Thursday, 23 October 2014

Activity box reviews

Daughter and I have few financial indulgences. Mostly, we stomp about the countryside in our wellies, collect huge bags of sticks with the intention of doing things with them, then return home to bake and read books. Or at least, she sits in her room and 'reads' to her toys. I pig-out on said baking, slurp my body weight in tea and wonder why it is that this pregnancy, I'm the size of a small SUV... Ah, the mysteries of life.

Now that we're in Scotland though, with winter fast approaching  - and a tiny, screaming monster due to descend at the beginning of December - I thought it wise to find some alternatives to our great, stick-gathering works. And because my brain is a total mess of fuzz (through a combination of pregnancy and too much homemade Rocky Road) I'm running out of ideas for crafts.

Cue The Weekend Box, and the Toucan Box.

These two little packages basically do the same thing. The postman brings them to your house, you do the crafts contained within, wonder when your toddler got to be smarter than you and leave them to it... returning in time to watch them paint your dining table sludge brown with the leftover acrylics from their project. No? Just me?

In any case, having tried both boxes, I thought I'd take you through each one,. I have to say, each company has its merits and it's down to the sort of thing you like doing as to whether or not the Weekend or Toucan Box will appeal most.

Up first - as modelled above - is the Weekend Box.

Featuring the woodland characters Wooster, Sammy, Hattie and Oswald, each critter corresponds with a different type of craft. There's cookery, recycling, generic craft and discovery so you get four activities in a box.

The crafts themselves are well thought out, and the various elements included in the packs are of reasonable quality (though the glue absolutely doesn't stick).

After completing each activity there's a sticker to put on the instruction sheet, and when all four are finished, the child can stick a fifth, larger sticker to a chart. When they have enough stickers, they're invited to send a photo of their achievements to the Weekend Box facebook page in exchange for a prize (in our case, a personalised apron).

Overall, I was very impressed, but there were a few things which just didn't work for us as a family. As a keen cook who already includes Daughter in every-day meal preparation, the recipes felt slightly patronising and seemed to try a little too hard to be 'healthy'. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for good, home-cooked foods that small people will actually eat, but these seemed to prioritise a desire to be health-promoting over the taste. As I say though, I'm a cook and I reckon a fussy eater as a result. If you're looking for a way to get your little one into the kitchen, it might be exactly what you need.

Also, there was no overriding theme to the box, and I find that Daughter enjoys things far more if she can see some kind of connection there (hence my trying to theme activities). We're also not really a sticker family - I don't do reward charts or that sort of thing, so the concept of stickers as a prize was very alien to my little girl. Again, if sticker-rewards are something which works with your routine then this would definitely be the box to consider.

Cue The Toucan Box.

We ordered one trial of the Toucan Box and I was instantly impressed. Though there was only one craft in the box, there was a card with suggestions of tie-in activities. These weren't complicated - just a tick sheet of things to look for on woodland walks, or things to talk about while looking at leaves etc. but it was all very well considered and had the continuity I'd felt was lacking in the Weekend Box.

When we upgraded our subscription to the middle-sized package (containing two crafts) I was glad to see that the idea of a theme continued. The customisation options even go so far as to let you select which of the prepared topics you think your child would find most interesting. There is a book included in each of the larger packs, and the box itself has all kinds of fun activities printed on it - a map to draw on, for example, and funny little Toucans to decorate, as well as spaces to 'draw your bright ideas'.

The thing which finally made me chose the Toucan Box over the weekend box was the lack of junk-modelling. Despite being a total slob, I am paradoxically house-proud and hate clutter. And though Daughter is very proud of her junk models, I can't help but feel that they are... well... junk. Goodness, I sound cruel, don't I? In any case, the items included in the Toucan boxes have been useful things - stuff that she can play with or actually use (a tote bag which she painted herself, is the one which springs to mind first). All in all, the re-usability of the makes, the book and the packaging make this feel that it's much better value for money, despite costing more and containing fewer crafts than it's smaller and more compact counterpart... I told you, I'm paradoxical.

In any case, each box has its merits and it's worth checking out the free trials offered by both to see which you might prefer. In the interests of total disclosure, neither Weekend Box nor Toucan Box have asked me to review their products, but if you sign up to the Toucan Box using this link, I do get a reward for referral.

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