Pros: Baby LOVES it; lots of colors, sound and movement; easy to recognize songs.
Cons: No volume control; parental assistance needed due to design flaws; needs four D batteries.
Every parent can surely remember how difficult it is to entertain a three-month-old - sure, music and flashing lights will hold their attention for a minute or two, but very rarely does anything captivate them for longer than that. The only two real toys we had found during those first fussy months that kept her attention for any length of time were the Kids II Learning Links and her Sesame Street Ernie Light-Up Pet Pal. Then one weekend, during a visit to a second-hand children's shop, we struck gold.
We had originally visited Once Upon A Child looking for an exersaucer of some type, or maybe a play gym that would be ideal for tummy time. After seeing the ridiculous prices for some of the used toys, we ditched the exersaucer idea right away - and after browsing the store for a bit came across the Playskool Kick Start Airtivity Gym. My husband was immediately drawn to it; I was more apprehensive. After all, it didn't look like it would do much, and would she even be able to play with it yet? She certainly didn't seem impressed when we held it above her carrier for her to see. But at only $12, my husband insisted that Rachael 'needed' this toy, so into the car it went.
~* Something Else To Take Up Space *~
I admit, when we first brought the Playskool Kick Start Airtivity Gym home, I was less than enamored with it. With a base measuring 14" long and 13 1/2" wide (and standing 23" tall), there just wasn't anywhere convenient to store this toy except in the middle of her bedroom floor, already occupied by several other music-playing light-flashing toys. There is no way to fold or collapse this toy to make storage any easier so - there it sits, inconveniently located just in front of the chest of drawers where it has to be pushed aside every time I need a clean sleeper.
I'll point out before describing the toy in depth that it has apparently been discontinued by Playskool; I visited their website shortly after purchasing this toy for more information only to find nothing at all about it. Ours was assembled upon purchase and it is my understanding from reading other reviews that the only assembly required on a new Playskool Kick Start Airtivity Gym is the attaching of the two plastic legs on the base. Should you decide that this is the toy for your child, check out yard sales and flea markets, childrens' consignment shops or even eBay - chances are good you'll find one there for even less than we paid.
The toy itself is comprised of a white rectangular base held vertical by a long blue plastic leg on each side, each of which has a butterfly floating over a flower with a cloud overhead molded into the side. On the white base are two large green buttons in the shape of feet. Each foot is 4 1/2" long, quite a bit larger than my daughter's feet at this stage - and most baby feet for quite a while, I'd imagine. The foot buttons have raised dots on the surface, the texture obviously intended to appeal to baby's tactile senses.
Above the white base is a large circular tube with a clear front and an orange back, making it colorful yet easily see-through. Two vertical tubes stand in the center of the large circle, each having a round spool inside. In one tube is a pink spool featuring a butterfly; in the other is a green spool depicting a bumblebee. Orange and yellow handprint levers are available at each side of these tubes for older babies who prefer to use their hands during play.
Near the top of the circle is a yellow smiley face which spins during play, and at the very top is a yellow carrying handle.
~* Turn Me On and Watch Me Go! *~
This toy has an on/off switch located on the backside of the base, and does not immediately begin play whenever the switch is moved to the on position. Instead, baby must initiate play either by pressing one of the green foot buttons or one of the orange and yellow hand levers.
When a button is pressed, this toy takes off - a fan inside the base immediately begins sending two plastic balls (one blue and yellow, the other pink and yellow) hurtling through the large circular tube, one after the other. The smiley face at the top of the vertical tubes spins rapidly and music begins to play. This toy plays nine different tunes to include The Entertainer, Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay, Pop! Goes the Weasel, Hickory Dickory Dock, Itsy Bitsy Spider and four other tunes that, while familiar, I can't think of the names of now to save my life...
Already at this point, things are getting loud - between the fan blowing, the balls thunking around the tube and the music (and various whistling and beeping noises), this isn't exactly a quiet time toy. And just wait - it gets louder. Herein lies my major beef with this toy: it has no volume control. It is LOUD or OFF, end of story, but due to its overall design I don't imagine it would be much more quiet even with a volume control.
Once baby is placed in front of this toy and begins kicking at the foot buttons or pressing the hand levers, more motion and noise ensues. With each kick or press, a new song or noise is started and one or both of the plastic spools in the vertical tubes (butterfly and bumblebee) are forced upward in their respective tube. As long as baby holds down the button, the toy will float in the tube, drifting back down when baby lets go. The butterfly and bumblebee floaties are designed so that they are spinning inside their tubes and their wings look like they are actually moving.
~* Happy Baby! *~
Its no secret, babies are drawn to noise, so I knew that my daughter would appreciate at least the musical aspect of this toy. To be quite honest, I was sure she would be overwhelmed (and maybe a little scared) by the loud popping of the balls being shot through the tube and by all the ruckus in general. Boy did I get a shock...
I propped my little girl up in front of this toy and she got right to work, kicking those green foot buttons for all she was worth. She watched in awe as the butterfly and bee floated to the top of their tubes and back down again, wiggled in delight at the cheerful music and bobbled her little head in an attempt to keep up with the rapidly moving plastic balls.
Now I'm not going to sit here and tell you that, at only three months of age, my baby girl absolutely understood that her kicking the green feet made the music change and the butterfly and bee fly up their tubes - I will tell you, though, that it certainly seemed that way. She would watch them with anticipation as she kicked one of the feet as hard as she could, her little head tilting back as she watched the bugs soar. When they started to drift back downward, KICK! and back up they'd go.
Occasionally her little fit drop off of the green foot buttons and she's content to sit for a few minutes and watch the uproar; after about ten seconds with no activity, this toy will finish its song and shut down. If baby doesn't press a button within several seconds to turn the toy back on, it will automatically turn itself back on - balls, music and all - for the duration of a brief song in order to get baby's attention. The pause and restart is nearly always enough to get my daughter kicking again.
All in all, I was amazed - she LOVED this toy! If her daddy or I dare to turn it off or move it away before she's done playing, she throws a screaming fit until it is moved back and she's happily kicking away again. Rachael is one little girl who apparently knows what she likes, and she likes this toy.
~* The Downsides *~
There are a few downsides to this toy - at least from a parent's perspective - and while they're not enough to make me hide it forever in the back of a dark closet, I did think other parents might like to be forewarned.
First of all, as I've already mentioned, the toy is loud and does not have a volume control. Timid babies may actually be frightened by the amount of noise and motion (although I was obviously wrong about that in the case of my own child!) If you have a headache (and you will) and your child wants to play with this toy (and they will), it WILL make your headache worse. Been there and done that already, but her giggles made up for the pounding in the end.
Secondly, the toy is not well designed to be used in the way it was originally advertised - that is, baby lying happily on his or her back and kicking away, happily observing the commotion. When my daughter is laying on her back in front of this toy, she has a very hard time seeing it at all as she has to look downward (over that chubby belly) to see it in front of her. The green foot buttons are completely out of her line of sight, and if she happens to kick them at all, it's sheer coincidence. I've found that it's easiest for her to play with this toy from a sitting position and, since she can't sit on her own yet, this means that I must always be a part of playtime where this toy is concerned. I've found it easiest to sit on the floor with her leaning against my stomach, holding the base of this toy steady between my legs. This allows her to sit at a comfortable incline with her legs elevated to allow for easy kicking.
Why do I hold the base between my legs, you ask? Well, that's another design flaw, to my mind - the toy is not heavily enough weighted in the bottom to sit in one position through vigorous kicking. One good lunge from my baby's fat little legs and the whole toy scoots backward, even when resting on carpet. After a few kicks with no support, it has moved so much that her legs will no longer reach it at all. Once she's able to sit unattended, we'll probably be able to sit this toy against a wall and will be no longer needed as secondary support devices.
A minor complaint lies in the base itself - although plastic, the outer legs on this toy are hollow inside, leaving plastic edges on each side of the green foot buttons. When her feet slip off of the buttons - and they do frequently as she doesn't have great coordination just yet - they sometimes flop over into the base portion of the toy, scraping her little piggies on the plastic edge. Afraid that sooner or later she would decide to kick heartily while her foot was so positioned and really hurt herself, I finally stuffed the hollowed out portion of the base with a clean sock, taping it in place to cushion her little feet from scrapes and bumps.
My final beef with this toy is that, as with all baby equipment in my house, it requires four D batteries to operate. A battery compartment is located at the back of the base and is held closed with one screw - have a Phillips head screwdriver on hand for battery changes. Although we play with this toy frequently (several times per day), we have not yet had to replace the batteries in the two weeks since purchasing, and the batteries were in place when we brought it home. I have read conflicting accounts regarding battery life in this toy, but in my experience with all things battery operated, the batteries will last just until you don't have any more in the house - and then it will die mid-tantrum, leaving you with a very unhappy baby and probably a very unhappy husband, having been sent out late in the evening to acquire more batteries. Having three essential baby items that require four D batteries each - the swing, the bouncy seat and now this - we keep one shelf in our daughter's closet stocked with D batteries, and are considering buying stock in Duracell.
~* Can We Keep It? *~
In spite of my plentiful complaints about this toy's overall design (I can only imagine that similar complaints from parents are why it is no longer in production), the Playskool Kick Start Airtivity Gym is a welcome addition to our household. It amuses our daughter for long stretches at a time, often when nothing else will. And the smiles, squeals and giggles bestowed upon this toy are worth any amount of headache endured while playing.
~* Caution *~
To avoid possible strangulation or entanglement injury, it is advised that this toy never be placed in a crib or playpen. Never add strings, ties or other products to the gym, and supervise your child while playing.
~* For More Information *~
To learn more about Playskool toys, visit them online at www.playskool.com or call 1-800-PLAYSKL (1-800-752-9755) and reference item number 06137.