Tag Archives: educational toys

Everything you Need to Know about Marble Runs

Marble Runs have been loved by children, teens, and even adults for generations, and it’s not hard to understand why. The satisfaction of rolling a marble down a track that has been built with your own hands is a fantastic feeling – no matter how many times you’ve done it before. There are several high-quality marble run systems available, so we understand it might be difficult to know where to start. As always the Entropy Elves are here to help.

Marble Runs have been loved by children, teens, and even adults for generations, and it’s not hard to understand why. The satisfaction of rolling a marble down a track that has been built with your own hands is a fantastic feeling – no matter how many times you’ve done it before. There are several high-quality marble run systems available, so we understand it might be difficult to know where to start. As always the Entropy Elves are here to help.

When considering marble run systems, think of them as the ultimate building toy that will be used throughout childhood and beyond. Marble runs are designed to be built up and broken down, each time with a different objective and each time improving children’s (and adults) creativity and problem-solving skills. As children grow and develop, their marble run can do the same.

At Entropy, we stock three major wooden marble run brands. They are Hape’s Quadrilla system, Haba’s Ball Track and Wonderworld’s Trix Trax marble run system. Each of these brands is fantastic (obviously or else they wouldn’t have a home here at Entropy) and has specific features. In no particular order, we’ll give you our thoughts on them to help you decide which one to choose.

Everything you need to know about Hape Quadrilla Marble Runs

The main distinguishing feature of the Hape Quadrilla range of marble runs is that they are built to a specific plan. You need to follow the plan precisely in order to make the marble run work correctly. If you are even a quarter of a turn out with the orientation of a block, your marble can spit out somewhere it is not meant to. For this reason the Quadrilla system is great for problem-solving but is less ‘open-ended’ than other systems. Quadrilla blocks connect to each other using a peg-like mechanism which means they create a sturdier structure than other systems. If you knock it accidentally though, it will all come apart (often spectacularly). Quadrilla uses traditional glass marbles, which are pretty small. For this reason, younger children might not have the fine motor coordination needed to play initially, but they learn this quickly! The age recommendation is from 4 years, and at this age adults will need to help with the build.

There are multiple sets available ranging from entry-level models to challenging structures. Each main set has an instruction booklet to introduce you and your child to the basic principles of playing with Quadrilla. The booklet also includes a variety of tricks and tips on how to make connections between blocks and tracks. A single Quadrilla Marble Run can be rearranged in a number of different ways. The included booklet shows how to make up to 20 different builds, and encourages the builder to create more using their imagination. All Quadrilla Marble Runs can be joined together to make fantastic larger runs, just let your imagination run wild! Quadrilla also offers loads of cool extenders and accessories to add to your track.

If you’re looking at starting your Quadrilla marble run adventure, our recommended choices are The Cyclone or The Challenger set. You really want to choose a set that has a combination of straight tracks and circular elements (like whirlpools). This gives you the best bang for your buck. Our experience at Entropy is that those that start with smaller sets than The Cyclone or The Challenger nearly always add to their collection quite quickly.

Everything you need to know about Wonderworlds ball runs

As the name suggests, all Wonderworld Trix Track marble run sets include both tricks and tracks. Each set has a lot to offer with multi-level play and a trick that exemplifies cause and effect. All Trix Track sets feature wooden runs, a wooden ball (it’s bigger than a traditional glass marble) and plastic risers. The dimensions of these three elements are consistent across the entire Trix Track range making all sets compatible with each other. A single Trix Track ball run is designed to be built one way. However, add another set, and the building opportunities are only limited by your imagination. The plastic risers and wooden tracks in this range connect (the plastic risers have pegs that fit into specially designed holes on the underside of the tracks).

Wonderworld sets are made from rubberwood which makes them very sturdy and suitable for younger builders. The wooden marble is bigger at 3cm, and easier for younger hands to manipulate. They are relatively easy to build and quite stable. These features make them a good choice for child care and family day care environments for children aged 3 and over. If you’re looking at starting your Wonderworld ball run journey, our recommended sets are:

Everything you need to know about Haba's Ball and Marble Runs

Iconic German toy manufacturer Haba have an extensive choice of wooden marble run sets, which can be broadly broken into the ‘My First Ball track’ range, and the standard ‘Ball Track’ range.

The Haba My first ball track range is designed for children aged from 18 months, and this is a key distinguishing feature. This age rating is possible due to the large building blocks used and the size of the wooden balls (they are 5cm diameter meaning they are larger than a standard small parts choking warning). The low-to-the-ground runs and robust wooden pieces offer stability and easy building for young children. If you’re looking at starting your Haba ball track collection for a child under the age of three years, we recommend that you choose anything from the My First range.

Haba’s Classic Marble Range (from 3 years)
Haba’s Classic Ball Track Marble Run Range is designed for ‘children’ aged 3 to 99 years. This range is all about speed and momentum. Haba’s marble run sets consist of wooden building blocks, wooden marble runs, glass marbles and, depending on what run you pick, plastic clamps. The building blocks (which are used to raise the wooden marble runs) and the wooden marble runs do not ‘interlock’ but are instead either stacked or in some kits secured with cleverly designed plastic clamps. All Haba wooden construction toys are designed on a 4x4x4cm block design. This means that Haba marble runs are compatible across the range, but also with Haba building block sets (additional clamps can be purchased separately). For example, if you start with a Haba wooden building block set, you can later integrate it with a Haba ball track set. This feature offers great play value and longer-term value for money.

The My First Range is also designed on this 4x4x4cm design. However, as the wooden blocks are much larger, they must be added to the end of the marble track when being integrated with a Haba Classic Marble Run Range.

Our recommendation for a starting point with the Haba ball track system is this large set. It has everything you need to get started.

So there you have it, we know there is a lot of information there, but let us try and summarise it for you:

Quadrilla: build to a plan, less open-ended, better choice for older children, teenagers and adults.

Wonderworld Trix Track: sturdy, larger wooden balls, good choice for younger children and multi-child environments.

Haba: fantastic quality, great play value as the systems are compatible with wooden block sets, open-ended and creative.

And a final piece of information from us, please note that these marble run systems are not compatible across brands; but within each brand they are.

A summary from the Entropy Elves

Hape Quadrilla

Haba

Wonder World

Made from Rubberwood, plywood, beech wood, TPE, PA, ABS, PET High-quality beech wood Environmentally-friendly rubberwood
Country of Design Germany Germany Thailand
Country of Manufacture China Germany Thailand
Age Range 4 – 99 years My First Range Classic Range 3 – 10 years
18 months – 3 years 3 – 99 years
Marble Size & Material Glass 15mm Wooden Ball 5cm Glass marble 15mm Wooden Ball 3cm
Build to Plan Yes No No Yes
Free Build (with one set) Yes No Yes No
Compatible with other marble runs in the same brand Yes See above for details Yes Yes
Cross compatible with other brands No No No No
Extension & accessory sets available Yes No Yes No

Meet Melissa & Doug

Want to learn more about the fantastic toy company Melissa & Doug? Read this blog to find out how they started and how far they have come!We are now three weeks into our Mid-Year Sale and it’s time to turn our attention to another fantastic brand that features in it. Melissa & Doug products have proudly been stocked on our shelves since we opened almost ten years ago. Their range of quality wooden toys and puzzles, along with their educational and craft products makes Melissa & Doug an essential aspect of our range.

Based in North America, Melissa & Doug is a leading designer and manufacturer of educational toys and puzzles. The company was founded in 1988 when Melissa and Doug Bernstein left their corporate careers to start their own business.  Starting in Doug’s parent’s garage and selling their products out of the back of a beat-up car they created their own empire while raising six children!

Instead of telling you more about this fantastic brand we thought that we should let Melissa and Doug do the talking. Watch the below video to hear the Melissa & Doug story.

If you want to learn even more about Melissa & Doug their website has a wealth of information. Our mid-year catalogue sale finishes up on July 31st. If you would like to introduce some Melissa & Doug products to your child’s playtime we recommend you do it before then! Until next week,

Folkmanis Puppets are Elf Meg’s Favourite

Elf-Meg-WordPressLast but certainly not least on our mission to uncover the elves favourite products and brands we have the magical Elf Meg. Elf Meg is our wonderful weekend retail assistant who you will find in store every single Saturday. She does a brilliant job at looking after our weekend shoppers while the other elves put their party pants on! Excitingly Elf Meg just became a Grandmother to twin siblings, so were very excited to uncover what her favourite brand is.

Having problems picking just one brand Elf Meg finally settled on Fagus and Folkmanis. As Elf Ang has already picked Fagus as her favourite brand, we will focus on Folkmanis.

Folkmanis is a brand that has been at Entropy since day dot. Widely regarded as the most innovative puppet-maker in the world, Folkmanis consistently designs beautifully crafted toys. The puppets inspire creativity, promote hands-on discovery, encourage interaction, teach fine and gross motor skills, and help develop early language. The company’s line includes a virtual menagerie of plush pets and friendly wildlife friends with new designs constantly on the drawing board.

So with so many domestic, wild and fantasy creatures to choose from which puppet does Elf Meg rank number one? “It’s a hard decision to make; however, I do love the Chameleon and the Great Horned Owl. I particularly like the way that these puppets animate and the number of moving aspects that they both have. I’ve not yet decided which one I am going to buy from my new grandchildren,” said Elf Meg.

“Puppets will always have a special place in my heart as my son always wanted to be a puppet maker when he was little. It was a dream that he aspired towards for a very long time and something I encouraged. Unfortunately, he found a new dream and passion, but it is something that I always think about when I play with a puppet,” said Elf Meg.

We hope that you enjoyed reading about the Entropy elves and Chief Poobah’s favourite brands and products. Stay tuned for more news from Elf HQ.

All board as Elf Bec talks Trains

Elf-Bec-WordPressLast week we interviewed the newest member of the elf family and this week we move to the oldest – Elf Bec! Elf Bec has been at Entropy since its inception almost ten years ago, since then she has worked in a variety of roles and is now Entropy’s buying elf. She is responsible for making sure that products don’t go out of stock and identifying new and exciting items to add to our range. As Elf Bec holds this power, it is no surprise that her favourite range is one that she picked and introduced to Entropy herself – Hape Wooden Railway and Train Sets.

“When I first saw Hape Rail I knew straight away that our toy lovers would adore this range. Firstly, the price point is fantastic. Secondly, Hape Rail is extremely innovative. The ingenious way they incorporate moving parts, musical instruments and more into each item is brilliant. Lastly, this is one of the first train sets that I’ve seen that features bright and bold colours that attracts both boys and girls. Also, the inclusion of sweet little animals does a great job at getting children who aren’t normally interested in trains playing.

Hape Rail Image

Before starting at Entropy, Elf Bec was a nanny for a family that had two young boys. The boys loved trains, and through watching them play, she realised that they were picking up heaps of new skills. “Problem-solving, imagination and creativity and fine motor skills and dexterity are just a few of the skills that children gain and refine through train play,” said Elf Bec. Bec is now a mother of a very handsome two-year-old boy who unsurprisingly LOVES trains.

“I have train tracks coming out of my ears at home. During my many years working at Entropy, I have collected a range of Brio wooden train tracks. The fact that my new Hape sets interconnect with my Brio tracks along with Thomas Wooden Railway, Chuggington Wooden Railway, Melissa & Doug Wooden Railway and BigJigs Wooden Railway is fantastic” said Elf Bec.

If you have a train addict at home or someone who might like Hape Rail makes sure you check out our range.

Tic-Tock Let’s talk about the Analogue Clock

Analogue ClocksEverything seems to be moving to a digital platform. The most innocent and unassuming items have electronic counterparts that, well quite frankly kick butt. Heck, just look at what the good old toothbrush has to compete with these days. While digital items seem to reign supreme are they always better, or more to the point what good is an analogue clock in today’s society?

Analogue watches have been replaced with digital watches, and digital watches are currently being replaced with ‘smart’ watches. With the decreasing instances where one will be required to read an analogue clock is it essential that children learn to read analogue time? The answer is yes – very important. While it may longer be necessary to read an analogue clock; it is definitely important for cognitive development and understanding the complex topic of time.

While time is expressed in numbers, the passage of time cannot be learnt the same way that one learns their 1, 2, 3’s. Time telling involves a lot of skills that are put into practice once the child starts learning about hours, minutes and seconds.Most children don’t have trouble reading the hour as it is an ordinal number from one to twelve. However, when the concept of minutes is involved, children automatically have to switch to counting in multiples of five to get to the right time. Therefore, learning to tell time, exercises a child’s ability to skip count by fives; which requires a good understanding of basic math. As analogue clock faces have distinguished numbers around the face with markings in-between this is a great visual aid – these features are not transparent in digital clocks. However, Even with the visual aid of an analogue clock face time telling can still be difficult to pick up.

Most children don’t have trouble reading the hour as it is an ordinal number from one to twelve. However, when the concept of minutes is involved, children automatically have to switch to counting in multiples of five to get to the right time. Therefore, learning to tell time, exercises a child’s ability to skip count by fives; which requires a good understanding of basic math. As analogue clock faces have distinguished numbers around their faces with markings in-between this is a great visual aid. These features are not transparent in digital clocks. However, Even with the visual aid of an analogue clock face time telling can still be difficult to pick up.

Luckily, there are many tools on the market that can help. Cactus Watches is an Australian range of children’s and teens watches that are a great value, durable, and have easy-to-read dials. The contemporary designs of these watches make it even easier for little ones to learn how to read the time. Stand out products are the Time Teachers that have the hour and minute hands labelled and the Time Tellers that have an outer ring marked with five past, ten past, quarter past and so on (for those who are having trouble picking up the time telling lingo).

TimeTeachers

Alongside these fantastic children’s watches, there are other time telling tools and toys aplenty. If you would like to discover our huge range of watches and time teaching toys head over to our website.

Get Creative with Elf Johanna

Elf Johanna loves DjecoThis week we move the spotlight onto the newest member of the Entropy family – ME! Yes, it is Elf Johanna here… and I must admit it’s very strange to be writing in the first person. For those who I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting (digitally or face-to-face), I am the new(ish) Multi Media Writer and Content Creator.  I have the magical job of looking after our social media platforms, writing and designing the weekly emails, adding new products online and so, SO much more. Each day I am given many tasks, however, being asked to pick my favourite range has got to be the hardest task yet. It was with much consideration and toing and froing I finally settled on… *drum roll* DJECO!!!

Now while I am self-admittedly a very creative elf, my attention tends to waver at even the thought of glitter, sparkles or, embarrassingly, just a pretty array of colours. Therefore, when I first came into contact with the Djeco’s glitter boards and pictures, I knew I had found my victor. In my youth colouring and craft were my favourite pastimes, while my twin sister would lose interest, I was content sitting for hours with my Mum creating. If my craft activities were only half as wonderful as Djeco’s maybe some of my creations would have lasted the test of time. On second thought, probably not I don’t think my skills match my enthusiasm.

Maybe it’s because I am now an art teacher, but when I see a Djeco craft kit, I don’t imagine the final product. Instead, I see children and parents pulled together, crowded over a newspaper covered dinner table intensely discussing colours. I see young children barely able to enjoy their parties because all they can think about is that super cool craft activity they just got gifted. Or, I see the first Lilly pad leap into a lifetime love of art.

The feature I most love about Djeco’s craft kits is their variety. From painting silk scarfs to classic ink pad stamps, they have it all. How anyone leaves Entropy without a Djeco product is beyond me. Furthermore, how I have managed to resist the temptation to not buy the entire range baffles me further. If you haven’t perused the range for yourself, I highly recommend it – WARNING this could be potentially lethal for the weekly budget. I hope that you are in agreeance that Djeco is the most superior range that we stock; if not jump on social media and tell me why not! 😛

The Benefits of Jigsaw Puzzles

PuzzleToday we are taking a moment to focus on a classic toy that no toy shop could be without – puzzles. A puzzle is a game, toy or problem that tests a person’s resourcefulness and knowledge. “When completing a puzzle, the puzzler is required to put pieces together, in a logical way, to arrive at a correct solution.” While “jigsaw” is probably the first word that comes to mind when thinking of puzzles it’s important to remember that there are also crossword puzzles, word-search puzzles, number puzzles and logic puzzles! Considering that there are so many different types of puzzles and only a limited number of hours in the day we will shift our focus to jigsaw puzzles!
Jigsaw puzzles have been loved by children and parents all around the globe for centuries. They are not only fun and entertaining for children and adults alike, but they are also loaded with educational benefits.

Firstly, puzzles are a great problem-solving tool. Completing even the simplest of puzzles requires the puzzler to think and develop strategies on how to achieve their goal – finishing the puzzle. The process requires reasoning skills and a cognitive comprehension of the task at hand. Both of these skills can be directly and indirectly transferred into their personal, social and adult life.
Puzzles are also a great way for children to develop and refine their fine motor skills. When putting a jigsaw puzzle together children pick up, pinch, grasp and manipulate pieces until they find their correct position. Young children will start with large puzzle pieces possibly made of wood or with pegs attached (peg puzzles). As the child advances and as puzzles get more complex the size of the puzzle pieces will get smaller.

Unsurprisingly, cooperative and family play is also improved by puzzles. Younger children are put to the test along with their parent’s patience. Whether this is a once a year activity taken away on holidays or an ongoing project, the benefits are reaped by the whole family.

Lastly, how do you choose a puzzle that is right for your child?
If you’re thinking “aren’t all puzzles boldly labelled with a recommended age of play”, you would be correct. However, like puzzle pieces, we are all different and a ‘one-size fits all’ approach isn’t always best. Some children will have an inherent knack at jigsaw puzzles and others won’t. Understanding your child’s abilities and picking a puzzle that will challenge yet not deter them is key. One child aged four may find a 54 piece puzzle hard and need assistance, while another child the same age may complete the challenge with ease. No matter how your child is progressing it is important that children are always being challenged. Once they have completed a puzzle a few times, with ease, it’s time to increase the challenge. So long as you are always encouraging your child to conquer the next challenge it doesn’t matter what the number on the box says.

Elf Sharon loves Schleich

Elf-Sharon-WordPressFavourite products have been a hot topic all week and with some elves still undecided on what they will pick we will move to an Elf whose favourite will never change – Elf Sharon. Elf Sharon is our wonderful “Elf of all trades”. However, she is popularly known for her top-notch craft classes and incredibly fast gift wrapping abilities. Having previously worked as a vet nurse and being a lifetime horse lover it comes to no surprise that the Schleich horse range is her favourite.

While Elf Sharon always remembers having a horse and cow in her backyard, she didn’t have a horse to call her own until she was 12. The beautiful brown gelding was named Danny Boy and has an uncanny similarity to the Schleich Hanoverian Stallion. Elf Sharon now owns six horses, that are as varied as our Schleich range but this isn’t their only winning aspect.

Danny Boy - Sharon Feature

“I love how realistic the horses are and the attention to detail that Schleich puts into each figurine,” said Sharon. “All Schleich products are hand painted so like real animals they are all different in their own special way. When picking out a new horse to join the family, I like to spend some time looking at all the different horses and picking one that resonates with me,” Sharon added.

While Elf Sharon didn’t have any Schleich animals when she was growing up her daughter has a lovely collection. Unsurprisingly, Sharon’s passion for horses has been passed down to her daughter who is an accomplished rider. Elf Sharon’s daughter grew up loving her Schleich animals and used them for many hours of imaginative play in her youth. However, now aged 12 years, the horses are no longer used for play and instead sit in pride of place in her bedroom.

Remi - Sharon Feature

 

Elf Ang thinks Fagus is Fab

WordPress-ImageWhen you work in a toy shop all-day, every-day and so close to so many great products it is very hard not to have a favourite. So we decided to ask the Elves and Chief Poobah what brands they have a particular weak spot for and why. Over the next six weeks, you will not only learn more about the magical staff members that make Entropy what it is, but hopefully, a lot more about some of our awesome products and brands.

Kicking things off for us is our magnificent front counter Elf – Elf Ang! For those who are located in Townsville and visit the shop regularly, you might know that Elf Ang is bonkers about Fagus. Whenever a new Fagus product arrives in stock noise and excitement level reach maximum capacity. This week was more extraordinary than most with THREE new products arriving at Elf HQ (the Container Tipper Truck, the Speedy Race Car and the Hay Wagon).

When first asking Elf Ang what she most likes about Fagus “old-school”, “classic” and “proper toys” was her immediate response accompanied by elaborate hand movements. After explaining that online customers, who can’t come in and feel the products, might need a bit more info she said. “Fagus products are how all toys should be – simple, unadulterated, tactile and with a special story behind them”. For those who don’t know all Fagus vehicles are handcrafted without the use of nails, screws or staples and are instead interlocked, dowelled and glued together. Better yet, they are made by people with special needs who work under the instruction and guidance of specially trained artisans.

The only thing that Elf Ang doesn’t like about Fagus is that she didn’t find them earlier. As a mother of two boys, she wishes that she had known about them when entering motherhood. “Each piece is timeless and has its special feature that sets it apart”, said Elf Ang. Her nine-year-old son was gifted a Fagus Dumper Truck last year and religiously uses it to transport his extensive collection of Papo Dinosaur Figurines around the house and to display them. Ang assures us that this Dumper Truck will become an heirloom piece in her family that will be passed down through generations.

The Manhattan Toy Company’s Skwish

Skwish (1)

If you are in the market for a hardy rattle and teething toy don’t look past The Manhattan Toy Company’s Skwish. The Skwish has been around for years and is still as popular as it was when it first hit the market.

As the name suggests the Skwish “skwishes”. However, as you may have guessed, there is more to this toy than just this funky feature. Made from renewable rubberwood and super strong elastic, this quirky toy will always bounce back to its original shape. Five wooden sticks are the fundamental structures of the Skwish. Elastic strings attach to the top and bottom of each stick magically transforming, the otherwise pile of wooden parts, into a three-dimensional toy. Each stick has a wooden bead threaded onto it which slides back and forth; making a soft jingle that is just the right volume to please your child and not bother you.

Finished in a bright, non-toxic, and water-based paint sore gums will find a happy relief on the many surfaces of the Skwish. With loads of different ways to move this toy little hands will never grow old of twisting, “skwishing”, plucking, moving and shaking this fabulous wooden toy.

Skwish MTC

With a tonne of awards under its belt, including being named one of the Best 25 Toys of the last 25 Years by Parents Choice, it’s not hard to understand why the Skwish is a crowd favourite. Check out the video below to see how the Skwish looks, sounds and moves.