* Prices may differ from that shown
Before my son was old enough for toys, VTech was not a brand that I was familiar with. I had heard of all the usual brands - Fisher Price, Playskool and ELC - but it was only when someone bought a VTech toy for him that I became aware of the brand. Impressed with the quality of the toy and the educational benefits, it is now a brand that I actively look for. So, when shopping for my son's birthday presents, I came across this Count and Collect Hippo and liked the look of it, so purchased it. I purchased this toy in the sale at Sainsbury's for £9.99 but have seem this pricing elsewhere from £15 - £25. It is for children aged 18 months plus. THE TOY The toy itself is pretty basic and works around a simple concept that you throw the small plastic balls provided into the hippo's gaping mouth to 'feed' him. The hippo is a light blue in colour with pink cheeks that light up. It sits neatly on hard floors as well as carpet and is quite large - a good 40cm in width and 30cm in height (not the most convenient toy to pack away neatly in the toy box!). The hippo has a friendly face - appealing to young children. The mouth has a thin plastic moveable tongue inside which moves when the balls hit it so the toy can detect that a ball has been 'fed' to the hippo and respond accordingly. The toy has two play modes - speaking and music and this is controlled by a flick switch on the hippo's belly (this is also able to switch the toy off). There are three coloured push buttons around this for use in music mode - to select the instrument (piano, trumpet or guitar). With the toy you also get three hollow lightweight plastic balls - slightly larger than ping pong balls. These are coloured red, yellow and green. These are thrown into the hippo's mouth and then fall down through the hippo's leg to it's feet which have holes in the bottom through which the balls can be grabbed. On the left side, the hippo's hand can be pulled down to push the balls out from the left foot. Whilst in play, the hippo says phrases like 'throw the balls to feed me' and 'feed me one more ball'. In music mode, there are various melodies and tunes played and when the buttons are pushed it says what instrument has been selected. PLAYING WITH IT We gave this to my son at 12 months of age rather than the 18 months as we felt that, whilst unable to 'throw' the balls, he could gain some benefit from this. There are also no small parts that could pose any danger to him. Almost instantly, my son was attracted to this toy and quickly got to grips with what he needed to do. He enjoys 'posting' the balls through the hippo's mouth and listening as the hippo reacts with sounds and lights as well as watching the balls reappear at the hippo's feet. My son seems to enjoy the simplicity of the game and also the repetition - the fact that he is able to complete an action over and over again. It holds his attention in short bursts - for a few minutes at a time - but it is a toy that he will return to over and over again. He sometimes struggles with retrieving the balls from the feet as it is quite a tight space and there is not much room for him to get his fingers in to get a good grip of the balls - this can frustrate him. He also enjoys playing with the balls in their own right as they are lightweight but also hard so roll nicely and bounce noisily on our wooden floors. As my son develops I hope that this will help him gain further skills like throwing and counting. It already helps his manipulation skills and co-ordination as he picks up the balls and places them in the hippo's mouth. The fact that the hippo counts as you 'feed' him is a good learning tool but it's a shame that it only counts up to three - presumably as there are three balls. This is a shame as counting to ten would have been more benefit educationally, especially as the balls can be removed quickly from the hippo - there is no need to open any doors etc. Another thing that irritates me, as a parent, about the hippo is that, whilst the phrases are clear and grammatically correct, the wording could be better. For example, the hippo asks 'can you feed me one more ball?' where I feel the addition of the word 'please' at the end of the sentence would help teach my son about manners and general politeness. Also, when announcing that the trumpet is to be played, the hippo seems to pronounce this 'trumput'. OVERALL My overall opinion is that this toy is a good, fun learning aid. For the price I paid, I am very happy with it but I wouldn't say it was worth anything over £15. The variety of melodies and tunes played is good and only mildly irritating (as most musical toys tend to be!). The hippo is durable and stands up well to knocking over and hitting with the balls. There is not a great deal to the toy and this is both a positive and a negative. At my son's age, this is a positive as he enjoys mastering the action of placing the balls in the hippo's mouth and loves the repetition. As he gets older, however, I envisage that this will not hold his attention for a great length of time as there is not too much that is challenging about it. As my son enjoys this toy so much, I would recommend to parents of babies of around 12 months as you are likely to get sufficient use from it to warrant the price paid. For older children of 18 months- 2 years I would say there are probably more advanced toys out there to help with learning to count that your child would find more stimulating and enjoyable.