“ Brand: ELC / Type: Playsets „
The Early Learning Centre have recently revamped their Happyland range, redesigning some of the sets and releasing new additions. Among the new sets is the Happyland Sherwood Castle, that has a standard price of £30, but was recently on offer at just £15, during a bank holiday event. I had had my eye on this castle from the day it appeared in the new catalogue, deciding whether or not to pay full price, but when I saw it on offer I couldn't help myself and bought it for two year old Freddy.
==In The Greenwood - A Parent's View==
The Happyland Sherwood Castle set is one of the larger pieces in the Happyland range and you get a fair number of pieces for your money. There is the castle itself, three characters, a tree, ladder and table, all supplied in a large cardboard box. There were a number of plastic ties to undo to release the pieces, but it wasn't too difficult. I would recommend setting it up the night before if you are planning on giving this as a gift though, as it takes a good five minutes to release all the components.
The castle is quite a reasonable size, standing at just over 30cm high and sitting on a 30cm by 13cm base. The attention to detail and amount of thought that has gone into designing both the exterior and interior of the castle is breathtaking and what lifts this castle well above cheaper alternatives. I love the way the walls are textured to love and feel like smooth stones, while the flooring at the top of the tower resembles wooden planking complete with grain effect. The windows are also very authentic looking and there are even arrow slits strategically placed for the castles defenders. There is a banner next to the tower window that can be rotated, to be shown flying when the King is in residence or pushed to the side when he's out on royal visits. With all Happyland toys it's the little details that make them extra special, and this castle is no different, there's even a fleur de lys embossed on the banner. Entry to the castle is via a drawbridge, which is lowered by way of a button disguised as a coat of arms and the castle is also decorated with two flaming torches and tree.
Although the castle can be played with while closed up, it is even more fun when opened out. At the rear of the castle there is a latch that holds it closed, which when opened allows the sides of the castle to me folded out, which not only reveals the interior but also doubles the amount of space the castle takes up. Opening the castle out reveals a small area of stone floor and stairs running up to an arrow slit. While the majority of the decoration on the castle is printed, there are some stickers inside, so if you have a child who likes peeling stickers then I would keep an eye on them when playing with the castle. One aspect of the castle that I particularly appreciate is that all the most of the accessories and all of the characters fit inside when it is closed, which makes keeping the pieces together far easier.
Although there aren't that many accessories within this set, the few that are included do add to the play value. There is a tree (well Robin Hood was supposed to live in the forest), which comes in two pieces which need to be slotted together. When the pieces are put together the tree stands a reasonable 12cm high and is nicely detailed, with a full canopy of leaves, wood grain effect on the trunk and even a little bird house, but it is not without problems. While it is to place the two pieces together, there is nothing to keep them together and the fit is not tight enough to stop them falling apart at the slightest provocation. The next accessory is a small round table set with four plates, this table is exactly the right height for the characters to stand next to as they eat their breakfast. The final accessory is a ladder that can be leant against the castle so that a hero can climb it to rescue the princess, the only real issue with the ladder is that there is no way to hook it into place, which can cause a little frustration for the child.
Both the castle and accessories are made of a tough plastic and have proved both durable and easy to wipe clean. I know just how durable the castle is because my son is a climber and he has used it as a step to see out of the window on more than one occasion without causing any damage. Unlike the doors on many Happyland sets, the drawbridge is held securely in place and does not fall off every five minutes.
The three characters are moulded from the same rubber-like material used with all Happyland characters with the detail hand painted on. While they share the hole in the base should make them compatible with vehicles in other sets, they are a good deal chunkier with much wider bases, which means in reality they do not fit every vehicle. With this set being very strongly Robin Hood themed, it is no surprise that one of the characters is Robin Hood himself. Robin is very much based on the Errol Flynn incarnation of the man in green, with a goatee, rakish moustache and feather in his cap. I love the level of detail on this character, right down to the flights on the arrows in his quiver. The next character is the King, resplendent in his jewelled crown and red cloak. The final character is the Princess, who looks ever so pretty with her long blonde hair, dressed in a two tone pink and white dress with a pink tiara on her head. As with all Happyland characters, these are durable, easy to clean and even able to withstand being chewed on without the paint flaking.
From an adult's point of view this is an excellent set that appears to have a great deal of play value. It is also extremely tough and able to withstand a toddler's rather boisterous play. My only gripes are that the tree comes apart too easily, there are stickers decorating the interior and as yet there are no add-on sets to add more characters and accessories and so add even more play value (I would like to see some more of the Merry Men, a sheriff and maybe knights on horses). But all in all, from an adult's point of view, I would give the Happyland Sherwood Castle four stars out of five, but as with any toy it's not just my opinion that counts....
==A Medieval Adventure - A Toddler's View==
Before I go into Freddy's experiences playing with this set, I'm going to tell you a little about him, as what any child will get out of this set will depend on the child and what stage of development they are at. Freddy is a little boy who simply adores his Happyland sets, but he doesn't exactly play with them in a conventional way, as he has a significant developmental delay in all areas including imaginative, social and role playing skills and he is virtually non-verbal. Because of these difficulties, I am always looking for toys to encourage him to improve these skills and the Happyland toys fit this bill perfectly. Freddy is also rather rougher with his toys than most children his age, often standing on them and peeling stickers off to eat them. He also has an obsession with buttons, hoping that any button will set off an electronic sound.
I set the castle up while Freddy was taking a nap, knowing that he would simply not be patient enough to wait while I was removing it from the package, and as soon as he saw it his eyes lit up and he couldn't wait to explore. Freddy's first disappointment was that there are no electronic lights and sounds on the castle, he attempted to press everything that he could, including the torches and the coat of arms, but of course there were no sounds to be had. After allowing him to explore for a while I spent some time playing with him and showed him, much to his delight, how the drawbridge worked. Although he does sometimes struggle to press the button hard enough, the way the drawbridge springs down does seem to fascinate him and he will spend a good ten minutes opening and closing it.
Freddy also love the way the castle opens and closes, while he cannot quite manage to shut the latch, he loves to hide the characters in the castle and close it up, which is something he finds quite easy. While he loves to explore the castle, he is not yet showing any imagination when playing, so I have to add enough role playing for both of us. When we play together, I will make up little stories using the characters, sometimes Robin Hood will come to tea, while other times he will rescue the princess from the tower. While these little scenarios would be greatly enhanced by more themed characters, I will improvise and use characters from other sets to add more variety and help Freddy realise there are no limits to make believe. So we've rescued the King from an invasion of dinosaurs, had space men discover the castle on a distant planet and even had Queen Elizabeth travel back in time for a tea party. It's when slightly older children have come to visit, that I've really seen the play potential for this castle, with a four year old making up all sorts of adventures for the characters while chattering away.
All being said, Freddy does rather like this castle and will choose to play with it for short periods on an almost daily basis. Once he gets over his disappointment that there are no sounds or lights, he will quite happily explore the castle, play with the characters in his own special way and will allow me to join in for a short while. If he could speak I feel he would tell be that he's very glad that I bought it for him and he also would give it four stars out of five.
==A Developmental View==
While many of the Happyland toys are designed to represent buildings and occasions that your child would experience and therefore help them learn about the world around them through play, this castle falls firmly into the fantasy category and therefore does not really help with that. What the castle does encourage is role playing, imagination, communication and cooperative play, as the child makes up adventures and scenarios for the characters, with the castle as a prop. By spending time playing with your child and talking about what the characters are doing, you can help your child increase their vocabulary and the castle is also fantastic for allowing to children to play and work together.
This castle is billed as being suitable for children over the age of eighteen months and while there is nothing about it that would cause a danger per say, I do feel that this lower age limit is probably about right as unlike many Happyland sets this does rely heavily on the child's imagination for the fun aspect. That's not to say that younger children or those with difficulties in this area will not enjoy playing with, because Freddy certainly does, it's just they won't get as much out of it. The ELC no longer gives an upper recommended age limit for the Happyland sets, but previously it was four years and for many sets this was a little overoptimistic. With this set, however, I do feel that the developmentally appropriate child will probably still be quite happy to play with it until the age of five. Of course, we are likely to get far more use out of the castle as Freddy has such a severe delay, so it's good to know that it is durable enough to withstand several years more use.
I had dithered a bit as to whether to buy this castle for Freddy, partly because it cost £30 but mostly because I wasn't exactly sure that he would like or be able to relate to it, but it turns out that it was a great purchase. While I would always suggest waiting until Happyland sets are reduced before buying them, I do still feel that this set is more than worth the £30, although it is obviously far better value at £15. Freddy does enjoy playing with the castle, both of us would recommend it to the parent's of children age between eighteen months and five years and we can't wait for the ELC to release some add-on sets so we have even more fun.