Reviewed by Kathryn Harrison
If you haven’t yet come across the wonderful world of Melissa and Doug and their wide-range of imagination-igniting toys, then allow me to introduce you.
Our house has quite a collection from the Melissa and Doug brand and I’m always ready to welcome a new addition. The company’s mission is to create games, activities and playthings that act as a launch pad for youngsters’ imaginations. It wasn’t until I came to review these products that I realised Melissa and Doug are actual, real people. Infact, they’re a married American couple and Mum and Dad to six. No wonder their creations are so well-thought, practical and engaging.
First up is the Melissa & Doug ‘My First Daily Magnetic Calendar’, recommended I’d say perfectly at ages three and up. With both a three and five-year-old, I’m used to the daily questions and statements made as a result of their inquisitiveness about the world around them.
“Mum, what are we doing today?”
“Look! It’s raining Mum!”
“Mum, is it Christmas yet?”
This beautiful, bright, wooden daily calendar helps satisfy that curiousness, educate little ones and provide a fun activity in which they and their grown-ups can enjoy together. The kids undoubtedly feel a sense of responsibility as they help post the day of the week, date, weather and special events on the large magnetic board for all to see. There’s a sturdy cord attached to the solid board, making it easy to hang, in pride of place, be it in their bedroom, the kitchen or your own chosen special spot. Hanging it up makes it much more likely that you’ll take the time to update it on a daily basis.
My two love the space on the board where they get to stick a magnet that represents their mood. More than likely, they’ll pick the ‘silly face’ but I’ve seen firsthand that the happy, sad and angry faces do open communication and encourage children to gauge their own emotions.
The calendar comes with 80 magnets including years, months, numerals for dates, days of the week, holidays, special events and emotions. The calendar is made up of a
pair of hinged, dry-erase boards; one is the calendar template and one is for storing your magnets. I haven’t yet let on that you could write on the latter; we’d have magnets flying everywhere but I’m sure I will do, as hanging up, it makes for the perfect message board that we could use for reminders or even a space to create our own reward chart. I just need to locate a safe storage spot for said magnets first.
The special events magnets cover you for things like Christmas, Halloween and Mother’s Day and there’s activity magnets that represent trips to the park, sports practice, parties and such like. It couldn’t possible cover everything so handily there’s two dry-erase magnet tiles for you to use and re-use as required. So far, we’ve documented a bike ride, day at the farm and kite flying.
The Daily Calendar works for us as it encourages my girls to talk about the day ahead and offers them a reassuring expectation of upcoming events. I’d like to put out a personal plea to Melissa and Doug to create a similar after-school tool that would encourage children to disclose information about their day. My two currently leave me in the dark. And that, leads nicely on to the second product I’m reviewing – The Melissa and Doug School Time: Classroom Play Set.
Who doesn’t remember as a child, playing school? Be it with your teddies, sibling or imaginary friend. This activity kit gives children the tools to enhance their role play as they pretend to be teacher or pupil.
I’ve been roped into playing student to a five-year-old teacher and I can confirm that the set does indeed help kids learn to give directions. If she’d give me the chance to be the teacher, maybe I’d see her learning how to follow them as well as I do! This activity certainly helps foster creativity and communication skills, or in laymen’s terms, mess-making and bossiness (err, assertiveness)!
The Classroom Playset includes nine reusable double-sided activity cards including worksheets, a hall pass, lunch orders, maths and writing assignments and a library card. I’m not sure whether I’ve had more trips to the Book Shelf to select a new read or to the ‘Canteen’ to be served my lunch.
The box itself doubles as a double-sided play area, with a drop down teacher’s desk on one side and a student’s desk on the other. The box is pretty sturdy but so are my girls; I can’t imagine the set lasting much more than a year. The wipe clean elements are already a shade or two greyer. The ‘encouraging’ stickers too won’t last long and I’ll have to restock. Testament I guess to the set’s popularity with my kiddywinks. The Classroom also comes with two dry-white markers (one which unfortunately didn’t work from the onset), so I’ve already raided our craft cupboard for replacements.
The reusable write-on activity cards are designed to help kids learn their letters and develop language skills. Whilst the wipe clean cards encourage spelling practice, sum solving and story writing, it’s the classic handled school bell, ticking timer and board pointer that have been given most attention by my girls. The bell has told me its time to get started on their tea, the timer has allocated the minutes I’m allowed to spend on a toilet trip and the pointer has been awarded Magic Wand status; the very definition of creative, imaginative play the set seeks to draw out.
As with all the Melissa and Doug products we’ve previously experienced, the Calendar and the School Set succeed in stimulating a sense of wonder; encouraging children to start the journey of discovering themselves, their passions and their purpose. Melissa and Doug take pride in conceptualising every product at their offices in Connecticut, hand-making each prototype until they get it just right, before putting them into production at their factory. Their dedication certainly pays off and ‘Melissa and Doug’ is certainly my brand of choice when it comes to buying toys for my girls and gifting to others. The prices of the products are really reasonable for things so considered and well-made. The Calendar particularly is worth the investment as I expect I’ll get a few years use out of it. If you’re looking for a gift for a Pre-Schooler or Early Years Pupil that comes in under £20, you can’t go wrong.
Parenting comes with plenty of challenges and the rise of technology means kids are growing up faster and independently with perhaps less interaction with those around them. What I love about Melissa and Doug products is that they offer a fun, educational means of re-establishing and growing the connection between child and adult.
RRP: Daily Calendar £16.99 Classroom playset £47.80
You can purchase these items from Amazon here