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~Once Upon a Time~
I'm not keen on Disney and I particularly despise the Disney Princess franchise. However, this Tomy megasketcher was bought by relatives as a gift for my daughter, somewhere between three and four months ago and I thought it wise to put my revulsion aside and let her keep it. I knew she would get a lot of use out of it as it wasn't the first of this type of toy she has had.
The receipt was in the bag and I was startled to see that it had cost £20.00. My daughter had previously owned a drawing board bought from Aldi which had cost under a fiver and I could see no real difference in quality between the two.
~The Bare Necessities~
It's a magnetic drawing board which comes with an attached magnetic pen and a couple of magnetic stampers. The light grey screen can be drawn on and then wiped clean by a sliding button. The drawings come out dark grey.
The frame is pink and plastic, with a white carry handle. It's quite curvy and rather bulky, measuring roughly 42 by 32 cm, with the screen itself being 19 x 26 cm. It has stickers of various Disney characters - Snow White is at the bottom left of the screen, a blue bird is used as the button for the screen wiper, the stampers have Princess Aurora and Cinderella stickers. There is a Disney Princess logo sticker in the top centre. It hasn't taken long for these stickers to show signs of wear and tear. If this toy is played with on a regular basis, as ours is, it is unlikely to look very good before long. I believe our Cinderella began to lose an eye within a day or two. The handle also scratches quite easily, so beware of little ones having a gnaw at the handle because they will get a mouth full of white bits.
The magnets click in and out of their holders which is an improvement on some I've seen which either fall out easily or have to be fairly prised out, but they do still sometimes drop out and wander around the house. The shapes the magnets make are a heart and a crown. Lovely.
The string attached to the 'pen' doesn't have much reach, about 25 cm. This is just about sufficient, but considering how easily it gets wrapped up and caught around little fingers, it could do with being longer, perhaps there's some health and safety reason why it isn't.
The box gives the recommended age as 3+ and states that no batteries or ink are needed, (a fact I would have thought was obvious, but mentioned in case it isn't).
~Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho it's Off to Work We Go~
It does the basic job of having pictures drawn on it and being wiped clean, although it can take several wipes to get the images off. The screen cover is uneven and one end needs to be pressed on whilst wiping for it to clear properly. I have found that wiping slowly is more effective than quick wipes.
It doesn't look clean. A wiped picture often still partly shows when another is drawn on top. The surface has lots of scratchy marks all over it and the wiper can leave lines across the screen. To be fair I think younger children can get carried and away and press too hard on the screen, which means any make of drawing board is unlikely stay pristine.
I don't think it's great quality, but then I don't know just how good the quality of a magnetic drawing screen can be. The other one we had also became quite marked, but I think it wiped the screen more effectively. It had coloured squares underneath rather than being grey, which I preferred, but my daughter hasn't expressed any preference for either - she just likes to have a board to scribble on.
Tip: You don't only have to use the stampers and pen that come with this. If you have any other nicely shaped magnets around, you could use these too.
~Drawing Boards in general~
The Disney Princess Megasketcher does the same job as other drawing boards, so I've outlined the positive and negative aspects of this kind of toy according to my experience of seeing my daughter use hers.
The fact that children can draw and wipe, draw and wipe repeatedly brings about a few noticeable benefits.
Firstly, it saves on paper, in our case reams of paper. This is good if you don't have any drawing paper around, and it makes for less mess. It's possibly also eco friendly, although the environmental costs of the toy production versus the amount of paper it saves would have to be weighed up. If it gets chucked out after three months then it probably isn't environmentally friendly at all, at least paper can be recycled.
To my mind the best thing about them is that they can really bring on a child's drawing skills. My daughter draws almost every day, she still likes to get paper out and make her mark in other ways, but the drawing board gets a great deal of use. I have seen her pictures improve dramatically whilst she has repeatedly played with one.
As well as using it on her own, my daughter likes to get myself or another adult to draw pictures and she makes up stories around them or 'colours' them in, so it can also be used more creatively than just for a child to scribble on.
Another benefit is that they are good for taking on journeys, ours have been used in the car and on the train. They're also good to take anywhere you need to go where you would like to keep your little one sitting still - waiting rooms, hospital visits etc.
The disadvantages include the fact that children can't choose the colours they want. There's a lack of creativity, which is one of the things that tends to go hand in hand with no mess. It's good for children to make a mess occasionally and the use of paints, chalks and other drawing materials are great ways for a child to express themselves creatively, so drawing boards certainly shouldn't be used to replace these things.
Another drawback is that if your child draws something special - you can't keep it. If they were for example to draw a recognisable face for the first time, then that moment is gone, wiped away by a Disney character, never to grace a fridge door. I have actually photographed a handful of pictures that my daughter has drawn, they were too cute to be wiped.
The pictures can lose definition and when it comes to fine detail things can get a bit blurred. This is something that may differ with different boards, but I have found with both the boards my daughter has owned that smaller details turn into smudges.
~What's Wrong with Disney Princess?~
I don't like the message that I think is implicit in the Disney Princess range of toys. The pink culture aimed at girls gives the constant insistent message that beauty is more important than brains. I don't want my susceptible child brainwashed into thinking that all good women are impossibly thin and beautiful, while those with wrinkles and/or grey hair are evil old witches. I don't want her to grow up looking for a charming Prince who doesn't exist. I would like her to grow up with a little self-esteem and the ability to think for herself. I'm aware I'm probably fighting a losing battle against the tsunami of fluffy pink sparkly cutesy cak aimed at little girls, but I can at least minimize it's influence in my own house.
The box says that this is; " a dream come true for little princesses who love to scribble, write and draw to create their favourite Disney stories", well, thankfully my daughter is not, never has been and is unlikely ever to be a princess, nor is she treated like one. She's an active, creative and robust child who doesn't need pink princessification foisted onto her by people who think that's how little girls should be. To counteract the influence of this disgustingly pink toy I am going to have to buy her a hard hat and tool set for Christmas, along with several dinosaurs, a garage full of action men and a copy of 'Feminist Ideology for Three Year Olds.'
~Happily Ever After~
Drawing boards can bring on a child's drawing skills and are a useful way to keep children occupied when travelling. They save on mess but can't replace the fun that comes from using other drawing materials. They don't have the accuracy of pencils, or a choice of colours.
This megasketcher is one of the more expensive drawing boards around but is of no better quality than other, cheaper drawing boards. The princess pictures that decorate it are unlikely to last long as they are paper stuck onto the plastic.
I would advise prospective purchasers to buy a cheaper drawing board, unless they are determined to pay for the Disney Princess Brand.