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Choosing a suitable present for a baby's first birthday can be surprisingly difficult, so I was pleasantly surprised by my Mum's choice of gift for my youngest one's birthday. Amongst a few other little toys and clothing sets, was this set of stackable vehicles from Fisher Price. I'm not sure where she bought them from but this set can currently be purchased from Amazon for around £10 (plus postage) although I suspect they can be picked up for less in stores.
The set comprises four individual lightweight but sturdy plastic vehicles which get gradually larger, from a small green car right up to a large red fire engine. All four vehicles fit snuggly inside each other, providing they have been placed in the right order, of course. This helps on a practical level when tidying away but also forms a fun game for a little one. At just over a year old, my little boy finds the idea of things disappearing and reappearing to be totally hilarious, so lifting up the fire engine to reveal the car(s) underneath and continuing with the smaller vehicles is a game that he finds totally captivating and usually has him in hysterics! He has also started to mimic my actions and has begun to try and cover the smaller cars with one of the larger ones, then lifting them up with a look of glee and pride at his own achievements.
Unusually, the vehicles have also been cleverly designed to stack on top of each other too, giving what might seem a pretty basic set another dimension for play. Obviously, my son hasn't yet got the motor skills or the co-ordination to stack these up by himself, but this does offer longer-term play value as well as encouraging him to develop these crucial skills. Stacking the trucks on top of each other is slightly trickier than fitting them inside each other, particularly the final little car which needs to be placed precisely to remain in position. My baby loves watching and particularly making the cars topple over as, yet again, this totally appeals to his sense of humour. My four year old finds it a little frustrating, both when he struggles to position the little car on top but, mainly, when his little brother takes great pleasure in demolishing his efforts!
Each vehicle can also be played with individually, as they are fully 'working' cars and can be pushed along easily, even on carpet, making them a fun toy for a newly mobile baby. Each vehicle comes in a different bright primary colour, useful to help with early language development and colour recognition. Even at this age, I always try to identify each truck by its colour and make a point of talking about the 'green car' or 'red fire engine', for instance. The cars are also numbered, again a useful addition to promote ongoing learning into toddlerhood.
I really like the simple but colourful design of each of the cars. They each have their own individual characteristics and a 'face' with a pair of eyes stuck on the front, giving them an appearance which is slightly reminiscent of some of the characters from the film, Cars. Each car also has a specific feature, offering yet more options for play, fun and learning. The smallest car is by far my son's favourite. This one is perfectly proportioned for his little fingers to hold and he is able to give the wheels a little suck and a chew, without being small enough to present any concerns about being a choking hazard. His favourite feature is that this little car makes a gentle rattling sound when shaken or pushed and he will spend a lot of time simply passing this car from one hand to the other, listening to it rattling. This car, in particular, is small and light enough to be handled and enjoyed by even a very young baby, although they could find it a little frustrating if the car rolls out of reach.
The other cars all have a simple little feature designed to appeal to little hands. The blue car has a small rotating bar on the top which my one year old is able to move himself. The big yellow car has a 'sunroof' with a small plastic flap which is easily flicked open and closed, again developing those fine motor skills. The largest vehicle, the big red fire engine, comes complete with a sturdy white ladder that makes a really satisfying clicking noise when it is lifted. The lifting mechanism is really easy to operate as it doesn't require much force at all, but the ladder is securely attached and seems surprisingly robust (as does the set as a whole.)
Being plastic, these cars can easily be wiped clean, which is handy for young babies as everything seems to end up in their mouths at some point. Despite being sucked, chewed and generally mauled by sticky fingers, this set still looks brand new and hasn't suffered a single mark or scratch. The plastic isn't brittle at all and the vehicles have survived being thrown about inside our toy boxes and fought over by my kids without any damage whatsoever. This certainly seems to be a durable little set that should withstand lots of play by one child and still be in a good enough condition to be passed on to younger siblings or even resold after use.
In terms of recommended ages, I would suggest that this is ideal for babies from the age of six months upwards. The cars are perfectly safe to be played with by young babies and can be enjoyed by little ones that are just learning to sit unaided, as well as being appealing as cars to be pushed and chased by babies that are crawling and on the move. At the upper end of the age range, I would say that the chunky design makes them a little babyish to be bought as a gift for a child over the age of two. That said, my four year old seems to enjoy playing with these almost as much as his younger brother and is able to play more imaginatively and creatively with the set, as well as practising stacking and storing the cars.
As a potential gift idea, this might seem a little basic but, as a parent, it makes such a refreshing change to find a toddler toy that doesn't need any batteries and doesn't constantly play tunes or make any irritating noises whatsoever. From a child's point of view, this colourful set of cars offers hours of play value and has the potential to grow with a young baby into a set that will still be entertaining them well into toddlerhood and beyond.