“ Brand: Chad Valley „
I am not a devout follower of any educational philosophy, but I do think Maria Montessori was a brilliant woman, well ahead of her time, and reading her books has encouraged me to look at early childhood education in a different way. One of the things she taught was the importance of touch in learning the alphabet - hence the famous sand paper letters. These cost a fortune though, and you really can't do much with them after the child learns their ABC's. Purists will of course cringe. Montessori never used plastic. But she didn't have plastic - nor did she have a budget for educational material - but she did have unlimited budget for building so she made do with what she had. In the same spirit, many modern followers of her educational philosophy make do with what we can get. Plastic letter shapes are recommended by many Montessori teachers now, simply because they allow the child to feel the shape of the letter.
WHAT'S IN THE BOX:
You are meant to get 110 letters. I did not. I had 98 I believe counting the board, bag and pen. I wrote the Amazon marketplace seller - who never replied and Chad Valley - who said it is the seller's problem - not theirs. I could have sent it back, but in all honesty, we were having a lot of fun with the set as it was and I really couldn't be bothered with a trip to the post office as I haven't been too well lately. But we did get at least two of every letter, upper case and lower case, plenty of numbers - in fact too many numbers I believe and a few extras like +, -, x, = and division signs. The letters are well made, the magnets are very secure and the plastic feels solid and well made. The letters are just basic letters - which is exactly what I wanted. I do have an older set from ELC with all sorts of squiggly additions to make the letters a bit more fancy. I find this confusing for a young child. These are basic, clear, easy to read letters and numbers in a number of bright and cheerful colours.
You also get a small clear plastic rucksack to store everything in, with plenty of room for another set of letters if you wish, a very small ( 8 1/4" x 6 1/3 ") white magnetic board. This isn't really the best it is just cardboard with a magnetic wipe clean paper over it. Mine was slightly warped when it arrived. I suppose this would be useful if you wanted to be able to use this for travel, as it all does zip int to back pack. Personally, I would not use this as a travel toy as it would be too easy to lose letters. I wasn't too worried about the magnet board as I have a few very good ones. There is a small wipe clean pen as well, which has been appropriated for wipe clean books. I have no problems with this, but I wouldn't expect it to last very long - they rarely do. It does not say if the marker is washable as far as clothing is concerned so I would assume that it is not. I am not terribly impressed by these extras, but I am not dissapointed either. It was obvious from the picture on Amazon that the magnetic board would be very small, the pen is just a wee extra which isn't needed with the set, and the bag a simple and inexpensive storage container.
This set in use:
My sons did have fun with this set when it first arrived. At age 8 my oldest is really a bit too old for it, but he still enjoyed spelling out a few words and putting the alphabet on our gas fire ( which is never used). At age 4, my youngest can't spell much of anything without help, but he does love magnets of any kind. I quite like using this with my youngest, encouraging him to feel each shape, and he enjoys making simple words like his name with some assistance. I do feel this toy is very beneficial for learning the alphabet as he can learn through touch as well as through sight and sound. I have quite a few extra letters from older sets, so we do have enough to spell out messages and even my husband has joined in with this - spelling out "CLOSE THe DooR" on our refrigerator door. They can be fun for brief messages, and spelling in addition to just the learning the alphabet. Constant exposure to words and letters, through quick messages and notes or just single relevant words posted throughout the house is also recommended by some experts for developing literacy ( although this is usually just the whole language theorists).
Simple maths equations can be worked out with the numbers. I did this with a different set but the principle is the same. First you can draw some large alligator mouths, each clearly displaying the < or > sign, and another picture with an alligator which has two heads each snapping a different direction and the = sign in between, then tape a magnet to the back of each. Next you set up magnetic numbers on the magnet boards and let the children place the crocodiles in the right places. It is a brilliant way to teach children equal, less than and more than. I told my son. Mr Alligator is greedy and he always wants to eat the biggest the number so his big mouth faces the largest number. But if the numbers are the same he gets confused and just snaps back and forth not sure which one to eat first. It's been years now since I taught my son < and > and he still remembers the < and > signs by the alligator mouths. In fact, my own teacher taught me this the same way - which is the way I knew to use this method with my children.
The only reason I bought this set is that in contains both upper case and lower case letters. If I were strictly following Montessori's teachings, I would only be using lower case letters, and this is recommended by many modern educational theorists as well. A few recommend teaching only upper case. I was taught using both, and I find this method the easiest, especially as most alphabet books either use both sets of letters or upper case only. If you are looking for only one type of letter, I would not recommend this set at all. You will far better value for money with an ELC set. In fact these do work out better value for money overall, even buying two sets, as you get a lot more pieces. I believe the quality of the letters in similar. Had I known how few actual letters you get, I would have chosen the ELC sets, as I really don't have as much need for the numbers. If you only want to buy one set, and have numbers, and both types of letters combined though, this set is the only one I have found.
My children do play with these for awhile, and I feel that any time spent playing with words and letters has value, but they would not really play with these very often on their own. I feel that these are an educational prop more than a toy, and most useful only with adult involvement as well. If you want to help your child learn the alphabet, or use the numbers for simple maths than I can recommend these quite easily. If you want to use these to spell out messages, or even just practice spelling words - I do not feel that you will have enough letters with a single set, and if you are going to buy a few sets - there are others that offer better value for money.
I am giving these four stars, because I just don't feel that enough letters are included, but the I found the overall quality of the letters very high.
*** Safety warning - This product is intended for children 3 years of age and over. I don't go so much by age, as by the individual child's behaviour and the amount of supervision. If your child still puts small toys in their mouth, I would never leave them with these unattended. I am not certain the exact size of an object a child can swallow, but I am quite certain a child could choke on something like the letter "i" in this set, and quite possibly on most of the other parts as well. Parents should also be aware that magnets can pose a unique health and safety risk, so much so that many activists have called for their removal from all children's toys. The worry is that if a child swallows two magnets, or a single magnet + a bit of metal that the two may attach in the digestive tract trapping a bit of intestine in between. These are small low powered magnets. To the best of my knowledge, the children who have died from magnetic attraction inside the digestive tract have swallowed the more powerful neodymium magnets, but with the safety of young children I would always err on the side of caution. You will have to remove the spaces to use any links.
I've added links on magnets and safety if this is a concern for you:
http:// europa.eu/ rapid/press-release_ IP-08-345_en.htm
http:// www.cdc.gov/ mmwr/preview/ mmwrhtml/ mm5548a3.htm