Product Type: ELC Toy Car
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Vroom! Vroom! That'll be one chocolate button please.
Early Learning Centre Road Storage Playmat
Member Name: theda
Early Learning Centre Road Storage Playmat
Date: 15/03/10, updated on 27/03/10 (253 review reads)
Advantages: Great toy, useful for storage
Disadvantages: Doesn't keep its shape well
Like many little boys, my toddler is absolutely obsessed with cars, trains, trucks... if it's got wheels, he's got about a hundred miniature versions of it. The problem is, of course, where to put them all. When he just had a few, they were kept in the toy box with everything else, but then he got to 18 months and suddenly there were hundreds of them (I swear they were breeding...).
I remember one of my favourite childhood toys being a plastic mat with a road system for playing with toy cars - I was never much of a one for dolls - and I thought it would be good to get him something similar, so off I trotted to the Early Learning Centre website, where I saw this box. It appears to be merely a box with pictures of cars on it - which in itself would be rather a cool storage idea - but it also unzips at each corner. When it is laid out flat, the inside is (you guessed it!) a road play mat.
The play mat is supposed to be for ages 3 and up, so the pictures and layout are simple and easy for a small child to understand. There are several features on the mat, including a fire station with helipad, a quarry, a bridge and a multi-storey car park. The pictures are three-dimensional rather than in plan. The road layout is also simple, with one roundabout and a few junctions. It even has yellow boxes (I'm considering a fine of one chocolate button for stopping in a yellow box, but I haven't had the heart to implement it yet). The lid is a car park, which is in plan, and is the same on both sides.
To say the box is used often would be something of an understatement. Obviously, it is used as a car storage box, but it is usually unzipped at least once every day for use as a play mat. My son is two and a half and has mastered the art of unzipping the corners and zipping them back up again, so it is definitely suitable for a child under three despite the age recommendation. Obviously, he doesn't use the play mat in the way an older child would - his play is limited to running cars around on the roads - but he has fun with it, so I'm not complaining.
There are two minor downsides to this toy:
- The sides don't maintain their shape for very long, so the box bows outwards when it is full. I expect that if you only half-filled it, it might retain its rigidity better but that's not an option for us! I really don't mind this myself, and it is otherwise very hardwearing; you can imagine how bashed-about it gets with cars being tipped into and out of it several times a day, but it is showing very little sign of wear after six months of constant use.
- In order for it to be used as a play mat, all the cars have to be tipped out of it on to the floor. Having said that, in my experience this is going to happen anyway, so you might as well have something useful at the end of it instead of just an empty box. It's not too heavy when it's full as he can tip it over by himself (even when I ask him not to).
On the plus side, the lid is very stiff and I have found that it is quite easy to get all the cars back into the box by using the lid to sweep them into a pile, and then scooping them onto the lid and tipping them back into the box. We sometimes make a game of tidying the cars away - let's get all the blue cars, let's get all the fire engines, that sort of thing - but sometimes, you just need to get your floor back in a hurry.
I have been really pleased with it as a storage box, and I expect that the play mat will get a lot more use as he gets older and more into imaginative play. It isn't particularly cheap at £20, but given that a mat on its own from ELC is £15, it doesn't sound such a bad deal. ELC are also generally quite good at having 20% off codes from time to time, so it's always worth checking for these.
This product can be found here, including a picture of the mat folded out:
I would definitely recommend this to anyone with a car-mad child; it's always a bonus to find a good, well-made toy with a practical use, and this one ticks all the boxes.
Summary: You've got to put them somewhere!
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