Pros: no batteries or pink plastic, doesn't take up much space
Cons: cheap materials, difficult assembly, pegs that support shelves come out
What play kitchen should a mother choose if she is fanatically opposed to lights, sounds, and pink plastic?
Unfortunately, I don't know the answer to that question. I hoped the Play Wonder Kitchen would be a toy worth bragging about, but it isn't. It should have been everything I wanted. Made out of wood, emulating modern design, just the right size for my small house, and marked down twenty percent at Target the very day I decided to check out play kitchens, how could I resist? While an assembled kitchen was not on display, the picture on the front of the box looked charming, and the Play Wonder accessories sold separately on the neighboring shelves looked like good quality toys. Since it was the only one on the shelf, I thought I should make a decision right away. I pointed out the big picture of the kitchen to Her Royal Highness, received a scepter wave of approval, and rushed it to the register as if a horde of wooden-toy loving moms were chasing me down to snatch my prize.
Assembly - or, How to make Joyfulgirl cry.
When we got home, HRH went down for a nap. I announced to my husband that there was no point in wasting any our daughter's waking hours as the owner of a fabulous new play kitchen by leaving it in the box, and asked where he kept his finest screwdriver. Perhaps his reaction to me telling him I planned to assemble the kitchen on my own contributed to the difficulties I experienced over the next two hours. There are certain things you shouldn't do while seething with prideful rage, and apparently, screwing pieces of particle board to each other is one of the things I should not do.
I don't know exactly how many screws I had to turn, so I'll take a wild guess and say 342,689. The instructions were detailed, but often confusing as to which parts were what, and the differently sized screws could have been more clearly labeled. Attaching the hinges for the doors posed a problem for me, because I couldn't tell from the instructions which direction they were supposed to face. This might not have been a problem for a handier type, but I appreciate it when the directions take things to the lowest common denominator. My frustration overwhelmed me after two hours. I was only halfway through the assembly by then. Of course, once my husband took pity on me and took the alan wrench into his own hands, the kitchen was complete in fifteen minutes.
Neither of us were thrilled about the quality of our finished product, and my incompetence was not entirely to blame. While the picture of the kitchen looked minimalist and modern, the assembled kitchen seemed stark and rickety. We felt like we were looking at the junior version of IKEA's lowest end island. However, after 135 minutes of screwing the thing together, I recoiled from the idea of taking it all apart and returning it to Target. By that time, HRH was awake, had seen the kitchen, and did not share her parents' concerns.
The good news - HRH thinks it's swell!
My daughter couldn't care less that her play kitchen is made out of shoddy materials that are precariously assembled. It has a hanging rack with four hooks for her miniature kitchen tools! The kitchen tools include a pan, a whisk, a rubber scraper, a spatula, a wooden spoon, a baking sheet, and a cutting board! The two burner stove features three knobs that click when they are turned! The handle to the sink is connected with elastic and can be yanked every which way! There are not one but two doors to open and shut! And best of all, the "oven" is a perfectly sized hiding spot for a 26 pound toddler to squeeze inside, shut the door behind her, and gaze mischeviously out the clear plastic window!
I love watching an apron-wearing HRH pretend to cook on her stove, whisk and pan in hand, and then pretend to wash her tools in the sink. If the value of a toy is measured by cost-per-play, that figure has dropped to mere pennies after the last couple months of constant use. No play kitchen would have gone unappreciated in our house. We could have made our own out of a cardboard box and she would have delighted in the make-believe housewifery. That is probably what we should have done.
The bad news - it's going to break.
The kitchen is basically a particle board cabinet with accessories screwed onto it. The hanging rack in particular concerns me. It's made of three bars held together by four screws, and none too tightly. The rack looks as if it is made of metal in the picture, but it's actually the same extruded wood product as everything else, and painted silver. The kitchen toys that hang from it are too light to pose a threat, but this is a toy for small children - it should not be fragile. My daughter doesn't seem to get any pleasure out of attempting to destroy her belongings, but other children do, and they have to be reprimanded not to grasp the rack and and shake it back and forth as hard as possible. I can visualize the screws within stripping away at the soft material inside, and it's only a matter of time before the kitchen will no longer have a rack. I have the same worries about the doors. Too much pressure could eventually tear them from their hinges.
The manufacturer recommends this toy for children between the ages of three and eight, but I didn't see any reason why my two year old shouldn't play with it. During assembly, I discovered the shelves for the interior are supported by tiny metal pegs that simply slip into the holes inside the walls. An older child could move the shelves into different positions by putting the pegs in lower or higher locations, but even for a two year old with HRH's gifts and talents, they pose a choking hazard. We had to confiscate the pegs and put the shelves away until she is old enough to play with objects smaller than her windpipe, assuming the kitchen isn't in pieces or at AmVets by then.
The toys that came with the kitchen are realistic enough to satisfy my toddler, who wants everything to be "Like Mommy's". Also, they are apparently dishwasher safe, since most of them have been through the cycle several times and show no ill effects. The painted surfaces all wipe down easily, even after a few of my husband's games that involved real food. The only part that poses a clean-up problem is the clear plastic window in the oven, which always looks grimy from fingerprints.
The icing on the cake is ... wait for it ...
I couldn't believe my good luck when I found the kitchen I thought I was looking for reduced from one hundred dollars to eighty. Target has discounted this toy yet again, and it now sells for 69.99, but that is still too much money for this low-quality product. There are other options for parents who don't care for lights, sounds, or pastels, and one of them has to be better than this.