Thursday, 23 February 2012

Vital Roleplay

Todays blog focus is on roleplay, make believe and imaginary games that children play alone, with other children, and with adults too.

It is absolutely vital to a childs social development that they be given plenty of opportunity to play roleplay based games, as a Mother and a friend to many other parents I recognise this in the children that I know, and as a toy shop owner, I am always attracted to fantastic roleplay toys, from play kitchens to dogs that need walking!

I'll show you just a few of the toys in The Canterbury Toy Shop at the moment that can help you and your children to develop through imaginitive play, as well as some ideas for games you can enjoy today without having to buy anything new! I would love to hear from readers about what roleplay games you played as a child, and what imaginitive fun your little ones get up to as well! Comment here on the blog, or drop me an email at

"Mummy, would you like a cup of tea?"
Sound familiar? Children love to imitate the adults around them, and a tea set is a fantastic, and often affordable, toy to allow them to play at adult activities with child-safe playthings. With Spring just around the corner (I went out without.a.coat today!) why not take a peek at this adorable picnic tea set from John Crane, which is sure to sell out as the hotter months approach and children spend more and more time in the garden.

Included in the delightful pink wicker hamper are four plates, matching cutlery, napkins, a small blanket, teapot, milk jar and cups! This pretty-in-pink set is so brilliantly priced at £19.99 and available for immediate dispatch.

I know that some people shy away from pink toys for little boys, and as such the EverEarth tea set is a fantastic option for those looking to buy a tea set for a young man. Boys need and enjoy roleplay just as much as girls, and will be drawn to playing out scenarios that they see at home, regardless of which adults are involved with them. It is as important to let little boys play at making tea as it is little girls, as this is a pattern of behaviour that they'll see regularly. EverEarth toys are all made to strict eco-friendly guidelines, using only the finest quality woods for a fantastic finish, by far one of our loveliest sets, also priced at £19.99.

"Look what I built"

Children love to play at making and fixing with a tool bench, and EverEarths bench is fantastic value for a very high quality toy. Made entirely from eco-friendly materials and to strict standards, this workbench is one of our most popular toys, and is despatched in attractive recycyled packaging.
Children can play imaginatively whilst building and constucting with the wooden saw, spanner, hammer, screwdriver and screws & nails, all of which are included with the bench. Priced at £29.99.

"This is my baby"

Extensive research has proven just how vital it is to social development for both girls and boys to play at parental roles through imaginative play. So all of those Daddies who won't have dolls in the house for their boys (and Mummies too!) - think again! Being able to play with dolls is recognised to encourage all sorts of positive traits and attitudes as children grow up, and there is absolutely no evidence to support the idea that playing with dolls, prams, and other parental-role play toys effects a little boys likelyhood to grow up liking trucks, sports and ladies! The Canterbury Toy Shop stocks a range of dolls equipment and we have a range of knitted rag dolls, suitable for children from birth, coming very soon - watch this space!

The dolls roleplay range from PinToy (a member of the John Crane family) is made of fantastically durable materials, meaning they'll last and last for generations and won't disappoint in providing hours of entertainment either. All 3 items are priced at £37.99 each.

"I brought you breakfast in bed!"

With Mothers Day fast approaching, some of us might be hoping to get spoiled on the 18th March 2012, and what better way to say I love you , than to bring Mummy breakfast in bed? For the very small among us, this gorgeous breakfast play set, by Plan Toys, is made of very high quality wood with a smooth and attractive finish, bright colours achieved with child-safe paints, and ergonomic design that's especially ideal for little hands. The set includes a wooden tray with toast, cheese, eggs, bacon and sausage, with salt and pepper to season. Priced at £19.99.

Fun roleplay games you can play today - without having to spend a penny!

  • Mini - Safari Get outdoors, in the garden, park, or local woods and either have fun spotting imaginary creatures and cunjuring up all sorts of sightings, or locate real mini-beasts such as insects and other local wildlife.
  • Doctos and Nurses - start collecting pots and bottles to make up a doctors kit, you can also grab free medicine syringes from pharmacies and use old clothes or even toilet tissue for bandages. An old handbag makes a great doctors bag. For variation why not play a game of "vets" - real animals not required!
  • Cooking up a Storm - Rather than spending money on play food, why not bulk out your play kitchen with old food containers such as cartons, and washed out bottles and jars. Be careful if giving anything to children with a sharp edge, remove the lids from tin cans. If you can stand the noise, saucepans and wooden spoons make great toys, even for the smallest children!
  • Carry on Camping - Making a tent from household objects is childs play. Snuggle up under blankets and read stories. Marshmallows optional! It's amazing what you can make from a few dining chairs and an old sheet. 

Monday, 20 February 2012

We Love... The Brio Pull-Along Engine

You know that feeling when you're clearing out your wardrobe and you come across something you forgot you owned and loved? I got that feeling today, when a few of my favourite toys returned to the virtual shelves of The Canterbury Toy Shop after a short spell of limited availability following the retail chaos that was - Christmas.
One such toy is the Brio Pull-Along Engine, our most popular pull-along toy, and the first stocked item that my son Sebastian claimed for himself when we first opened the shop. As most 18 month old children like to do he was "helping" in the office one afternoon when I was unpacking our first delivery of shiny new toys to stock our not-yet-open virtual shop, and as I busily stacked wooden toasters on top of drum kits my assistant had dived into one of the huge cardboard boxes and emerged clutching a rather smaller black box, containing one of these adorable pull along trains.
Now, it is my policy not to give my son free-access to stock, but his little face was somewhat irresistible and needless to say, I popped the lid for him, removed the engine from its wrapping and proceeded to watch him trail it behind him with delight. Those moments are magical, wherever a favourite toy came from (and before anyone gets images of Sebastian’s idyllic childhood filled with free toys - his Mummy pays for everything he claims - and he's not allowed to claim very much at all!)

The Brio pull along engine features a classic design synonymous with the company's history in leading the manufacture of wooden railway toys. The Canterbury Toy Shop also stocks an extensive range of Brio Rail products including tracks, engines and buildings to build up large wooden railway collections, but this modern addition to the Brio range has just as much promise as older Brio favourites.
Made of solid wood, and painted with child-safe paints in a sleek black finish, with the "Brio" name emblazoned on each side, this timeless toy will be passed on for generations, just as older Brio toys have already been for years. I have absolutely no doubt that Sebastian will one day hand over his Pull-Along Engine to his own child, who will pass it on to my Great Grandchildren, and who knows how long they'll keep it going! There's certainly no reason that this solid sturdy toy couldn't last decades and decades though.
The red wooden wheels, displaying an attractive pin-wheel design that captivates children when spinning, are edged with rubber tracks to protect both the wooden toy and your own flooring.
A simple rotating mechanism in the train causes the bright yellow chimney atop the engine to spin as the wheels move, fascinating children and encouraging interaction with the toy.
Pull-Along toys have been recognised time and time again for encouraging early walking in babies and toddlers.

To celebrate its return to The Canterbury Toy Shop we'll be reducing the price of the Brio Pull Along Engine by a third on 21st January 2012 between 12noon and 2:00pm in a lunch time discount special. Get in there quick if you intend to take advantage of this very limited offer!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Kitchen of the Week Promotions (week 1)

Well, I felt that it was time for an exciting new long-running promotion, and having had a bit of a think about what treats and discounts I'd like to offer customers this Spring, I have settled on running a "Kitchen of the Week" discounted item each week for the next four.

I hope you'll agree that this is a relatively simple concept - and one I hope that some of you will take full advantage of. Every week for the next four I shall be selecting a play kitchen from our website (do look out for some surprises too!) to feature as our "Kitchen of the Week". This kitchen shall then be offered with a 10% discount for 7 days, at which point it shall return to RRP and a new kitchen shall be chosen for the following week.

You don't need a promotional code or voucher to take advantage of these offers, the chosen kitchen will already be reduced by 10% when you visit the website.

Week 1 - Wednesday 8th February 2012 - Tuesday 14th February 2012

The Vintage Kitchen by KidKraft is available in three different colours, the candy pink shown above, retro red, and ice white. All three kitchens are otherwise identical in design and feature sink, fridge freezer, microwave, oven and stove, with opening doors and turning nobs which make realistic sounds. There is also a play phone mounted to the kitchen as well as storage spaces, a timer and ice dispencer (don't worry - no real ice!)

Please be aware when ordering that these are large play kitchens, measuring  65.7 x 34.9 x 66.7 cm when assembled and weighing a rather hefty 27kg.

Available now from The Canterbury Toy Shop for £180.00 (RRP £199.99)

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

In With The New

One of my favourite things about running a toy shop, is being ever on the look out for new toys, and the fantastic designers and distributors behind them, and from the day that we opened out virtual doors, I had John Crane on my radar.
It took a lot of emails, and a trip to sunny Northampton to convince them to let us stock their brilliant ranges of wooden toys, but the good news is, 2 months after the launch of The Canterbury Toy Shop website, we were given the go ahead to put in our first order - and oh what fun I had leafing through the bulky and super-glossy catalogue, picking out my favourites from their extensive ranges.
John Crane's criteria is a simple one, but one that I share, their priorities are to provide:

"High quality, value for money, innovation and safety - with design flair."

We happen to know that that's just what our customers are after too!

I could tell you all about John Crane's history in representing wonderful toy brands, as well as their own ranges which excite children and adults alike, but I know that what you really want to read about is the toys themselves. Take a moment to peruse the toys on The Canterbury Toy Shop website to see what's on offer, but for this blog post I've decided to take my Top Five John Crane toys and tell you a little bit about what gets a thumbs up from me. Remember, as a Mum myself I choose all of these toys based predominantly on watching my son, Sebastian, playing, and hand pick the toys that I know he and his friends would pick!

In no particular order:

  1. The City Of London Train Set
2012 is an exciting year for London, with the Olympics taking place this year, as well as huge music festivals in Hackney in June, and the Queens Diamond Jubilee celebrations centered in the capital - the worlds eyes will be firmly glued to the city. And John Crane have got into the real spirit of the moment with this adorably
detailed London themed train set. With a classic figure of 8 track and engine with 2 carriages, the track is compatible with other wooden train sets, and can be added to an existing collection. With a total of 50 pieces this set also features iconic London play pieces, such as The Gherkin, The BT Tower, Buckingham Palace and The Houses of Parliament, as well as cute characters and scenery items. This is a toy that we not only want you to love this year, but to pass on and on and on, until the buildings are unfamiliar and the black cab has been replaced by something altogether more high-tech. This wooden train set will last and last, long enough to one day be a history lesson all of it's own! £40.00RRP.

When I posted about "Stickle Bricks" on The Canterbury Toy Shop's Facebook page back in January 2012 we had the most comments and responses that we'd ever had to a Facebook status. All  I asked was whether anyone remembered them. And there you have it, one of the secrets to a fantastic toy - it must never lose its appeal, and it must stir in all of us a certain sense of nostaligia. Now it is rare for me to put my hands up and say that a non-wooden toy floats my boat, however, when it comes to these spikey, sticky, stackable bricks, I admit it - I'm a fan! Which is why this big tub of "bristleblocks" (Stickle Bricks to you and me!) was the first plastic toy ever to grace the virtual shelves of The Canterbury Toy Shop,
but I can tell you now - they're here to stay! The tub contains 68 soft bricks, which are not only hours of fun for the big people, but encourage manual dexterity and creativity in the younger folk too, and you'll soon realise that we get even more excited about toys which offer a positive developmental benefit to our children. Do we need to tell you about the brilliant ideas in the enclosed "building suggestions" leaflet, and the fab etched, reusable tub? Probably not. £22.99.

This is where I'm often accused of being unfair in my toy selection. Being Mum to a 2 year old boy I tend to forget that a lot of my customers have children of the more feminine persuasion and I sometimes need to be reminded to look at girly toys too, otherwise we'd have so many wooden dinosaurs it'd start to look like the gift shop at The Natural History Museum in here! However, sometimes I need no such nudging, and that speaks volumes for a toy, not only because it means that something "girly" has caught my eye, but also because it means that I've probably recognised that a toy which has likely been marketed towards those buying toys for a little girl, actually has equal appeal to the boys too. The High Tea Shape Sorter is definitely one of those. Yes OK, it's pink, but in my experience very few pre school children have an awareness of our "pink for a girl, blue for a boy" attitudes and you know what - they won't care anyway. I'm about to harp on about the great educational benefits of a fun toy once again but this is a brilliant example and one which I just had to include in my top 5 John Crane toys. Not only can you take tea with your children, choosing from a stunning range of cute wooden desserts (some of which look good enough to eat - I've had my eye on that chocolate heart for a while now!) but you can aid your children in learning to recognise different shapes through sorting the cakes back into their corresponding space on the sturdy, wooden cake stand, and in doing so can also develop numerical skills as each cake displays a number on its base, which also matches the correct space on the cake stand - genius! Tell me this wouldn't look great in your childs play room or nursery! £25.00

 4.  "Critters" - My First Puzzle

At The Canterbury Toy Shop we're working at the moment on increasing and improving our range for children under 18 months. This is one of the first pieces that we've introduced as part of that initiative, along with the farmyard animal version of the same puzzle. Not only is it an easy "take anywhere" toy, featuring integrated carry handle, but the pieces (chunky, simple, and brightly coloured - perfect for baby) are on short cord. As a Mum I am fed up of hunting around all of the time for lost puzzle pieces from my sons collection of wooden puzzles. At the moment we're missing two cows, a chicken, and the letter "O" somewhere in our lounge! The fact that these pieces can not be lost means baby can take it anywhere, in the pushchair, up to bed, or in the car too. It's a simple puzzle, but it's spot on for encouraging manual dexterity and providing stimulation for younger minds. If it wasn't for the fact that I stock them in the shop I would be buying these for first birthday presents regularly! £8.99

5. Fire Engine

Long before I even had the idea to open The Canterbury Toy Shop, my sons Grandparents had bought him this fire engine, and it has been a firm favourite, not just of his, but of his friends, male and female, when they've been to visit. First things first, there are a lot of plastic fire engines on the market, and a lot of them light up and make a noise. They are also prone to breaking, especially if they bang in to things (which they no doubt will) - the ladders up top have a habit of snapping off when being played with, and can be sharp, and they also tend to come with a number of small pieces that would leave me reluctant to give them to a child under 3 years to play with. However, the beauty of the wooden fire engine is not only that you get to make your own siren sounds - and believe me - this is just as much fun as pressing a button, but it'll last, it can survive collisions with the coffee table, the dining chairs, the toy box, and can even be dropped from the formidable heights of the high chair, without suffering too much. And if it does? It's a doddle to fix and return to sound working order. An elderly lady who helps to run a playgroup that my son attends said something to me when I first opened The Canterbury Toy Shop, which has stayed with me ever since, "Children don't learn that toys need to be fixed when broken any more, they just learn that they have to go in the bin". This is so true of a lot of the plastic toys available and a little bit of wood glue will mend almost anything but a broken heart. What's more, we don't just stock the engine, but a group of cute wooden fire fighters with all of their necessary equipment - and a fully furnished fire station too - imaginitive play at it's very (wooden) best! £37.00

And so concludes my Top 5 John Crane toys for 2012. If any blog readers purchase any of the toys above (or anything else from The Canterbury Toy Shop for that matter!) I'd love to receive your reviews, you can email me directly at !

Monday, 6 February 2012

What's Love Got to do with It?

It stands out clearly in my mind and even now I wish I'd been there to say my piece; shortly after opening The Canterbury Toy Shop I attended the Christmas Fair at Leeds Castle with a very talented jewellery designer friend of mine, Lady Muck. We shared a rather quirky half jewellery/half toys stall, complete with taxidermy magpie, sandwiched between a helicopter and a lady selling expensive ponchos. This bit is not of great interest to my online customers, so, to cut a long story short, after a lot of standing around in the cold clutching a polystyrene cup of surprisingly palattable mulled wine, I decided to go off and explore the fair, leaving my half of the stall in the more than capable hands of my fiance John. He was most successful in selling some of our fantastic toy concertinas to passers by, but when I returned, he was jittery and annoyed by one particular customer, and I can totally understand his reaction.

I hope I tell this story correctly and perhaps I should have asked John to open this blog post for me to ensure factual accuracy, but here we go! A couple visited the stall and began perusing the wooden toys - and who can blame them, our wooden toys are fabulous, I know so because I choose each and every one myself based on what I, as a Mother, would want to encourage my son to play with. The gentleman lifted from the table one of our adorable pull along toys by eco-friendly toy experts, EverEarth. His partner was obviously taken with the toy and began to comment on how lovely it is (and it sure is!) and so the gentleman asked John where it was made.

And so came an honest reply.


At this point, unfortunately, the man pulled a face (I have only seen the reinactment of the face - but if that's anything to go by then it was one of disgust), put down what might have been the perfect Christmas gift for a little person in his family, and promptyly escorted his wife away from the stand.

The curse of the "Made in China" toy.

And that is where I want to start this blog, not only by introducing one of our largest and lovliest suppliers, but by giving you an insight into WHY I choose to stock the lines that I do (it's not just willy-nilly you know!)

EverEarth factories in Asia are, first and foremost, pleasant places to work. Is it cheaper to outsource work to these countries rather than keep your manufacturing in the UK? Yes, I'm certain that it is. Does this therefore mean that those working in such factories live and work in appalling and dangerous conditions? Certainly not. And that is why I wish I had been on The Canterbury Toy Shop stall when that customer decided that we "weren't his cup of tea" because we stock products made in China, I would loved to have taken a few minutes of his day to tell him all about EverEarths factories, their ethos and their love for the people who make the toys we love. As they quite rightly point out, their employees are their lifeline, and here's what they do to keep the heart of their company beating:

  • Audits carried out on ALL factories by independent third parties to ensure an enviroment which nurtures the physical and mental wellbeing of workers.
  • No prison labour.
  • No child labour.
  • No forced labour.
  • Meals and hot water for washing, provided to all factory workers.
  • On site medical care for all factory workers.
  • A dormitory with solar power available to all factory workers.
  • Social Insurance provided for all factory workers.
  • Firedoors installed to segregate every building.
  • 150% of normal wage paid for overtime, rising to 200% at weekends and 300% for national holidays.
  • Team building activities for all factory workers.
  • Ongoing high level leadership and communication classes to encourage progression.
  • An on site farm growing fresh vegetables.
Does this sound like the sort of factory you'd object to having goods produced in? Of course not, in fact, the benefits on offer to factory workers in China working in the EverEarth factories often outweigh what's available to British factory workers.

I would never go so far as to say that we should stop supporting local and British companies (I ought to add that my wonderful EverEarth account manager Mike is based in Telford, in Shropshire, or as he affectionately refers to it "Farmer Country", and not from overseas at all). On the contrary I think that it's important that we allow our own craftsmen to flourish, and there are a number of companies making beautiful wooden toys in the UK, but more about them later. However, there is nothing wrong with supporting the International market either, and if you buy the odd toy with a "Made in China" stamp, it's best to know the background of where that toy first took shape, and I hope that some of my customers find this blog post reassuring.

I don't object entirely to that mans attitude at Leeds Castle; I want my customers to care about where their purchases are coming from, and the working standards in some overseas factories are appalling, and if we, as a global community, can do something to lessen the demand for the products created under such conditions then yes, lets unite and bring about change. If you would like to know anything about where your new toy has come from then that's what I'm here for (I have other uses but for more on that you might like to read my other blog). But I wish that gentleman at Leeds Castle could realise that the Chinese manufacturing industry is not a demon in its entirity.

EverEarth are leading the way, not just in the production of eco friendly wooden toys (and I'll be going into more detail of their other eco-credentials in a later blog post), but also in changing opinions and norms. THIS is the way that we should be trading with the rest of the world - with a little bit of love, and The Canterbury Toy Shop will continue to get in on the action where we can!