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A Wild Adventure
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 Safari Adventures which has a standard retail price of £15. Although I generally never pay full price for Happyland sets, I have to admit that I did for this set, as it was purchased after seeing how much my son loved the Happyland Wild Animals set.
==A Parent's View==
The set of five animals, two vehicles and two characters is supplied in an open-faced box, with the pieces being held in place via elastic bands and a peg system. While I am infinitely grateful that I didn't have to struggle with those stupid plastic ties, the use of the elastic bands does concern me a little, as they are transparent and could pose a distinct choking hazard should they not be correctly disposed of. I also found it quite difficult to release the vehicles as the elastic band were slightly too tightly wound around the wheels.
The animals within the set are all made of a rubber-like material that is tough, tooth resistant and provides a fantastic tactile experience with the detail painted on. The giraffe is, perhaps, the cutest of the five and instantly recognisable, with it's long neck, brown spots and horns. I love the level of detail that goes into all the Happyland characters, and the way these animals look friendly and a little cartoon-like, but are still recognisable as animals. Even the crocodile isn't exactly scary like the real thing, but is still very recognisably a crocodile with it's snout and the ridges along it's back. There is a little bird in the set, we've not quite sure which breed, but with it's bright pink and orange plumage and distinct tropical look, we've christened it a parrot. One animal that looks rather out of place is a horse, at least we think it is a horse, it looks like a horse with it's mane and tail, but it could well be something completely different. The final animal is a monkey, which is the only animal that is completely out of scale, far larger than I feel it should be and took me a while to work out that it was actually a monkey. In fact it is the only animal that my son finds hard to recognise, and he still will not accept that it is a monkey.
There are two vehicles within the set, a quad bike and a Jeep The quad bike is, however, identical to the one supplied in both the quad racing set and add-on farm set that we already own. The quad bike is a good size for little hands to hold, is free-wheeling and has space to carry one character. What I really dislike about this vehicle is that rather than having a hole to hold the character, it utilises a peg system, which matches up with a hole in the base of the character. The trouble with this system is that it is far too difficult for the target age range to push a character into place, in fact I find it awkward, and the characters are prone to popping out at the most importune moments. The Jeep is far better designed, being about the same size as the quad bike and again free-wheeling, with a hole to hold a character in place, which makes it far easier for a child to put characters in. I do feel the amount of thought and detail that has gone into the Jeep is fantastic, from the line green body with black "zebra" stripes, to the roll bars to the spot lights and I especially appreciate that the detail is printed on rather than being formed from stickers as my son has an obsession with peeling and eating stickers.
The two characters within the set are made from the same rubber-like material as the animals and once more have the detailed painted on, and there is a marvellous level of detail. One of the characters is dressed in green to match the Jeep and I just love his moustache, binoculars and pith helmet. The other character is dressed in red (to match the quad bike) and she (we have decided it's female, but there's nothing about her to confirm it) is wearing a shorts set with bulging pockets. What I like about these characters is that there is neither gender nor ethnic stereotyping so any child will be able to relate to them.
From a parent's point of view, this is a well-made set that offers plenty of scope for imaginative play, although I am a little disappointed that we now have three identical quad bikes and feel that it wouldn't have been too much to ask for the ELC to have at least made it a different colour. But as with any toy, it's not just my opinion that counts....
==A Toddler's View==
Although two year old Freddy absolutely loves his Happyland toys, he has a significant developmental delay and is on the autistic spectrum, has very limited imagination and role playing skills and doesn't exactly play with them as intended. One of Freddy's favourite day trips is to the zoo, where he loves to watch the animals, in fact he seems to relate far better to animals than people (no matter how big or small).
With his love of visiting the zoo and fascination of animals, it was absolutely a no brainer that Freddy was going to love this set. The vehicles are the perfect size for Freddy to hold and he loves to push them around the room, often deliberately making them crash into each other. As I suspected, he finds it easy to put characters into the Jeep, but quickly gets frustrated with the peg system used in the quad bike. This means that while the Jeep will regularly have a driver, the Quad bike is generally driver-less. There is also room on the back of the Jeep for one of the smaller animals (or another character) to perch and Freddy will regularly take them for drives around the room.
As for the animals, Freddy absolutely adores them and can recognise and bring four out of the five when asked. This is an absolutely fantastic achievement, as before receiving this set (and the Wild Animals), Freddy had never brought over anything when asked, let alone shown any shared interest. Of all the animals, I would say that the giraffe is his absolute favourite and the one he will pick out first, even if it is hidden at the bottom of his toy box. But he will also bring the other animals over when asked, especially if given lots of praise and if he is rewarded by animal sounds or songs involving the animal. The crocodile has become an essential prop when singing "Row, Row The Boat" especially when we come to the second verse. When combined with the Wild Animals set, the Safari Adventure set is perfect for when we talk about the zoo as between them they contain most of the animals we look at most often. Freddy is non-verbal, so these animals are excellent tools for Freddy to tell me what animals he wants to seen, or tell his Daddy what he has seen.
Freddy is not a child that takes particular care with his toys, in fact we often joke that if his toys survive an hour with Freddy, then they would survive a lifetime with any other child. To say that he is overly enthusiastic is a bit of an understatement, he still mouths everything, so they have to survive being chewed, he obsessionally peels off any stickers (and eats them) and regularly uses anything he can as steps to reach higher. This set has managed to survive everything that Freddy has thrown at it, each character and animal has been chomped on, without any sign of teeth marks or paint flaking. The vehicles have been thrown across the room, regularly crashed into each other (and everything else including the walls) and stood on to reach to see out of the window, again without any sign of damage. What I especially like about this set is that there are no stickers for Freddy to peel off and although he has attempted to peel off the printed decoration, so far he has not succeeded.
I'm pretty certain that Freddy's opinion is much the same as mine, in that this is nice set that is fun to play with and unlike me he is not bothered that the quad bike is identical to two he already owns, but he does find the peg system in the quad bike frustrating. So I think, if he could tell me, he would give the Happyland Safari Adventure four and a half stars out of five.
==An Developmental View==
The Early Learning Centre bill this set as being suitable for children over the age of eighteen months and personally I feel this is on the over-cautious side. Freddy has been playing with Happyland toys since he was about ten months and even now he is only at about a year developmentally. There is nothing about this set that would cause a danger to younger children and while they may not use the pieces to their full potential, these younger children will enjoy exploring the pieces and even chewing on the animals. There was a time when the ELC put an upper age suggestion of four years on all Happyland sets, they no longer do this, but I would say that for the developmentally appropriate child four years would be about the age that they begin to lose interest and want something more realistic. Of course, with his developmental delay, I expect that Freddy will be playing with this set far beyond the age of four.
While a child will learn no matter what toys they have, certain toys will enhance their learning potential and the ELC claims that this set will aid development in three main areas, Social Skills, Discovering The World and Imagination, which I would agree with completely. Social Skills are encouraged as this set is perfect for sharing, whether with another child or an adult and we have very personal proof of how this has helped Freddy's social skills with his shared interest in the animals. As with many of the Happyland sets, this will help your child make sense of an everyday situation (in this case a visit to the zoo) and then allow them to develop their imagination as they recreate days out or simply make up stories about the animals and characters. What the ELC don't state is that this set will also encourage gross motor skills as the child pushes the vehicles around, fine motor skills as they put the characters in and out of the vehicles and even helps the child learn a little about nature as they learn to name the animals.
This is yet another lovely add-on set from the Happyland range and one that deserves a place in any child's collection. Freddy absolutely adores the animals and quite appreciates the characters and vehicles too. As with all Happyland sets, the Safari Adventure is incredibly durable and designed with the preschooler in mind. Although the £12 price tag is a little on the high side, you do get value for money with the number of different pieces in the set, and unlike many add-on sets this can be played with on it's own (but is far better in combination with the Wild Animals). Freddy and I can't recommend this set enough and are giving it four and a half stars out of five (rounded up to five), as we've loved it so much that we've bought the zoo to put away for Christmas.