* INFO.. WHY DID I BUY? *
From a very young age, my young nephew has been mad about cars, wheels, trucks and really anything to do with vehicles. This has meant of course that most of his toys are car-related, or have some sort of car 'theme' as these toys really appeal to him.
This makes it very easy to purchase gifts and toys for him, as purchasing any sort of toy car-related items are a pretty safe bet. By the time of his first birthday at the end of 2010, he was already enjoying moving his toy trucks and cars around the floor. I therefore decided to have a look around and see what sort of items I could purchase to 'add' a little to this pastime.
An item that struck me as being a fantastic choice was from the well-known "Chad Valley" range of children's' toys. Costing only £9.99 from Argos, the "Double Sided Play Mat" appealed to me instantly, as it looked quite impressive from the pictures on the Argos website, and I liked the fact it was double-sided, so would provide two different surfaces for my nephew to play with his cars upon. There were three small plastic toy cars supplied with the mat at the time of the purchase, although these had a very basic design and were very lightweight and felt quite flimsy.
* CHAD VALLEY DOUBLE SIDED PLAY MAT *
Being a sort of play 'rug' idea, the idea behind the Double Sided Play Mat is to provide two different printed 'scenes' which provide an ideal background for little cars and trucks to be played upon. The first side - and by far, the most popular where my nephew is concerned - depicts the image of a sort of little 'town', made up of various streets and roads, with parking bays at one corner and several buildings incorporated into the loop of streets. These buildings and little printed images were pretty much ignored by my nephew when the mat was first introduced to him due to him being too young at the time, but I must admit that now he is a little older the images have really been incorporated into our playtime on the mat. As he is so intrigued by different types of vehicles he understandably has a rather large collection of toy cars and vans, some of which are little police cars and fire engines. He also has a little black taxi, an ice cream van and a red post van, amongst others.
Using his own vans and cars alongside his play with the mat has proven to be a very successful - and thoroughly enjoyable - experience, as he now understands where the different vehicles 'belong' and will 'match' them to their corresponding buildings on the mat. With his fire engine 'parked' neatly at the fire station, and the ambulance in its respective spot on the printed 'hospital' image, we will regularly make up little stories that correspond around the various cars in his collection. "Whilst the postman was delivering letters in his van, he noticed a fire and had to phone the Fire Brigade who sent their engine to put out the fire" type of story allows two or even three of the cars (and their respective buildings) to be used in our story.... You get the idea.
The addition of little areas of green-coloured 'grass' areas adds a little colour to the grey felt-like material, as do the red tones that are present in most of the buildings. To be honest though, I do feel that the mat has a very drab appearance and I thought it odd that it was not more brightly-coloured or eye catching. Our lad doesn't seem to notice - or care - about such matters to be fair, and this is something that I have noticed as a mere observer. It is true to say too, that the other little printed 'areas' on the mat have added even more to the overall playing experience as my nephew will often tell me (rather smugly) that he is driving "on the grass" or has caused a "crash in the playground" and of course, his little car or van of choice can be seen enthusiastically 'driving' over areas that are not part of the lined, grey roads.
The reverse side of the mat is not nearly as popular as the first, and we have only ever used its surface a handful of times. The printed image on this side is a sort of curved racing track design, complete with cheering spectators, flags, grassy verges and tyre barriers. Whilst I would have thought having a race around the track with each player having a toy car would have been a pretty enjoyable pastime, I can appreciate that my nephew is perhaps still a little young to properly understand the concept of racing. This is not necessarily a negative point however, as I feel it is one aspect of the Play Mat that he will perhaps grow into a little later on.
The mat is made from a sort of felt-like material, and I don't find the touch or feeling of the fabric to be particularly luxurious or soft, although I would say that my nephew would probably disagree with this statement as he can often be seen lying out on the mat as if it were a soft furry rug! A huge plus point however, is that the mat has proven to be extremely robust, and although the surface of the printed town scene has a small flurry of 'bobbles' lying on top of the felt surface, there is otherwise very little in the way of wear or tear to the mat. As my nephew is now 2 years and 5 months old, and has played with this mat on a near-daily basis since it was given to him on his first birthday, I am happy with the quality and surprisingly robust material of the product.
The mat has been used in the garden during the summer months and has withstood this practice too. I'm not sure if the mat can be washed in the machine but any debris or small bits of grass that have found themselves attached to the 'brushed' felt surface are easily removed with a small handheld brush in my experience.
The Chad Valley Play mat actually stays with my nephew in his own house but as both of his parents work full time, his childcare needs are met by members of my sister's family, and this includes myself and my parents who work in a sort of 'rotation' to baby-sit him. Whilst we all have a sort of toy box full of puzzles, books and of course, toy cars in our respective homes to amuse the youngster whilst he is in our care, my sister will always pack a small selection of his own favourite toys and books to provide further entertainment and prevent him from becoming too bored. One item that always features in this selection is the Chad Valley Double Sided Play Mat, so it is an item I am very familiar with and I have spent many hours with my young nephew using the toy and creating our imaginative stories that occur in this imaginary town!
Whilst I am on the subject, the play mat has proven to be a very convenient item to store and it is completely mobile, thanks to its lightweight material and 'flexible' design. As the mat is not as thick as carpet or even a light rug, it is entirely suitable to roll up or fold, which makes it convenient to store inside a cupboard or toy box. As for moving the mat from place to place, this can be done quickly and easily, being no more difficult than rolling up a poster or piece of material. This has made the play mat much more versatile than other toys as taking the mat on trips or holidays - and of course on my nephew's baby-sitting routine - is extremely easy and fuss-free.
Playing with the mat has proven to be an extremely enjoyable experience for both kids and adults, and the generous sizing of the mat allows for several players to take part in our little 'stories'. My husband and myself will often play with the little one and the generous sizing of the mat ensures that each 'player' has enough room to manoeuvre their car (or van..!) around on the mat without intruding on the player sitting next to them. Being a square shape measuring 80cm across and approx 80cm high, the mat feels generously-sized without being overly cumbersome, which I think would make it more inconvenient to store and transport.
According to the Argos website (www.argos.co.uk), the Chad Valley Play Mat is suitable for children aged 3 and over, but as I have already stated, my nephew has been playing with this mat since he was just over one and has encountered no problems or difficulties with it. The mat itself is completely safe, but there were three small cars supplied with the mat which were quite small - about the size of your average 'matchbox' sized toy car - so the small parts on these cars is perhaps where the recommended age guideline has come from. Indeed, my sister felt the cars supplied with the mat were quite flimsy and they were put away until recently. I have to confess that the toy cars are not the best quality and have a very lightweight 'flimsy' look and feel to them, and I would highly recommend purchasing some toy cars of a better quality to use alongside the mat instead.
Overall, I think the Chad Valley Double Sided Play Mat is a very worthwhile purchase, and my nephew still loves his mat, choosing to play with it on a near-daily basis. It has proven to be a toy that he has grown into a little in more recent months, but was able to enjoy on a very basic level when he was younger. There is a further aspect of the mat that he may well grow into when he is a little older, and I have no doubt that the mat will be enjoyed right through his childhood. I think it has been worth every penny of the £10 paid for it and it comes with a very high recommendation from me.... And my nephew!!
As @ May 2012, the price for the mat is £10.19 from Argos.