Melissa and Doug Bernstein have been encouraging kids’ imaginations for nearly 30 years. Started out of a garage in 1988, Melissa and Doug have become a notable name in childrens’ toys for both the variety and imagination they bring to the table.
Melissa and Doug signature toys are unusual in that they tend to be made of much higher grade materials than other toys. Rather than plastics, their toys tend to be wooden or metal. This gives the toys a heavier and sturdier feel and are definitely built to last. The attention to little details and use of unusual playtime scenarios also lend to unlocking different forms of imagination as you’ll see in this review.
The test subject
My daughter Charlotte is 2 ½ but has a vast imagination. She treats her stuffed animals like little people, she makes games out of everything and the daycare tells me that she excels at “dramatic play” which is their term for all of the simulation toys (ie kitchen sets) they have there.
I was asked to take a look at a kitchen set along with multiple accessory sets. Some were your standard pots and pans that go along with the kitchen set but some of these are completely off the map and a next level of imaginative playtime I’ve never seen in kids toys before.
Melissa & Doug Roll, Wrap & Slice Sushi Counter Play Set and Sushi Slicing Play Set: Well this is certainly an unusual toy set, to be honest. I live in Vancouver where there is a sushi restaurant around pretty well every corner, but you don’t really see roll up sushi counters and sushi sets for kids very much.
The wooden sushi counter is the coolest thing ever. In addition to the display box, you get 50 pieces of “sushi” broken down into different roll and nigiri options. There’s a wooden display plate, a bowl with a giant piece of fake wasabi (eww) in it and a pair of chopsticks with velcro on the end. The majority of the sushi roll pieces stick to the chopsticks and the cloth seaweed does too. For those that really like to run with their imagination, the counter also comes with a fake makisu (sushi rolling mat) if you want to encourage your budding sushi chef to get started early. Once you’re all done, you can left up the painted wooden grill on the display counter and the entire playset stores underneath,
If you’d like to add more fun to the mix, there is also a 25+ piece sushi assortment set which adds more sushi, more chopsticks and a bento box lunch setup. While you’ll see this set in pictures, I admit that I didn’t open it because the 50+ pieces that came with the original sushi set were great.
Charlotte’s Final Review: Since Charlotte eats sushi frequently, she took to this set but not as much as some of the others. I think since sushi is a little bit more of a grown up thing (and so are the concepts included like rolling your own sushi,) it probably is a bit over the head of a two year old. In the accompanying video, you’ll see that she’s trying her best to play sushi time as best she can, but some of the other toys are calling her name and she had more fun with the next items.
The next item up is the Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Cookie Wooden Play Food Set and in my opinion, this one isn’t that much of a standalone as it a great addition to something like a kitchen set. The set is really cute in itself. You get a wooden batter spoon, a knife, a roll (for you to keep all the cookies in,) 12 cookies with detachable frosting, an oven mitt and the sheet itself. The cookies attach to the sheet via velcro. Have a look at the pictures. It’s pretty straight forward a bit of a what you see is what you get sort of set.
Charlotte’s Final Review: This is actually a set Charlotte enjoyed quite a bit, if only because we challenged her a lot to tell us about the types of cookies she had for sale or was baking for us. While she didn’t play with this set as much as some of the others, she still really enjoyed the idea of baking cookies for mom and dad and watching my reactions to the weird flavours she was coming up with. This type of playset is perfect in this age range. The fact that everything attaches with velcro also curbs any frustrations kids may have from picking the cookie sheet up and having everything slide off.
Charlotte’s favourite set by far was the Melissa & Doug Scoop & Serve Ice Cream Counter Play Set. This set is really neat. From a playtime standpoint, it has about 8 different types of ice cream, 6 different types of plastic toppings and a big counter that somebody can be the storekeeper. What I found the neatest about this, however, again was attention to detail. There’s a menu that tells you about what’s what for starters. Then there is the choice of cones or cup. There is a working spring loaded scoop to pick the ice cream, a set of tongs to pick up your toppings and a wooden spoon to “eat” your ice cream. To top it off, the set comes with some play money so that you can “pay” for your order at the end.
Charlotte’s Final Review: She can count to 10 and I think she’d give it that if she could. She really took to this set and would make me ice cream cones all the time and then make them for her stuffed animals too. She really enjoyed the shopkeeping aspect of this set the most because it allowed her to be creative with what she was doing and make up flavours based on her favourite foods. Since she’s a couple years away from reading, her Baskin Robbins-esque variety of flavours was interesting once you got past chocolate and vanilla! At one point, I was offered meat and cheese ice cream with peanut butter on top. Yum (?)
The Melissa & Doug Food Groups playset is the last actual set and was probably my personal favourite in terms of what it brought to the table. In it, you’ll find wooden items of the four food groups broken into little baskets. The nice thing about this playset is the fact that there are separate baskets and enough representation from all facets of the food groups that you can really teach your children what’s in all four and how to separate them.
Charlotte’s final Review: Charlotte loved this playset but only because it was handfuls of familiar items she could play with and use for a shopping trip. As you’ll see, the last item in our review is a shopping cart and this gave her some of her favourite play moments. I think the concept of food groups is a little tough right now but it doesn’t mean this still doesn’t make a good addition, especially when paired with other relevant items. She understood what everything was but had a hard time putting them into groups. No matter. As you’ll see in our video, she still quite enjoyed herself and playing with these.
The Melissa & Doug Metal Shopping Cart is probably my daughter’s favourite toy out of all of these because it allows her to mix all of the products above and her enjoyment of shopping. She loves playing supermarket (which I’ve recently found out may be from the fact that I’m not the only one taking her grocery shopping every week since she goes out to the store with my parents now too.) She would put her beloved teddy bear “Bearie” in the cart’s seat and talk to it while picking up objects off the floor. It’s amazing to sit there and watch her pick items off the floor or couch and speak to her bear as though they were shopping together. Yesterday, Bearie picked out steak, burgers, bread and an onion for dinner. She then took them to the fake checkout created by my wife and had her wares bagged, paying for them with her fake plastic coins.
It’s funny how much art imitates life in something like this. Charlotte and I have great trips to the grocery store and she had the most fun taking those food group foods and sushi and shopping with them. Helping grow a child’s imagination is crucial in those formative years and I know that Charlotte making an ice cream cone and offering to feed it to Bearie is just one big step toward
The Parental Take
It’s amazing what a few true to life playtime options can add. Charlotte hasn’t any interest in watching TV or doing anything else once you remind her that all of these great toys are waiting for her in her play area. She’s had a complete blast grocery shopping, taking us out for ice cream, making cookies and playing sushi restaurant. She’s a little bit young to completely grasp the concept of the food groups right now, but she’s enjoyed them if only because it helps add to her grocery shopping experience.
Watching her sit in a chair and sweet talk her bear into eating fake ice cream was one thing, but the absolute laughs and fun we all got out of these hours of play was timeless. The best thing is that she wants to keep coming back to these over and over. There was many a time she’d come home from daycare and run straight to these toys and start playing rather than asking to watch an episode of the Wiggles or Super Why. The Bernsteins definitely know the trick to keeping my tot happy and I’m sure they do too.
An endless treasure trove of Melissa and Doug products are available now online at BestBuy.ca
She doesn’t even realize that there’s a kitchen and cleaning set on the way. That’s for our next review. Stay tuned…