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The Early Learning Centre have released several special edition Happyland sets recently, including a Jubilee and Royal Wedding set. In order to celebrate the Olympics they have released this Sporty Athletes set, obviously being unable to use the word Olympics due to the highly restrictive advertising and sponsorship deals. Originally retailing at £10, this set of six athletes is now on offer at half price and is an ideal way of introducing the idea of the Olympics and athletics in general to a pre-school child.
The box that houses the athletes features a clear window that allows you to admire the sporting heroes as they stand against the glorious backdrop that features a London skyline including such tourist attractions as The London Eye. This very obvious wink to this year's host city does look very attractive and it is almost a shame to tear the box open to release the athletes. Indeed it is such a shame that we purchased an extra set that can remain unopened along with other special edition sets in the hopes that they will eventually become collector pieces. Once the box is opened all that is required before play is to release the athletes from the elastic bands and pegs that hold them in place. While I appreciate that I did not have to struggle and injure my fingers untying plastic twist ties, I do have concerns about the elastic bands used to hold the athletes securely in place, they are transparent, very difficult to see and a choking hazard, which is probably not the most suitable with a toy considered suitable for children over the age of eighteen months.
As with all Happyland characters, the athletes are moulded from a rubber-like material, that is soft to the touch, with the details painted on. Each athlete is hollow, so lightweight, features a hole on the base to make them compatible with other Happyland vehicles and stand six to ten centimetres high, making them the ideal size to be held and manipulated by little hands. Each character is extremely durable, they can easily withstand being chewed on by teething toddlers, without the paint flaking or receiving teeth marks. They are also easy to clean, they can be wiped or even have a dip in a washing up bowl, although it is advisable to make sure that any water is drained out to prevent the dreaded black mould. One thing I love about Happyland is that the characters encompass both genders and there that different ethnicities are represented, and this set is no exception, meaning that every child will find something to identify with.
The six athletes represent a range of different disciplines, meaning that your child can hold their very own Olympics, starting with the flag bearer, who leads the team into the stadium. The flag bearer is very obviously in Team GB with his red, white and blue tracksuit, with a Union Jack on his jacket pocket and another on his flag. I love the smiling faces on all the characters, they are simple and cartoon-like and yet so friendly with their button noses. Following on from the flag bearer, we have a runner in her crop top and shorts with her hair tied in a pony tail, will she win gold? Only your child will know. Next we have the wheelchair sprinter, in her snazzy orange three wheeled chair, wearing a bright green shorts set and safety helmet. I especially like that a wheelchair racer is included in this set, as it means the set truly represents a cross-section of athletes. Next we have the weightlifter, and what I particularly like about this character is the way his eyes are screwed shut as he strains to lift the weights, it's little details like this that make all the Happyland toys extra special. Then there is the cyclist in his Team GB colours and bright red cycle helmet and finally there's a swimmer in his trunks getting ready to dive in the pool.
I didn't have any particular purpose in mind when I bought this set for two year old Freddy, it was a set he didn't already have and a bargain at only £5. It was only once we received it that I saw the possibilities and realised that once more the ELC had released a Happyland set that could be used to help him understand a special event and in particular why so many people had been excited about athletics. Freddy isn't quite your usual two year old, he has learning difficulties including a severe delay in his social, imaginative and role playing skills, he is virtually non-verbal and needs a lot of visual cues to help him understand the world around him. Because of these problems I find toys such as the Happyland range are ideal to use as props when talking to him about everyday activities.
I'm not going to say that either Freddy or I think these characters are the most exciting or versatile, simply because they are not, but they are still very suitable for talking about sports. Part of the problem though, is because they are so specialised they do not particularly lend themselves to being used with other sets, which reduces play value. But for what they are they are fine, Freddy particularly likes the swimmer/diver and will take him into the bath so that he can swim and dive in the water (often accompanied with a big splash). Freddy does try and push both the cyclist and wheelchair athlete, but it must be remembered that the wheels do not move, which means that Freddy gets a little frustrated when they do not roll along the floor. As well as allowing him some independent play, I have spent time playing with these with Freddy, talking about what each athlete does and how it's nice to win, but even better to have fun taking part in races.
For £5 this set was a bargain, but I really don't think it is worth the original asking price of £10. Yes it is a nice special edition themed set (and so worth putting away unopened with other special edition sets), but it is rather limited in play value and lacks the scope for imagination that other Happyland sets provide. While well made and definitely suitable for the recommended age of eighteen months plus, the Happyland Sporty Athletes, do make reasonable props for talking about the (now finished) Olympics, sports day and other athletic events. As to my recommendation, I not completely sure, I suppose that if you are a completest then this set is an essential add-on, while if your child showed a great interest in the Olympics, then they will most probably love these little sportsmen. But if your child is not that interested, then they are unlikely to be too impressed, simply because these characters do not lend themselves to being incorporated into other sets and so quickly become boring. So I'm going to give the Happyland Sporty Athletes three stars out of five, and recommend them more for their potential investment value (unopened of course) than for their play value and if you are going to buy them, then buy two sets, so that your child can play with one while the other is put away.