“It allows children to play independently and creatively at the same time, but does not require me to be ‘managing.’” — Heather Jones, mother of three
Inspiring and easy-to-carry Felt Tales playsets by Babalu won parents’ praises and kept the attention of most of the children participating in this month’s Preschool Roundtable, earning a favorable score overall.
Participants were World Bank policy advisor Gail Richardson with Alexander (7) and Jessica (5); stay-at-home mother Heather Jones with Reece (8), Cameron (6) and Meg (4); sales executive Stephanie Kirby with Sarah (6) and Emma (5); Assistant United States Attorney Jay Bratt and writer/editor Elise Yousoufian with Aaron (6) and Hanna (6). FELT TALES by Babalu, Inc.
What It Is: Felt Tales are themed felt story boards (“Pirates at Shipwreck Cove” and “Let’s Go to the Ballet” are the two this Roundtable reviewed) packaged with more than 20 felt characters and props that stick lightly to the boards. Each set comes in a clear vinyl carrying case. There are some 15 different available themes.
What the Parents Thought
Every reviewer remarked how easy this toy is for children to unpack, understand and enjoy with virtually no adult intervention. Jones said she “appreciated the quiet play this toy encourages. It allows children to play independently and creatively at the same time, but does not require me to be ‘managing.’”
Most reviewers liked the packaging as well. “[The carrying case] helps keep track of the pieces and … lets the children know what is inside,” Richardson said. She also thought the stories on the back of each board succeed in their stated goal: They “help to direct the children and give them some ideas about what they might do with the pieces.” Richardson also liked that different Felt Tale themes can be targeted to boys or girls. She wrote that she liked the “gender specificity,” adding, “My little girl would not be very interested in playing with a pirate set, and she didn’t have to.”
How the Kids Reacted
The adult reviewers reported a wide range of reactions among their children. Jones noted that her two younger children “came back to [Felt Tales] daily to create new stories and even used pieces across the sets (pirate on the stage with ballerinas, for example).”
Richardson’s children played out stories in two ways. Her daughter, Jessica, “had a running commentary going on about what had to be done and how everything had to be set up just so.” And Alexander “had loud quotes from each of the [pirate] characters drawn from classic pirate tales. … As he became submerged in his story, he used the felt pieces less as ‘pieces’ and more like ‘figurines’ that could walk off the scene and re-emerge.”
Kirby’s girls, Sarah and Emma, were “eager” to stage a show for their parents, saying, “Come and see our play.” Aaron and Hanna, like the other children, “dove into the fantasy play immediately upon opening the packages,” which, Yousoufian observed, is not the case with every toy or activity. However, they did not return to the Felt Tales on their own or with suggestion over several days.
How to Improve It
Contrary to the experience of the other Roundtable families, one reviewer reported that a carrying case tore when opened and was not reusable.
Yousoufian thought the Felt Tales characters could be more heterogeneous, as are other character collections she has seen in toy stores. "Pirates at Shipwreck Cove" and "Let’s Go to the Ballet" "have all Caucasian characters and reinforce stereotypes" by respectively displaying only boy pirates and only girl dancers, she said.