It is incredibly difficult to buy presents for Freddy, although he is actually nearly three, developmentally he is more like a twelve to eighteen month old. Not only did I have the challenge of helping Santa find appropriate toys, but I also had to give relatives lists of the types of toy that appeal to him. One activity hat Freddy particularly loves is Hama Beads, he not only has fun expressing himself creatively, but is also developing his hand-eye coordination while creating works of art (that's the kind of toy I like, fun and educational). As he loves Hama Beads so much he received several new sets from various people including this Monkey Hanging Box that Santa kindly placed in his stocking.
This box contains almost everything your child needs to create their very own monkey ornament, with some beads left over for them to use their imaginations with. Within the box there are approximately 350 Hama Beads in the largest, Maxi size, a monkey shaped peg board, pattern sheet and ironing paper along with basic, very generic instructions. Hama beads, themselves, are plastic tubes that are arranged on a pegboard and then fused together by an adult ironing them over the special ironing paper. Hama beads are available in three sizes, mini (0.25cm diameter) suitable for children over the age of ten and adults, midi (0.5cm diameter) suitable for children over the age of three and Maxi (1cm diameter) suitable for children over the age of three. All of the beads are available in a multitude of colours and can be purchased as either beads and pegboards separately or in kit form. While it is not advisable to allow your child to eat the beads, the plastic they are made from is non-toxic and they do pass through the system unchanged, as proved when Freddy did manage to swallow one and it reappeared in his nappy a day or so later.
Having already regularly played with Hama Beads, Freddy was very excited when I brought the box out to play. The beads themselves are supplied in a clear non-resealable plastic bag, so it's a good idea to have something to put them in, I use a bowl to hold them while playing and then have an old sweet tin that holds all of the left over beads from various sets. Unlike with the smaller, midi and mini beads, the Maxi pegboards are transparent, which means they can be placed over the supplied design sheet, to allow the child to see what colour goes where without needing to count. The only aspect of this that I'm not keen on is that the board does tend to slip on the design sheet a little as it is very glossy.
When using other Hama bead sets, I've tended to allow Freddy to just place the beads where he likes, so that he can be as creative as he likes while improving his hand-eye coordination, dexterity and pincer grip. With this monkey set, I decided to spend extra time with him, helping him to match the colours, so that his final result looked more like the picture and I had the chance to introduce colour names. The beads themselves are the perfect size for little hands to hold and the pegs on the board hold them fairly securely, there will be mishaps when they get knocked and fall off, but this happens less and less as the child gets more confident. Freddy has a significant developmental delay and is able to place the beads where he wants them nine times out of ten, with very few accidents. If any of the beads do fall on the floor they are big enough to not get lost amongst the carpet pile or pattern.
With attention deficit being just one aspect of Freddy's difficulties, it's hard to keep his attention on any activity for more than a few minutes, but he will quite happily work with Hama Beads for ten minutes or so. During this time, I will help him match colours while naming them, ask him to find a particular colour and counting how many we need of a colour. (I also use this activity as a chance to introduce the signs for colours as Freddy is virtually non-verbal). As Freddy will only concentrate on this for about ten minutes at a time, it's taken many, many sessions and a few weeks to complete the monkey. Once complete, you can either remove the beads so that it can be re-done, or fuse them with an iron to make the design permanent. Very obviously the ironing needs to be performed by an adult, but it is something that really only takes a few minutes. One thing I noticed is that the supplied ironing paper is not quite big enough to cover the whole of the monkey and so it needs to be lifted and moved around as you iron. With Hama beads the temperature that the iron needs to be set on depends on both the size of bead used and size of the design. Personally I find the best setting for the Maxi beads is three/linen or as high as it will go, with the steam off. At this setting it doesn't take very long to fuse the design by slowly moving the iron in circles over the design (over ironing paper of course), moving the ironing paper as you go (making sure that the actual iron does not come into contact with the actual beads). Once you have ironed a few designs you will start to recognise when the beads have all fused by the way that they suddenly show through the ironing paper. Once the beads are fused the design needs to be allowed to cool down as it not only gets very hot, but is also quite flexible and a little delicate while warm. Hama do recommended putting something heavy over the design during this cooling time, so as to keep it flat, but I don't find it makes that much difference with the Maxi beads. What I do find helps make the finished design more robust is turning it over and giving the front a quick blast with the iron (over the ironing paper of course).
Once the Monkey is completely cooled it is ready for display, and a pair of peg supports are provided to allow it to free-stand. These supports are easy to slide onto the monkey's feet and then he can be stood on a windowsill, mantelpiece or as we've done on a chest of drawers so everyone can see how clever Freddy is. Standing at approximately 20cm tall, the monkey makes quite an impressive ornament and while not realistically coloured is instantly recognisable as a monkey. Freddy is extremely proud of his monkey, will regularly take me over to show me and show it off to anyone who visits. So it not only gave him pleasure while making it, but very obviously gives him pleasure as a finished article.
The fun doesn't stop once the monkey has been made, as long as you don't over iron the beads and melt the pegs the board to reusable and there are plenty of beads left for your child to get creative. Freddy's used these leftover beads to "freestyle" on the monkey board, putting them back in the pot after each session and then we just did the monkey's head, fused the beads and put a stick on magnet on the back to make a little gift for him to give as a present. The remaining beads then went in his bead tin along with the board (and all his other boards) to be reused another day.
Hama beads are a brilliant craft activity for children and the Maxi beads are perfect for younger children. Although the recommended minimum age is three years, I see no reason why children from about the age of two would not enjoy using this set as long as they have adequate supervision. Not only will they be having fun and be proud of the finished monkey, but they will also be gaining vital skills at the same time. I've seen vast improvements in Freddy's hand-eye coordination, dexterity and pincer grip in the time he has been using the Maxi beads and his problem solving abilities are being tested along with patience and concentration. By sitting with him and helping him I am also introducing colour names (and signs), colour matching and counting.
If you have a child aged between the age of two and five (or older if they have learning difficulties), who enjoys creating works of art, then I can't recommend Hama Maxi beads enough. This monkey set is perfect as either an introduction to the beads to see if your child enjoys using them, as it contains everything they need to produce a finished masterpiece and even better unlike many of the Hama midi sets it is not aimed at any gender. Freddy has really enjoyed using this set, is extremely proud of the monkey he has made and will (I'm sure) enjoy making more monkeys in the future. So Freddy and I are giving the Hama Maxi Monkey Hanging Box five stars out of five and at approximately £8 feel it makes a fantastic stocking filler/small gift.