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Spring is here, so in some attempt to restore a little order into the Toy Mountain, I am currently going through all the toys and deciding which are "keepers" and which need to move onto pastures new. It's surprising quite how short lived some items can be, which is why I am happy to report that though we have owned this Art Centre for nigh on five years, it is still proving a useful and frequently used item.
Currently priced at £16 at ELC, this art centre is, in essence, a mini easel with a whiteboard and black board side. The whole thing folds down flat when not in use, there's no mention of dimensions anywhere on the ELC site but my measurements it is about 45cm long and 37cm wide when flat and 5cm deep. The usable surface of the drawing boards is A4 size exactly. As you can see from the picture the whiteboard side has a clip for paper, there are 5 little pots for storing art bits and bobs, and also a compartment with a lid for storing pens. When we bought this it came with chalks, pens, some paper and a board rubber - I've checked and all these items are still included.
We bought this as in the house we lived at the time space was tight, and we wanted to encourage my oldest daughter to draw. She was given it as a second birthday present, and I don't think it is down to this item wholly but she hasn't stopped drawing since!
Chalk boards may be obsolete in classrooms these days, but the chalk side works well and is perfect for scribbling. The best feature of this art centre though, which isn't even mentioned on the ELC website strangely, is the fact that the whiteboard is magnetic. You can draw on the whiteboard with the provided pens, but my kids have probably played with magnets with this board more than they have used it for anything else. We have found that with the addition of some cheap magnet letters the art centre is perfect for every stage of learning, from first identifying letters to learning spelling - we frequently use the Easel to make learning spellings for homework more fun. As this is dual sided two children can use this item at once, which is great for encouraging co-operative play.
The pots hold magnets or other small items well, as they are removable we have lost one over time, even though they do lock into place by twisting we must have removed it to wash after using with paint I think. Bar a missing pot, this the art centre is pretty well as good as new. There is a handle on top when it is folded that ensures that budding artists can carry it around easily, and once unfolded (something that even younger children seem easily able to manage), the easel is very stable.
We have used the clip to hold paper for painting and drawing for the "just like preschool" experience, and this feature works well. There are rubber feet on the base of this toy that ensure that it stays in place whilst in use. Another feature that is not clear from the picture or product description is the storage under the board - when it is folded flat there is an A4 sized area under the board where you can store pens or magnets as we do - it is about 3cm deep. All in all this item is a good way of grouping together art items for easy access and it works well.
This is a very robust item, that has been well designed and built. I do like the idea of the larger easels that you can buy from ELC and elsewhere, but they do take up a great deal of floor space, this is a much more easily stowed solution.
I would recommend this item for all children starting to be interested in drawing, of course you can draw on paper flat on the table, but this easel works well, and as previously mentioned the whiteboard has been invaluable and used in so many ways, from learning phonics to writing messages to mum. This is a great item; I won't be passing it on any time soon, and suspect we will have had many years' use of it before it is passed on to someone else. Highly recommended.