“ Brand: ELC / Age: 1-3 Years „
When Freddy was born 16 months ago, there were certain toys that I knew that I would just have to get for him, toys that had been played with by his much older siblings and toys that were not only fun but were also wonderful at helping development. Included in this selection of toys were stacking cups, wooden bricks and this the ELC Wooden Bead Frame. We bought this bead frame when Freddy was about 7 months old, (which is little younger than the recommended minimum age of 9 months) for the princely sum of £7.50, which was half price. After disappearing from the website for a couple of months the bead frame has reappeared on the ELC website once more selling for the full retail price of £15.
===Beads, beads, my kingdom for some beads - A Parent's View===
The ELC wooden bead frame isn't the largest of toys but still takes up a fair amount of space in the toy box. The printed and varnished wooden base measures approximately 16cm x 25cm, while the thick plastic coated wire tracks rise to a height of approximately 20cm. This means that it was the perfect size to fit on Freddy's highchair tray (Mothercare Pine Cube) and the perfect height for him to play with while sat in the chair. Considering that this is a toy designed for toddlers, it is remarkably heavy and should it land on your foot it will hurt, trust me I had the bruises to prove it.
The base is made from a light wood that has been printed with what I'm assuming is a garden scene and the varnished. The finish is excellent, all the edges are rounded off and every surface is perfectly smooth with not a splinter in sight. The pine coloured base is also remarkably durable, it has been dropped and thrown across the room on multiple occasions with the only damage being a few dents. The three bead tracks are made from plastic coated heavy gauge wire, bent into different shapes and firmly set into the base so that not one of the ends is exposed. Again these wires are very durable having been sat on, used as supports by a newly standing toddler and even chewed on without a sign of bending or other damage. The nine wooden beads (three per wire) are extremely chunky, averaging about an inch in length and various colours and shapes. I really struggle to give names to most of the shapes, a few are identifiable, but mostly they just seem to be random. I wouldn't say that the beads are quite as durable as the rest of the frame. It's not that they've been damaged per say, more that the colours are printed on and this is starting to wear on the edges.
All things considered, as an adult, I think this is a fantastically well made toy, worthy of five stars out of five, that deserves a place in any toddler's toy box. But as with any toy, it's not just my opinion that counts....
==Beads, beads everywhere and not a bead to eat==
Although age guides are useful for helping to decide when to allow a child to play with a toy unsupervised, I'm a firm believer in allowing children to experience toys that are a little beyond their abilities. For this reason I first introduced this bead frame to Freddy when he was seven months old, which is younger than the suggested minimum age of nine months (I'm pretty sure that the recommended minimum age was 12 months when we bought this though). To begin with I would put it on his high chair tray and then encourage him to explore the beads, showing him how they moved along the tracks, the noise they made when they banged together and how much fun it was to push them to the top of a slope and then let go. I must admit that Freddy wasn't all that fussed by the bead frame at this point, he'd watch me play, join in for a few minutes and then get bored, which more often or not would result in the bead frame being thrown on the floor.
Once he started sitting independently, I would put the frame in front of him and allow him to explore it himself and once more he wasn't all that enthralled. This was just Freddy though, he's always been a child that likes pressing buttons and is far less interested in toys if they don't make a noise. As he started to crawl he would occasionally make his way over to the frame and twiddle the beads, but still the interest level was at a minimum and I was really starting to think I'd made a mistake in buying this. I was actually pretty disappointed, as I remember my other children really loving their bead frames as toddlers.
Now Freddy has grown into a much more independent toddler, who is standing and cruising, the bead frame seems to be somewhat more interesting. He'll now actively seek it out and play for a few minutes, as well as trying to use it to get up to standing (doesn't quite work as it's a bit low). We'll also put this on his table to play with together and he quite enjoys racing the beads with me as well as making them bang together. I would say that, while this isn't a favourite toy it is one that is now played with about once a day for a good ten minutes and is even a toy where Freddy will initiate the play (as opposed to me trying to get him interested).
While Freddy has never been particularly enamoured with the bead frame, some of his little friends are and will play with it for extended periods, pushing the beads from one end of the wires to the other almost constantly. I do believe that if Freddy were able to express himself he would give the frame three stars out of five, as he will play with it for relatively short periods of time, but it's not the most exciting toy in the world.
Although a toddler will learn no matter what they play with, I do like to provide Freddy with toys that provide as many fun learning opportunities as possible. This bead frame was bought specifically for this reason, while I did think that Freddy would enjoy playing with it, I was also helping him to improve his hand-eye coordination and dexterity. As he moves the beads along the differently moulded wires, he should be improving those skills and indeed as those skills have improved he has got better at moving the beads along the tracks. But whether the bead frame has actually helped is disputable, as Freddy dexterity has improved he has played with it more, rather than his dexterity improving as he plays with it.
But I will say that these frames are generally excellent for helping children improve these skills, but only if they enjoy playing with them. My older children had bead frames, and those that enjoyed playing with them did benefit from improving hand-eye coordination, including one with learning difficulties and developmental delay. I guess that colours could also be introduced while playing with the frame, each of the tracks is a different primary colour and the beads are various colours. Counting could also be introduced as the beads are moved along the tracks.
Even though this bead frame hasn't been particularly successful as far as Freddy goes, it's still a toy that I would recommend to parents of toddler of about six months or so. There are other makes available, but the build quality of this one is exceptionally good. So averaging mine and Freddy's ratings, I'm going to give the ELC Bead Frame four stars out of five and leave you with a final recommendation to keep an eye out for it in the ELC's regular sales. If you see it for half price then buy it NOW.