Sunday, March 16, 2014

Exploring Space {A Safari Ltd. Review}

Disclaimer: I received these products free of charge in exchange for an honest review. My opinions were not swayed by the free products. We simply love Safari Ltd. products! 

You may have noticed that most of our small worlds and sensory bins are filled with Safari Ltd. animals and figures. And you may have noticed me mention them or gush about how much we love them. Well, it's true. Of all our toys, our Safari Ltd. toys are our favourite. Safari Ltd. makes fantastic educational toys that are perfect for open-ended play, pretend play and all sorts of learning activities! We especially love including them in our unit studies! They are perfect for our Montessori 3-part cards for matching, identifying and labeling. And pair nicely with our felt boards, small worlds, sensory bins and pretend play activities. I specifically requested the Space TOOB and Solar System to review to go along with our Solar System Unit Study. And I do believe we chose wisely!

When the package first arrived, I told the kids what was inside and they got so excited! I had to open the package very quickly before I was bombarded! I had kept it a surprise for obvious reasons. We are getting to the end of our unit study and I typically end the units we do with a few days of free-play while they explore everything they had learned about. We really love hands-on learning and sensory play, so creating playscapes with their new toys was going to be awesome! And Safari Ltd. was so nice to send us their new calendar as well, which immediately replaced our old one! 

One of our favourite things about Safari Ltd. is that their products are so versatile. They have all sorts of TOOBS, which are sets of miniature replicas of figures, animals and objects, larger replicas, huge soft replicas, scientific tools and posters. We are especially fond of their TOOBS (we own 17, 18 including one of their megaTOOBS) and their life cycle sets. We use our replicas for our science and nature studies and our unit studies. They are perfectly sized for small hands to play with and can be used as manipulatives for matching. My children play with their TOOB animals and vehicles every day!

As a parent, I am always concerned about what their toys are made out of and Safari Ltd. products are phthalate-free and safe for children (I'm sure I'm not the only parent with inquisitive children who taste-test their toys). Their replicas are also hand-painted! Safari Ltd. is a company that values detail and does a fantastic job bringing these figures, animals, plants and objects to life! Since my daughter is very nearly as nit-picky as me, she adores how realistic these replicas are and we appreciate the attention to detail. They also happen to be a wonderful company that is involved in many global conservation efforts and supports going green! And to give you an example of just how educational all of their products are, even their catalog is educational! It is filled with lots of fun facts and is one of my daughter's favourite books. She keeps it on her bookshelf and loves flipping through the pages and matching her replicas to the pictures. We often consult it to check where certain dinosaurs lived. 

The Safari Ltd. Space TOOB contains 12 replicas (the satellite is missing from the picture), including astronauts, a space monkey, space shuttle, satellite, moon rover, and special others, like the Saturn V rocket, Apollo, and Gemini Capsule. The moon rover is Munchkin's favourite, besides the astronauts and space monkey and Bean loves the rocket! 

When the package arrived, we had been in the middle of reviewing the names of the phases of the moon using pieces from our Moon Phases Felt Board. So of course they wanted to use the space toys on their felt board! We went over the names of each miniature. Here is a neat feature of all of the Safari Ltd. figures: They have the names printed right on it! So if you don't know the name of a particular dinosaur or animal or spacecraft, no worries! Just look on the toy because the name is right there. They just happen to be cleverly hidden, so you may need to look around for it. 

And here is the Safari Ltd. Solar System! This is an adorable set of planets and my kids love them! But, because some of the planets are so tiny, they can only play with them when they are supervised. Not because I'm afraid they'll eat Mercury, but because I'm afraid of Mercury being accidentally shot across the living room never to be seen again.

Fast-forward: See! That little planet sure can fly! Luckily Mercury didn't go too far. 

To give you an idea of how small some of them are, here's my hand to compare them to. They are lovely and beautifully hand-painted (although Earth had ice caps but no green land masses) and come with a plastic tray to set them up on. We'll set these up on a shelf instead of placing them with the other Safari Ltd. TOOBS because they are just too small to leave on their own. These are perfect for our planet activities, especially ones that involve describing size and colour of the planets. We will also use them to match to our 3-part planet cards and for labeling activities.

We briefly used the felt board to arrange the planets. I placed the Sun in the center and asked Bean to arrange them in order (closest to farthest from the sun). Since we had no lines to go by, I think she did really well! I will be making a felt board with lines to represent the distance from the sun so that they are able to more easily place the planets.

Bean was curious why no one could visit the sun and I explained about the sun being super hot and unsafe for humans to be near. But since our sun is made out of felt, she felt it was an okay place to explore. The space monkey had so much fun!

We also explored how spacecrafts, satellites and telescopes move in space. We talked about gravity and why objects in space orbit and she showed me with the miniatures which way they orbit around Earth. The moon also orbited around Earth and the sun changed its position on the board (just moving to the top and bottom and sides) to represent the Earth orbiting around it.

"That astronaut is staring into the sun and it's very bright!" But the other astronauts did not like it, so they decided to go elsewhere (you can see them walking away). Space Monkey decided to catch a ride with the moon rover.

How about an abrupt mission to the moon? They just discovered a new crater!

Bean then eagerly set up our Solar System Felt Board so that the astronauts could explore some more! She placed the spacecrafts, telescope and rocket first, to set the stage, so to speak.

Then the space shuttle left Earth and traveled to Mars to drop off a lone astronaut. He needed back-up, so the space shuttle came back and dropped off Space Monkey. From what I gathered from Bean's story, the Space Monkey was in command and was super-smart and knew all about space.

Munchkin was all about the space shuttles. As soon as he saw the new one, he quickly ran over to our Safari Ltd. drawer (yeah, that's right, they get a whole drawer all to themselves) and found the other space shuttle from our In The Sky TOOB. He had so much fun flying them around space and our living room!

Bean wanted the space shuttles to race her rocket, so they set up on Jupiter... Long story short, the rocket won because Bean is a bit faster than her brother.

Using the foam backing of our play mat, we set up a planet matching activity. I provided them with their 3-part cards and the planet replicas in a small wicker bowl. Bean arranged the planets in order, starting with the sun (which is a star). Then she labeled each planet with their matching name. Last, she matched the planet replicas to their card and name. 

As you can see, the planets have a lot of detail! And each planet is labeled with their name.

Bean is fascinated with the sun being a "super hot star", so she blows on it to cool it down. The sun is her favourite part of our whole solar system.

I knew I wanted to create a few batches of play dough for the space TOOB, but I couldn't decide what colours to make. I figured black would be perfect for space and gray for the moon, but what about the planets (all or only a couple)? I consulted Bean who briskly told me that she was not planning to visit any of the planets anytime soon and that she only wanted the moon. Well, I guess it's just the moon, then! We used our favourite no-cook recipe (which literally only takes about four minutes to make) and added black food colouring. We added a lot to the black batch and only 3 drops for the gray batch. The black did not come out as dark as I had hoped, but that's the trouble sometimes with food colouring. (The recipe is provided at the end of this post.)

Bean used a rolling pin to spread out the black play dough (because you have to travel through space to get to the moon, so we used the black play dough first). I added the Space TOOB to a small wooden crate and placed it beside the play dough. And then I sat back and let them play!

The astronauts loved exploring space, which was strangely squishy.

Bean loved that she could just roll the play dough out again to remove their tracks. Although we have always had the rolling pins available, it wasn't until recently that they really started to use them. Now they use them all the time! They loved walking the astronauts around and dropping the telescope and rockets into the play dough to see how they land. It was especially awesome when they landed standing straight up!

Munchkin and Bean have been exploring texture pressing with play dough ever since they were little and even to this day they love pressing their toys and tools into the play dough to see what kind of imprint it leaves. They spent a good twenty minutes using each of the miniatures to squish into the play dough to see the imprint. Then they mixed them up and played a game to match them.

While Bean was busy matching up all the pieces, Munchkin was busy driving the moon rover through the play dough. Bean exclaimed at one point that they were "practically trenches!" because the tracks were so deep. It was quite funny.

Bean especially loved the imprint of the Gemini Capsule. She noticed that a lot of the miniatures were named after the constellations! She loves using the Google Sky app and matching the constellations to her cards. I was very impressed that she made this connection!

Play dough made such an amazing surface for these toys. They loved playing "in space" with the astronauts and going on voyages in the space shuttles. The moon rover made so many treks back and forth. And just as soon as the rocket went off, it was back down again for another launch.

While they played with the Space TOOB I set up the planets on their tray. Bean wanted to see the tray in the play dough first, but quickly decided she didn't like it. So we removed the tray and placed the planets around the sun (keeping in mind their relative distance from the sun).

This was just another fun playscape for the daring astronauts!

The astronauts took a walk around the solar system first, to check it out.

The Space Monkey was the bravest of the bunch and decided to go exploring. "Oh, hello, Mercury!"

And when the planets were removed, Bean inspected the "craters" they left behind. She noticed that the names of the planets were left behind! At least for some of them.

Be warned, food colouring does stain your hands. However this was caused by Bean who decided to open up the container and pour it on my hands while I was mixing up the play dough. So if you are making play dough with your kids present, be sure to keep the food colouring out of their reach. However, if you mix it up well enough, there should be no dye residue left on the toys. They played with the TOOB miniatures for several hours in the play dough and I did not notice any staining.

It was so much fun exploring space and discovering new things!

This astronaut found a fashionable space hat.

Sadly, the space hat consumed him. Or became reinforced armor.

Oh yeah, and apparently you can build a snowman in space! Who knew, right?

I asked Munchkin what he was building but he was packing on another layer of play dough and quietly said, "eating". It may have been a black hole, since that was the last thing we were reading about... Scary!

Eventually they made it to the moon, after many shenanigans in space...

Bean didn't want to play in space anymore, so we cleaned up the black play dough and rolled out the gray play dough. And of course, Space Monkey was the first to jump out of the shuttle and explore! Munchkin once again gravitated towards the moon rover. Bean pretended that all of the astronauts' footsteps were actually craters and practiced counting them and estimating how big they were. And because of the influence from Dinosaur Train, she enjoyed hypothesizing how each of the craters were created. Munchkin tried to show her the bases they stand on, but Bean insisted they were caused by giant asteroids and meteors.

Then they tried to show me how craters are made, but the astronaut driving the moon rover saved the moon and took the hit. These are very brave astronauts, with apparently superhuman strength. We may read too many superhero comics...

I mentioned at one point that rockets "cut through space" very fast, and because of my particular phrasing, Bean is now convinced that rockets literally cut through space. So she would stab the rocket through the black play dough to show me how easily it cuts through space while it speeds along... Here is the rocket crash landing into a glob of moon.

The meteor was very fascinating! Everyone came over to look at it. All the while the astronaut underneath was like, "It's cool, guys. I'm fine.."

And then a whole lot of other things fell on him, including the Gemini Capsule and Hubble Telescope. Oh, no!

The brave astronaut was eventually saved! And the expedition continued...

I have to say, this is the most fun we've ever had with play dough! The Space TOOB really brought the small world to life. They learned so much while playing, too! They are now able to correctly name all of the spacecrafts and we looked up some astronaut names on Google to name the astronaut figures. We look forward to creating more space-themed small worlds with these replicas!  

~ Play Dough Recipe ~
2 cups of plain flour
1/2 cup of salt
2 tablespoons of cream of tartar
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1/2-1 cup of boiling water
Food colouring, if desired

Mix the dry ingredients together. I typically only use 1/2-3/4 cup of water, so I add the oil and food colouring directly to the water. It just makes stirring easier. Pour the water slowly and as needed into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. You will need to use your hands to knead the play dough once it's cool enough to touch.

Store play dough in an airtight container or sealed Ziploc. It can last months if store properly and kept clean.

Here are a few other ways we have played with Safari Ltd. products!

A HUGE thank you to Safari Ltd. for providing us with such wonderful learning products and for giving us this opportunity to review their products! 
We really love playing and learning with their replicas and look forward to future activities using them!

Be sure to check out Safari Ltd.'s website and social media pages! 

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