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It was recently my sons 3rd Birthday, so I was faced with the annual decision of what to buy for his "big present". He has always adored cars and vehicles and has had a couple of smaller garages aimed more at babies when he was younger, so I figured a "Big Boys Garage" would be a good choice.
The Early Learning Centre is always one of the first places I look when buying toys as the quality is always great and the toys usually have good learning value and ability. They actually have a "Big City" range at ELC with the 'Big City Garage' being their largest item. The garage cost £55 which I thought was a bit pricey, but it looked great and very large in the photographs so I thought it would be worth it for his main present.
I bought it online and it arrived 3 days later in a large box. The garage came with no cars so I had actually also bought a 20 Pack of their 'Big City Cars' which cost £20 (so for the full package that's £75). I had bought these as I had a feeling they may well be the only kind that fit the garage, as a lot of toy manufacturers seem to ensure these days so that you buy more of their products as "Add-Ons". These 20 cars just actually turned out to be standard size little metal toy cars that you can buy anywhere, there were a few good makes in there though like Mini's etc. but it definitely wasn't absolutely necessary to buy this pack as the tons of little cars my son already has, fit the garage fine too. But never mind he has plenty now.
Now the garage comes in parts which you have to put together yourself, I found the instruction booklet tricky to muster so for the most part I ended up just copying the picture on the front of the box. It wasn't the easiest toy to work out and put together, since if you get one part in the wrong place the rest just won't go together and a few parts were tricky to slot in. Overall, not too bad though - took about 20 minutes by myself to assemble and once everything was in place, it was very sturdy and the parts don't fall out of place and the ramps etc. stay securely fixed in. There was then a sheet of stickers to put in place to add to the overall look of the garage.
The garage itself has 3 levels, the bottom once has a little "Petrol Station" with 2 pumps (my son hasn't paid much attention to these though. There's also a couple of lifting barriers for him to fiddle with, although these do come out of place quite easily. The other 2 levels, which have yellow ramps leading up to them, are round and circular with plenty of room to play. My son's favourite feature of the garage is the big lift that attaches to the side, this allows him to transport cars from the bottom level right up to the top by turning a little wheel. Then on top of the lift is a "Heli-Pad".
The lift works with or without batteries, it doesn't come with the batteries so you will need to buy your own (2 x AA) but all that really does is add sounds. The garage is certainly big, but not so big for it to be annoying and take up most of the room.
This was one of the main presents my son received for his second birthday, together with some other bits from the Big City range by the Early Learning Centre (see separate reviews). He had developed a love of toy cars and vehicles so we knew he would love something to play with them on and, despite our reservations about the size of it & the room it would take up, this is what we opted for. It is for ages 3 years plus but there are no parts that are small enough for me to be concerned about and I was more than happy for my 2 year old son to play with it. It costs £55 at full price, but it is always worth looking out for sale events or discount codes - we got it for £40 but I have seen it even cheaper since.
There is quite a lot to the garage and, as I say, it does take up a fair amount of room. The dimensions are: Height 54cm x Width 78cm x Depth 44cm. On the one hand this is good as you can easily fit 3-4 children around it and each have enough space to play (this is always a popular toy when my son has friends to play). On the other hand, you need space to store it. We keep ours tucked by our lounge wall, but we are fortunate to have quite a bit of spare space in the lounge so it is not a problem for us.
The garage comes in pieces in the box, complete with two sheets of stickers that need to be used to decorate the garage at various points. All the pieces are made of plastic, with the body of the garage being predominantly red, grey and black with yellow ramps. The instructions are easy to follow and it is quite quick and simple to assemble. The picture of the finished product on the box is actually a pretty good guide to follow - especially when it comes to placing the stickers.
The garage features three layers - the black plastic base is the ground level and this incorporates a car wash and petrol pumps. There are two further red circular plastic levels above held up by grey stilts placed strategically around the edges. These are levels one and two of the car park. All levels are interconnected with yellow slide like ramps - so a car can be pushed down from level 2 and will circle all the way down to the bottom of the garage.
At one end of the garage, there is a long grey plastic column which features a lift. On the side of this, there is a red turning handle which is used to wind the lift up and down. The lift is big enough to transport one car in. On top of this, there is a round black circle which acts as a helipad. There is also an on-off slider switch and three red buttons to press. Each makes a different sound effect - one for the helicopter, one for cars and a siren. This requires 2 x AA batteries to power it.
This is a toy that my son has gained more from and used in different ways as he has developed. Initially, he just loved to push the cars down from level 2 to the bottom and enjoy watching them as they spiralled down and shot across our wooden floor or, occasionally, crash on the way down and not quite make it all the way. He also loved to push the buttons to make the noises (especially the siren). As he has developed he has taken more interest in other part of the garage. Initially, he found the lift very frustrating and could not work it. A few months later, however, his manipulative skills have developed somewhat and he loves to wind the lift up and down and will play with this part for ages, transporting his cars up and down.
As he has got older, he has also started to play more imaginatively and this is a great support to this development. He takes cars through the car wash, making washing noises and fills them up with petrol at the pumps. He also likes to count the cars that he has parked on each level and count them as they shoot down the ramps. It is a toy that can be played with in so many ways, and however your child wants to play with it. The sound effects on the push buttons are also a great support for imaginative play. It is also great for playing with other children - encouraging co-operation and social interaction.
MY OVERALL OPINION
This is a lovely toy and provides my son with hours of entertainment when playing with his cars. The only downside is the size from a storage point of view, but this is a positive when it comes to playing with other children as there is so much space for them - so it can't really count as a negative in my opinion. It is well made, easy to put together and holds together well too. There are lots of things to do to keep little fingers busy and encourage manipulative development.
We have the Big City Spiral Race tracks which attach on to the garage and these further enhance the garage. There are also other Big City accessories that can be added too so you can make this as big as you like.
If you are looking for a garage I would definitely recommend this one, especially as you can pick it up regularly at less than the RRP in ELC sale events. This makes it great value, especially as I can see this lasting my son for years - he will play with it differently as he gets older too and get different things from it.
Vehicles available separately. This fun multi-storey garage has lift, ramps to zoom down and lots of fun sounds. Early Learning Centre?s brilliantly designed Big City garage is packed with fun features. It is a fantastic inspiration for driving, racing and chasing adventures. Your child can wind up the lift in the play garage, then send a car zooming down the ramps. The cool helipad on top of the toy garage even has realistic helicopter sounds. At the bottom of the multi-storey, there are petrol pumps, a car wash and moveable barriers. The Big City Garage also has lots of room to park and store all your child?s die-cast vehicles.