Reviewed by Louise Totton
One thing that I think all households suffer from on rainy days is shortness of temper and frustration, especially when it’s been wet for a few days and the cabin fever is really starting to kick in. We have had some seriously grim weather in Yorkshire of late – it’s raining when we leave the house in the morning, the kids have just had three days of wet dinnertimes and playtimes at school and at 6.30pm, it’s still raining. I think it’s fair to say that we’re all more than a little bit fed up of it!
As well as just trying to keep the kids busy with boardgames and craft activities, the other thing that I think most parents try at some point to keep things on an even keel is the carrot and stick routine – which is exactly what I have been doing of late, and it works! I recently left the Learning Resources webpage open on my browser (I absolutely love their stuff and had been window-shopping again), and the kids stumbled across Playfoam Pals and instantly NEEDED to get their hands on some!
So there we had it – the Playfoam Pals were to become my next carrot, and I have to say, it really is no great surprise that the girls were as drawn to them as they were. The Playfoam Pals combine two of the biggest trends in toys at the moment – blind bag collectables and a tactile / slimy type substance – this combined with the fact that there are numerous ‘unboxing’ type videos of these things on YouTube means they are instantly desirable for the kids. Having said that, these are made by Learning Resources, which means there is will be something educationally valuable in there too which makes them a purchase that as a parent I am much happier with.
You may or may not have met Playfoam (or a similar substance) before. I think the best way I can describe it is brightly coloured tiny polystyrene balls, which are bound together in a semi-sticky goo. This makes the Playfoam malleable and mouldable, as well as infinitely satisfying to hold and manipulate in your hand! The collectable and blind-bag element comes in to play with the packaging; the product is sold in a twin pack, so you get two pods of differently coloured Playfoam in each pack. Inside each of the clear pods is one of the Pals, nestled and hidden within the Playfoam and not visible until you open your pod and go digging for your new Pal.
We were sent the Fantasy Friends range, so all of the Pals are mythical or fantasy creatures, and the Playfoam is multi-tonal and is mixed with glitter. Other themes that are available include Snowy Friends, Pet Party, Wild Friends and more, but my two were over the moon with the Fantasy version.
So, after five days of me not having to remind them about ‘being nice to your sister’, they had their prize. I cannot begin to tell you how excited they were to find out which characters were in their pods – far more so than when they have unboxed the blind bags in the Shopkins and Num Nom sets. I think having to dig in the Playfoam to unearth their winnings adds an excellent extra dimension to the concept and is a wonderful idea.
The little figures that are contained in the Playfoam really are very sweet. They are contained in a clear, plastic bag so they don’t get too sticky from the Playfoam and the quality of them is much better than I might have expected. It’s certainly on another level to the Kinder Eggs I remember from my childhood! I gave the girls a two-pack each, so we had four of the Pals by the end of the afternoon and there are a total of thirteen characters to collect. We were really lucky to have got four characters – a dragon, a Chinese dragon, a griffin and a hippocampus and the girls were delighted with them. They are small but feel substantial and are really nicely painted, making them a superb little collectable to sit on their bedside tables.
But the great thing with the Playfoam Pals is that the fun doesn’t stop there! It’s all well and good having your carrot and getting a week of good behaviour, bedmaking or washing up out of the kids but we also want the fun to continue. Normal blind-bag type toys have a pretty limited lifespan of fun with the interest waning not long after the big reveal – not so with these ones! Because as well as the fun of the collecting and unboxing, the kids are also left with a quite enchanting and addictively pliable substance.
The Playfoam, which is also sold as a toy in its own right, is a superb crafting product and is great fun to play with. It isn’t actually slimy at all and you can play with it without getting your hands or the furniture sticky. I’m not actually sure there is anything I could liken it to, and it is almost alien in consistency. I had thought that the kids would probably use it to mould into little shapes or bits of furniture and landscape for their little figures, but they saw far more potential in it than I did! They went and got the PlayDoh modelling toys out and set about making pizza, cakes and all manner of meals for out of it. It cuts with the PlayDoh cutters and also rolls ours into pancakes beautifully with the rolling pin. The girls and a fantastic couple of hours of fun with it and with their little figures, and it entertained them for far longer than I would have thought it would.
A final extra dimension to the little figures is that as well as being cute and collectable, they are also customisable! The heads pop off and can be swapped for other ones, meaning you can come up with a myriad of different fantasy creatures and also have great fun with some wordplay coming up with new names for these weird and wonderful new creatures. They also encourage speech and conversation if you want to discuss what powers and properties these new animals might have.
We really loved these – they genuinely are wonderful fun for the kids and I never would have thought the kids would have got as much play out of them as they have. The fill a rainy day wonderfully, as well as being just about the right price point to be able to use them as a small reward – I have told each of my kids that if they ace their spelling tests at school for the next 3 Fridays, they can have another pod each. They are now sat practicing – result!
RRP: from £6 to £36 (sold in packs of 2, 6 and 12)
For more information or to buy online visit www.learningresources.co.uk.