you haven't guessed I can't recommend the ELC Art Centre Easel enough, it's a well made, durable, sturdy piece of equipment, perfect for helping a toddler develop their creative skills while still being suitable for older children (and it can be very hard to find long-lasting toys for a two year old). It would however have been nice if it came with just a few accessories, such as some magnetic letters, chalks or even just an eraser, but I'm not going to knock off any stars for this as it is clearly stated on the box that it does not contain any of these. If I were asked by the parent of any child aged between two and five which easel I would recommend, it would definitely be this one (and with five children of varying ages I've tried a few). It is far safer and durable than wooden versions and certainly has two year old Freddy's seal of approval. For those over the age of five, I would possibly suggest buying this second hand, but would think they would maybe feel it is a little babyish. Either way I would definitely recommend purchasing this during one of the ELC's frequent Arts&Crafts events, when it is significantly cheaper than the standard price and stocking up on a few accessories while your at it.
Summary: A great easel for your little one to grow with
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