Wooden spoon fairies
Crafts are great learning tools and this one is no exception. First lesson? Never announce a crafty session before reading the instructions. After an hour of prep by mum (cutting out fiddly templates, making wings and sorting through paraphernalia that fairies apparently require), we were ready to let the kids loose on the fairy assembly. Decorating dresses and wings with sequins and doilies is fun but finicky and assembling the whole thing requires dexterity not usually possessed by three- to six-year-olds (Lesson number two: never believe manufacturer’s recommended age ranges). We persevered long after bedtime to create this ‘masterpiece’. To be honest, ‘night fairy’ looks how we feel after making it – flustered, bedraggled and in need of a bigger wand. But there’s tremendous play value when all four fairy friends finally get together, and should one rip her frock, you have the templates and ideas – if not the patience – to make another.
My first aeroplane kit
A prime example of never judging a book by its cover, this box promised much but delivered little. The balsa wood plane is thin and flimsy, and the small, polystyrene jet is equally uninspiring. While the brush pen paints provide great coverage, they don’t allow designers to colour their aircraft with any precision, the ‘star’ stickers lack sticking power, and the kit contains no glue – a vital component. In order to build our four cut-out gliders, we had to disassemble our delicate balsa wood aircraft and use its central body to put them together. Hence, in reality, you can build one glider, which has four, interchangeable wings. As adults, we were disappointed, but our mini tester didn’t seem to mind too much. Plus, the balsa wood plane did fly quite well, so at least that was a plus.
Dhs79, Magrudy’s (04 344 4009)
Take a bit of tabard-style cloth, pre-designed as a pirate, police officer, princess, fairy, nurse or superhero and set the kids to work. A great ongoing project, these costumes take quite a while to colour, so do a little each day (so there’s no potentially catastrophic ‘going over the lines’ moments) and act out the character in the meantime. Washable and with headgear, we love the fact that this combines creativity and imagination.
Dhs125 for costume and pens, www.sandypants.com
Decorate your own cardboard house
A traditional toy with a twist, this is perfect for kids with a penchant for scribbling on walls. We loved the idea and in practice, our little monsters went wild and wacky with stickers, pens and cut-out shapes for an entire afternoon – an achievement in itself. But considering it’s a jazzed-up cardboard box, the price is steep, and the thick outer packaging with additional cut-out shapes is a bit of a swizz, because little fingers with safety scissors can’t cut them out, so it falls to mum and dad. The proof of the pudding is in the playing though, and despite our house being bulldozed by a determined 13-month-old who literally walked through one of its walls (we mended it with sellotape) it’s still standing firm and being played with a month later.
Dhs249, ELC (04 359 7709)
Having grown up with Meccano, we gleefully volunteered to road test this buggy, despite the box sounding ominously full of small pieces (all 98 of them). We swiftly discarded the plan of carrying out the fiddly construction task with our ‘almost five’, car-mad tester as this kit is, in any case, aimed at ages eight and above. The task was trickier than we imagined, although strangely therapeutic. Thoroughly absorbed, we were amazed to discover it had taken us over an hour to bolt the wee car together. Once all the nuts were tightened, the wheels spun round merrily and it felt wonderfully robust in the hand. So far, it’s surviving the rough play of small fingers. A delightful end result all round.
Dhs60, Kidz Inc (04 340 5059)
Hours, if not days, of amusement lie ahead for nimble-fingered nippers who’ve already learned the basics of knitting, purling and pompom making. If this is their very first attempt, pretty intense adult intervention is required to help with tricky colour changing, trimming and tying the pompom and picking up dropped stitches. With great colour combos and easy-to-handle needles, younger kids will have a blast learning the basics with mum, while crystal clear instructions give older kids a great sense of independence as they whiz up bags, purses and scarves in no time to create their own playthings or gifts for friends.