“ Brand: Early Learning Centre / Type: Role Play „
My daughter has a growing ELC Happyland collection and received more for her 2nd birthday last year. My husband and I bought her this Happyland village set, which I had picked up in Argos for around £25 in their clearance around this time last year in advance of her birthday. This set includes three main buildings: a church, a bakery/tea room and a post office and comes with electronic sounds, which was part of the reason I bought this for her as I knew that it would appeal when she could press sounds as well as simply play with the little figures.
Firstly the church - this building comes with a removable tower where the on/off switch and battery compartment are so a child can press the button on top of the church tower and either have church bells ringing or music to 'Here comes the bride' playing. At one end the church is open and at the other end there is a large church door (which has come off a few times). To encourage imaginative play there is a minister along with a bride and groom and accompanying horse and carriage. Unfortunately the carriage is attached to the horse with a kind of saddle thing which my daughter finds hard to get onto the horse and even more annoyingly it is hard to keep it on the horse, especially if she goes to move the horse to pull the carriage.
Secondly the post office - this post office is pretty small. There is a little red postbox (pity there isn't any letters to put in), as well as a postman's van (not resembling royal mail), and a postman. Inside the shop there is a little set of plastic scales, and there is a bell which rings when someone comes into the building as well as a telephone. To be honest, my daughter doesn't really use these electronic sounds in the post office as it is quite difficult to get a person inside the shop and press the button to make the door ring at the same time. The shop could do with being just a little bigger.
The last building is a tea room/bakery. To accompany this there is a little bakery delivery van, alongside a baker, and waitress and a granny figure. There are also some cakes and buns that can be moved around and a little cat, that my daughter likes to put on the van or pretend is the postman's. Again, there is a little bell that rings for the door, as well as a telephone and till electronic sound, although the problem is the same in this case - there isn't a lot of room to move the figures around in the post office and make use of some of the electronic noises.
On the face of it, it looks like the perfect little playset, especially for a little girl and there is no doubt that my daughter enjoys playing with this, although I think she still plays more with her Little People (Fisher Price) collection as the figures are easier moved in and around things, especially electronic things. I was slightly disappointed in some of the aspects of this product as I have mentioned above, but my daughter still gets enjoyment from it and that is the main thing I suppose. If you were choosing between Little People and Happyland in my own experience watching my daughter, I think the former has the edge, particularly when you see a product like this.
The ready to play village is a play village suitable for children from 18 months. It is part of the extensive Happyland range from the ELC. What I love about this set besides the variety of pieces included (see below), is the detailing on the buildings. These are all open at the back for ease of play and you can see clearly inside. For example, the two storey cafeteria has a dresser moulded onto the wall with plates and a tea set; there is a radiator under the window; the upstairs and downstairs floors are both tiled but in different formations; the downstairs has curtains and tongue and groove panelling. The Post Office has a post box in on one outside wall: on the inside there is a basket to catch any letters that are posted. You will have to make your own letters- a creative cutting and scribbling activity- and then you can have fun posting them or throwing them through the main door of the Post Office if necessary: (OH NO! TOO BIG! TOO BIG!) Because the whole of the back of the buildings are open, it is easy for adults to join in the play and retrieve any items that may have been laced inside. We often play sat facing each other with the buildings in between us. That way both Baby CrazyEgg and I can manipulate the characters and I can see the range of expressions that cross her face: it is a great toy for shared play and communication.
Having pieces to move and sounds to hear often enhances toys, and they do so here. Obviously the people get moved around, but there are also three vehicles included: two vans and a carriage. Putting the figures in the vans, fitting the horse into his harness and manoeuvring all these play pieces are all skills that Baby CrazyEgg has mastered and improved upon since first getting the set. Now the vans travel further and are often accompanied by a definite narrative, so the set is obviously enabling her to create and enact little stories and adventures. You get a set of cakes and a Post Office display that can be fitted neatly into the windows of the relevant buildings if you desire. There is also a sunshade for the terrace of the tea rooms, although this particular piece does not fit in our set and so we have to use it as an umbrella or we can stick it in the chimney of the tea room where it fits very nicely.
The box boasts that the set includes 8 electronic sounds: two telephone rings of different pitches, two cash registers with slightly different "Kerchings!", two entrance bells again with different pitches. Finally, there are two extended sounds that emanate from the Church: the sound of bells peeling, and Here Comes The Bride. There is an on/off switch for this. Part of the church roof lifts off and it is there underneath. This is also where you will need to fit two AA batteries which are not supplied. All the other sounds are produced by four A76 batteries included for demonstration purposes only, but we have not needed to replace them in the 11 months we have had the set.
Besides the fact that the sunshade did not fit in correct hole the other disappointment was that the church door fell off very early on and although it will go back on easily, it falls off at the slightest touch. It is also a bit weird that the top of the church lifts off. It generally sits securely, but does fall off if the church falls over and it is quite weighty because it holds the batteries. It would be better if it clipped in. Another potential disappointment is the use of stickers on the outside of the buildings for some of the signage, and on the post box. Baby CrazyEgg loves a sticker, and consequently there are no longer any collection times on our post box. However, all the other stickers are very well applied and have survived as it is not immediately obvious that they are stickers.
We received this set when Baby CrazyEgg was approximately 18 months. She always liked it, and play has advanced over the last 11 months. It is another of those toys that allows you to see your child's imagination develop, and understand some of their thoughts and ideas even if speech is limited or unclear. Of course many other toys get brought in to this imaginary play world, but even as a self-contained unit it provides endless opportunities. And children don't restrict themselves to using the items for just their designated use, so adults experience both the fun of play and the challenge of trying to understand what on earth is going on:
"Thank goodness! The cakes for the wedding are on their way! OH NO! They have fallen off the van. The vicar is coming. He has going to eat all the cakes. The post office van has driven into the church! The postman has rescued the cakes. His van has got stuck. Heave! Heave! Phew! The vicar is chasing the postman. The horse is on the roof...The flying courgette will rescue him."
At least, I think that was what was happening.
The Ready to Play Village is a really good value ELC Happyland starter pack for which Baby CrazyEgg's grandparents paid £29.99 for in December 2012. They bought it from Argos, a retailer that no longer seems to be selling the Happyland range. A pack of 5 Happyland figures generally costs between £5 and £8 so £30 for 9 figures, 3 vehicles, 3 buildings and 4 accessories* was a very good buy. Currently the set is retailing on ebay for around £45. There is nothing to put together as such, it really is 'ready to play' so will fit back into the box for storage if you wish- ours has never been packed away!
*Pieces included are:
Bride, groom, baker, waitress, postman, old lady, reverend, cat, horse
Carriage (horse fits in to the harness), post office van, baker's van
Post Office, Church, Two-storey bakery/tea room
Tray of buns, post office supplies, post box, sunshade