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kat1234

kat1234
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Member since: 29.01.2011

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    • More +
      03.11.2014 22:16
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      • "washes well"
      • "smells nice"

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      • "not great as a bubble bath"

      Ginger Morning, Evening or Night

      I am a big fan of the Treacle Moon range and I have tried many of the products in it. I purchase from Tesco and this particular shower/bath gel cost me £3 for 500ml. The gel comes in a clear, rounded plastic bottle with a black plastic flip cap at the top. There it black text printed on the front of the bottle which reads 'wakey wakey duvet princess......with a gentle yawn she stretched and captured her dream....still warm...today seemed full of endless promise'.

      Through the bottle the 'gel' can be seen. This is a light green colour and has a creamy appearance rather than being gel like. This can be used as a body wash in the shower or poured under running taps in the bath as a bubble bath. I have used this for both but find it much better as a wash than a bubble bath. As a bubble bath, it produces very few bubbles and I ended up using a lot of the product to get a decent amount.

      The scent is very refreshing - it is great as an early morning shower gel as it really wakes me up. It does smell of ginger but not really strongly - it is quite a subtle scent. It fills the shower nicely when in use but the smell doesn't last on my skin after showering. It lathers quite well and washes my skin nicely - leaving it feeling clean and not too dry either. The bottle lasts well too - making it good value for the £3 I paid. It is frequently available on offer too (currently £1.99 in Tesco, October 2014) making it even better value.

      I think the design of the bottle - with the text on the front - makes it quite unique and quirky, It gives it quite a premium feel to it and I think it makes a good gift, Ginger is also quite a unique fragrance and one that I like very much. Overall I recommend this as a body wash but found it a little disappointing for a bath.

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      • More +
        18.03.2014 15:44
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        great value game for thomas fans

        Neither my mum nor I are able to walk past a 'The Works' store now anymore. We have managed to pick up so many games and puzzles for my son at cheap prices in there recently that we always consider it 'worth a look' when we are passing. Her most recent find was this Thomas Memory Match game which was priced at £3.99. Knowing that my son had developed a very large interest in Thomas The Tank Engine, and that such games keep him occupied well, she purchased them for him to play with when we visit (which is at least once a week so she likes to have things in to keep him busy with!). My son already has a Thomas Memory game (from Ravensburger) but this one is much larger.

        THE GAME

        The game comes in quite a large cardboard box with a lift off lid. The box is largely blue in colour with three large pictures of three of the cards included on the lid - James, Thomas and Percy (the red, blue and green engines for those unfamiliar) and the words 'Memory Match Game' in yellow text at the .bottom. It tells us it is for ages 3 years plus and that there are 72 cards contained.

        Inside the box, there are 6 sheets of card - each with 12 of the memory cards on that need to be separated upon first use. This represents six pairs of identical cards. It is just a case of popping them out of their frame and is quick and easy to do. The cards are square in shape, with rounded corners and about 5cm x 5cm in size. There is also a blue plastic tray contained, with six compartments which house the cards neatly - this is for storing them in once you have finished playing.

        The cards are all brightly coloured. Some have pictures of characters from the Thomas and Friends series on, some have a picture of an engine with their name in capitals on it too and some have just a 'badge' on. The ones with just the badge say things like 'Chuff & Puff' or 'Sodor Express'. For some of the more popular characters e.g. Thomas, there are three of four different pairs of cards of that character but for less well known characters e.g. Rocky there is just one card featuring them.

        PLAYING

        We play with the game in a variety of ways. My son is not yet three (the minimum age recommended for the game) so he is not as advanced as older children who would be able to play pairs with the cards. At first, my son was very happy to just look through all the cards contained and identify the characters pictured. There were one or two that we couldn't identify though - so this is our little challenge, to find out who they are. We discussed things like colour, what number the engine is and facial expressions. So, although not the purpose of the cards, they proved a good conversation piece and allowed my son to practice his number and colour recognition.

        Moving on from this, we lay the cards down on the table, face up. As the cards are so small, they are able to all fit on his child-sized table without too much cramming or overlapping despite there being so many cards. This means that he can see all the cards clearly and at once. We then ask him to find a certain character (with more popular ones, he has a choice of cards to choose from!) and to find a matching pair. This means that he has to use his observational skills to find that character and then to find the same card to match it with - this obviously reinforced his understanding of 'matching' and 'the same'. This in itself provides him with a sense of satisfaction when he finds a matching pair. As there are 36 matching pairs to get through, this can take a good 10 minutes to do, so it is also helping to develop his concentration levels.

        Gradually, we are introducing him to the concept of memory games and pairs so we pick a few matching pairs at a time (usually his favourite characters) and lay them face down on the table. We then turn over two cards at a time and try to remember which characters are where in an attempt to collect all the pairs. He is slowly understanding this game and we can add another pair more-or-less every time we play. We are nowhere near to using the full 36 pairs though - to be fair, I think I would struggle to remember the position of that many cards, especially when some are not of characters (just words) or when some characters have lots of cards so you can't just remember the character name!

        OUR OPINION

        The cards are well made. They are quite a thick cardboard and have not bent at all despite my son's heavy handling. They have not peeled at the edges either like some cards can. They are all really brightly coloured and very attractive to look at - they certainly grab my son's attention. They are also an ideal size so that they do not take up much room when they are all spread out on the table. Most of the pictures are interesting but I do feel that the ones that look like badges are a bit of a cop out. My son is too young to read and these mean very little to him and do not hold his interest at all - I am not sure how he can be expected to remember these easily in a memory game. I think the game would be much improved with more pictures of engines - there are some that are not even included in the game such as Hector, Bash and Dash or Annie and Clarabel, or even some that are already included could be used again.

        The tray included to hold the cards is a nice idea and definitely beats keeping them loose in the box (which my son had a tendency to drop so it would be very messy). I find that the top layer of cards do not hold very well though and these usually end up loose in the box. It does keep the majority of cards in place though so this is just a minor negative for me.

        As far as the game goes, I think it is a lovely simple concept and a great way to introduce my son to memory games and turn taking etc. I think that 36 pairs is rather optimistic but it is nice to have a variety of cards to choose from and something to work up to! It holds his interest well and for £3.99, I really can't complain - I think they are terrific value, especially in terms of quality. Recommended for all young Thomas fans.

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        • ELC Touch & Feel Zoo Puzzle / Puzzle / 35 Readings / 36 Ratings
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          17.03.2014 16:28
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          An ok puzzle

          My son has built up quite an extensive collection of puzzles in recent times (I know - I have to find homes for them all which is becoming increasingly difficult). There are one or two common themes to the ones that he enjoys most - one being that they contain animals and another that they are bright and colourful. This Touch and Feel Zoo puzzle from Early Learning Centre ticks both of these boxes.

          THE PUZZLE

          The puzzle comes in a large cardboard box with a green string carry handle (as a lot of the ELC puzzles tend to). On the front of the box is a picture of the puzzle contained inside. Inside the box, the puzzle pieces are loose. The puzzle itself is really a floor puzzle although it is not marketed as such - when made up, it is 70cm wide by 50cm tall. The age recommendation of the puzzle is three years plus and it costs £10 at full price but it is part of the 2 for £15 promotion too - so if you want another puzzle or toy that is part of the promotion, you can save yourself a few pounds.

          The puzzle depicts a busy cartoon zoo scene. The animals and scenery are very brightly coloured - the whole puzzle looks vibrant and exciting. There are 24 pieces and each piece is quite large. The animals pictured on the puzzle are: flamingos, seals, lions, snakes, polar bears, parrots, elephants, monkeys and penguins. There are lots of children visiting the zoo - feeding and stroking the animals - and there is also a zookeeper pictured.

          On each exhibit, except the parrot, there is at least one animal that has a patch of material on their body. This is the 'touch and feel' aspect of the puzzle. The animals have slightly different textures - the snake is scaly and scratchy and the polar bear soft and fluffy.

          DOING THE PUZZLE

          My son likes to do this puzzle and to comment on the animals as he does so. The puzzle introduced him to flamingos - a word that seems to tickle him and he now loves to say. As he completes the puzzle he likes to say how many of each animal there are - so it helps him practice his counting skills to a extent (it is not too taxing as there are no more than three of any animal!). The puzzle itself is a good size and my son loves to do floor puzzles as they are a great activity for us to do together. He doesn't really need my help though, he finds the puzzle quite simple to do - the puzzle is in distinctly coloured sections so it is fairly easy for him to work out which piece goes where. When made up, the puzzle is bright and colourful and I personally think that it is one of the most attractive-to-look -at puzzles he owns.

          The pieces are big and chunky and easy for him to slot together. They hold together well but are still quite easy to pull apart to pack away. They are also quite thick and sturdy so do not bend if he pieces the pieces together incorrectly.

          My son is not that interested in the touch and feel aspect of the puzzle. I personally think that this type of thing appeals much more to younger children who are beginning to explore the world and do a lot of this by touch. As this puzzle is for children aged three years plus, most children who do it will be past this stage. He has brushed over it once or twice out of curiosity but it is definitely not something he does every time he uses the puzzle. I think the inclusion of this aspect does make the puzzle a little different and I think that it will be a nice activity to do with his younger brother when he is a bit older as he will enjoy exploring these sections whilst his older brother can do the puzzle - so it something they can enjoy together.

          OVERALL OPINION

          Whilst there is no doubt that this is a lovely puzzle - well made and brightly coloured - I think that my son has other puzzles that are more appealing for him. He is not quite three (which is actually the minimum age recommended for this puzzle) but it is very easy for him to do and not much of a challenge at all. Obviously this is down to the individual child involved and their interests and abilities but, for us, this is perhaps a little too easy. He does still like to do it though and the picture is interesting to him - it just doesn't occupy him for very long at all.

          I think that this puzzle may be better suited for children from 2 years - even 18 months as an activity to do with an adult. This is because it would help them to learn how puzzles work, learn some new vocabulary - animal names and they would be more likely to enjoy the touch and feel aspect. I certainly think that my son would have enjoyed it at this age. I also think that £10 for the one puzzle (even if it is a floor puzzle) is quite expensive and that Early Learning Centre has other puzzles available that offer better value (and are probably more suited to three year olds). Based on this, I can't offer a full recommendation but the puzzle is well made and colourful and offers all the benefits that a puzzle can - improving problem solving skills, manipulative skills and hand-eye co-ordination - so I give it 3 stars.

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          • Mr Men Memory Game / Card Games / 32 Readings / 30 Ratings
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            16.03.2014 09:04
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            simple but effective

            My son went through a stage of being obsessed with all things Mr Men. This lasted several months before being taken over by his Thomas The Tank obsession. He does still enjoy the Mr Men and will still ask for the programme or play with his many Mr Men puzzles. One of the Mr Men themed toys he plays with most are these memory cards which were in his stocking at Christmas this year. I purchased them from Amazon for £3.72 in October last year. They currently sell for £5.40 on the site.


            THE CARDS

            The cards come in a cardboard box much like any pack of cards, but this is slightly bigger in size as they are 'jumbo' playing cards (product dimensions given as 14 x 8.6 x 2.2 cm). The box has a picture of two of the main characters from the Little Miss and Mr Men series - Mr Happy and Little Miss Sunshine. Both are yellow, happy looking characters. The card flap at the top of the box displays the recommended age for the cards - 3 years plus and says the game is for 2 or more players.

            In the box, you are provided with 54 playing cards - so 27 matching pairs. Each card features one character from the Mr Men or Little Miss series and has a large picture of them on, together with their name written at the bottom of the card. The background is brightly coloured (there are various colours so most characters have a different coloured background) so all the cards have a very bright, colourful appearance. The back of the cards have small pictures of the Mr Men on so are also colourful. The cards are larger than the average playing cards - I would say about twice the size, so are ideal for toddlers to grasp.

            There are a lot more characters from the Mr Men series included than from the Little Miss Series. There are nine Little Miss characters featured and 18 Mr Men. Characters featured include: Little Miss Splendid, Little Miss Trouble, Mr Bump, Mr Tickle, Mr Tall to name a few. There is also a blue instruction card contained which provided instructions on how to play the game.

            PLAYING THE GAME

            To play, you shuffle all the cards and place them faced down on the table/floor. The youngest player goes first and turns over two cards for all players to see. If they are a matching pair, the player retains these and turns two more over until two non-matching cards are revealed. These are then turned face down again and the next player takes a turn - if they turn a card over that matches one they have already seen they need to try and remember where that card is. There are four 'Muddle Cards' provided in the pack - the two Mr Muddle cards and the two Little Miss Scatterbrain cards. These have the word 'Muddle' in black capitals at the top and this is a feature of the game. If a player turns over a muddle card they must shout 'muddle' and mix up the remaining card so no-one can remember where any of the cards are. The winner is the player with most pairs at the end of the game, once all the cards have been taken.

            For younger players, and for a quicker game, it is recommended that muddle cards are just used as normal matching cards.

            OUR EXPERIENCE

            My son is still not yet three and only really beginning to understand the concept of pairs and remembering where cards are if faced down on the table. We have therefore, until very recently, been playing with these in our own way rather than follow the above instructions for play. I would spread the cards out on the table, face up, and ask him to find two of a character. This encouraged him to look for the character and help his observation skill as well as build up his concentration levels. This in itself was quite a challenging way to play as there are so many cards provided. He enjoyed playing this way a lot and had a sense of achievement when he found the characters requested. We could also discuss the characters on the cards - items of clothing, colour etc. This also helped him to understand the use of 'he', 'she', 'his' and 'hers'.

            More recently, we have used these cards to introduce him to the concept of pairs. We use only a handful of cards at a time as there are so many in the pack. At first we used just three or four pairs and then built it up by adding a couple at a time as my son mastered the game.

            The cards are ideal for my son as they are bigger in size (although not terribly thick so they do still bend). This means that he can grasp them easily and the pictures are big and bold so easy to see. However, the size of the cards means that they take up a lot of room on the table when all laid out so you need quite a big surface to play on.


            OVERALL OPINION

            The cards are very appealing to my son and I think they are well made too. The corners are rounded which gives them a softer appearance. The colours are bright and eye catching and there is a good selection of characters included. I personally think it would have been nice to have more of a balance between the numbers of Mr Men characters and Little Miss characters as the pack is heavily weighted towards Mr Men. Not a problem for us as my son prefers the Mr Men but I know my niece prefers the Little Miss so would be less interested in the pack of cards than him. I like the fact that the cards are bigger, despite the problem that they don't fit on the table easily, as it gives the cards a toddler-friendly appeal. I also like the fact that there is an added twist with the muddle cards as this means that you can increase the level of difficulty once your child has mastered pairs.

            Our cards have a well used look about them already - some of the corners are bent where my son has struggled to pick them up off the table (they sit very flat so unless they are near an edge and can be slid off, they can be hard to pick up). If they could have been slightly thicker this would have prevented this wear and tear a little but it hasn't really affected our play at all.

            I think these are lovely cards for any Mr Men or Little Miss fan and I definitely recommend them.

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            • More +
              14.03.2014 14:13
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              great set

              My son is really in to puzzles and everyone seemed to embrace that fact and he was lucky enough to receive lots of puzzles for Christmas last year - which are keeping him very occupied. He is not yet three but the majority of puzzles that he received were for ages three years plus, which seems an ideal level of difficulty for him. One of the puzzles that we bought him was this set from Early Learning Centre - 10 in a box animal puzzles. I opted for these for a number of reasons - one was that I am a big fan of Early Learning Centre toys, they always seem to be good quality and well thought out. Secondly, my son loves animals and I thought he would enjoy these and, lastly, they were part of the two for £15 promotion at Early Learning Centre. Priced at £10, which I thought good value anyway, this made them a fantastic price.


              THE PUZZLES

              The puzzles come in a fairly large cardboard box, which opens at the top and has a green string carry handle. On the front, some of the puzzles are pictured along with three symbols which tell you what skills the puzzles develop - fine motor skills, problem solving and hand-eye co-ordination. On the back are pictures of all ten puzzles contained together with the number of pieces and the approximate size of the puzzles. These range from the simplest - a penguin with a baby penguin - which is two pieces and 8 x 14cm, to the hardest - two elephants and a baby elephant - which is 40 pieces and 3 x 30cm.

              The first five puzzles increase the pieces by two each time i.e. 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 pieces. The animals on these are penguins, meerkats, pandas, zebras and gorillas respectively. After these, the next four puzzles increase by five pieces a time - so 15, 20, 25 and 30 pieces. These are giraffes, rhinos, hippos and lions. Then the final puzzle is the elephant puzzle with 40 pieces.

              The first two puzzles are in the shape of the animals but the rest are rectangular. All are brightly coloured with at least one adult and one baby animal (some have two adults and a child, an adult and two children or two adults and two children). The pieces are thick cardboard of varying shapes and sizes - as the puzzles get larger the pieces get smaller. Each puzzle has a different coloured back - helping you to sort the puzzles out if the pieces become mixed up. As the puzzles come sorted into separate plastic bags inside the box, this isn't a problem initially but the bags aren't the strongest so if you continue to use them this will probably help at some stage!

              PUZZLING IT OUT

              The puzzles all appealed to my son as the animals looked realistic despite being in a cartoon-drawing form. They also looked bright, colourful and friendly. The puzzles are for 3 years plus but, as with most toys, I use this just as a recommendation and actually think my son would have had more value from these if I had got them for him at 2 years or even 18 months - it really depend on a child's ability and affinity for puzzles. My son could complete simple two piece puzzles between 12 and 18 months so the very basic ones in the pack would have suited him then and he could have 'grown with' the set. As it is, he was able to do some of the most difficult ones instantly so there isn't a lot of room for development or challenge for him with this particular set. This also means that some of the simpler ones - definitely the 2, 4 and 6 piece puzzles - hold very little interest for him, which is a shame. However, we will be using this much earlier with his younger brother so hopefully he'll get the use from these!

              The larger puzzles with more pieces are very engaging though and my son will often get this set out to do these - he has his favourite one (the lions) that he will always pick first. I'm not entirely sure why but the picture is particularly bright and I think that lions are quite appealing animals to children anyway. Of all the puzzles, the only one that I would describe as a real challenge is the elephant puzzle. This is partly as it has the most pieces but is largely due to the vast amount of grey and similar pieces involved - even I can find this one a challenge to complete! It definitely helps my son's problem solving abilities as well as his hand-eye co-ordination.

              The pieces are well made and sturdy - the cardboard doesn't bend easily and they slot together (and pull apart again) very easily. The pictures are glossy and do not come away from the base. They have certainly stood up well to my son's sometimes rather rough handling.


              MY OVERALL OPINION

              The puzzles are interesting and of great quality. The animals included are those that most toddler's will be familiar with - particularly if they visit zoos at all. The only animal that my son didn't immediately recognise was the panda - so this has taught him a new word too. Some of my son's favourite animals - meerkats and penguins - feature on the smallest puzzles which is a shame as he doesn't find these challenging (obviously this is a very personal view point but worth mentioning at this point none-the-less). There is a good range of animals included in the set though.

              I think the set is fantastic value for money - especially if you can get it as part of the two for £15 promotion. I would probably recommend it for children from about two years - not expecting them to do the more difficult puzzles but with a view to them growing with the set and getting the different puzzles out as they develop.

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              • More +
                13.03.2014 18:08
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                nice starter puzzles

                My son developed a love of puzzles from an early age. He seems to be a real problem solver and this is obviously where his interests lie, so when it comes to giving people ideas for birthday/Christmas presents, puzzles are always high up on the list. For Christmas last year, when he was around 18 months of age, my sister bought him this set of Thomas Puzzles, knowing that he had also recently become interested in Thomas the Tank Engine and the various characters from the series.

                The puzzles are for children from aged 18 months of age, so it seemed ideal for him. He had progressed from inset puzzles to two and three piece jigsaws and this seemed the ideal next step for him. It currently retails at £5.99 on Amazon and is by Ravensburger, who make a lot of children's puzzles and we have a fair few of their collection!

                THE PUZZLES

                The puzzles come in a rectangular box with pictures of the completed puzzles and their number of pieces clearly labelled. There are four puzzles contained in the box - Thomas, Rosie, Percy and James. Thomas is two pieces, James three, Rosie four and Percy is the most challenging at five pieces. Each puzzle measures 11.5 x 16cm when complete.

                The puzzles are made of a thick cardboard and the pieces are quite large, being only a few pieces per puzzle. The pieces are long and thin - so each train is cut vertically into pieces (shapes of which obviously depend on how many pieces the puzzle is divided in to). Each train is on a different coloured background - each one is brightly coloured. The engines all have smiling faces and are very good representations of the characters. To store, as we have found with all Ravensburger puzzles, the pieces are just placed back in the box. This is not such an issue for these ones as there are so few pieces per puzzle it is easy to sort out again but once your child develops and there are more pieces, it becomes more of an inconvenience!

                PLAYTIME

                My son instantly loved these puzzles. This was largely due to his recognition of the characters rather than the fact that they were puzzles, but he was very keen to open the box and get to the pieces. He was a little over 18 months when he got these and was instantly able to do Thomas and James (the two and three piece puzzles) with no assistance. He required a little more help with Rosie and Percy (four & five pieces) but he soon got the hang of these too.

                The pieces were a nice chunky size for his toddler sized hands and he could grip them easily. They were also easy for him to manipulate into place and slot together - not stiff at all which would definitely have been a major source of frustration to him. The fact that the trains are not only different colours but the backgrounds are too meant that it was easy for him to recognise what parts belonged to what puzzle. This helped when, as he got better at doing the puzzles, I just left the puzzle pieces in a pile rather than sort them into individual piles for each puzzle. The pieces are also quite thick and sturdy and the cardboard is of good quality - this has meant that they have stood up well to heavy handedness and sometimes quite rough piecing together. They have not turned up at the corners like some of my son's puzzles nor has there been any issue with the picture part peeling off.

                I would say that it probably took him 4 or 5 attempts with the puzzles for him to fully get the hang of all four of them. Once he had, the puzzles would only take him about 3 or 4 minutes to do all four puzzles. He might do them twice in a sitting but this still only kept him amused for ten minutes maximum.


                MY OPINION

                I think the puzzles are a lovely idea for an introduction to the concept of traditional jigsaw puzzles and a great step up from the wooden peg puzzles that babies and toddlers start with. However, I think that my son got these a little late to get real value and use from them. He was already familiar with the concept of such puzzles and was completing 2 and 3 piece puzzles prior to this. For him, they would have been suitable from 12 months rather than the 18 recommended. However, I appreciate that this is entirely down to the child and their individual abilities. Some of my friends' children are much older than the 18 month mark and have little interest in puzzles and would struggle to do these - so my advice would be to know the child you are buying them for and match to their ability/interest.

                The puzzles are well made and a good quality so well worth the £5.99 price tag. They are a lovely gift to receive too -so ideal for a birthday present for a little Thomas fan. The colours are bright and stimulating and the trains all have friendly faces, adding to the toddler appeal. Puzzles are great for encouraging problem solving abilities and developing manipulative skills and these are no exception to that. We have the added educational value of counting the puzzle pieces per puzzle and discussing the colours and features of the engines etc with these puzzles too.

                Overall, I would recommend these puzzles as they are very good quality. My only regret is that we got these a little late for my son to fully benefit from them. I would suggest buying as a first birthday present as it is always best to have them to put by than to get them too late! I certainly wish my son had had these at 12 months. The only problem that there could be with this is if the child hasn't quite outgrown the 'putting everything in their mouth' stage - as these are cardboard they could get soggy and ruin. This is easily overcome with fully supervised play though.

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              • More +
                12.03.2014 20:53
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                great price!

                My son has shown a recent interest in the Mr Men characters. He loves to read the books with me and has learnt a lot of their names. This interest has extended in to memory card games, clothes and puzzles. When I was shopping in The Works recently, I noticed they had some nice Mr Men bits at very reasonable prices and one of the things that I picked up for him, along with some other bits as handy stocking fillers, was this set of Mr Men misfits. They cost me £2.99 for a box of 30 pieces, which seemed a good price to pay.


                THE PUZZLES

                The puzzles come loose in a cardboard box that seals at the top with a red thin rope carry handle. On the carry handle there is a demonstration piece of puzzle attached - this handily doubles up as a label do you can add your child's name to it if they take it anywhere. The front of the box is colourful and the edges are covered with pictures of the different Mr Men (not all of these feature in the puzzles) and in the middle, there are pictures of some of the puzzles contained in the box. The back of the box shows all of the pieces contained and a demonstration of how they can be pieced together to create a 'misfit'.

                Contained in the box are ten Mr Men characters, each in the form of a three piece puzzle. The characters contained are: Mr Tickle, Mr Topsy-Turvy, Mr Happy, Mr Grumpy, Mr Jelly, Mr Bump, Mr Strong, Mr Silly, Mr Forgetful and Mr Rush. Each puzzle has the character on divided into three horizontal pieces - top of the head/hat, face & body and legs. The character is on a brightly coloured background and at the bottom of the foot piece, the character's name is written in black capital letters.

                The idea of the puzzles is that they can be pieced together to make up the correct character or they can be used as 'misfits' to make a unique character out of parts of the other characters. All pieces fit together to enable this to happen, i.e. all top pieces fit onto all body pieces which in turn fit onto all leg pieces. The pieces are made of a thick glossy cardboard that is not easily bent and they attach to the other pieces in one place in the centre of the piece. The puzzles are for children aged three years plus but I was happy for my son to have them at two and a half - there are certainly no small or hazardous pieces so I didn't see this as an issue at all.

                PLAYTIME

                My son instantly took to these puzzles and recognised all the characters contained, although some quicker than others! The pieces are brightly coloured and are very appealing to him. He was able to do the three piece puzzles instantly with no assistance. He is really in to puzzles and used to them containing more pieces (we're up to 24-30 but usually around 20) so they weren't too challenging to him in this respect - although this totally depends on the child and their interests/abilities as not all children will have such a keen interest. A lot of his friends of a similar age are not so interested in puzzles, with their skills lying elsewhere, so these would be more challenging for them, so it is not necessarily an age thing.

                I bought these for the Mr Men aspect and he definitely enjoyed making the puzzles up even though they weren't particularly a challenge to him. The puzzle pieces are large so they are easy to hold and direct together and they slot together well without being too stiff. At the same time, they hold together well too so do not come apart in play - something that can frustrate my son with puzzles.

                Putting the pieces together to create his own characters only holds a certain amount of appeal to my son at the moment - I think that this is something that will develop with age and as his imagination develops too. He much prefers to do the puzzles 'properly' and make up the characters that he knows. However, we do play the misfits game together and it is a nice discussion point for us as we can talk about what characters we are putting together - colours etc.


                MY OPINION

                For £2.99 these are a great little game/puzzle set for any fan of the Mr Men books. They would make a great stocking filler for Christmas too. I was actually pleasantly surprised at the quality of them for the price I paid - I was expecting them to be made of a thin, poor quality cardboard. However, they are really good quality - a thick, durable glossy cardboard that has shown no sign of wear and tear despite a lot of use so far. The corners remain completely intact with no curling or bending.

                My criticism of the set would be the characters contained are not what I would say the most popular ones. For example, I don't think Mr Rush, Mr Forgetful or Mr Topsy-Turvy are top of most children's lists and my son would certainly have preferred to have Mr Nosey, Mr Messy and Mr Noisy in the set. Also, I think there could have been a greater variety of background colours too - this would add to the appeal of the 'misfits' part of the game as it would add more colours and variation here. For example, there are three characters with yellow backgrounds and three with green. Purple or orange backgrounds could have been used for some characters. Another thing that my son noticed almost instantly was that Mr Grumpy is happy, with a big smiling face, rather than sad and grumpy as his character should be!

                Although my son doesn't exactly find these puzzles challenging to do, he will get them out nearly every day and do them all a couple of times each. I know that this is largely down to his current obsession with the Mr Men and the use of the puzzles will probably directly correlate to this. However, we have already more than had our £2.99 worth out of these! The misfit aspect also adds a fun factor to the set that I think my son will enjoy in the months to come so it is nice that they offer a different dynamic to just a puzzle set. I would definitely recommend this set for toddlers that are interested in Mr Men and for the price paid, they are a steal.

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                • More +
                  11.03.2014 20:37
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                  so so

                  My son received this set of puzzles from a friend for his second birthday. They knew him well enough to know how much he loved puzzles and not tto be deterred by the age recommendation of 3-5 years plus on the box. The puzzle currently sells at £10.99 on Amazon (December 2013) which I was surprised to find out as I think that is quite pricey for a puzzle.


                  THE PUZZLES

                  The puzzles come in a green cardboard box with a yellow plastic carry handle on the top. On the front of the box, there is a picture of four of the puzzles contained and the words 'What Next?' in white letters at the top. Inside the box, there are ten three piece puzzles, each tells a mini sequencing story. The child then pieces these together in the correct order to complete the story.

                  Examples of the picture stories on the puzzle are: a girl eating an ice cream, a boy going to bed, a girl planting and growing a flower and a girl opening a present. All the puzzles are brightly coloured with simple pictures that clearly tell a story. Each puzzle piece is fairly large and they slot together easily in a horizontal row. All the sequences feature a child and are about things the child doing the puzzle is likely to be familiar with and able to identify with.


                  PLAYTIME

                  At two, my son could complete three piece puzzles easily and these were no exception. He could easily identify which pieces belonged to each puzzle and put them together in the correct order. However, at this young age he didn't really understand the idea of the puzzles telling a sequencing story. As he approaches three years of age now, and his vocabulary and communication skills have vastly improved, he can talk about what is happening on each puzzle.

                  The puzzles themselves are not difficult and have never posed a challenge to my son - but this is not really the idea of these puzzles. For that reason, he doesn't choose to play these puzzles often as he prefers puzzles with more pieces as he likes the problem-solving aspect. However, particularly as he has got older, he has chosen to play these with me so that we can discuss what is happening on each piece and then what the whole story is telling us. He seems to enjoy the social interaction that these puzzles encourage and they encourage his observation skills as he looks closely at the pictures on each piece and speaks in detail about them.


                  MY OPINION

                  At first, I wasn't sure about these puzzles as I didn't think that they were complex enough. However, as my son plays with them, I can see how they encourage his development in a different way to other puzzles and this makes me glad that we have them in our collection. They have encouraged my son's storytelling skills, observation and imagination as well as helping to develop his vocabulary and encourage the formation of sentences. It has also taught him pre-reading skill such as the reading of things from left to right.

                  The puzzles themselves are of good quality. They are made of fairly thick, strong cardboard and are not easily bent or ripped. The pictures are brightly coloured and stimulating. My only issue with the colours is that some of the backgrounds are the same on different puzzles. This can be looked at in two ways - either that it could be confusing for a child learning to use matching skills as they would correctly match pieces but still make the wrong puzzle, or that this adds to the complexity and challenge for children and is therefore a positive thing.

                  My son and I enjoy doing these puzzles and discussing them together but that they are the sort of puzzle that you only do once, now and again - they fail to hold my son's interest for great lengths of time. We would usually play with these for 10 to 15 minutes at a time so they are more of a gap filler than an afternoon's activity etc. I do think that the puzzles are good and quite well thought out and I love the idea of them - it is just that, in practice, they do not work as well for us as I would have hoped. They are definitely worth having as a slight alternative to other puzzles but I would struggle to see them worth the £10.99 price tag on Amazon. At around £5-6 I would say they are worth purchasing. They are a bit of a so-so puzzle for me.

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                  • Alphabet Lotto / Board Game / 35 Readings / 34 Ratings
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                    03.03.2014 11:00
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                    great game

                    I bought my son this alphabet lotto game when his baby brother arrived in the hope that some new games would keep him occupied in those difficult few days after birth. He was fast developing an interest in game playing and demonstrating a real interest in letters so I felt that this game would be right up his street. It is also by Orchard Toys - a company whom we have several other games and puzzled by and we have always both enjoyed these and been impressed with their quality. The game is for children aged 3 years plus and costs around £10. It is currently priced at around £7.

                    THE GAME

                    The game comes in fairly large yellow cardboard box. On the front, it has various animals pictured and each hold a letter card that corresponds to the letter that their name begins with i.e. the elephant holds the letter 'e' and the dog holds 'd' and so on. On the back of the box, there is a picture of the actual gave, a list of contents and a rundown of the 'four different ways to play'.

                    Inside the box, there are 5 lotto boards, 30 picture cards and 30 letter cards as well as a sheet of instructions on how to play. Each lotto board is rectangular in shape and made of a thick cardboard. Around the border, each board has a different colour - purple, blue, green, yellow and red. On one side of the board, there are six squares with letters written in. There are five squares with a singular letter and the last square has two letters to make a common sound e.g. 'ch' or 'sh'. All the letters are small letters rather than capitals. On the other side of the board, there are six pictures - for example an apple or a penguin. Under the picture, the name of that object is written. This is written in white text, with the first letter of the name in blue.

                    The cards provided are all square in shape, with rounded corners, and also made of a thick cardboard. The letter cards all have a white background with the letter (or two letters) written in blue in small letters. The picture cards also have a white background with a coloured picture of an object on. The two sets of cards have different backings - the pictures have a dark blue backing with 'Orchard Toys' written in white and the letters have a white backing with 'Orchard Toys' written in blue. As you are provided with these all in one plastic bag, this enables you to separate them for gameplay relatively quickly and easily. I have put these in separate bags myself as it became a chore sorting them every time we played!

                    PLAYING THE GAME

                    As per the instructions, there are four ways that you can play the game. To set the game up, each player chooses a lotto board (2-5 players) and you place in picture or letter side up - depending on which version of the game you are playing. The relevant cards are then placed on the table, face down. The object of the game is simple, to be the first player to collect all the cards that are on their board.

                    The simplest way to play is with the picture boards and cards. The youngest player goes first and picks one of the cards from the table and turns it over so all players can see. If that picture appears on their board they can place it in it's relevant slot. If it is not on their board, it is returned face down to the table. The next player can then take a turn and, if that picture is on their board, they can remember where it is on the table and collect it. You can then play in a similar way with the letter side of the boards and the letter cards.
                    The other two ways to play are a little more challenging - you can play with the letter side of the board and the picture cards or the picture side of the board and the letter cards. The idea being that you match the picture with the letter the object begins with i.e. match the picture of the octopus with the letter 'o' and so on.

                    OUR EXPERIENCE

                    My son was around two and a half when he received this and was becoming familiar with his letters. He also understood how to play lotto as we already owned, and played, 'Old McDonalds Lotto' from the Orchard Toys range. This meant that he was able to pick up the game quickly. We started with the picture boards and picture cards as I think this is the easiest version. He was able to get to grips with this straight away, matching and observing well. We didn't play quite the version recommended as I didn't think my son was ready for the memory aspect of the game yet, so we would just keep a card if it was uncovered, no matter who turned it over. My son is very nearly three years old now and is beginning to understand the memory aspect - although with all the cards this is still too much for him. I simplify the game by removing all the 'excess' cards and just leaving those that are on our boards (so 12 cards in total) as this makes it more achievable (and reduces the game time!).

                    We now play both the letter and the picture card versions of the game. When playing with pictures we can discuss what letter each picture begins with (although having the word written directly below the picture on the board gives this away somewhat). When we play letters, we discuss what sounds they make and I ask my son for something beginning with that letter. It is a great, fun way to familiarise him with letters and very early reading skills.

                    The game is well made - the cardboard is suitably thick so that it doesn't bend and it hasn't peeled at the edges at all either. The boards and cards also have a glossy finish so they can be wiped clean easily if sticky marks etc are left.

                    OVERALL OPINION

                    I like the fact that there are four different ways to play the game, and that they vary in difficulty. The simpler games of matching the pictures or letters are ideal for my son at just under three. As he gets older and more familiar with letters and sounds, the other versions will be more challenging for him. Therefore I think we will get quite good longevity from the game and it will work out to be pretty good value for money. It also means we can play a few times in one session without my son getting bored as there is different variations of the game we can play.

                    The game also offers lots of learning benefits - turn taking as well as letter recognition and matching/observation skills. It is good fun too, so it is definitely learning in a fun way (which is the best way!). I think the simplicity of the game itself is ideal for younger children but not all young children will be interested in letters, so the suitability of the game is really down to the interests and likes of each individual child. For my son, it is ideal and he has had lots of enjoyment from it already - and I think that this will continue. For that reason, I give this game my full recommendation. It really is a lovely game.

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                  • More +
                    02.03.2014 17:48
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                    lovely toy

                    My son loves to draw and we bought him a large etch-a-sketch type board many months ago which he loves. He loved it so much that I decided to buy him a smaller, more lightweight version so that we had something to occupy him when we went to friend's houses/ate in restaurants. The Go Create Magic Sketcher from Tesco certainly fitted the smaller and more lightweight requirements well and, at £5.50, it is reasonably priced too, so I added it to my trolley when shopping in Tesco a few months ago.


                    THE TOY

                    As I say, this is an etch-a-sketch type toy in that it is simply a drawing board which works using magnets and can be wiped clean over and over again to be reused. It is recommended for use by children aged three years plus, but I am happy to let my son aged two and a half to use it supervised. The board is fairly small but still large enough for a toddler to have room to draw on - it measures 24.6cm x 33.0cm. The surround to the board is plastic - ours is red but they are also available in yellow. It has a carry handle at the top so it can be picked up and held by the child.

                    On the left hand side of the board, in the plastic surround, there are three stamps. These sit in a narrow line 'bed' and this holds them in place. These are made of plastic (on our board, these are yellow) and have a black magnet embedded in them. These are in three shapes - a house, circle and star. On the right hand side, there is a red plastic pen that can be used to draw on the board. This has a thin end and a slightly thicker end so it can make two different lines on the board. This is attached to the board with a piece of fabric cord at the centre of the pen. This cord is fully retractable and there is a yellow plastic circle with a star embossed on it located above the pen. This can be turned to pull the cord in. To pull it out again, you can simply pull the pen away from the board. Under the bard, there is a sliding switch that can be slid across. This acts as the eraser to wipe the board clean.


                    PLAYTIME

                    Being so lightweight and compact, this is not only easy to carry about but easy to store too - taking up very little room in our toy cabinets. My son can also easily help himself to this when he wants to play - something that is becoming increasingly important to him as his desire for independence grows.

                    My son knew instantly what to do with the toy as he already has similar toys - but I think that any child would pick it up very quickly. The pen is a nice size for his little hands - it is quite short and fat so he can grasp it nicely and control it well. He is learning the best grip for a pencil from this. He loves to 'draw' using the pen and is beginning to make recognisable shapes - faces and houses - and is able to control the pen well. It does seem to bother him occasionally that the pen is attached to the board by a cord and this restricts his freedom a little. However, the cord is long enough to stretch to allow all areas of the board to be covered easily so it is not actually as restricting as he seems to think! The stamps sit tightly in their place on the plastic and he is only really learning to remove them himself now - they are stiff and require a certain amount of force to remove. That, coupled with the odd shapes of some of them - notably the star - means it can be hard to get a grip on them. The stamps are easy to use though and the little stumps they have on their backs can be gripped between the fingers and the thumb nicely - so these are helping his manipulative skills too. The stamps make good shapes on the board - they require little pressure and make complete shapes the majority of the time too. They are of a good size too and the board is large enough so that you can complete a number of stamps on it before having filled it up (10-20).

                    The sliding switch to erase the board is easy to use too. It is not stiff at all and slides across very easily. It fully wipes the bored in one slide too rather than needing to be moved backwards and forwards.

                    MY OPINION

                    I think that this sketcher is great value for money at just over £5 - it is a nice pocket money toy. It is lightweight and thin - I am unconvinced of it's durability for this reason but it has so far stood up to anything my son has put it through so I have no complaints. It does what it is supposed to and it does it well - the pen and the stamps make dark grey marks that stand out well. My son has used this a lot since we purchased it and it all works as well as it did when we first purchased it.

                    It has been great for developing my son's creativity an imagination - he can use the stamps to incorporate into the picture he is drawing and uses the stars in the sky, makes the circle into a variety of things e.g. sun, glasses for faces or cats. The pen has been a great introduction to the use of pencils for writing and we write his name on here - which he tries to copy and can now recognise his name.
                    This is ideal for the purpose that we bought it - for taking with us when out to keep my son occupied. It is small enough to fit in my changing bag and light enough for me to not be aware I am carrying it. The stamps also stay in place well and the pen is attached with the cord so doesn't get lost. It will keep my son occupied for up to half an hour at a time, which is very handy when out.

                    Overall this is a cheap drawing board that is very well made - it has enough to it to keep my son occupied but still remains basic. A good, fun, cheap toy - recommended.

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                    • More +
                      01.03.2014 16:01
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                      decent but not great

                      My son loves playdoh and, as he gets older, he uses it in an increasingly varied way. He is playing with it much more imaginatively now than he did when he first played with it at around 18 months. He had a limited number of tools for use with his playdoh collection - a rolling pin and a few cutters so we decided to get him a few more buts to support his play and to maintain his interest. As he is interested in vehicles too, this Diggin Rigs Power Crane seemed a lovely idea. I purchased it in August last year for £12.98 from Amazon. It currently sells at £15-20 online (January 2014). The age recommendation for this toy is three years plus.


                      THE CRANE

                      The power crane is called 'Buster' and comes packed inside a clear plastic wrap and attached to a cardboard insert. He is a yellow plastic crane that is about 30cm in length and 15cm in height. There are six black plastic wheels - three attached to each side - and the arm of the crane attached to the top, at the back of the vehicle. The front of the crane has a smiley face beneath the blue windscreen. The top of the crane arm has a red plastic attachment that has a yellow rod attached - various fittings can be attached to the end of this.

                      Throughout the crane, there are various tools sitting in slots and pockets. There are various rollers, stampers and moulds contained to make items such as barricades and cones. Playdoh can also be pushed under the hinge of the crane arm and the arm pushed down to make bricks. There is also a wrecking ball attachment that can be used to knock over constructions once built.

                      With the set, there are four mini tubs of playdoh provided. These are black, brown, orange-brown and grey (specialist asphalt and brick colours). On top of the cab of the crane, there is a light which flashes red when the crane is used and the crane also talks and says various phrases such as 'hey, I'm Buster the Power Crane', 'let's power up' and 'let's build a huge wall'.

                      PLAYTIME

                      My son was intrigued with this vehicle when he got it and wanted to know how it worked. There was a leaflet contained with the pack but I found that it didn't really explain how everything worked and we had to find out for ourselves through trial and error. The worry with this is that we are missing something that we could be doing or doing things wrong. It didn't take long for my son to find the button to activate the lights and sound though and he loved the phrases that the crane said.

                      The various tools provided with the set have a varying degree of success. My son loves to roll the playdoh with the blue handled roller and cut it with the red handled cutter. These are useful tools to have and he actually has similar ones in a big pack he received at Christmas, so they are by no means unique to this particular toy. What he loves most is putting the playdoh in the crane and pushing the arm down to push it through. He can make bricks doing this and there is also a small red template with different shaped holes on it that he can use to make pipes and bars. This part of the toy is really what holds his attention for the longest and where he gets most of his enjoyment from. The moulds have been much less of a hit with my son - they are difficult to get right as you need to make sure you have pretty much exactly the amount of playdoh necessary to make the object. Any less and it won't form properly and any more and it makes a mess. This means that my son gets quite frustrated and it fails to hold his interest for long - the result isn't worth all the effort for him.

                      Whilst my son enjoys making the bricks using the crane, very rarely has the patience to make lots and lots so he doesn't tend to be able to build a substantial wall using them. This means that the wrecking ball feature is largely redundant as you need a tall wall to make this worthwhile. Maybe as my son gets older, and has increased patience and a better concentration span, he will make more bricks and enjoy building a wall to knock down.


                      MY OPINION

                      This would make a lovely present for a child who is greatly interested in construction vehicles as the crane itself would hold a lot of interest. Whilst my son does like vehicles, they are not an 'obsession' of his so he probably doesn't benefit fully in this respect. I am not sure that this toy is fully worth the price it costs, I would probably expect a few more tools or functions for this price.
                      I also find the crane quite difficult to clean. Where the playdoh is put in and pushed through to make the bricks, it is hard to get all of the stray playdoh out - you can not fit fingers all the way through to clean. This means that playdoh can easily get mixed and the colours turn the same shade of murky brown.

                      I would say that my son gets some enjoyment from this toy but no more so than his other set which contained tools and moulds (and was much cheaper). I think it is a little overpriced but still decent for children interested in building.

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                      • More +
                        28.02.2014 19:55
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                        Flimsy Floor Puzzle

                        My son is very much interested in the Mr Men at the moment and, as such, we are always on the lookout for Mr Men activities that will hold his attention and keep him amused. One item that my mum came across (and simply had to buy for him - what are nannies for?!) was this Mr Men floor puzzle from The Works. It cost her £4.99 which seemed a good price for a floor puzzle.


                        THE PUZZLE

                        The puzzle is aimed at children from aged 3 years up. It contains 24 pieces and when made up measures 88cm x 58.5cm - and so is a decent sized floor puzzle. It comes in a clear plastic material case with a red trim and red carry handle. This seals at the top with a fold over flap and two popper fastenings - much like a reading bag. This is lined with a fairly thick cardboard insert which helps it keep its shape. This also has the product labelling on as well as a picture of the made up puzzle as a guide. On the front, there are various brightly coloured Mr Men (not all of these are included on the puzzle picture).

                        The puzzle itself is double sided. On one side there is a brightly coloured scene featuring various Mr Men and on the other, a black and white picture of various Mr Men that can be coloured in by the child. Within the pack, you are provided with four coloured crayons - blue, yellow, red and green - to do this with.

                        The coloured puzzle is a outdoor scene featuring Mr Tickle, Mr Strong, Mr Small, Mr Happy, Mr Bump, Mr Rush, Mr Greedy and Mr Silly. Mr Happy is in a bright pink car, which has a loose wheel that Mr Bump is hit by. There is also a cottage, a kite and Mr Silly is walking his dog. This is a bright and vibrant scene with lots of colours and things going on. The colour in side is a birthday party and features Mr Birthday, Mr Happy, Mr Topsy-Turvy, Mr Bounce, Mr Tall, Mr Bump and Mr Tickle. Other features to be coloured in include balloons, party hats, a birthday cake and bunting.

                        The pieces are large and made of a thick-ish cardboard. I say thick-ish as it is thicker than some cardboard but I would not say it is as thick as other floor puzzles we own. As such, the pieces can feel a little flimsy where they connect to one another. Not so flimsy that the puzzle pieces themselves bend easily but the circular connective pieces, in particular, are a little vulnerable!

                        PLAYTIME

                        My son was very happy to receive the puzzle and was instantly taken by the bright colours of the puzzle and started to name the Mr Men that he could see on the picture in the wallet. Interestingly, Mr Rush is seemingly missing from this picture so the presence of him on the actual puzzle was a very nice surprise for my son - who kept checking the picture to see why he had missed him! My son is two and a half so under the three years minimum age recommended for the product but he loves puzzles and is used to doing 30 plus pieces so I was confident that this puzzle would be fine for him. Being a floor puzzle, there were obviously no small parts to worry about either.

                        My son was able to do this independently immediately simply by following the picture for guidance. As such, it didn't really 'stretch' him or make him think too much which is what I do ideally look for in a puzzle when I buy one. However, he does enjoy doing the puzzle and has done it every day since he got it so it has definitely proved good value for money anyway. He has, so far shown very little interest in the reverse side of the puzzle. He has, once or twice, picked up a piece and remarked on the character on the back (usually Mr Bounce) but he has never once completed the puzzle using this side. This is probably because it is effectively black and white and the bright colours are infinitely more appealing to him. He hasn't questioned why it is black or white or wanted to do any colouring, so we still have this aspect to do should he wish to in the future. I did test a patch myself with the crayons provided - to check how this coloured as it has quite a glossy appearance and I was worried the colours wouldn't 'take' and this would be a definite source of frustration for my son! However, it was easy to colour and the colours seemed to stay in place too rather than rub off as you do the puzzle. I do think the crayons provided are quite cheap though and very thin - these would easily snap in a child's hand. I also think providing just four colours isn't ideal when the Mr Men are so many different colours and a child isn't really going to want to 'mix' the relevant colours form what they are supplied with. Therefore, should my son decide that he wants to complete this side of the puzzle I would use our complete set of crayons to do this.

                        MY OPINION

                        I do think that £4.99 represents good value for a floor puzzle but it is definitely not one of the highest quality. Within a couple of days of having this, my son had managed to bend and tear one piece so that I needed to sellotape it to hold it together. This will obviously have implications should he want to complete the colouring on the other side. A few other pieces are also showing signs of wear and tear too and my son isn't particularly rough with them so I presume it has just happened as he pulls the pieces apart to put them away, or by treading on them as he completes the puzzle. As such, the puzzle is already looking well used and I doubt that this will be in good enough condition for us to pass to his younger sibling like I hope to a lot of his toys. However, as it cost under £5, I can't really have too many complaints about this.

                        For my son, as a big Mr Men fan, this puzzle is ideal. It is simple enough for him to do it independently and unsupervised and has a good number of characters on too - including a lot of his favourites. The packaging it comes in is basic but it has actually stood up to my son's opening and closing better than most of his boxed puzzles do and it is easier to store as it is more flat packed and flexible.
                        I would give it a score of 4/5 as it is good value for the price paid but it is not of the best quality and as it is aimed at younger children, I would prefer if it was a thicker cardboard even if it cost a bit more to buy. The colour in side is a nice idea but, again, this could have been improved with the inclusion of more colours of crayons.

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                      • More +
                        25.02.2014 12:17
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                        decent enough

                        My son received some Thomas Take and Play sets for his second birthday and we have been adding to his collection ever since to build it up. The Take and Play set is a railway set based on the Thomas The Tank Engine series. The idea of it is that the track can be made up of various different sets, each can be folded up to make them convenient for the child to 'take and play' wherever they go. This around the rails set was one of the original pieces that we bought for my son and one that we have been using ever since.

                        The set is designed for children aged 3 years plus but I had no hesitation in letting my two year old son have it as there are no small parts and we play together with this so he is always fully supervised.

                        THE TRACK

                        The Around the Rails Playset cost us £19.99 (it currently retails at £20.45 on Amazon, November 2013). It is a grey plastic track that fits together with other pieces from the range to make a larger track. This particular set is three circles set together like a figure of eight (but with an extra circle to it!). They slope gently upwards so that the top circle is higher than the middle one which, in turn, is higher than the bottom one. There is over two foot (60cm) of track in this set. The three circles fold on top of one another and are hinged so that this can be stored and transported easily. There is a red plastic carry handle attached for this purpose too.

                        In the middle of the top two circular tracks, there are stickers attached of construction sites, with cranes and tracks pictured. Around the outside of the track, the grey plastic is moulded to look like rubble and there are various circular attachment points for the attachment of various plastic accessories that come with the sets. With this set, there are various plastic accessories that can be stood on these attachments - a yellow crane, a green house shape with a sticker on the front that pictures a building, a yellow signpost to Knapford and Tidmouth, a yellow crossing signal and two brown crates for the crane to lift. Also provided is a diecast Thomas engine for use on the track. The Thomas engine, like all trains from the set, has a magnet integrated into the train at the front and back so that other trains can be attached and pulled along the tracks in a big line. The magnets work both ways so the trains never repel each other but attach together either way.

                        PLAYTIME

                        As I say, this was one of the first bits of track we got for my son. This was for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to make sure that it was something that my son liked and would enjoy playing with and this is one of the cheaper sets available from the range. Secondly, it came with Thomas - his favourite character - included. Lastly, the shape of the track was appealing as I thought this was quite a 'smooth' flowing track and that my son would enjoy the slight slope to it. As my son was two when he received this, and below the recommended age limit, I did remove some of the smaller parts included in the set - the crates etc - but this did not really detract from the set at all. He is now 2 and a half and I have reintegrated them into the set but it has not made much difference to him!

                        My son likes this bit of track and loves his Thomas train too. He has accumulated a few Thomas trains as this seems to be the train that comes included in sets most often, but when he first had this set it was the only one he had and it was instantly his favourite. The trains do drive around the track quite easily and pushing the train around has helped my son's manipulation skills as he changes his grip to move it up and down. He can also let go of the train at the top of the track and it will move down independently due to the slight slope and this aspect appeals to my son too. This track does frustrate my son when he plays with the trains in his set all together and has them in a long line. This is something that he likes to do and it works well on straight bits of track or on gentle bends. However, on the circular tracks here, they come apart easily or fall on their side and this annoys my son profusely. This is not really something that can be helped, by the sheer nature of the track and, hopefully, as my son gets older and his manipulation skills improve further he will have greater control here and it won't be quite such an issue.

                        The track is nice to pack up and take to a friend's house or on holiday etc as it folds up easily and neatly and just simply unfolds to play - so the child can set this up independently. However, the track does not hold in place well when folded, as I had hoped it would, meaning that the small parts that come with it cannot be contained within it easily.


                        MY OPINION

                        I do think that the set is expensive for what it is - but that is true of the whole Thomas Take and Play range and Thomas toys in general. You don't actually get a lot for your money - the track is plastic and all the accessories too so you can't help but think that these were quite cheap to produce. The train included with it is of good quality though, being made of diecast metal, and this retails at around £5 individually so this goes some way to explaining the price tag.

                        As far as the track goes in relation to other track parts we have or that my son's friends have, it is probably not one of their favourites. Whilst the circular shapes are different to anything on the other tracks, there is not a lot to do here. Other sections of track have places to park the trains, turn them or another part to play with (e.g. a crane) and these prove infinitely more popular - although they are more costly to purchase too so you need to balance this up when deciding what set to purchase.

                        The track is of good quality though and the attachment parts where it slots together with other parts of the track are strong and durable. The tracks fit together well and the train glides over the connections easily and smoothly. The trains also stay on the track well (when used singularly!) and the stickers on the track have stayed in place well too.

                        Overall, this track is a nice addition to our set or good for use singularly when visiting friends etc - it is one of the easiest pieces of track to fold up for 'take and play' purposes. It is not one of the most exciting sections of track and not my son's favourite but it is nice to have and I would recommend it for Thomas fans.

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                          24.02.2014 11:46
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                          a very welcome addition

                          Emily is the latest addition to my son's Thomas Take and Play set. This is his absolute favourite toy at the moment and he has it out every day. For those unfamiliar, the Take and Play range consists of plastic track pieces that can be connected together to make a large track or folded up singularly and transported with you to play on the go (hence the Take and Play name). To go on the track, you can purchase various diecast metal trains that are characters from the Thomas the Tank Engine series. My son would often say when watching his Thomas DVDs that he didn't have Emily for his track and, as she was a key character in a lot of the episodes, it was one that I kept an eye out for. When we saw one when shopping in Asda recently, his nanny decided to treat him. It cost around £8.

                          Emily is one of my personal favourite characters in the series as she has a nice, kind nature. She is a friendly train who helps others. I was surprised my son was so keen to add her to his collection though as he tends to like the bossier trains best. He also likes the brightly coloured trains - blues, reds and purples - and Emily is a very deep emerald green in colour.

                          The Emily engine for the set is one of the medium sized engines in the collection. It comes with the engine and a tender too. Emily is quite a nice looking engine, in my opinion, with a black frame around her face leading to a rather small elegant funnel which has a gold top. Her face is circular in shape with a broad, toothy smile. She has a rounded engine with a rectangular drivers box at the back - all are a deep green colour. The main part of the engine has gold lines running downwards and across and another gold funnel shape at the rear. The driver's box and a part at the side over the wheels have yellow outlines around the edge. Above the wheels and the buffer at the front are brown, so there is a variation of colour - and this is the same on her tender too. There are six green plastic wheels on the engine - three on each side. The ones in the middle are larger - about twice the size of the other wheels - and I think that this really adds to the look of the engine too. Emily's tender has four wheels but these are all the same size. The tender has three yellow square outlines along it's side and inside there is coal. The tender is actually smaller than the one pictured - I'm not sure if it has been downsized recently! At the front and rear of the engine, and tender, there are SMART magnets. These connect any way (and do not repel) so the trains can pull their tenders and connect to one another in a long line and be pulled around the track.

                          The train is fairly heavy as it is made from diecast metal but remains a nice weight and size for young children to handle and push around the track. The wheels turn freely and move round well so it drives along the track nicely. The magnets are strong and the engine and tender stay connected well, they also remain part of a longer train with ease. As with a lot of the trains we own from this series, the paint has chipped slightly. I don't think that this detracts overly from the appearance of the train, just gives it a played with and much loved feel to it. It is a train my son has played with a lot since we purchased so it has definitely been a good buy for us. The trains are, in general, quite pricey in my opinion but also make good toys for saving up pocket money for. With the amount of enjoyment they bring my son, I don't mind paying the price for them - it is worth it just watching him play with them and Emily is no exception. As one of the most prominent characters, it is highly recommended by us for any Take and Play collection.

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                          23.02.2014 10:07
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                          could be better made

                          I bought this weigh it up game for my son a while ago when it was on sale at the Early Learning Centre. At the time, he was much too young for it but developing an interest in numbers and the price it was at was too good to miss (It was half price at just £4). It was at Christmas last year that I decided to give it to him - thinking that he was perhaps still too young for it but would get a little enjoyment from playing. It is for children aged 3 years plus.


                          THE GAME

                          The game is a simple maths game. You are provided with numbers from 1-9 and a scale (one of the old-fashioned sort that you need to balance). There are two sets of the numbers 1-6 and just one set from number 7 onwards. The idea of the game is that you place the numbers of either end of the scales to balance them. This means that you can use the scales to do simple addition and subtraction equations.
                          The scales are made of lightweight plastic - our set have a red body and green scale arms but it looks like it has been changed to a blue colour in the most recent version of the game. On the front of the scales there is a sticker with two red crosses and a green tick on. The green tick is in the centre. There is an orange triangle of plastic attached to the arm of the scales that hovers over this sticker, so when balanced it is over the tick and when it is heavier on one side it is over one of the crosses.

                          On the bottom of the scales, there is a plastic stand. This pulls off and you can remove the back of the scales. Inside, there are the plastic numbers that can be used to play the game. They are various colours (green, blue and orange in our version). They are also different sizes according to how large the number is - so one is the smallest and nine the largest. Each number has a plastic hook at the top so that they can be hung on the arm of the scales - which has two big circles at either end, behind which the numbers can hang.
                          The aim of the game is very simple - you just need to balance the scales. There are no hard and fast rules as such, you just add numbers to or take numbers from either side to make the scales balance. Therefore it is an ideal game for a child to play independently. Alternatively, you can take turns to add/take numbers from either side to make it balance.


                          PLAYING

                          Whilst my son, at not quite three years of age, has not quite grasped the concept of the game completely, he does enjoy playing with the scales. He finds the numbers easy to handle and hanging them on the scales has developed his hand-eye co-ordination skills too. It is quite tricky to hang them and get them to stay there as the hooks are so little and they are also stationary too - they do not rotate round. He enjoys making the scales tip one way and then another by piling the numbers on - he doesn't really have much idea what is doing it other than lots of numbers.

                          The game does aid his familiarity with numbers though. He could already recognise the numbers from one to ten but this certainly doesn't harm and helps reinforce his learning. As he puts a number on the scales, I encourage him to tell me what that number is and he will sometimes hold up the number of fingers that corresponds to that number - helping him with the basic skills that he will use for maths when he is a little older. The fact that the larger numbers are physically bigger (ie the number nine is larger than the number three etc) means that we can discuss 'bigger than' and 'smaller than' and my son can actually see which numbers are bigger than others.

                          The scales are quite flimsy - being made of plastic and hollow, they are quite lightweight. This means that they fall over easily and my son will knock them over when playing. This is frustrating for him as the numbers fall off very easily.

                          OVERALL OPINION

                          The game is very basic in concept and easy to play. My son is not yet three and hasn't had the full benefit from the simple maths that this offers. It has introduced him to the concept of numbers balancing (and being equal to one another) and helped with number recognition. It is obviously very cheaply made - of a lightweight plastic with no 'added extras' such as lights or sounds so I think the £4 I paid was probably about right (despite the full price being £8 which I think is rather high).

                          The fact that the game is simple probably appeals to my son, even if he doesn't fully understand it yet. As he gets a bit older and becomes more aware of basic maths I think this will be a good tool to use to make simple additions and subtractions more fun. It is also a great visual aid to help his understanding. We have used it in conjunction with counting on our fingers to do simple sums like 1 + 1 = 2, but have not gone any further yet so we still have plenty of life left in this toy.

                          I think balancing the scales definitely adds the fun factor to basic maths as well as helping explain with a visual aid. The game is obviously cheaply made, which for me is it's one major negative point. It is very lightweight and, whilst I like the idea of storing the numbers inside the scales so it is all self contained and nothing gets lost, it means that the scales are very flimsy to play with and I do worry about them cracking. Overall, a nice concept which is fun and easy to play - it just could have been better made.

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