Product Type: ELC Toy Car
Newest Review: ... the four corners and it folds flat and then to fasten it up you simply zip it and then it turns into a box again. The lid fits on and it's ... more
A potentially lethal toybox
Early Learning Centre Road Storage Playmat
Member Name: sandemp
Early Learning Centre Road Storage Playmat
Advantages: The road map is great fun
Disadvantages: Poor quality, bulges, the water resistant coating peels off and becomes a choking hazard
The storage box cum playmat is supplied folded down secured with a cardboard sleeve, making it easy to carry home and meaning it takes up very little room in the car boot. Once the cardboard sleeve has been removed the box comes in two pieces, the mat section that zips up into the storage area and the lid. Both elements are formed of what feels like stiff, thick cardboard, which is lightly padded and coated with a spill/water resistant, wipe-clean plastic material. To use this as a storage box four zips need to be done up, one at each corner, which will leave a fairly small box with semi-rigid sides. The zips are all easy to operate, run smoothly and have survived a year of regular use without damage. But they are made of metal, likely to rust if left damp and not exactly the most child-friendly, (I do find that it's far more likely to catch skin in a metal zip than plastic). The lid fits neatly into place, but does not secure into place very well even though there are two Velcro latches, which could be considered an advantage insofar as it means the child can easily access the cars/toys within, or a disadvantage for exactly the same reason.
This is in no way the largest of toy boxes, but it will hold hundreds of the small Matchbox style of toy car and quite a few of the larger Happyland vehicles. We had about twenty of these larger vehicles stored in the box with plenty of room to spare. While the storage box is fairly sturdy when empty, it soon shows it's inherent flimsiness as it is filled. The sides are simply not rigid enough to hold any weight and as the box is filled they bulge out, which not only looks unsightly, but also makes it difficult to keep the lid in place. While there are two cut-outs for carrying the box, once it has any amount of cars in it, the sides either once more bulge or collapse inwards, making it difficult to transport from room to room without spilling cars everywhere. Whilst in storage box mode the exterior is decorated with various cars and vehicles in a multi-story car park, which is not particularly inspiring, but does at least allow Freddy to realise that it is where his cars should go after playing. I say should, but just like every toddler, Freddy does think his cars (and all his toys) are much happier spread over his bedroom floor.
When the zips are opened the storage box unfolds into a fairly large oblong playmat. This playmat is a really good size, not so large that it takes up a whole room but large enough for two or more children to play together or even for Mummy to play with the cars with Freddy. It's also nicely padded so that I don't get a sore bottom from sitting on the floor. The road map design is well thought out, with plenty of points of interest to talk about and roads for the cars to travel over, the actual roads are quite wide too, making them perfect for the Happyland vehicles and meaning that smaller cars can travel in both lanes. There is an emergency centre complete with heliport, that makes a great base for any police cars, ambulances, fire engines and even helicopters. There is also a sports hall, a bridge to drive over, a quarry/construction site for all your child's diggers, a multi-story car park with car wash and ground level car park and even a roundabout. So there's plenty of visual props to fire your child's imagination and encourage their role playing skills. The lid also doubles up as a play tray and is printed on both sides with a car park scene and can be used either on it's own or in conjunction with the mat.
Freddy and I have spent many happy hours playing with cars on both the mat and lid over the last six months or so. We really like the road design and how the roads are wide enough for Freddy's Happyland vehicles, especially as Freddy has some significant developmental problems and is obsessed with cars. I would have been giving this storage box/playmat a resounding recommendation even with the minor niggle of it not being as sturdy as I would like, but there are two real problems that prevent me from doing so, one fairly minor and one major and potentially life-threatening. The more minor of the problems is that to transform the storage box into a playmat, the zips need to be undone, which means the cars inside will tumble everywhere unless they are all removed before opening. OK this is more an annoyance and inconvenience than problem, but still it did begin to annoy me as time went by (although I did like the fact that I could just pile the cars up in the middle and do the zips up to tidy away).
The major problem is the reason I will only be giving this storage box one star (as I cannot award zero) and definitely not recommending it. This problem is down to the build quality, or lack of it. Before I go into detail about the problem, I had best tell you just a little bit about Freddy as he is not a typical 2.5 year old. Freddy has a developmental delay along with most probably being on the autistic spectrum. Among his obsessions are cars and peeling stickers, more significant is the fact that he has Pica (eats non-foods) and any stickers he peels off end up in his mouth. So the problem we found with this storage box is that the thin, water resistant, plastic layer is very fragile and easily caught and torn. As soon as a little tear appears, it is very easy for a child to peel this away and it comes off in quite large pieces, that once in the mouth do not dissolve or break up in the way that a paper sticker would. This is a potentially lethal situation, which was proved when Freddy actually choked and needed to be put over the knee and his back hit, for him to bring up a piece of this plastic. Obviously as soon as this happened I removed this box from his room, but I was obviously very upset at how easy it had been for him to peel this plastic away and Freddy was obviously distressed by the incident. This was especially annoying as I usually buy Freddy's toys from The Early Learning Centre, because I trust them to be not only child-proof, but also Freddy-proof. This plastic is not the only part of the box to show poor construction and workmanship either, the stitching in the hem on the lid has also worked loose in several places.
Although this storage box/mat was advertised as being suitable for children over the age of three, because the construction is identical in every way (bar the pattern) to the Happyland boxes, I had thought it would be safe for him. In actual fact, after the choking incident, I checked the Happyland boxes to discover that they were starting to show signs of exactly the same problem, and these are considered suitable for children over the age of eighteen months. Needless to say all these boxes have now been removed from Freddy's room and are only brought out to play with as a road map with very strict adult supervision.
I cannot in all conscience recommend the Early Learning Centre Road Storage Playmat to anyone. Even though I know that Freddy's obsession with peeling is not usual, it is still far too easy for the plastic coating to be peeled off and if it is put in the mouth it becomes a real choking hazard. And as any parent knows even a toddler over the age of three is still exploring and may just see what it tastes like.
Summary: Do not buy, if you own one check regularly for peeling
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