“ Brand: Early Learning Centre / Type: Chalk „
My little girl got a blackboard for Christmas this year and we, or should I say Santa also gave her a pack of chalk as well. I used to live in the Chiltern Hills area so back in my day finding chalk was not a problem. We just used to go into the back garden, pick up the first rock we could find and use that as practically all the stones were chalk. Where I live now as an adult its somewhat different and I actually have to buy chalk which is annoying but hey, I'm sure my little girl is also pleased by the fact that in this pack you get some colour to your chalk too and it's not just white! The pack comes with 20 sticks of chalk and like the name suggests they are chunky. They are a big like the size of a big cigar if you can picture that image. This makes them very easy for little hands to hold on to and grab. What I also like about them is that you do not need to apply much pressure to the chalkboard to draw with them like you sometimes do with crayons for example so kids can see their creations come to life and will not get frustrated that nothing is appearing on their drawing surface. The chalks come in a number of different pastel colours such as blue, green, pink and yellow so you get a nice variety and can create an interesting picture with them. What I also like about them is that on one end of the chalk it comes to a point and almost has a nib effect so you can draw more precise lines etc and the other end is flat so you can be a bit more free with this end and colour in big spaces. As its pretty much been raining since we bought these chalks we have not used them outside on the pavement yet but I have been told by friends who have them too that they mark the pavements well and do wash off once the rain comes. For £1.50 for a pack of 20 I think you get some really good value chalks and are a craft item I recommend.
I was inspired to expand the range of craft supplies we have at home for my 3 and 4 year olds when i saw that my eldest had been drawing outside in chalk at his nursery school. They actively encourage the children to express themselves in this way so we often walk across the playground and see body outlines, names, numbers, shapes and stick figures. I looked for a set we could use at home, and my first place of choice to look at was the early learning centre as i trust their craft supplies to be safe and useable by young children. For £1.50 you can get 20 chunky chalk sticks in pastel colours (pink, blue, green, purple, white). The suggested age range for this product is from 2 years up. I would suggest you think about what your child is like when you look at this age range. I would have given these to my oldest son before 2 years old because he had good grip and was a child who could be trusted to not put items such as this in his mouth. My younger son put everything in his mouth until fairly recently. I have lost track of how much paint and play dough he has eaten and i didn't fancy adding chalk to that list. Even though he was physically capable of holding the chalk at a younger age, i couldn't trust him not to bite into it to see what it was like. We have used these chalks outside now on a few occasions. They produce bright drawings which don't wear away easily from walking on them, but do wash away when it rains providing us with a clean slate ready for our next drawing session. On a hard surface like paving slabs we have found that these chalks do wear down very quickly. They will also shatter if dropped onto a hard surface and then be unuseable. However, for the price and the fun we have had using them, i think the price of £1.50 is suitable enough to make this a good purchase. We are never going to produce street art standard chalk drawings, but the kids can be free to express themselves in an unusual way to them without much adult imput. Another quality item from the early learning centre.
Ok, so the recommended minimum age for these chalks is two years, but I really don't think there's any reason why younger children should not be able to use them, with adequate adult supervision. In fact I'd go as far as to say that as soon as a child (or baby) is able to sit unaided and has a good pincer grip, then they're old enough to start learning to express themselves through art. Freddy is only nine months old, has pretty good fine motor control and loves painting and drawing. When I started stocking up on different art equipment for him, the ELC was my first port of call, simply because I was looking for quality art supplies, that were also non-toxic. These chalks were one of the range of different art materials we bought, along with chubby crayons and finger paints. ==The Chalks== Packed in an adequate, if slightly flimsy box, ELC sells 40 of these chunky chalks for a very reasonable £3. Although there are 40 sticks of chalk, they only come in a total of ten different colours. Now this isn't a problem for me, I really don't think that Freddy needs a large number of different colours, but for older children the range may be a little restrictive. Saying that, the range isn't too bad, with there being white, two different shades of blue plus various other pastel shades. There's enough variety to satisfy most young children's imagination, with green for grass, yellow for the sun and blue for the sea. And with there being four sticks of each colour, there's no need for bickering if more than one child is chalking at the same time. Each stick of chalk is fairly short at about five centimeters in length and lives up to it's chubby title being about a centimetre in diameter. This means they're a good size for little hands to hold and are unlikely to break even with the amount of pressure these younger children tend to use. Although I wouldn't say they're totally dustless, the chalks do seem to shed far less dust than the chalk I remember from school. The box does list warnings for these chalks (in various languages) including that they will stain, although I can't say that I've ever had any problems (but there again, Freddy does wear an apron and we have a messy mat. There are also warnings about these being a potential choking hazard, but common sense dictates that you would never leave a young child alone with them anyway. ==My Little Picasso== I try to do creative activities with Freddy at least once a week and like to use a variety of different materials with him. When using chalks we normally team them up with coloured sugar paper, which gives results that not only adorn our walls but also have pride of place on Grandma and Great Grandma's walls. Freddy has no trouble holding these chalks and it only takes the lightest of touches for him to make a mark on the paper. The very fact it's so easy for him to make marks on the paper encourages him to carry on drawing. The chalk colours are all bright and vivid, although Freddy gets best results on darker paper. It's not really worth using these on ordinary, smooth paper, whether white or not, as the results are just not as good. Unlike some cheaper chalks, these chalks start their life with (bluntish) points meaning that when Freddy first started using them he could make relatively fine lines. As he's used them, they have worn down, and now they make much larger marks, but he still loves using them. As they don't have a paper wrapping it doesn't matter which way round Freddy holds them, meaning there's no frustration and he's already learning that using different parts of the chalk will give different results. Once Freddy has finished his pictures, the chalk drawing are easily smudged, so to preserve his masterpieces for prosperity I always give them a light spray with hairspray. Don't bother with expensive fixers, cheap hairspray does the job perfectly for a lot less money. As well as having decorated the paper, Freddy will also have done a pretty good job of a bit of hand art, but I find this is easily cleaned up with a bit of soap and water. I must admit that Freddy has also tried eating these a few times, and while they've not gone any damage, I would say from his face that they don't taste very nice. Because I have obviously supervised Freddy very closely while using these they haven't ended up on the floor, in the carpets or all over the walls. But from using previous versions of these chalks with my older children, I would say that any mishaps are easy to clean as long as it's done immediately. Obviously if a chalk is trodden into a carpet then it is going to make a mess. As well as being great for Freddy to use for creating modern masterpieces on paper, these chalks are versatile enough that we'll be able to use them in other ways as he gets older. The most obvious is, of course, to use them on chalkboards, and as soon as Freddy is confidently standing and walking we will be getting him a chalkboard. Personally I think these chalks are far superior to the thin and flimsy chalks that are normally supplied with these boards. Another use as Freddy gets older is chalking outside on the concrete. These are perfect for chalking multi-coloured hopscotch boards, and are easy to wash away with a hosepipe (or the rain). The chalks are also fairly long lasting, although how long each stick lasts will obviously depend on how much of the paper (or board) the child covers with it. ==The Budding Artist is Learning== As far as I'm concerned it doesn't matter which art activity you do with your child, you will be helping them to learn. At the moment, because he is so young, what Freddy is learning is limited, but the possibilities are endless. Firstly he is learning cause and effect while improving his fine motor skills as he slowly learns to control where he makes marks on the paper. He is also gaining a sense of accomplishment, as he not only succeeds at creating pictures but also gets lots of praise. Although he doesn't understand yet, he's also learning about colours as we talk about which colour he is using and when he's a bit older I'll be able to ask him to pick out particular colours. As these chalks are so easy for little hands to hold, they make ideal tools for helping a child learn to copy and write. And of course, it's important for any child to learn to express themselves and art is one of the best ways of them doing this. With younger children who do not have the vocabulary to express themselves, art can be a valuable outlet for their frustrations. In fact even for adults, art can be a valuable outlet and these chalks are certainly good enough for adults to use alongside their children (although they're obviously not the same quality as artist's pastels). ==So You Want To Be An Artist?== I know there are cheaper chalks available, with these chalks it really is a case of spending a little more for better quality. The ELC Chunky Chalks are excellent value at £3 for forty, making them under 10p per stick. While the shades are pastel the colours are surprisingly vivid, especially when used on darker sugar paper. They are also the perfect size for little hands to hold, at nine months Freddy has no trouble handling them. And they are far less prone to breakage than those cheap (and not so cheap) thin sticks of chalk you can buy, meaning they are also safer with less risk of small pieces to be swallowed. (They don't fit up noses or in ears either). As well as being suitable for the very youngest of artists, they can also be used by older children with the suggested higher age range being ten years. Although I must say that they are perhaps not precise enough or in a large enough range of colours for these older children to be actually drawing on paper or chalkboards with. That's not to say that these are perfect though, even for Freddy's use (although they are very near perfect). I would have preferred for them to have been supplied in a sturdier box or even better a tub. But other than that, I really have no complaints. So I've no hesitation in giving these chalks a very healthy five stars out of five and recommending them to parents of children and babies who are able to sit independently and hold, say a stick of carrot. Forget people who tell you your child is too young to draw, I'd like someone to tell Freddy he's too young, because the look of joy on his face as he produces another masterpiece is enough for me to know that he doesn't think he's too young.