“ Brand: Early Learning Centre / Type: Sponge painting kit „
Freddy and I really enjoy our creative play, whether it's using Soft Stuff, crayons or chalks, but especially when we get nice and messy using paint. We've been using finger paints for a while and I thought it was just about the right time to introduce a little variety and a few tools into our painting sessions. At nearly eleven months old, I thought that actual paintbrushes would be just a little too frustrating for Freddy, so instead I bought him this Sponge Painting Kit from the Early Learning Centre. When I bought this set it was half price at only £6, which as far as I'm concerned was an absolute bargain.
==In The Box==
The version of the sponge painting kit that I bought came packaged in a rather flimsy see-through plastic box affair, which although it did make it easy to see what the kit contains, isn't very durable. The newer version of the kit comes with all the same pieces, but this time they are securely stored in a plastic jar that looks far more durable. If I were given a choice between the two versions for the same price, I would definitely choose the newer and would suggest you do too.
Within this box is almost everything that you and your child need to start creating masterpieces. I say almost, because obviously there isn't any paper and it's also a good idea to have a few drops of washing-up liquid handy. There are three small bottles of paint included, in red, yellow and blue, meaning that you (or your child) can mix them together to produce almost any colour they can think of. Then there's a small round tray (about 6" diameter) to hold the paint for printing. Rather than just one or two different sponges there are a total of ten different sponge shapes, although this can actually be increased as you need to pull the extra bits out and if you keep these bits they can also be used. Among the different shapes are a butterfly, flower, moon, star, cat and various sizes of squares and circles. Along with the sponges there is a fairly small sponge brush, a roller and an 'ideas' leaflet.
The sponges are all chunky and a good two inches deep, meaning that they are easy for even the littlest of artists to use. Although the shapes are quite basic there are a few little details that add interest. For example the star has a simple smiling face and the ladybird has dots. The roller rolls easily but doesn't really feel very sturdy or durable, while it's stood up to Freddy's attempts to use it so far, I'm not that convinced that it will last too long. The 'paintbrush' is quite frankly disappointing, the handle is only about five centimetres long and the head is a tiny, single centimetre in diameter. I've not actually allowed Freddy to use this so far, so can't comment on it's durability. All in all, from a parent's perspective this is a fairly good painting set for the price I paid, but I'm in no way convinced that it's worth the full selling price of £12.
==The Artist At Work==
Although the recommended minimum age for this kit is three years, there's no reason why a much younger child shouldn't be able to use certain parts of it, with plenty of supervision. Freddy is almost eleven months old and I allow him to use most of the set, bar the very smallest sponges and the brush, but I will say that I never leave him alone with any of his art materials or allow him to put anything in his mouth. Personally I would recommend that even children over the age of three are supervised when using this set, not only to ensure that they don't paint the walls but also because it's so much more fun for your child (and they learn much more) when you join in.
Before allowing your child anywhere near these paints, I would suggest that you cover any surface that you'd prefer not to be stained a fetching shade of blue, red, green or any combination of the three. I say this because while the ELC finger paints don't really stain and are relatively easy to wash out of fabrics, these paints do stain quite badly especially the blue. Before I do anything I always make sure that the splash mat is down and that Freddy is wearing his apron, but while it's always been easy to wash the finger paints off of Freddy's table, the grain in the wood has now been dyed a fetching blue.
Each of the bottles contains approximately 50ml of extremely thick poster paint and the instructions recommend adding a little water and a couple of drops of washing up liquid to the paint once it's squeezed into the tray. I really would suggest doing this as it not only makes the paint go a little further and easy to work with but also makes it slightly easier to wash off of skin and clothes later. Even with Freddy being so young, I find the paint tray is really too small, you can't really get a lot of paint in it and it's impossible to keep different colours separate. What I generally tend to do is only put two colours in at a time and then allow them to mix together, so Freddy might start with yellow and blue paint and then as the art session goes along he ends up with various shades of green.
Once everything is set up, I let Freddy get to work and although he had to be shown what to do the first time, he's now quite a pro at sponge painting. The sponges are just the right size for him to hold and they soak up the paint in just the right way, meaning that he can put a sponge in the paint and then make several impressions on the paper before needing to reload. The paints also transfer well to the paper, although the results obviously vary depending on how thick you leave the paint, how much is on the sponge and how hard your child presses. Freddy tends to get quite a lot of paint on the sponges and presses quite hard and gets some really nice results.
We've used this painting kit with various types of paper and while we do still get finished masterpieces worthy of a place on the wall with the cheapest of cheap paper, we do get better results with better quality paper and card. Freddy's getting quite the little expert at painting now and we've used this kit in conjunction with 'make your own card' set to produce some extra special birthday cards. The results on card are excellent, with the colours being bright and the way the different colours mix together looks really pretty. The paint also dries very quickly, even when Freddy has totally soaked a sheet of paper with paint it's only taken about an hour to dry.
Once Freddy has finished painting I generally find that there is a liberal coating of paint over him, as although the sponges are thick enough that the paint doesn't soak right through, Freddy does love making the finishing touches with his fingers. We do find that all this paint does wash off quite easily in the bath using Boots Baby Expert baby bath, so Freddy always has a bath after painting. Freddy's apron is another matter though, this now has several blue stains that simply won't wash out, so no matter what I would not allow your child to use these paints without being covered by an old shirt, at the very least. The paint does wash out of the sponges fairly easily, but again it does leave them slightly discoloured. Once washed and dried the sponges are ready to be used again, so far we've used these half a dozen times and they are still as good as new, even though they have a few blue blotches.
The bottles of paint don't last very long though, even though we've been quite frugal, we use about a quarter of a bottle for each painting session, producing maybe three A4 paintings. But what we have done is water down some of Freddy's finger paints and used these with just as good results, in fact better as the paint doesn't stain quite so much.
As with all arts and crafts activities this set will help your child develop many, many different skills, with the only real limits being how you interact with them. At the most basic level they will be improving their creative and fine motor skills as they learn to put the sponges into the paint and then onto the paper. The nice variety of shapes will also help them learn to make sense of the world around them and express themselves. And by sitting and talking through what they are doing, you can help your child learn about primary colours and how they mix together to form new colours.
This is a nice, basic little starter sponge painting set, with a good variety of different shapes for printing with. But, it is only a starter set and there are a few aspects that are considerably less than perfect. I guess my biggest qualm is just how badly the supplied paint stains, although there is a warning, I just didn't expect it to stain so badly. Another problem is how small the paint tray is, it's barely practice for two colours let alone three. But I must say the sponges are good quality and have been used quite a few times with no deterioration and the paints do transfer to paper and mix together nicely. All in all, I think that this kit deserves four stars out of five at the price I paid for it (£6), but would only get three stars at full price. So yes I am recommending the ELC Sponge Painting Kit as it makes a nice transition between finger painting and paintbrushes and adds an extra dimension to art time.