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I bought this for my grandchildren and it really hasn't lived up to my expectations at all! I had heard good reviews so thought it would be ideal to put their toys in but sadly it was just disappointing. It is large enough to hold lots of their toys and it can fold down to be used as a play mat. All you do is unzip the four corners and it folds flat and then to fasten it up you simply zip it and then it turns into a box again. The lid fits on and it's a box! It has pictures of cars on the outside and the inside is a road so it's a nice play mat when it folds down. It isn't very sturdy though at all, so when full of toys they tend to make the sides buldge and if my young grandchildren tried to unzip the sides whilst toys were inside then the toys would just come spilling out on top of them. When you lift it up it did withstand the weight of toys but the weight was poorly distributed and so it actually ended up making me pull my back a few times so it was a bit awkward. The plastic coating on this has started to rise and bobble up and bits have started to chip off which I think is quite a choking hazard for young children and isn't what I'd expect from an Early Learning Centre product. It really is not as good as I was hoping it to be, the quality and how flimsy it is is so disappointing I wasn't expecting it at all. I am now hoping to get a better item to replace this with. I don't recommend it at all. It looks nice and the idea is good but that's about it. It cost me £25 which is far too expensive for a product like this.
Two year old Freddy has a huge collection of Early Learning Centre Happyland toys, the majority of which are (or were) stored in the Happyland play and store boxes. These boxes can work out quite expensive at around £15 each, so when I saw the very similarly designed ELC Road Storage Playmat on offer at only £7.50 I jumped at the chance and bought one to store his Happyland vehicles in. It's worth noting that standard price for this storage box is £15 and it no longer appears online but is still available in my local store. The storage box cum playmat is supplied folded down secured with a cardboard sleeve, making it easy to carry home and meaning it takes up very little room in the car boot. Once the cardboard sleeve has been removed the box comes in two pieces, the mat section that zips up into the storage area and the lid. Both elements are formed of what feels like stiff, thick cardboard, which is lightly padded and coated with a spill/water resistant, wipe-clean plastic material. To use this as a storage box four zips need to be done up, one at each corner, which will leave a fairly small box with semi-rigid sides. The zips are all easy to operate, run smoothly and have survived a year of regular use without damage. But they are made of metal, likely to rust if left damp and not exactly the most child-friendly, (I do find that it's far more likely to catch skin in a metal zip than plastic). The lid fits neatly into place, but does not secure into place very well even though there are two Velcro latches, which could be considered an advantage insofar as it means the child can easily access the cars/toys within, or a disadvantage for exactly the same reason. This is in no way the largest of toy boxes, but it will hold hundreds of the small Matchbox style of toy car and quite a few of the larger Happyland vehicles. We had about twenty of these larger vehicles stored in the box with plenty of room to spare. While the storage box is fairly sturdy when empty, it soon shows it's inherent flimsiness as it is filled. The sides are simply not rigid enough to hold any weight and as the box is filled they bulge out, which not only looks unsightly, but also makes it difficult to keep the lid in place. While there are two cut-outs for carrying the box, once it has any amount of cars in it, the sides either once more bulge or collapse inwards, making it difficult to transport from room to room without spilling cars everywhere. Whilst in storage box mode the exterior is decorated with various cars and vehicles in a multi-story car park, which is not particularly inspiring, but does at least allow Freddy to realise that it is where his cars should go after playing. I say should, but just like every toddler, Freddy does think his cars (and all his toys) are much happier spread over his bedroom floor. When the zips are opened the storage box unfolds into a fairly large oblong playmat. This playmat is a really good size, not so large that it takes up a whole room but large enough for two or more children to play together or even for Mummy to play with the cars with Freddy. It's also nicely padded so that I don't get a sore bottom from sitting on the floor. The road map design is well thought out, with plenty of points of interest to talk about and roads for the cars to travel over, the actual roads are quite wide too, making them perfect for the Happyland vehicles and meaning that smaller cars can travel in both lanes. There is an emergency centre complete with heliport, that makes a great base for any police cars, ambulances, fire engines and even helicopters. There is also a sports hall, a bridge to drive over, a quarry/construction site for all your child's diggers, a multi-story car park with car wash and ground level car park and even a roundabout. So there's plenty of visual props to fire your child's imagination and encourage their role playing skills. The lid also doubles up as a play tray and is printed on both sides with a car park scene and can be used either on it's own or in conjunction with the mat. Freddy and I have spent many happy hours playing with cars on both the mat and lid over the last six months or so. We really like the road design and how the roads are wide enough for Freddy's Happyland vehicles, especially as Freddy has some significant developmental problems and is obsessed with cars. I would have been giving this storage box/playmat a resounding recommendation even with the minor niggle of it not being as sturdy as I would like, but there are two real problems that prevent me from doing so, one fairly minor and one major and potentially life-threatening. The more minor of the problems is that to transform the storage box into a playmat, the zips need to be undone, which means the cars inside will tumble everywhere unless they are all removed before opening. OK this is more an annoyance and inconvenience than problem, but still it did begin to annoy me as time went by (although I did like the fact that I could just pile the cars up in the middle and do the zips up to tidy away). The major problem is the reason I will only be giving this storage box one star (as I cannot award zero) and definitely not recommending it. This problem is down to the build quality, or lack of it. Before I go into detail about the problem, I had best tell you just a little bit about Freddy as he is not a typical 2.5 year old. Freddy has a developmental delay along with most probably being on the autistic spectrum. Among his obsessions are cars and peeling stickers, more significant is the fact that he has Pica (eats non-foods) and any stickers he peels off end up in his mouth. So the problem we found with this storage box is that the thin, water resistant, plastic layer is very fragile and easily caught and torn. As soon as a little tear appears, it is very easy for a child to peel this away and it comes off in quite large pieces, that once in the mouth do not dissolve or break up in the way that a paper sticker would. This is a potentially lethal situation, which was proved when Freddy actually choked and needed to be put over the knee and his back hit, for him to bring up a piece of this plastic. Obviously as soon as this happened I removed this box from his room, but I was obviously very upset at how easy it had been for him to peel this plastic away and Freddy was obviously distressed by the incident. This was especially annoying as I usually buy Freddy's toys from The Early Learning Centre, because I trust them to be not only child-proof, but also Freddy-proof. This plastic is not the only part of the box to show poor construction and workmanship either, the stitching in the hem on the lid has also worked loose in several places. Although this storage box/mat was advertised as being suitable for children over the age of three, because the construction is identical in every way (bar the pattern) to the Happyland boxes, I had thought it would be safe for him. In actual fact, after the choking incident, I checked the Happyland boxes to discover that they were starting to show signs of exactly the same problem, and these are considered suitable for children over the age of eighteen months. Needless to say all these boxes have now been removed from Freddy's room and are only brought out to play with as a road map with very strict adult supervision. I cannot in all conscience recommend the Early Learning Centre Road Storage Playmat to anyone. Even though I know that Freddy's obsession with peeling is not usual, it is still far too easy for the plastic coating to be peeled off and if it is put in the mouth it becomes a real choking hazard. And as any parent knows even a toddler over the age of three is still exploring and may just see what it tastes like.
As my boys were getting older, I noticed a trend occurring; they were accumulating more and more toy cars. Family and friends seemed to feel the need to purchase them a "little something" now and then and cars are the "little something" of choice. In order to store the boys' vast collection of wheels I decided to purchase the ELC Big City Storage Playmat, which could also be fully unzipped to play with their many cars on as they get older. ***Availability*** The ELC Big City Storage Playmat is priced at £20.00 and available from ELC and Mothercare outlets. It is also available online at both respective websites. It often is sold at a reduced price to around £16.00. ***ELC Big City Storage Playmat*** The ELC Big City Playmat is a practical rectangular storage box which zips out into a playmat which has roads printed onto it. There is a lid on the box with four zips up the side of the box to zip the playmat back into a sturdy storage case. There are cut out handles for easy carrying. The playmat states it is suitable for children aged 18 months to 4 years. I purchased this for my boys at 12 months. I do think they were too young to understand the cars on the mat but they are now at over 15 months playing with the mat, pushing their cars along in or following the roads and tracing a path with their fingers. At 12 months they were really only interested in trying to climb inside of the box or lean on the sides of the box and pull their toys out. I feel that children are drawn to the box because of its bright and attractive appearance. For older children it is an attractive toy and my friends little boy who is 3 loves playing with the playmat when he comes to visit. He takes great pleasure in showing me how he can unzip the box into a playmat and spends his time pushing cars around the roads on the playmat. He usually does this talking to my two boys encouraging them to play with him. Because this is a reasonably large playmat it is suitable for more than one child to play with at the same time. The playmat is very practical and is great for those parents whose children who have a lot of cars and enjoy pushing these around on the floor. It does however mean if you are storing other toys in here, you have to empty these toys out in order to play with the playmat. As a box I think this is a very attractive storage box for toys however is not the most durable. I feel because my boys were a little too young to understand the box can be used as a playmat they climbed in and out of the box when it was zipped up. This gave a lot of amusement and kept them occupied but I did feel that the box very quickly when out of shape and does not look as rectangular as it did when new. This also means it is slightly more difficult to get the lid onto the box. The box still is perfectly fine to use as a playmat however. It is also can be stacked but because of the flexible nature of the box you would not be able to stack heavy things on top of this storage box as it would bend and buckle out of shape. The box apart from the fact it is so flexible and bends out of shape is durable and easy to clean. It has a plastic coating which prevents it staining and also can be easily wiped down to keep it clean on the inside and out. The zips are also a good quality and do not catch or jam meaning it's easy for a child to zip up and down. This toy does not have a vast array of learning benefits but it is a useful toy for encouraging your children to tidy up their toys after they have finished playing with them. I find when I look after friends older children they are very enthusiastic to zip the box back up and throw the toys back inside. It is also a great toy for encouraging creative and imaginative play. ***Overall*** This is a brilliant concept and I think for most parents a toy which has storage facilities is always a welcome addition. The main downside to the storage box is that it does not keep its box shape very well. If used as a playmat and unzipped it will keep its shape fine. However if you have children like my two who dive into the box to get their toys out or even climb inside, the rectangular box shape soon becomes a bit out of shape and your will need to squish it back into shape in order to fit the lid on securely. It is quite expensive as a storage facility and at £20 I would not recommend purchasing this solely as a box to store toys in. However as a toy and storage facility it is excellent value for money
Like many little boys, my toddler is absolutely obsessed with cars, trains, trucks... if it's got wheels, he's got about a hundred miniature versions of it. The problem is, of course, where to put them all. When he just had a few, they were kept in the toy box with everything else, but then he got to 18 months and suddenly there were hundreds of them (I swear they were breeding...). I remember one of my favourite childhood toys being a plastic mat with a road system for playing with toy cars - I was never much of a one for dolls - and I thought it would be good to get him something similar, so off I trotted to the Early Learning Centre website, where I saw this box. It appears to be merely a box with pictures of cars on it - which in itself would be rather a cool storage idea - but it also unzips at each corner. When it is laid out flat, the inside is (you guessed it!) a road play mat. The play mat is supposed to be for ages 3 and up, so the pictures and layout are simple and easy for a small child to understand. There are several features on the mat, including a fire station with helipad, a quarry, a bridge and a multi-storey car park. The pictures are three-dimensional rather than in plan. The road layout is also simple, with one roundabout and a few junctions. It even has yellow boxes (I'm considering a fine of one chocolate button for stopping in a yellow box, but I haven't had the heart to implement it yet). The lid is a car park, which is in plan, and is the same on both sides. To say the box is used often would be something of an understatement. Obviously, it is used as a car storage box, but it is usually unzipped at least once every day for use as a play mat. My son is two and a half and has mastered the art of unzipping the corners and zipping them back up again, so it is definitely suitable for a child under three despite the age recommendation. Obviously, he doesn't use the play mat in the way an older child would - his play is limited to running cars around on the roads - but he has fun with it, so I'm not complaining. There are two minor downsides to this toy: - The sides don't maintain their shape for very long, so the box bows outwards when it is full. I expect that if you only half-filled it, it might retain its rigidity better but that's not an option for us! I really don't mind this myself, and it is otherwise very hardwearing; you can imagine how bashed-about it gets with cars being tipped into and out of it several times a day, but it is showing very little sign of wear after six months of constant use. - In order for it to be used as a play mat, all the cars have to be tipped out of it on to the floor. Having said that, in my experience this is going to happen anyway, so you might as well have something useful at the end of it instead of just an empty box. It's not too heavy when it's full as he can tip it over by himself (even when I ask him not to). On the plus side, the lid is very stiff and I have found that it is quite easy to get all the cars back into the box by using the lid to sweep them into a pile, and then scooping them onto the lid and tipping them back into the box. We sometimes make a game of tidying the cars away - let's get all the blue cars, let's get all the fire engines, that sort of thing - but sometimes, you just need to get your floor back in a hurry. I have been really pleased with it as a storage box, and I expect that the play mat will get a lot more use as he gets older and more into imaginative play. It isn't particularly cheap at £20, but given that a mat on its own from ELC is £15, it doesn't sound such a bad deal. ELC are also generally quite good at having 20% off codes from time to time, so it's always worth checking for these. This product can be found here, including a picture of the mat folded out: http://www.elc.co.uk/toy/road-storage-playmat/ I would definitely recommend this to anyone with a car-mad child; it's always a bonus to find a good, well-made toy with a practical use, and this one ticks all the boxes.