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I'm a fairly keen gardener, grow a lot of our vegetables from seed and love to encourage two year Freddy to join in. Not only do I feel it's important for him to know where at least some of our food comes from but I hope it will encourage him to eat a greater variety of vegetables and of course it's fun for young children to just play in the mud. In order to encourage him to develop his green-fingers I've set aside a small patch of ground to be Freddy's very own vegetable patch and bought him his very own gardening set. To be honest I actually bought this set last year as summer came to a close and the Early Learning Centre was selling it for half price, meaning that instead of £14 it only cost £7, which I felt was very good value, and it was then put away until Christmas. The gardening set in question is the Early Learning Centre Rake And Hoe Trolley that is available in either a blue or pink colour scheme, with the only difference being the colour.
==With Silver Bells - A Parent's View==
The Early Centre Rake And Hoe Trolley has very little packaging, in fact it is supplied simply wrapped in a plastic netting bag. While I found it refreshing that I didn't have to undo countless ties, I was a little concerned about Freddy getting hold of this netting as he is a child who tends to eat any and every thing. Once out of the netting the trolley and contents require no assembly and are immediately ready to play with. Included in the set are a leaf rake, level head rake, weeding hoe, trowel, dibble, watering can and of course the trolley all made of durable, easy to clean plastic in hues of blue and green.
The leaf (or lawn) rake is formed of a green handle with blue prongs. While the handle feels very sturdy, the actual rake section is a tad on the flimsy side. Rather than having prongs that can be. fanned out, this rake has them fixed in place. The level head rake is similar in construction with the handle feeling much more robust than the prongs, with both rakes they have a fairly small width of 13-14cm. The weeding hoe is of the double headed variety (just like mine) that looks a little like a pick, with one flat edge and the other pointed. Again the actual working end feels a little flimsy while the handle feels very durable. All three of these components have longer handles, but the handles are still relatively short at approximately 30cm. While this handle height may be perfect for children at (or just below) the minimum age range, I can't help but feel that they will be far too small by the time Freddy's five let alone eight.
The trowel is very sturdy, with a handle that is perfect for a young child to hold, but feels uncomfortable in my hand. The blade edge of the trowel is scoop shaped to make it easier for children to move soil without spilling it everywhere, but the bowl is very shallow meaning very little soil can be moved at a time. The dibble is actually reasonably ergonomically designed, with there being a 45 degree bend in the handle which makes it easier for children to make holes in the soil for planting seeds and seedlings. The working part of the dibble is conical, starting at about a centimetres width working up to 5cm, which is about the same as mine, but I find this more comfortable to use and will do if I can. The watering can is very basic and very small holding a paltry 300ml (approx) of water, of course this means that even when full it's light enough for the youngest of children to carry. The holes allow a reasonable flow of water, not so fast that it drowns the plants, but not so slow that the child gets bored, in fact it's the perfect flow for watering seedlings or house plants.
All of the various tools fit neatly into the trolley for storage and transportation, which saves them being left laying around and lost in the garden. At approximately 55cm in height the trolley is the perfect height for children at the lower end of the age range. The trolley is easy to pull by leaning it back on to the two wheels and yet is stable enough when standing that it doesn't fall at the slightest touch. While there is a tray at the bottom of the trolley, this is really only big enough to hold the watering can, personally I would have liked there to be a little more space on this tray for seed packets, but we can manage to carry a single pot if the watering can is elsewhere.
Being made of plastic the whole set is very safe with no worrying that a child is going to stab themselves with the hoe and very easy to clean after use. But being made of plastic it is also fairly flimsy and cannot be compared with the real thing. Looks-wise, it actually looks pretty good, the colour scheme is certainly attractive and each item is a good representation of the real tools I use. As an adult trying to encourage my toddler to join in with the gardening (in his own patch), I do think this set is pretty good and well worth the price I paid for it, but it's not just my opinion that counts.
==And Cockle Shells - A Toddler's View==
Freddy was just twenty months when he received this set, which is considerably younger than the minimum recommended age of three, but we had already done some growing projects during the previous summer and he had often watched me gardening. By the time the weather had improved enough for us to start working in the garden, several months had passed and Freddy was two and a very inquisitive toddler, who had a developmental delay.
Our first job when we took this set out into the garden was to rake the newly mowed lawn, so Freddy toddled into the garden pulling the trolley behind him ready to help. I got out my lawn rake and then helped Freddy get his out of the trolley, which is something he did struggle a little with. We then had a fun half hour raking the lawn, well Freddy had fun and with him helping it wasn't quite the chore it usually is for me. I did notice that the prongs did bend a bit while he was working, but they didn't snap, he was really proud of the small pile of grass and leaves he managed to collect and he had loads of fun.
Our next job was to prepare Freddy's patch for sowing seeds and I had already weeded and dug over the area so we needed to rake it over using the level head rake. It's a good job that Freddy's patch is only small, because the rake only covers a very small area at a time. After showing Freddy what he needed to do, he had great fun pushing the soil around and the prongs actually stood up pretty well to our rather heavy soil and even stones. They did bend a little but didn't break, but we couldn't get the soil quite as fine as I would have liked. Saying that Freddy still enjoyed himself, especially when he discovered he could make patterns in the surface of the soil. After a good half hour raking, we were both tired and Freddy had had enough, so we cleaned the tools down and put them back in the trolley so Freddy could pull it into the shed until another day.
The next day arrived and it was time to start planting some seeds. Freddy's next job was to use the hoe to make a small furrow for planting some carrot seeds, which he sort of managed with lots of help. The flat blade of the hoe was perfect for this job, allowing him to move the raked soil with ease and as with all the longer handled tools it's the perfect height for him, so he has control and yet doesn't need to stoop. After sowing the carrots we used the dibble to make holes to plant some beetroot and radish seeds. The dibble is perfect for Freddy to handle and he thinks using it to make holes is the utmost in hilarity, if I'd have left him to it I think the whole garden would have been full of little holes. As it was I managed to confine him to his own patch which was soon full of holes ready for our seeds (including the carrot rows). After all our seeds were planted it was time to water them, and this is where the fun really started. The watering can is the perfect size for Freddy to hold with him having no trouble carrying it from the water butt to vegetable patch even when full. Although it only holds a small amount of water Freddy managed to use the watering can to water not just his patch but the whole garden (including about twenty various grow bags) by keeping refilling it. In fact eventually I had to tell him it was time to come in otherwise the garden would have become water-logged he enjoyed it that much.
Although he's not used the trowel in his own patch yet (we have some marrows germinating on the windowsill) he has helped me dig holes for some strawberries and again the trowel is the perfect size for him. Since sowing his seeds Freddy has frequently used the watering can to water them when they've needed it as well as helping me water the rest of the garden and he loves to help so much that he's been quite upset that we've been unable to go out in the garden for the last week or so because of the rain.
Freddy loves his gardening set, is proud to be able to help me when I do the gardening as well as working on his own patch and can't wait to show Daddy what we've done while he was at work. I also love spending time in the garden with him, teaching how to look after plants and seeing the look of amazement on his face as the seeds he planted develop into little plants and then continue to grow. It's safe to say that this is a firm favourite and even though the weather has meant that it's not had much use this week, when the weather was less wet Freddy would take it into the garden with him everyday even if only to help with the watering.
==And Pretty Maids - Age Suitability and Developmental View==
Although the ELC state that this set is suitable for children between three and eight years of age, I have to say that I quite vehemently disagree. As to the lower age limit, Freddy is two, has no problem using the pieces and more importantly I have no problem with him using them. Yes supervision is required and there are points on the rakes but as long as you teach them not to wave the pieces around then I can see no problem. In fact an over three is more likely to use them as weapons than an under three who is being taught the correct way to handle the tools. As to the upper limit, well personally I would say that the rakes and hoe are simply to small for a child over the age of five and there are much better and more functional options available for those over five.
As to the developmental benefits of this set, well they are certainly plentiful. Firstly the set can be used for imaginative play as the child copies Mummy and Daddy and pretend to do the gardening, but by allowing the child a small patch of soil to use this with the set can help them learn how plants grow and where vegetables actually come from. You can be teaching them science as you help them plant seeds, water them and watch them grow. You can teach them the difference between weeds and plants we want to keep, how plants need sun and water to grow and flowers need insects to produce fruit. All the while they will be having fun, getting muddy (which is something I feel too many children don't do nowadays), improving their coordination, learning new words as you talk about what they're doing and then get to eat what they've grown once it matures. And if you don't have a spare patch of soil for them, or only have a balcony you can buy a reusable growing bag for them to use.
==All In A Row - Final Words==
This is a great set for younger children and toddlers to use to help in the garden, it's the perfect size for two-five year olds and being made of plastic is far safer than many other junior gardening sets. Freddy loves using his Hoe and Rake Trolley to help out in the garden and it's a great way of him burning off energy while doing something productive. Although I do think it's a little expensive at full price, when on offer this is great value and a great way to introduce a child to gardening without breaking the bank. So all in all, yes I would recommend this set to the parents of any two to five year who has access to either a small patch of ground or planter bag and want to allow their toddler to join in with growing plants and flowers.