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When I was younger my sisters and I would spend hours creating pictures with Hama beads, we had quite a collection of coloured beads and pegs boards and we'd see who could make the most unusual designs, I won that competition with my Sporty Spice, anyway many years on I have a daughter of my own and have introduced her to the Hama Beads range, we still had a vast collection of our original beads and boards but also bought her some kits of her own, she recieved the Hans Christian Andersen kit recently as a gift from a friend for her birthday.
Hama Beads are basically small plastic cylinder shaped beads that come in a wide range of colours as well as glow in the dark ones, glittery ones.....all colours you could possibly imagine and more! The idea of them is to create a design on one of the white peg boards by placing each bead over a small white spike, board shapes include squares, hearts, octagons etc....of various sizes and you can create all sorts of designs by either following a guide book or free styling. Once your design is complete you use the special paper (or some greaseproof cooking paoer) to cover the design and iron over it melting the beads and fixing them into your design. The Hans Christian Anderson kit comes with a square peg board, 8 stands, an instruction book and guide sheet, 1 sheet of ironing paper, a spool of cotton, a hoop to create a small mobile and 4000 beads in a range of colours including red, yellow, blue, white, grey, black, green, brown and pink.
Now I've seen many kits in my time but this is the most unusual, classic stories such as The Ugly Duckling are represented in the kit but none of the guides tell you the characters or stories they're from so while I recognise the dog who sits upon a chest of coins, the tin solidier and the song bird I can't actually recall the exact titles of the tales they come from, you can also make what I presume is a profile of Hans Christian Andersens face which is a far cry from Disney Princesses, hearts and butterflies I'm used to seeing my little girl create! Certain characters are easier then others with the Ducklings and song bird being some of the easiest, the tin soldier and the china man are a lot trickier and need a bit more patience to get right, it's a shame they didn't include a Little Mermaid design what with her being one of his characters but I guess with the Disney Princess kit available with their interpretation of her included Hama didn't want to include a mermaid here and upset Disney.
The set is for ages 5 and up and I think your little one definitely needs to be at least that to be able to follow the picture guide and get the right coloured beads in the right positions to correctly replicate the image, the beads are also very small and fiddly so not great for younger, clumsier hands....though other kits are available and you can get Maxi Hama Beads for younger children as long as parents assist them. My little girl loves playing with her Hama beads as does her older brother and they don't seem overly concerned with the subject matter of the kit, saying that though they don't recognise a lot of the stories either so I have to use my limited knowledge to fill them in. My son has more patience and will see a design through to the end but my little girl usually gets bored and leaves a design half way through or resorts to another multi coloured heart shaped creation, they've spent more time free styling designs with the board and beads then following the patterns and I must say I've been impressed with my sons creativity in making an Optimus Prime & Bumblebee robot (from Transformers) I think he may be after my creativity crown! I think perhaps if the subject matter were different I might see my daughter more determined to finish a piece.
One of the major downsides of the kit, other then the characters which lets face it aren't all that modern and appealling for most of todays kids, is that in order to complete the piece you have to iron it, obviously this is not a task for children to be doing and they need an adult to do this part. The task of ironing is simple enough, cover with the paper and iron one side until the tops of the beads start melting, they advise the Wool setting on your iron and times will vary, then you pop the design off of the board, flip it, cover it and iron the other side before leaving to cool..... but I'm always reluctant to pop the iron on for 1 creation and so end up with a slowly growing collection of Hama Bead boards on my kitchen side all awaiting the iron, the slightest bump on the board and the beads are flying all over the place leaving me to sneakily put it back together before any of the kids notice, and don''t even get me started on the trauma of a small child painstakingly putting together their Ugly Duckling design only to knock it over while placing on the last few beads! Picking up these tiny beads one by one is a nightmare and I have a good friend to thank for her tip of putting some tights over the hose on the vacuum and sucking the beads up into the tights, believe me it saves a lot of time!
There are some features of the kit we do really like though, the 8 small stands mean that they can stand up and display their designs rather then them just being abandoned at the bottom of the bead box and the hoop for creating a mobile, which is intended for the ducklings but could be used for something else, is a lovely idea, often there isn't much you can do with a finished piece but with this you can thread some of them and then hang them from the ceiling, these hoops should be much more widely available I think especially as ours now features hearts rather then ducks! What can I say, she just loves making hearts and it goes better in her bedroom then ducks would. With 4000 beads you can make a lot of different designs and if you fancy mixing things up a bit and have other style beads already then there's nothing stopping you for creating rainbow ducklings, purple birds or green dogs!
The price of Hama Beads, kits and boards varies greatly depending on the set, theme, size etc... this set retails at £14 which I think is a bit expensive, on sale for £7 in The Entertainer toy store, incidentally the only shop I've actually seen it in, it is a lot more reasonable even just for the 4000 beads, board and hoop. As far as recommending this set goes it will depend on how you want to use it, if your little one is familiar with the stories or you buy it at the reduced price purely for the components then yes I would recommend it but if you just want a fun Hama Beads kit and are paying full price then no I wouldn't, there are many more appealling kits available that will keep their interest longer.
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