Pros: Durable, takes up little space, sound turns off automatically
Cons: Price, assembly, lack of accessories, terribly inadequate storage space, battery changing is ridiculously complicated
Santa Claus dropped by last December and left this toy for a very eager three year old who loved to watch Mommy put on makeup (and sometimes, if she was a very good girl, she got to put on some, too!) We've lived with the toy for eight months now, so we're in a position to look closely at the play value and assess whether the purchase price of $40 was worth it.
What you get
You get the vanity, a vanity stool, two pretend lipsticks with removable covers, two pretend nail polishes with removable tops, one comb, and one hair dryer.
What this toy encourages
This toy encourages interest in basic grooming skills, basic shape recognition, interactive play, and pretend play.
~Basic grooming skills are encouraged by the child learning to brush her own hair and "dry" her own hair. She can also learn how to apply makeup, which is a skill she will (hopefully!) not need for many years.
~Basic shape recognition is encouraged when the child attempts to put the accessories back in their designated spots. The shape for each item is different, so the pink lipstick can't go in the red lipstick spot!
~Interactive play is accomplished when the child follows the directions given by the vanity, and more on this later.
~Pretend play is a given with a toy of this variety. The child learns what to do by watching Mommy use the real stuff, and then imitating her actions.
Now, for the specifics...
Assembly is best accomplished by a husband who hasn't spent the previous ten hours frantically baking, cooking, and wrapping gifts. Do not follow my example and assemble this toy with bleary, sleep-deprived eyes at 2:00 am Christmas Morning. Assembly for Little Tikes toys is always notoriously difficult, but the assembly for this vanity ranked in difficulty with the assembly of the Space Shuttle. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating...but just slightly.
You first put the batteries, 6 AA (6!!!), in the bottom of the sound unit and switch the language setting to the language of your choosing. The Tender Heart Vanity offers English, Spanish, French, and German. How multiculti!
The next step is to screw the light panel onto the front of the vanity, and this is where things start to get ugly. You have to screw metal screws into thick, hard plastic. Sounds simple. It isn't. By the time I finished screwing in the three screws, I was looking for blisters on my hands. The light panel gets plugged into the sound unit and the sound unit is screwed into place. Metal screw, plastic hole, you already heard me whine about that. To make it more fun, you have to include a snap-shut screw cover between the vanity and the screw. For even more fun, the plastic "mirror" is screwed under the light panel...with plastic screws. Plastic screws bend easily under intense pressure by a frustrated assembler, just so you know.
The next step is the easiest one...you simply snap the table cover into place. Next, two hooks get (thankfully!!) snapped into place on the back of the unit. And then the full-length mirror gets screwed (sigh) on the back. And then the front of the compartment on the bottom rear of the vanity gets screwed (double sigh) on. All that remains is to place a few decals on, and to put the accessories in their proper places.
Playing with the toy is easy. Your daughter can play with it in a basic manner, just by sitting down and pretending to put on her makeup. For more variety, there is a small oval button on the front of the sound unit that, when pushed, "talks" to the child and makes a hair dryer sound. The recorded sounds are designed to structure the play, which in my opinion sucks the fun out of the toy. This could be why my daughter rarely uses the sound function! When you push the button to turn on the sound, the toy says "Hi! It's time to get ready!" The toy has different phrases in its limited library that correspond to each accessory as it is pulled from its spot. The sound is activated by a pressure-sensitive switch located inside each accessory spot.
~The red nail polish bottle is oval with a removable brush. When the nail polish is pulled from the oval, the toy says "That color would look great with your outfit", "Red, that's a pretty color nail polish", or "Your nails are going to look pretty in red" alternatively.
~The pink nail polish bottle is rectangular with a removable brush. When the nail polish is pulled from the rectangle, the toy says "Pink, that's a pretty color nail polish", "Your nails are going to look pretty in pink", or "That color would look great with your outfit" alternatively.
~The pink lipstick is triangular in shape with a removable clear plastic cover. When the lipstick is removed from the triangle, the toy says "Good idea...put some lipstick on before you go out", "Pink, that color would look great with your outfit", or "Pink, that's a pretty color lipstick" alternatively.
~The red lipstick is circular in shape with a removable clear plastic cover. When the lipstick is removed from the circle, the toy says "Red, that color would look great with your outfit", "Red, that's a pretty color lipstick", or "Good idea...put some lipstick on before you go out" alternatively.
~The comb is yellow with wide teeth to make it easier to untangle from your impetuous child's long hair. When the comb is pulled from the narrow slot, the toy says, "Your hair is beautiful", "Style your hair before you leave", or "Comb your hair, make it pretty" alternatively.
~The hair dryer is pink with a large circular barrel that gets placed into the sound unit. When the hair dryer is pulled from the large circle, the toy makes a hair dryer sound and then says "That's a pretty hair do", or just makes a hair dryer sound, or the toy says "Dry your hair before you leave" and then makes the hair dryer sound.
The toy also reminds your child to replace the accessories, saying "Don't forget, put your blow dryer (comb, lipstick, nail polish) back". The toy says each phrase for each accessory even when other accessories are pulled out. And the toy says "Don't forget to put everything back" when more than one accessory is removed.
If the interactive function hasn't been used for a minute, the toy asks "What would you like to do next?" The toy repeats this phrase for a second time after thirty seconds. If the child doesn't pull out another accessory, the toy says "Bye bye!" and the sound shuts off. It can be reactivated by pushing the button on the front of the sound unit.
The light panel has four lights that actually light up. The lights blink on one at a time from left to right when the sound button is first pushed, and the lights flicker each time the toy says on of its phrases. If no accessories are removed, all four lights remain on.
Battery life has been wonderful for us, as my daughter rarely uses the interactive feature. We've had the same set of batteries in for four months. I dread changing the batteries, because it involves removing the entire sound unit. You must first open the plastic screw cover on the front, then unscrew the screw, then pop the unit out of its base, then turn it over, then unscrew battery cover, then replace your batteries, and repeat the whole procedure in reverse. What a pain!
Now for the rest of the vanity's features. The front of the vanity has four cubbyholes, two on each side of the mirror, that can hold maybe a bottle of pretend perfume. They aren't deep enough to hold anything else. The storage compartment on the table flips up and can hold a few barrettes, some hair curlers, or maybe a hand mirror. It's very shallow, which means that nothing bulky, like a hair brush, can be placed in it.
On the back of the vanity, there are two hooks for hanging purses or play costumes. Each hook holds about three purses with string handles or two play outfits. Those hooks are short, making their function as storage doubtful. On the bottom back of the vanity are four storage cubbies, two on either side of the full-length mirror. Each cubby holds maybe one purse. They are also very shallow. The storage cubbies have no lip on the edge, so it's very easy for whatever is placed in them to fall out when the vanity is bumped. Finally, there is a storage compartment at the very bottom on the back that has a lattice front. You can get two pairs of play shoes in it, or three purses. The lattice only extends halfway up the opening for the compartment, which doesn't allow you to place much of anything in it.
The stool that comes with the vanity is sturdy. My daughter has never fallen off of it while playing. It's so sturdy that she even stands on it to reach the forbidden kitchen counters, and it's light enough that she can drag it around with her to check out the forbidden counters in other rooms.
The vanity is very durable and tip-proof, as it is made of thick high-impact plastic. The colors are pastel pink and white, making it hard to convince little boys to play with it. (I think the inclusion of lipstick and nail polish makes it a wee bit difficult, too!) The only flimsy part of the toy are the two "mirrors", which are made from a terribly thin, flexible silvered plastic. They scratch if you look at them cross-eyed, and they are darn near impossible to clean, which you must do often to remove those sticky jam fingerprints.
What I like about this toy
~My daughter has played with it every day since Santa dropped it off.
~The accessories are removable, making them easy to transport in one of her play purses for trips to the grocery store.
~It is very sturdy for the most part. The sticking point is those lousy mirrors...
~The lipsticks and nail polishes have removable tops, making them more realistic and enhancing my daughter's pretend play.
~The vanity is narrow and not very deep, so it doesn't take up very much space in the playroom.
~The sound shuts off automatically after a timed interval, saving on battery life and postponing that Inevitable Dreadful Battery Change Procedure.
What I HATE about this toy
~The Inevitable Dreadful Battery Change Procedure.
~Assembly is impossible. Well, not impossible, just very difficult.
~The sound function is basically useless for my daughter, making me wonder if I should have purchased a less expensive vanity without sound.
~The library of phrases is pitiful.
~The storage space is wholly inadequate.
~You only get six accessories, which I felt was inadequate, so I shelled out another $10 for a vanity set that had a hair brush, curling iron with a movable handle, opening compact, blush brush, mascara with a removable brush, nail polish with removable brush, lipstick with removable cover, comb, nail brush, stick-on nails, jewelry box, six rings, four working curlers, and a hair dryer that actually blows air. I got a better value in accessories from a no-name toy company, and for a MUCH smaller price!
~The price is ridiculous. I paid $40 for a big hunk of plastic with a handful of accessories, in essence. And I bought the toy on sale! It usually retails for $60!
In short, there is no power on earth that could convince me to buy this toy again, even though my daughter uses it every day. I would rather spend $20 on the Step Two vanity that has drawers for storage and no useless electronic functions.