Pros: Kids love animals and balls; bright colors; fun music; volume control; several ways to play.
Cons: NOISY; another battery-operated toy.
My best friend and her husband - who are also my daughter's godparents - try to be especially thoughtful when choosing gifts for my little girl, as they are not yet parents themselves. They know, correctly and without a doubt, that we will exact revenge for any particularly obnoxious toys when they have a child of their own in the not-too-distant future.
It is because of this usual thoughtfulness that I was a bit surprised when they arrived at our house with a huge box containing the Fisher-Price Roll-a-Rounds Jungle Friends Treehouse on my daughter's first birthday. But then, none of us had any idea just how noisy this toy would be at first - in the box, it just looked like a fun, new toy. And it is fun...ah, but the noise. Vengeance will be mine, and it will be fun.
~* Technicolor Treehouse *~
The Jungle Friends Treehouse is a medium-sized playset, measuring approximately 14" across, 10" deep and 12" tall. The tallest section of the treehouse stands in the back center of the toy - molded in one piece, it looks like a tree with a yellow jungle-style hut perched in the branches and a green leafy canopy on the roof. A large hole is positioned in the center of the roof, just the right size for a ball to drop into the treehouse. A purple door on the front of the hut opens to reveal two smiling monkeys inside.
A purple "wooden" bridge connects the main treehouse to a smaller tree on the right side of the set. A yellow butterfly is attached to the side of the tree and slides up and down the length of the trunk.
To the left of the main treehouse is a small blue "waterfall" with a pink butterfly perched to one side, which spins in a circle.
The main floor area of the set, in front of the treehouse, tree and waterfall, are two large rotating discs. The disc on the left is blue and decorated with water-themed stickers (fish, bubbles, seaweed and an orange hippo.) The disc on the right is yellow and decorated with a jungle theme - two lions among lots of grass and rocks. Just in front of the two discs, protruding from the front of the toy, is a large round red button, placed horizontally so that it is parallel to the floor or table during play.
Four Roll-a-Rounds animal balls are included with the playset. In case you haven't browsed a toy department in a while, these are clear vinyl balls, approximately 2 1/2" in diameter, with brightly colored plastic animals inside that move about freely when the ball is rolled. While I'm unable to locate all of the balls for review purposes, I'm reasonably certain that the included animals were an elephant, giraffe, toucan and monkey.
Additional sets of six Roll-a-Round balls are available in several different themes for about $7, including the Zippin' Zoo Rounds, which were also given to my daughter with the Jungle Friends Treehouse. These balls included a penguin, hippo, panda, kangaroo, tiger and crocodile - not all jungle-appropriate, really, but fun nonetheless.
The Jungle Friends Treehouse retails for about $25, but by now could probably be found on sale for considerably less. It is recommended for babies aged six months and up, and the curves and rounded construction make it relatively safe even for small babies.
~* Setup *~
Blessed little assembly is required of this playset - just snap the purple bridge onto pegs leading from tree to treehouse, install three C batteries into a compartment on the bottom of the base (you'll need a Phillips screwdriver for this), and you're ready to go.
~* Playtime *~
Now that you've toured the playset, you're ready to make noise...er, play. The description of the toy on the outside of the box says:
"Four jungle friends are clearly ready for fun - and there's no better place to enjoy it than this action-packed treehouse, complete with music and motion! Discoveries come to life with special movements inside each round. Watch them drop through tree-tops, down chutes and slides, or - whee! - over the waterfall to go for a spin."
There are several ways to make noise with the Jungle Friends Treehouse, and it'll take your baby or toddler all of about two minutes to discover them all. The two most obvious methods of play:
* Drop a ball through the hole in the very top of the treehouse. The ball will drop into the treehouse and roll either to the left (onto the waterfall and then onto the blue disc) or to the right (dropping into the tree and rolling onto the yellow disc). The pressure of the ball dropping onto either the waterfall or a button in the bottom of the tree will prompt the toy to turn on, and the discs will begin spinning, music start playing, etc.
* Or, just push the big red button at the front of the toy. That'll start the discs spinning and music playing as well.
Depending on your child's age, he or she may play with this toy in a number of ways; my daughter, for instance, was able to press the big red button at twelve months, but didn't figure out how to push the ball into the hole at the top of the toy till several months later. Even a baby at the lower end of the age recommendation will find a way to make noise with this toy, though - have no fear of that.
According to this toy's box, it plays 10 tunes and fun sounds - none of these tunes are recognizable, and are instead something you might hear in the background of a cartoon, interspersed with whistles, crashes, animal sounds and the like. Nothing overly annoying, and there is (thankfully) a volume control switch on the bottom of the toy. I leave ours set on the lower setting, and it's perfectly audible without being grating.
So, you may ask - if the music and sounds aren't what makes this toy so noisy, then what, exactly, am I complaining about? The problem lies not in the melodies but in the "lively spinning action." Picture it: two round spinning plates, side by side. Drop a hard plastic ball onto said plates. Can't you just hear the racket that ball will make rolling around and around, bouncing from one plate to the next and ricocheting off the sides? It's not very pleasant, this lone spinning ball. Now, if you dare, add another ball...and another...and another...until you have four balls (or, if you have the extra set as we do, ten balls) all spinning around these whirling discs at warp speed, bouncing off the toy and each other. CLICKCLACKCLICKCLICKCLICKCLICKCLACKCLACK!!! It's not something that's easy to overlook, I assure you. Thankfully, once you have five or six balls spinning simultaneously, the toy starts to get overcrowded and balls start falling off. Which leads to my only other complaint about the Jungle Friends Treehouse...
~* Where'd All the Balls Go? *~
If you've paying attention, you'll recall that we received this toy in February, with four balls included and an extra set of six, for a total of ten balls. Five months later, I was able to dig seven of the balls out of the black hole that is my daughter's toybox. To be honest, I was shocked - I figured all but two or three would have permanently vanished by now. (As this toy has never left our family room area, I'm fairly certain I could unearth the others by digging beneath the sofa, chairs or recliner...but really, I'm just not that motivated.)
Okay, so our Roll-a-Rounds balls have hung around for longer than I imagined they would - but losing the little things is still a very real possibility. They're just large enough to be held easily by pudgy little hands, and just small enough to roll beneath the sofa, chairs, recliner, etc. Quite frankly, this playset just wouldn't be much fun without all of the balls rolling around everywhere, so keeping at least two or three in close proximity is pretty important. There's no storage compartment on the Jungle Friends Treehouse, so you're on your own to find a workable storage solution. At first, we kept ours in an empty wipes container, but my daughter quickly learned to defeat that. Now we just throw them in the toybox and dig when we need them. You do what works for you.
Another tiny issue with the balls is that they are small and plastic, therefore making excellent little projectiles. If you are hit with one, it will hurt - perhaps something to keep in mind when more than one child is playing with this toy at the same time, especially if one or more are toddlers. They don't feel great when you step on one barefoot, either. And rest assured that if they are thrown around at all - and they will be - that they'll quickly become rather scratched up on the surface. I've never had one become so scratched that I couldn't see the animal inside (and hopefully it'll never come to that), but know that they won't look like brand new for very long.
~* Overall *~
From a parent's standpoint, there's definitely room for improvement in the Jungle Friends Treehouse - but then, aside from doing away with the balls altogether (which would make the playset incredibly boring), I don't see any way to do away with all the clicking-clacking noise. The addition of a storage compartment would be great, but would make the toy even bigger...and of course, there's one more pack of C batteries to buy. (They do last quite well, however.)
From a child's standpoint, though, the Jungle Friends Treehouse is tons of fun, at least in ten or fifteen minute intervals. The bright colors, music and noises is a real attention-getter for the toddler set, and you just can't go wrong with balls and animals, both of which this toy has in abundance. At the end of the day, my daughter likes this toy a lot...and I'm tripping over scads of balls scattered across the floor. But if she's happy, I'm happy.
But I'll still get revenge.
~* Tips for Play *~
Fisher-Price includes the following tips for play for maximum benefit from this toy:
* Praise baby's accomplishments during play to reinforce success. "Look what you did. You made the lion go down the slide!"
* To help baby realize there's a connection between objects and words, point out the unique feature of each Roll-a-Round. Try to find things in baby's world that match it. "See the monkey? What does the monkey say? Can you find your toy monkey?"
~* Developmental Benefits *~
The manufacturer also states that the Jungle Friends Treehouse aids in several areas of a child's development. Hand-eye coordination is improved as baby grasps balls and moves them around the playset, and fine motor skills are strengthened as the child opens and closes the door, presses the button, and moves and spins the butterflies. The music and sounds stimulates baby's auditory senses, and the variety of animals, colors and motions are visual stimulants.
Furthermore, this toy may "help baby develop problem-solving skills with progressive challenges, from simple activities to more complex, such as fitting balls into drops and chutes" and can help young children to understand differences between animals.
~* Contact Information *~
For more information, visit Fisher-Price online at www.fisher-price.com or call 1-800-432-KIDS (1-800-432-5437).
~* Also By Fisher-Price *~
Cradle Swing B0639 * Deluxe Take-Along Swing * Healthy Care Booster Seat * Kick 'N Play Piano * Laugh & Learn Learning Home * Laugh & Learn Learning Phone * Laugh & Learn Learning Table * Link-a-doos On-the-Go Goldfish * Link-a-doos Teething Ring * Ocean Wonders Aquarium * Ocean Wonders Aquarium Bouncer * Peek-a-Blocks Barnyard Friends Blocks * PowerTouch Baby: I Know My Letters * PowerTouch Baby Learning System * Roll-a-Rounds Zippin' Zoo Rounds * Sesame Street 3-in-1 Baby Explorer * Sesame Street Giggle Gabbers * Sesame Street Light-Up Pet Pals: Ernie * Sesame Street Splash & Scribble Elmo * Sparkling Symphony Twinkle Dancer * Swim 'n Spin Fish Rattle