“ Brand: ELC / Type: Wooden bricks with bag „
In a world packed to the brim with all singing, all dancing electronic toys, it's still the simplest toys that are the most versatile and can bring a smile to your child's face. Take these wooden bricks, there's not a battery in sight and yet they will give your child hours of fun. I happened on these bricks while I was browsing the Early Learning Centre website and after reminiscing on how much fun my older children had playing with theirs, I couldn't resist buying them for ten month old Freddy, especially as they were on offer at only £6 instead of the normal £12.
Billed as being suitable for children over twelve months, the 74 bricks come supplied in a canvas carry bag. I must say that I was a little disappointed, because when I'd previously bought wooden bricks from The Early Centre (some 15+ years ago), I remember getting 100 bricks in a fairly sturdy tub with a lid for £10. This means that they've reduced the number of bricks, upped the normal selling price and while the bag is nice, it doesn't close meaning that there's the risk of them falling out whilst a young child is carrying it.
Even at seventy-four, there's a good number of bricks contained within the bag with a reasonable range of shapes and colours meaning that what your child can build is limited only by their imagination. There are a total of twenty cubes, four each of blue, red, yellow, green and plain. These are the smallest of the bricks and at 3cm cubed, they're too big to fit into Freddy's mouth, which means that he's unable to choke on them. There are also arches, cylinders, triangles, semi-circles and two different size cuboids. The coloured bricks aren't actually completely coloured, instead only two sides have colour on, and that colour is painted on. All the surfaces of the bricks are smooth to the touch, with not a splinter in sight, even after they've been very enthusiastically bashed together they still look as good as new.
The canvas bag is well made, with two handles, all the seams are firmly stitched, but when filled with bricks it is a little too heavy for the smallest of children to carry.
==Gonna Build Me A Tower==
Although Freddy is only ten months old, he still loves playing with these bricks, both on his own and with adult help. When he plays with them by himself, he loves to explore and examine them before banging them together. He does try to build towers, but he's not very good at that yet, only managing to build them two or three bricks high, but he's getting better everyday. When we join in and share the bricks with Freddy he has even more fun. I build the tower up, while Freddy tries to knock it down, it's a race to see how high Mummy can build the tower before Freddy can knock it down, and one that's accompanied with lots of giggles. Although the bricks are too big to fit in Freddy's mouth, I do still supervise him with them, as it's not a good idea for him to chew on them excessively. Being made of wood the bricks are also quite hard, so as Freddy gets older I'm going to have to keep an eye that he doesn't throw them around.
As well as being a favourite with Freddy, these bricks are definitely a toy that visiting children make a bee-line for, even those above the recommended maximum age of three. My friend's children will spend hours building with the bricks, creating a make believe town, there's plenty of bricks for them to build several buildings and even enough for sharing.
While I wouldn't say they've been abused as such, these bricks have had a lot of use over the last month and some of that play has been quite rough. They've been banged together and against hard surfaces and thrown onto the floor on more than one occasion along with being chewed. So far, they've coped extremely well with all this play, not one of them has chipped, all the surfaces are still smooth with no splinters and the colours haven't flaked. So these are proving to be just as durable as I would expect an ELC toy to be.
==Learning Through Play==
As with all of their own brand toys, the ELC makes a few claims as to which skills these bricks will help your child to develop, and as with many of their toys, I think they sell themselves short. The ELC claims that these will help your child improve their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, and I agree with this claim whole-heartedly. In fact, I'm not sure about now, but when my older children were growing, one of the tasks in the development test was building a tower of bricks. This test was used to test their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills and as these improve the child can build taller and taller towers.
But these bricks will also help your child develop a range of other skills, especially if you join in and play too. Is your child a reluctant crawler? Well if you build a tower just out of their reach, you can then encourage them to move towards it to knock it down. Then as your child gets older you can use the coloured bricks to aid colour recognition, starting by describing the colours and then steadily working towards asking them to bring you a specific colour brick.
You also introduce basic maths skills, starting by counting upwards as you build a tower and then introducing adding and taking away. As there are a variety of different shapes you can also use this to introduce shape names along with the concept of bigger and smaller. It's these very early concepts that lay the foundations to maths in later life, and they are so much easier for your child to learn through play.
The bricks can also be used to help your child to learn to follow basic instructions and to copy patterns, as you ask them to put a particular brick 'next to' or 'on top of' another or you encourage them to copy a tower that you've built. Finally the bricks will also encourage your child's imagination as they build a town, castle or whatever and then immerse themselves in the world they've just built.
These bricks are an invaluable addition to any young child's toy box. Although the minimum recommended age is a year, they are safe for younger babies to play with, and a good size with even the smallest not fitting into a small babies mouth. Even six month old babies will enjoy knocking down towers and banging the bricks together and there's no real upper age limit, as you will find even much older children (10+) will have a sneaky go at building a town. These bricks are also extremely tough and will last for years of play (my previous set was played with for about five years before being passed on) meaning that even at full price, they're a bargain. I'm not 100% sure about the bag they now come in, in one way I like it as it's durable and makes it easier for slightly older children to carry the brocks around. But in another way I would prefer that there was some way of closing it so that the bricks won't fall out and get lost.
All in all, I really do think that these bricks deserve five stars out of five, they are far better quality than some other, slightly cheaper brands (Tesco) and £12 for a toy that is so versatile and will played with for so long really isn't bad. Mind you, the current asking price of £6 (01/02/11) is an absolute bargain and a purchase that I in no way regret.