“ Brand: Early Learning Centre / Type: Splash mat „
If you have a young child who loves art and messy play then the chances are you'll need some way of protecting your floor from splats and splashes. As the mother of an extremely enthusiastic mini artist I know that I don't fancy the idea of my carpet being covered in paint. Although there are a variety of different brands of splash mat available, one thing I have discovered in the last twenty years is that you definitely get what you pay for. There are cheap splash mats available, some costing a pound (or less) but from my experiences these are extremely thin and liable to tear as soon as looked at. The splash mats used in this house cost a little more, but are not only from a trusted brand, but are also tough enough to withstand chair legs being dragged across them. These mats are, of course, the ELC Robot Messy Mats, of which I own not one, but two. With a standard retail price of £4 this bright blue mat decorated with robots (there is also a pink, flowery version available) is approximately 85cm by 105cm (0.9 square metres) and the perfect size to hold my artist's table and chair (Mothercare Pine 3 in 1), with space to spare for spills and splashes. When the mat is first removed from the very basic packaging it does emit a rather strong "plastic" aroma and have some very defined creases but after a short amount of time this smell dissipates and the creases fall out with extended use. I wouldn't say that the mat ever becomes particularly supple though, the plastic is extremely thick and and resistant to creasing, it certainly cannot be screwed up in a ball. With a year of very regular (several times a week) usage our original mat is still in almost perfect condition. The printed design has faded in a few places, but the mat itself has not ripped or torn even with chair and table legs being dragged across it. Any paint splats are easily cleaned with a damp cloth and when using dry art materials such as glitter the mat can be folded over any spillages, and then funnelled and tipped into the bin. We love our mat so much that we bought a second during a recent half price event, and while I think it was brilliant at the original price, I can't help but feel it's twice as good at half the price. As well as using the mat for artwork we have found it incredibly useful in a few other circumstances. My little man has a developmental delay and hasn't quite mastered the art of spoon feeding, which leads to amazingly messy meal times. To protect my carpet from spilt milk, baked beans and other wet foods, we put this mat under his table and chair, making cleaning up after mealtimes that much easier. We also slip this mat in the changing bag on trips out to give us somewhere dry to sit in the park or at festivals. Picnic blankets are all well and good, but if the grass is damp then the blanket will also get damp, and personally I find it very unpleasant to get a wet bum. So we put the splash mat between the grass and the blanket to keep our bottoms dry. In my own, very personal opinion, this mat may cost a little more than it's competitors, but the superior quality more than makes up for this. It is a great deal stronger than cheaper versions and far more able to withstand the treatment that toddlers will subject it to. Just as a comparison, I bought a cheaper mat from Wilkinsons (£1-£2) and it lasted for exactly one art session, compared with this mat lasting over a year and still going strong. I really can't recommend the ELC Robot Messy Mat enough, not only for little artists over the age of 2, but also for younger toddlers who are taking part in art or learning to feed themselves. It is even brilliant to go under the high chair of any self feeding little one.
My twin boys love creative activities and messy play. As much as I love seeing them enjoy themselves whilst carrying out these types of activities I do not love cleaning the mess that two toddlers with paint, Playdoh, glitter, glue etc. can make. So when Mr Lools and I decided to purchase a large amount of craft items for Christmas 2011 from ELC we also purchased the ELC Robot Messy Mat to try and minimise the amount of mess that would be created. ***ELC Robot Messy Mat*** The ELC Robot Messy Mat is basically a thick plastic sheet to put on the floor whilst your child undertakes "messy creative play" to protect from spills. The mat is 105cm by 95cm and is made from a thick blue wipe-able sheet plastic. The mat is bright blue with a multi-coloured pattern of robots and paint splodges. ELC state that the Robot Messy Mat is suitable from age 2 years and over. The ELC Robot Messy Mat is sold in both ELC stores and Mothercare and also available online from both of these retailers. The ELC Robot Messy Mat has a RRP of £4. This is not an "expensive" item by any means however if compared to other similar products from other brands (such as Tesco and Wilkinsons) I do feel the price is on the higher side as the other two retailers sell their (larger) mats for around £2. However ELC regularly sell this item in their half price toy sale for a more reasonable £2. ***Our Experience*** The main reason I purchased the ELC Robot Messy Mat was mainly to minimise mess and keep mess from creative play in one area. My main hope was that I could sit my boys at their table and chair set and place the ELC Robot Messy Mat underneath so that it would catch the splats of paint and spills rather than these ending up on the floor meaning I had to clean the floor. The ELC Robot Messy Mat is basically a sheet of plastic which covers the floor so this is by no means an exciting product. However the mat is actually very good looking as it very bright and I think perfect for little boys because of the bright blue colour and robot theme. What I also liked about the mat was that ELC sell matching aprons. ELC state that the Robot Messy Mat is suitable from age 2 years and over. I think as with most of the items from the ELC craft materials and creative range, common sense usually wins and most parents of children would use this with a child under 2 but be supervising their activities in some shape or form. As this is a plastic sheet there is a risk of suffocation however it is not really a toy and when not in use is more than likely to be stored away out of a child's reach (or in our house it is). I bought this mat for my boys to use mainly for painting however do tend to use for other craft activities including cutting and sticking and glitter. I have come to expect mess with having two toddlers and my house after 2 years is pretty child friendly. We have tiled floors in the kitchen and wooden floors in the living areas so before using messy mats previously if paint was spilt on the floor I would just mop the floor. The main point of the messy mat was so after painting I could literally lift the messy mat up with all of the mess on and focus on cleaning my boys up (before they touched other furniture) rather than worry about paint on the floor which could be stepped on and spread over the floor. Unfortunately in practice this has not been the case and I find although the messy mat does catch some of the spills and splats of paint, the mat is simply not large enough to catch the mess of two children. I actually find it easier not to use this mat for painting and just let paint go on our tiled floor as it just means I have a floor to clean up rather than the floor plus the messy mat. From a practical perspective, for one child the mat is large enough if positioned around a child (especially if they are sat at a table). However for two children painting around a table the mat does not cover enough space to the side and back of them as toddlers tend to load up their paintbrushes with excessive amounts of paint and then their enthusiastic movements can often flick paint everywhere. I find to provide adequate coverage I would need two of the ELC Robot Messy Mats so tend to use the messy mat we have from Wilkinsons as it is larger. However for parents of one child this may not be the most practical of mats especially for children that move around when painting and don't just sit in one place. I do find for playing with Playdoh the mat is very useful as material of the mat means the Playdoh or soft dough does not stick to it. So when you are finished you can tip the mat into the sink and brush it down and all of the random pieces of soft dough are caught and you later do not find them stuck to rugs or floors. Although found in the craft section of ELC I actually think the Robot Messy Mat is a really great item to have in a changing bag for when visiting friends and family who may not have the most child friendly of homes. One of my greatest concerns was when my boys became more independent and started feeding themselves and we had to do feeding time at a friends or family members house because of the mess. The plastic messy mat is easily transportable as it folds up virtually flat. I find I can sit my boys on the mat and let them eat a meal without the worry that they are spilling food and staining the carpet or flooring at the house we are visiting. I then can simply lift the mat up, shake off any mess and I do not have to make apologies like I have done previously I think what I like about the ELC Robot Messy Mat most compared to other messy mats from other retailers is that the plastic it is made from feels a lot thicker and of a better quality. I have used plastic messy mats from Wilkinsons and Tesco and although both of these mats were a lot larger and more practical for two children than the ELC Robot Messy Mat they were also a lot thinner and more flimsy. I found due to chair legs being placed on top of messy mats then they can rip which is what happened to the mat I purchased from Wilkinsons. However with the ELC Robot Messy Mat as it is so much thicker the plastic does not tear even with a chair leg and child moving about on top of it. This makes it longer lasting and less likely to need replacing, hence why ELC sell it for more than other messy mats on the market. The ELC Robot Messy Mat is made from a wipeable plastic which spills and splodges of paint and glue sit on top of rather than soak into. I tend to find myself wiping over with a damp cloth to clean up the wet paint or other spilt items before I put away for use another time. You do have to ensure that you dry the mat fully because if it is left slightly damp and then folded it still will be the next time that you come to use it. ***Overall*** I think that the ELC Robot Messy Mat is a very good messy/ play mat as it looks good and is very thick and durable so even when placed on the floor and used time and time again it is less likely to rip and tear, especially if you place under chair legs. However at the full RRP of £4 I do think that this is slightly more expensive than other brands of messy mat which usually sell for half this price. My main criticisms of the ELC Robot Messy Mat are that I personally feel that the mat is too small to contain mess for creative activities especially when more than one child is involved. With one child you will need to position strategically and encourage them to stay in one place so that the mat gives enough coverage from spills and splashes. However with to children I feel one mat is just not big enough and I find myself clearing up spills from the floor. Not a bad product but not the most practical for craft use either.