Melissa & Doug is a longstanding name within the parenting community. I had some fun trying out a few items with my son, including an art easel and kit fully stocked with everything we’d need to use it; a fun, family game; and a cool puzzle board that teaches kids some basic, yet crucial, skills.
Started by a husband and wife team of the same name in the late ‘80s, the company is known for developing high-quality, educational toys, arts, crafts, and games for kids. Of particular note is the wide range of wooden puzzles, all of which prominently display the signature logo. But the line is extensive, ranging from puzzles, to arts and crafts, and even highly realistic play foods and kitchenware.
Here’s my take on the items my son and I enjoyed.
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Standing Art Easel
The wooden easel is quite large, measuring about 50” high x 27” wide at its base. But beautifully designed, sturdy, and adjustable for kids of different ages (and heights). It comes with two boards: a dry erase whiteboard on one side and a blackboard on the other, plus easy-to-clean plastic trays for each. In the middle is a locking paper roll holder – pull the paper overtop the whiteboard and clip it into place with the four included clips so your child can paint away.
At first glance out of the box, it can seem intimidating with 13 wooden pieces, and a bag filled with what seems like an endless amount of screws, knobs and clips.
But follow along with the easy, step-by-step instructions, and you realize that it’s not so bad. I didn’t need any tools, and didn’t even use the included Allen key. Just insert each screw where it needs to go, and screw a coloured (red, blue, yellow, and green) knob on top and twist until it’s fully tightened.
It adjusts to three heights, and it’s important to select the right level for the two boards for your child. The handy manual gives some insight into what height might be appropriate for a child based on age and size, from 3 and up. I mistakenly opted for the second peg without verifying, which is slightly too high for my almost 3-year-old. Moving it a level down or up after the fact requires taking apart much of the top – it’s not a quick adjustment.
Overall, it took me about 40 minutes (with interruptions) to get the easel set up and ready to go.
Essential for use with the easel are all of the necessary accessories, which come conveniently packaged in the 29-piece Easel Companion Set. This box includes four 8-ounce bottles of poster paint (red, yellow, green, and blue), four spill-proof cups, four brushes, a roll of easel paper, a 10-pack of jumbo chalk, an eraser, and a dry erase marker.
As my son is a few months shy of 3, there were a few things in particular that I appreciated with this easel and accessory set. One is the spill-proof cups, which have a twist-on lid and a small hole, about the size of a nickel, in which the child can stick the paintbrush inside, but won’t be able to stuff his whole hand in to make a glorious mess.
Second is the non-toxic nature of the paints,
though I had to do some digging to confirm that they are indeed non-toxic. There’s virtually no odour, and it’s really easy to wipe off surfaces and wash out of clothing and hands with a standard mix of warm water and soap. An art smock would have been a nice addition to the accessories set, but you can buy one separately. And I managed to get by with my son using an old, oversized bib I still had hanging around, or an old T-shirt.
The paper covers most of the whiteboard surface with the exception of about 3 inches on either side. Which means I found myself wiping paint off the whiteboard a few times when my son got extra creative and painted beyond the lines, so to speak.
Overall, the painting experience was so easy and fun, my son cranked out three beautiful creations quickly, even making one that we framed to give as a gift to his grandparents. We added a personalized signature by spreading some of the paint over his hands and pressing on the sheet.
If you want to minimize cleanup, just use crayons on the paper to make oversized drawings.
Dry Erase & Chalkboard
These two functions of the easel are great for creative play, or at-home learning time. My son practiced drawing lines and circles on both the whiteboard and chalkboard, and trying to trace letters of the alphabet. We drew pictures, faces, and other fun items. My son quickly got the hand of using the brush to wipe the surface clean and start over. We’ve used smaller dry erase boards before, but the size and the ability to stand and work on a much larger surface makes a big difference. The kit only comes with one dry erase market, so we grabbed a package with fun colours to liven it up.
With older kids, the easel is a great tool for helping with homework, mimicking the classroom setting and providing ample space to practice writing letters, or even work out math problems.
This easel is a great way to let your child’s imagination run wild and get in touch with his creative side. The paper rolls slide easily overtop the easel and clip into place so there’s no worry about a mess being made: I confidently let my son have fun with it in the living room (hardwood floors, no carpets), with a towel under the easel to catch dripping. The spill-proof cups, however, meant there wasn’t much dripping at all.
As noted, there’s a worthwhile educational component, too. There’s something more satisfying about working out problems on a chalkboard then on pencil to paper. That said, just keep in mind that the easel will take up a good portion of room in the playroom, or wherever you place it. As long as you have space for it, it’s a great “toy” that will encourage and inspire kids to create.
Melissa & Doug Suspend Family Game
I tried out this Jenga-like game with my nieces, who are 8 and 10. It’s ideal for kids aged 8 and up, and once we took it out of the cool cylindrical packaging, it was clear why.
It comes with 24 thin metal rods (plastic on either side) in various colours and lengths, a small wooden base, frame rods, a wooden connector, and a coloured die. Set up the base so it doesn’t tilt over, then the object is to roll the die and place a corresponding coloured piece somewhere on the structure so it suspends. Then it’s the next player’s turn and so on and so forth, up to 4 players. If any part of the structure falls down after you place a piece, you must add the fallen pieces to your pile. The first person to successfully place all of their pieces wins.
You need concentration, steady hands, and logic to determine where the best spot would be to place your next piece. For example, place them all to one side and of course the structure will weigh down and fall. It helps teach kids hand-eye coordination, cognitive skills, and balance.
It took a few tries before my nieces and I got the hang of it, anxious at every turn to ensure we didn’t topple the structure over. You learn quickly that there are strategies at play. Place a piece in such a way to make it difficult for the next player not to drop something. And it encourages healthy competition.
Melissa & Doug Basic Skills Board
Back on the toddler level, I tried out this cute wooden bear peg puzzle with some important learning lessons – teaching your toddler the dexterity and fine motor skills to manipulate four different common items he’ll encounter when getting dressed: buckles, snaps, buttons, zippers, and laces.
Geared at kids aged 3 and up, my son had fun both playing with the puzzle and figuring out how to unbutton the button and pull the zipper up and down. The child can practice all five at once, or just pull a puzzle piece out to let the child conquer each, with increasing difficulty, one by one.
Melissa & Doug offers a wide selection of fun, high quality and, most important, educational, toys for kids of all ages. My son really enjoyed playing with all of the above items. And while painting with the easel requires a bit of cleanup on mom and dad’s part, you can get some beautiful creations that’ll make great, personalized gifts for friends and family.
Check out Best Buy’s selection of Melissa & Doug toys, arts, and crafts online.