When he was younger, N was never really that keen on getting mucky during play. I tried gloop, paint and the other usual messy play ideas, but he only really wanted to use utensils to play with rather than his hands. He has improved as he’s got older and with nursery encouraging him with more opportunities (always good to have somewhere else where he can get mucky rather than at home!), so at home he tends to play more with PlayDoh, some painting and drawing, and occasionally playing with his water beads. But when we got the chance to review Playfoam I jumped at the chance.
We were sent it from Learning Resources, which has lots of ideas and resources to help children learn (it does what it says on the tin!). It did arrive in a huge box, but was well packaged with no damage to the carton. We received a Combo 8 set – 4 plain and 4 glittery which had a slight glimmer. The bonus with Playfoam is that it doesn’t stick to carpet, floors or clothes; unusually with anything glittery, I’ve not spotted glitter anywhere after using it.
As soon as N spotted it in the box, he was over like a shot, immediately wanting to get stuck in and pull all the colours out in turn. This goes totally against my love of order and keeping colours separate and unique, but of course only having 1 or 2 colours only to play with wasn’t going to be sufficient. He wanted all the colours out. He found them hard to get out of the plastic domes, but once out he went straight to pulling the pieces apart and sticking them back together, mixing up the colours and then putting them back into the different packaging domes again.
They’re a really strange sensation and idea. Lots of tiny, almost polystyrene type, balls stuck together. The ‘foam’ can be squeezed, rolled (it makes a great scrunchy sounds when you roll it as we discovered), pulled apart, and sticks to each other. True to its word, none stuck to clothes or carpet, although you can stick it to your hand. The colours are great – slightly pastel with some more neon colours. Even when they’re mixed together, you can see the separate colours rather than them all mixing together like playdoh, so it can give a really pretty speckled effect when the children are creating shapes with it (not that N’s really fussed about that).
Yesterday after coming home from childcare, he played for about 15 minutes with it before moving onto something else, so it kept his interest as long as any other similar ‘crafty’ or sensory item would. But this morning, as soon as he got downstairs, he headed straight for it and asked to have it out to play with.
I can see how it can help children be creative. They can learn their colours as these aren’t the usual primary colours, mould it into different shapes, and role play using it to create food (N likes to pretend to cook and eat his playdoh, so I’m sure the Playfoam will end up being used to dish up as meals for family member). Plus as it sticks together so long strands can be made of different pieces. If like me, you like stress balls, these could easily take their place as they’re really squashy and it’s quite satisfying to squash from a palm sized ball into a smaller piece.
So far, I’ve only seen one of the tiny little ball pieces on the floor – not stuck so easily picked up and stuck back onto the Playfoam, so there’s no worry about where it could be used. With PlayDoh I always want N to keep it on the table, but I still find little bits under his chair. With this, it stays together and doesn’t tend to lose bits even when it’s pulled apart by little hands.
I’d definitely recommend this for pre-schoolers. It’s recommended for 3 years+, as most toys are, for safety reasons It’s fun, clean and colourful. All it needs is a little carry case or tray accessory, and it’d be perfect to take on holiday (or even in the car if you’ve got some sort of tray to put over your child’s lap)
Disclosure: We received a Combo 8 Playfoam set for the purpose of review, but all opinions are my own (drawn from N’s experiences)