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Before I get started on the actual review, I'll give a little history as I think it happened:
1897 - Mr Liketomessyourcarpetup invents Plasticine
Not content with it being messy enough he spends the rest of his life trying to invent something even messier. His son, then grandson, and later, great-grandson carry on his work.
1930's - Mr Liketomessyourcarpetup's great grandson invents Play-Doh.
Hmm, he thinks, still not quite messy enough...
Zoom forward to the Noughties and his grandson comes up with Moon Sand - success at last! A product made from fine grains which tread wonderfully into carpets and get ingrained in clothing. Small children don't even have to pick tiny bits off to throw on the floor, the tiny grains are already there, no extra work needed!
Anyway, back to the review...
Prior to last Christmas my daughter (then 3 ½) wanted everything she saw in the ad break on Milkshake each morning. One of the things she repeatedly uttered the words "I want that" to was this Moon Sand Bake Shop set. Not normally one to give in to "I wants" I did think it would be something that she'd enjoy as she's very creative. When my mum asked for ideas of what to get her for Christmas I suggested this. If only I could go back in time...
She was made up when she opened it on Christmas morning, but didn't get to play with it until the day after. That's when we discovered just how messy it was.
The first time she played with it was on the dining table. That was the last time, from then on it was in the conservatory with a laminate floor underneath rather than carpet!
So, what is moon sand? It looks and feels like regular sand (apart from the colour) but sticks together when squished or moulded. You don't have to add water or anything to it to make it stick. In fact if you do add water it won't stick together as it should do.
There are several Moon Sand play sets available, this particular one is themed after a bake shop.
The box in which the set comes doubles up as a play area, which supposedly contains the sand and resulting mess. Unfortunately it doesn't quite work out that way, and the sand has a nasty habit of jumping out of said box, leaping onto the floor and getting itself embedded in carpets, socks, clothing, etc. To be fair, it does come out of the carpet once it's vacuumed and does wash out of clothing. It's just a hassle to have to get the Dyson out every time the moon sand is used, especially as once on the floor it ends up on socks and gets trodden around the house before you've had chance to de-sock the child.
The box lid has a card piece that folds down, with a tab that slots together with the base, so that the lids stays up as a nice background, and also provides a little shelf on which they can put their creations. The plastic sandbox base has raised sides, and a small built up shelf in one corner to put finished cakes on. There's not really enough room inside the sand box, once you've got the mixer set up and have made a few cakes, you start to run out of room to use the moulds. This is when kids are tempted to move outside of the sandbox and make more mess.
There are three bags of sand included with the set - pink, purple and what's supposed to be white, but is more of a light grey colour. To date, we've only opened the bags of pink and purple sand as there's more than enough in one bag, and opening another would just lead to the sandbox overflowing.
Also included are a mixer, decoration mould, small spoon, large spoon, cupcake mould, egg shaped mould, oblong block mould, larger cake mould, plate with clear plastic lid, and a spatula.
The idea is to make small cakes using the sand, as in a bake shop. Although, obviously, you wouldn't be using sand to make cakes in a real bake shop. Once you've made "cakes" using the moulds, the different sizes are designed to fit on top of each other to make larger, more elaborate cakes and delicacies. Use the small bits on the decoration mould, such as the fruit shapes, to make small decorations for on top of the cakes. The promotional pictures show cakes made of more than one colour from each mould. In reality this isn't easy to do, especially for a small child. With a bit of imagination, some great creations can be made, and my eldest daughter loves coming up with different cupcakes and birthday cakes.
Once packed into one of the moulds it's often difficult to get it out, and a good tap, or even bash on a hard surface is needed. My little girl often shouts for me to help when she can't get the sand cake out of the mould. They recommend washing the moulds with dishwashing liquid regularly to prevent residue build-up which apparently makes this problem worse. I've never done that myself, and have had the problem of getting sand creations out of the moulds from day one. They do advise not to let the sand come in contact with detergent, or it will take the coating off and make it just like regular sand. So if you do wash the moulds, make sure they're fully rinsed before using again.
The mixer is like a mini food mixer, and is meant for mixing two or more colours together to create other colours of sand. But given the colours of sand provided, there's not a great lot of scope for making new colours, other than pinky-purple, or a lighter shade of pink or purple. You're only supposed to fill the mixer half full, but try telling that to a stubborn four-year old! The lid of the mixer tilts back, so it's easy to put the sand in. To mix, you turn the handle on top, which is quite hard to do when it's full of sand. If there's too much sand in the mixer, you end up with it overflowing. If you do want to mix new colours it can take a while to get the two colours combined to make a new one.
Once a few cakes have been made, children will probably want to play with them. Playing with the cakes as they are can create even more mess if taken out of the box. While the sand creations do stick together well, they can start to crumble if played with. So, a rather useful feature of Moon Sand is that it can be baked to make the creations permanent.
First it needs to be placed on a flat surface for baking, such as a baking sheet (cover with foil to protect). Then place into a preheated oven (125 deg. C) Bake for 60 minutes for 1 lb of Moon Sand, or 30 minutes for ½ lb. Once finished, leave in the oven to cool down, and only give to children once completely cooled. We haven't actually tried this yet, but may end up doing soon to save us from further sand mess.
The Moon Sand is non-toxic, and apparently doesn't get absorbed by the body, so no need to rush off to A&E if your child suddenly decides to digest one of their creations - although it's not something I'd want to recommend! For young children I'd advise explaining to them that it shouldn't be put into their mouth, and they shouldn't try to eat the finished cakes as they aren't real. I know from experience that young children like putting sand in their mouths on visits to the beach, although my girls haven't to my knowledge attempted to eat Moon Sand.
Although it's a cleaning-up nightmare, kids absolutely love this stuff and it's kept my girls entertained for many hours (not all in one stretch I may add). I do have to hang my head in shame and admit to keeping it shut away in the cupboard and only getting out when they remember its existence and beg me to play with it. One of my friends puts a small table outside in the garden with a playmat underneath for her boys to play with their Moon Sand set. A good idea, but it renders the product seasonal, unless you're kids are prepared to sit outside in winter. One thing I should point out is that the manufacturer recommends not using it on wooden floors as it can make them slippy. I've never had that problem, and much prefer being able to sweep it up off a laminate floor than vacuum the carpet.
If you ever run out of Moon Sand or want to try different colours, refill packs are available. A pack of five colours is on sale at amazon.co.uk for £7.95.
There are any different sets available, including the Shake Maker, Candy Factory, Construction Destruction, Ice Cream Sundae, Sky Crane, Dough Diner, Magic Zoo, and Puppies Playset, to name but a few. It's suitable for both girls and boys and has a recommended age range from 3 - 7 years old.
This Bake Shop set has a recommended retail price of £22.99, but can be bought for slightly less by shopping around. Amazon.co.uk have it for £21.19 at present