Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Toy Review: Djeco Tac Boum Pom (or the Wooden Apple Tree!)

Djeco's Tac Boum Pom is a wooden ball track disguised as an apple tree. 

The small bird is spring-mounted and the bird bends back to let the ball through to make its way down the tree and over the leaves to bounce off the small flower at the base and make it's way to the front again. We bought this for E's first birthday and it was one of his most beloved toys. The bird on our tree does not bend back with just the force of the ball and requires the child to push it through the hole. This seems to add something to the toy though and makes it a bit more interactive. 

Which brings me to the big downside of this toy – it really only does one thing. The lack of versatility means it is only going to hold a child's interest for a brief period of time in their development. At 25 months my son only gets it off the shelf about once every two weeks, as opposed to playing with it multiple times a day when he was younger. 

 O (7 months), is just starting to eye it up and enjoys waving the balls around and watching them to down the tree. His hand-eye control isn't yet developed enough to put the balls on the track or push them past the bird unassisted. He's trying though!

Great for small babies up to 2. The disappearing and re-appearing 'apple' is fascinating for little ones developing object permanence. E loved mastering putting the ball on the track and pushing in past the bird. It also makes a pleasant plonking noise bouncing down the leaves at the base of the tree.

Quality: This toy is fully painted and looks to be constructed of both real wood and MDF (I'm guessing). I would say it has average durability – the MDF tree part of the toys has several dents and minor chips in the paint where it has been dropped. However, the finish has held up much better than some of the other wooden toy brands we have purchased, the wooded tracks still look new. The balls have been thrown across our tile floor more times than I can count, but there are no chips in the paint at all. Unlike many other ball track toys, this one is smooth and the balls don't bounce off the toy at any point (as long as it's on a flat surface), meaning the ball returns where it's supposed to. It is a beautiful toy and one of the first that children and adults are drawn to in our house. I expect Tac Boum Pom to last through many children.

Green factor: Despite repeatedly e-mailing the company I've not had a response to my enquiry about whether they adhere to an Environmental or Sustainability policy of any sort. As always, I assume this means that environmental impact of the toy, materials and manufacturing are not taken into consideration. Djeco looses big points with me for this (and their lack of response to their customers!).

Value for money: Djeco's Tac Boum Pom is unique, beautiful and functional and it has been loved in this house. Retailing around £40 it is pricey. Despite it's limited shelf-life I would purchase another ball track toy. However, the finish could be better and I would prefer a fully wood version.  I love this from Selecta and if someone wants to send me one to review I would.  Just sayin'. 

Friday, 24 February 2012

Friday Fun: Squishy Bag Table

I'm a big fan of the squishy bag or glitter bag.  Simple, cheap, and mess free - what's not to like?  I have used these with kids from babies to 6 and they are loved by all.  Even the adults who venture into my house can't resist them.  If you haven't seen these before the instructions are simple: fill a plastic freezer bag with something squishy, zip it closed, and tape over the top edge unless you want little hands prying it open.

In order to encourage some mark-making and colour experimentation I recently decided to do a whole squishy bag table. I taped white paper down (which aids visibility when mark-making) and then taped 5 squishy bags to the paper.    

This one contains super cheap hair gel (15p a jar at Sainsburys!).  I used two jars and then added in some silver glitter, because who doesn't like a bit of sparkle?

These are filled with paint.  As they get squished around the primary colours will mix and, hey, accidental learning!  Or oblivion.  I think my job is to provide the learning experience and they 'get' it when they get it.

The last one is a combination of hair gel and some globs of red and blue finger paint.  You can't really see in the photos, but I've placed a shatter-proof mirror under the bag for discovery.

In the centre of the table I've placed a box with different objects from our heuristic play basket for mark-making.  

On the shelves above the table I've 'planted' more mark-making tools for discovery.

Huge success!  The kids were really engaged with the bags and trying out the different tools as well as using their hands and fingers. 

I don't have a photo, but my 7 month-old loved them as well - I sat him on my lap and he squealed with utter delight as he pushed his hands into the bags and banged on them with the different objects on offer.  He also smooshed his face into them in an attempt to get it in his mouth. 

An excellent sensory activity for building fine motor skills, learning about colour, and practising first letters and pre-writing mark-making. 

My playroom table is wall mounted, so I am able to fold it down to make a 'squishy bag wall' after the table looses some of its novelty.  In addition to extending interest, it allows the children to experiment with the bags in a different way as the paint and gel pools in the bottom of the bags.

Most importantly - it was fun.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Toy Review: Lakeshore Sort-A-Shape Activity Board

E received the Lakeshore Sort-A-Shape Activity Board for his first birthday (he's now 2.5) and I have to say, it has been a great toy.

E's friend (15 months)
Chunky enough for small hands to manipulate, but complex enough to pose some challenge.  A great introduction to numbers, shapes and colours, the Lakeshore Sort-A-Shape board helps children develop their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Whilst it is described as being suitable from 2-4, I've found that kids are able to use it purposefully from about 13 months or so and the 4 year-olds in my life are able to master it (and therefore bored with it) in about 3 minutes.  My 7 month-old, O, enjoys mouthing it, but he isn't very particular.

I used this often when E was learning basic shapes.  He enjoyed finding the shape I asked him for and figuring out which set of pegs it fit on before he was using spoken language.  I could also see he was developing a sense of humour as he deliberately put the pieces on the wrong pegs and waited for my reaction - laughing at his own joke (he takes after his father).

With his developing interest in numbers and counting I've put it back into rotation and he enjoys sitting near me and talking me through what he's doing - 'Look, I put the green one here.  One peg.  Oh.  Oh!  This one has two holes.'

The board and pieces are constructed of wood and are great quality.  After 1.5 years of play (and quite a lot of being chucked on the floor) it still looks new with no chips in the paint or dents in the wood.
If I used a star system, I'd rate the quality as 5 stars.

In terms of environmental responsibility, Lakeshore doesn't seem to have a policy or any information on their website.  They do have a Responsible Manufacturing information page which outlines how they ensure that their manufacturers comply with labour laws and do not engage in slavery or human trafficking (I may be naive, but I would assume this would be a given and not a selling point!).  I have contacted them and asked for any information about environmental protection measures.  I shall update* this post if I receive a response.  Until then, I assume that the wood is not sustainably forested and they aren't doing anything to mediate the environmental impact their products or manufacturing processes are making.

UPDATE: Lakeshore have got back to me and confirmed that the Sort-A-Shape is not made with sustainable materials.  They've written that they are always looking at ways of improving and the do sell some bamboo blocks.  Some of their nursery furniture is also Greenguard certified - complying with low-emissions standards to improve quality of indoor air.

Overall verdict:  Useful educational toy that deserves space on the shelf.  Fantastic quality, but I would look for an eco-friendly version from a different company or get one second hand.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Accidental Montessori: Sorting Buttons

I was using plastic buttons today for a project - my son, E, came into the kitchen and his eyes lit up.  He's always loved buttons and I keep a jar on my dresser which he plays with every morning whilst I get ready for the day.  These were NEW and SHINY buttons and he needed them immediately.  After dumping them out and telling me all about the colours he started picking out the biggest of them stating they were 'BIG, GIANT buttons'.  I got some bowls for him and he started to sort them out by size, all the while describing the colours and whether they were tiny, small, medium or giant.

All in, this accidental button sorting took about 20 minutes before he moved on.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

DIY Wooden Montessori Sandpaper Numbers

My son, E, is 2.5.  He has recently started asking me about letters and numbers, as in 'What is this?  This is a number 1.'  I'm not ready for this yet. I'm more in the camp of let the children play, there's lots of time for formal learning later on.  However, I'm also a firm believer in following the child's lead and this seems to be what my kid wants to know right now.  So in the spirit of that I've got several projects on the go which will introduce numbers, the first of which is wooden sandpaper numbers.  I think these are great for him as they are larger than traditional sandpaper letters and are fully manipulative.  Still Montessori in that they are self-correcting: they only stand up on the base of the number and the correct side is easily identifiable as it's covered in sand.  The sand also contributes to the sensory appeal of the numbers.

I ordered the unfinished numbers on Ebay.  These are MDF but you can also get them made of pine (which are the ones I meant to order - oops!).

I divided them into even and odd numbers* and then painted each set with different coloured paints I already had.  I only painted the sides and the back, leaving the front of the number bare.  These took about an hour to cover in two coats of paint.  I then left them overnight to dry.

I painted the front of each number with wood glue and then dipped in a shallow pan of play sand to coat evenly.

The thin coat of sand left a very fine finish (too delicate for my toddler) so I left them to dry and then applied another coat of glue and sand.

The finished numbers!

On Monday I'll put numbers 0-4 out in a basket for exploration.  Depending on his level of interest and how he interacts with them, I will introduce the other numbers over time.

And there you have it!  DIY Wooden Montessori Sandpaper Numbers

UPDATE: E is enjoying the numbers.  He likes to stand them up, face them the correct way and tell me which number it is (though this is very hit and miss).  When he is able to reliably recognize each number we'll move on to lining them up in order.  This is assuming that he is still showing a keen interest in numbers.  If he isn't I'll simply rotate them out until he is interested again.

*I'm not introducing him to odd and even numbers at 2.5 - I'm just planning ahead!  

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The first post

So this is my new shiny blog. Yep. I'm a blogger now. Like lots of mums I want a place to keep record of what we're doing and exchange creative and play ideas with others. I will also do regular toy reviews. I have a serious wooden toy habit and a lack of space, so only the best get space on our shelves. Maybe you have limited space too and I can save you wasting money on useless toys and point you in the direction of great toys you may not have considered! I'd also love to hear about your favourite toys – I'm always on the look out for something wonderful for our little playhouse!