The Early Learning Centre have recently revamped their Happyland range, redesigning some of the sets and releasing new additions. Among the new sets is the Happyland Pirate Ship, which sells for £30 and is available in-store or online from the ELC. While I normally have a rule where I never pay full-price for a Happyland set, I made an exception for this pirate ship, as two year old Freddy had really enjoyed playing with an older version whilst at speech therapy.
==Yo, Ho, Ho - A Parent's View==
The pirate ship is supplied in a fairly large open-faced cardboard box and even before it is removed from this box it is apparent just how impressive it is. Two year old Freddy just happened to be around when the couriers arrived with the ship and as soon as he saw it he wanted to play with it immediately, so it obviously ticks all the right boxes visually. Removing the ship from the packaging is the standard fight that I've come to expect from Happyland sets, except that rather than the plastic ties previously used have been replaced, rather randomly with thick, waxed string. While I appreciate that I no longer have to struggle untwisting ties and that the string is somewhat more environmentally friendly, it's still not the easiest to undo. It takes a good few minutes to remove all the pieces from the box, so I would recommend that this is done when the child is not in the room otherwise temper tantrums may ensue as as we all know two year old toddlers are not exactly renowned for their patience.
Once removed from the box, the pirate ship looks even more impressive and requires very little assembly before play. All that needs to be done is a flag clicked into place and a pair of doors put on their hinges and that's it. Brand new, out of the box the ship is very shiny, being made of brightly coloured without being garish plastic and looks very much what any child would imagine a pirate ship to look like with it's red and white striped sails. I'm going to try and be a little more descriptive than is usual in describing the ship as the photos on the ELC website really don't do it justice. Measuring an impressive 40cm (approx.) from the tip of the cannon located on the bow to the Captain's balcony at the stern and standing 30cm high (approx.) this is one of the larger Happyland pieces.
Based on what appears to be a galleon (think of those Errol Flynn films), the pirate ship is beautifully detailed with plenty of little touches to fuel a child's imagination. The starboard and port exteriors feature beautiful swirls of gilding and canon portholes, although it does have to be pointed that the portholes are purely for decoration and are closed. The bow (front) of the ship features a non-working canon, with a small area of decking for the gunner to stand. The front sail is the larger of the two and it's mast also features a blue crow's nest complete with rotating gilt telescope. This crow's nest is the perfect size to hold a single character. All of the decks are textured to look like planking and it's this attention to detail is what sets the Happyland range apart from similar ranges, there are even little patches sewn into the sails. The main deck features a lift up hatch to the hold, which opens to reveal a small hiding place, perfect for the small chest of gold included in the set and a door that opens into the Captain's quarters. The Captain's quarters also feature a set of doors that open onto a balcony at the stern (back of the ship) to reveal a space big enough for a couple of characters and the small round, wood effect table. This table is the perfect height for the Captain to stand at while studying the map that decorates it in the form of a sticker.
The quarter deck is above the Captain's quarters and it holds the smaller rear sail along with a blue ship's wheel that fully rotates. Right at the very rear of the ship, just above the blue balcony doors, there is the flag, that can also be rotated. It is a little disappointing that this flag isn't the traditional black and white skull and crossbones, but it is a nice red with white crossbones and can be displayed as flying when the pirates are raiding or pushed to one side when they don't want to announce their presence. While the ship cannot be played with on water, it does feature four wheels that allow it to be pushed across the floor, although there is no cord (or similar) to allow the child to pull it behind them. The wheels are quite shallow, but work well over most surfaces, the ship does not fly along even over tiled floors, but it doesn't get stuck on carpets.
There are a few accessories included with the ship, I've already mentioned the table and treasure chest. The circular table is of a sturdy four legged construction, but decorated with a sticker, while the treasure chest features a hinged lid and is full of gold. Thankfully the gold is moulded into a pile of coins rather than being loose and secured into place, meaning that it does not cause a choking hazard. There is also a rowing boat included, that holds two characters and runs on three wheels. Although this boat does run well on both smooth and carpeted surfaces, it does unfortunately feature the newer peg system of holding the characters in place, with this system being frustrating for adults let alone children as it is quite difficult to push the characters into place. A really nifty feature of the boat is that it attached to the ship (under the balcony) via magnets, which not only makes storage easier, but also adds another fun dimension.
There are not one or two but four characters included with the ship, three pirates and their captain. These characters are formed of the same tough rubber-like material that is used with all Happyland characters with the detail painted on. The rubber-like material is quite hard and yet soft enough not to cause much damage if thrown, while the paint is very unlikely to flake even when chewed on. Although these characters are hollow and feature the hole in the base that should allow then to be compatible with the vehicles in other Happyland sets, they are somewhat chunkier with wider bases, meaning that they struggle to fit. Each of the pirates is nicely detailed and they are all wearing different outfits, with the captain distinguishable by his larger hat decorated with a crossbones motif. One somewhat disappointing aspect of the characters is that while different ethnicities are represented, all of the characters are male. I know that pirates are traditionally male, but there's no reason why they couldn't have included at least one female.
The whole of the Pirate Ship set is extremely well made and durable, able to withstand almost anything a child can throw at it. We often joke that if a toy can survive an hour in Freddy's hands then it could survive a lifetime with any other child and we've had it for several months now with no sign of damage. The glossy plastic surfaces are easy to wipe clean and the characters can easily be washed with soapy water (although I would recommend that you leave them to dry overnight to prevent the dreaded black mould invading the interiors). My one and only issue as far as durability goes is the map sticker on the table, and that is only because Freddy has an obsession with peeling and eating stickers, meaning it only lasted a couple of minutes.
==And A Bottle Of Rum - A Toddler's View==
Before I go into any detail as far as my experiences of watching Freddy playing with this ship (and of course joining in with him), I'm going to tell you a little about Freddy himself as how any child interacts with this will depend on their age and developmental level. Freddy is a little boy who simply adores his Happyland sets, but he doesn't exactly play with them in a conventional way, as he has a significant developmental delay in all areas including imaginative, social and role playing skills and he is virtually non-verbal. Because of these difficulties, I am always looking for toys to encourage him to improve these skills and the Happyland toys fit this bill perfectly. Freddy is also rather rougher with his toys than most children his age, often standing on them and peeling stickers off to eat them. He also has an obsession with buttons, hoping that any button will set off an electronic sound.
Even before the ship was removed from the box, Freddy was thrilled and trying to play with it, he does love his Happyland and gets very excited when a new set joins his collection. Although he, obviously, could not remove the pieces from the box, he did spend a very happy half hour looking at all the pieces, before I put it away ready to release the pieces during his nap. I do feel that if I had tried to take the ship out of the box while Freddy was there he would have been snatching the pieces out of my hand as I released them and got frustrated that I wasn't taking them out quickly enough. Because of this I set it up while he was asleep so that he would be able to play with all the pieces at once.
The look of delight on Freddy's face when he saw this really was a picture, he was absolutely thrilled to see it set up on his table and couldn't wait to explore. It wasn't long until he discovered that he could push the ship along and hence put it on the floor to sail along. He was a little confused that unlike the older version of the ship he had played with there was nothing to use to pull it along, but he contented himself with pushing. He then continued to explore all the different delights that the ship has to offer, being especially thrilled with the idea of the treasure chest and hiding it in the hold. The telescope and wheel are the perfect size for him to manipulate and he does rather enjoy spinning them around, while the way the boat attaches with magnets simply delights him. There's no way that I can say that Freddy shows any imagination or role play skills when playing with this ship on his own, but that's what Mummy's are for, to add the imagination.
While I do allow Freddy to play with and explore the ship on his own, I also regularly spend time with him making up scenarios, talking about what he is doing and what the characters might be saying. We have great fun going on adventures with the pirates, rowing to deserted islands and burying the treasure. But we have even more fun when we use the ship in conjunction with other Happyland sets that Freddy owns. One of our favourite adventures is when the pirates kidnap the Princess from the Sherwood Castle set and then Robin Hood sets out to rescue her, although just to be fair we sometimes have the pirates rescuing the Princess from the castle. Another scenario we've set out is that the pirate's discover an island inhabited by dinosaurs and cavemen, by adding in the prehistoric themed sets. Really as with other Happyland sets, the only limits are your or your child's imagination.
Freddy's delight in this ship certainly has not been a five minute wonder, two months on and it is still a favourite that is played with several times a week, if not daily. It is not only a set that I regularly bring out for organised role play sessions, but one that Freddy will choose for free play. I won't say that he plays with it for extended periods, for the simple reason that Freddy has a very short attention span, but it is one that he will play with several times over a period of time. Of all of his various Happyland sets, this has to rank highly in Freddy's list of favourites and it is one of the most played with.
==Land Ho - A Developmental View==
While many of the Happyland sets features buildings and scenarios your child might experience in real life and therefore help your child understand the world around them, the Pirate Ship falls firmly in the fantasy world and so does not. Where this ship does excel is in encouraging your child to use and develop their imagination and role play skills as they make up adventures using the ship as a prop. The ship will also help them develop their gross motor skills as they push it along and fine motor skills as they open the doors and hatch, open the treasure chests and move the characters around. By spending time playing with your child this set will also help them improve their vocabulary and conversational skills as you narrate and encourage cooperative play.
While there is nothing about this set that would cause a danger to a younger child, the recommended lower age limit of eighteen months is probably about right, if only because there has to be an inkling of understanding for the child to get the most from it. As to the upper age limit, I do believe that this is one of the few Happyland sets that will be appreciated by children right up to and possibly above the recommended four.
==Walking The Plank - Final Words==
Although I did break my self-imposed rule of never to pay full price for this set, I do not regret it for a minute. It is extremely well made, full of play potential, but more importantly Freddy loves it. Although not quite the perfect toy (I would have preferred there to be at least one female character and there not to be a sticker on the table), it's pretty close. Don't tell the ELC, but I think I would have been happy to have paid up to £45 for this ship as Freddy has had so much joy from it already and I can see many more years to come. At £30 it is an absolute bargain that will make the perfect Christmas or Birthday present for any little boy or girl from eighteen months to five years.