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When looking for presents for Freddy's second birthday, I wanted to buy a simple game that we could share with him to encourage turn taking and sharing. After some extensive research, taking Freddy's developmental delay in to account, I discovered the ELC Bugs Building game, which just happened to be included in a half price sale, costing just £5 instead of the usual £10. Based on the game Jenga this has actually turned out to be quite a versatile toy that can be used to help teach a variety of different skills as your child has fun.
The game comes supplied in a fairly sturdy cardboard box, but as with anything made of cardboard this does start to get a little tatty with fairly regular use. Within the box you will find a total of thirty coloured bugs, a bug die and a number die, while the instructions are printed on the reverse of the box. There are a number of plastic bags within the box so I would suggest removing these before allowing your child to play. The bugs are actually hollow, rectangular blocks with rounded corners and googly eyes and there are ten each of three colours (red, blue, green). Each of the blocks measures approximately 9cm x 3cm x 2cm and is good size to fit in a young child's hand. As they're made of plastic you don't need to worry that they are going to chip or splinter and they are easy to wipe clean or even stick in a bowl of sterilising fluid. The googly eyes are painted on, which means this detail will eventually fade, but when new they look quite sweet and definitely attract a young child's attention with their cross-eyed, raised eyebrow look. The blocks also have a slight texture to them with indented circles that are great for those with sensory difficulties to explore. One slight issue with the blocks is although being hollow they are very light, the plastic is also very hard, so while the rounded corners means they are unlikely to cause much damage, if they are thrown at you it may hurt.
The two dice are much larger than “normal” dice at approximately 3cm cubed, which means that they definitely do not cause a choking hazard. Rather than the sides being numbered one to six they have been adapted to this game and simplified for younger children. One die has the bug faces on each face, with two sides green, two red and two blue, the other has numbers zero to three, with one zero, one three, two ones and two twos. The dice are made of the same plastic as the bugs, but this time are white with the different numbers and bugs printed on. As with the bugs the die are the perfect size for little hands and easy to clean with rounded corners, but what really impresses me is how clearly the different symbols can be read due to the high contrast.
The back of the box gives two different ways of playing the game in both one and two player, that the stacking game mode and falling tower game mode (advanced), which means that the game is suitable for a fairly wide range of age and abilities. However, Freddy isn't really even up to the level of playing the easier mode yet, which involves rolling the numbered die and then stacking that number of bugs. So we've made up our own very basic rules for now, where we simply take it in turns to stack the bugs. Stacking the bugs is easy enough for an adult, simply place three next to each other and then place another three on top at 90 degrees to the lower level and carry on building the stack up. While this is fairly easy even for Freddy while the stack is only a couple of levels high but as it gets taller he needs to be far more precise and even a little lapse of concentration can cause him to knock it over, which is of course hilarious. As well as stacking the bugs we sometimes sort them into colours which helps with his colour recognition and at other times we use them similarly to dominoes, where we stand them on their short ends in a line and then knock the first one down to cause a chain reaction. Again this is great for helping develop hand-eye coordination along with a sense of anticipation as well as making a satisfying clanking noise.
When Freddy gets a little bit more proficient at building the towers we'll be moving on to adding the number die in to add a counting element to our learning fun. And then once we've mastered that we'll move on to the more advanced rules, in which you build the bug tower and then roll the bug die to find out which colour bug we have to remove. Playing to these rules is very similar to playing the more well known Jenga, it takes a very steady hand to remove the bugs along with using your judgement. The rules don't actually state to put the bug removed back on to the top of the tower but this would add even more skill to the game.
Freddy and I really enjoy playing this game and although his concentration span isn't the best ever he will sit and join in for a good ten minutes or so before becoming bored. As with many children his age Freddy does think the best part of the game is when the tower falls down and you can tell he's get bored when he starts knocking it over accidentally on purpose. I enjoy playing this with him secure in the knowledge that he is learning and developing new and old skills while having fun. He's learning to take turns as we place one bug on the stack each, his hand-eye coordination and judgement are improving as he stacks the bugs and he is learning good sportsmanship as he discovers that everybody in a game is important and without losers there'd be no winners. Once he gets older and we start introducing the other aspects into the game his colour recognition, counting and problem solving will be put to the test.
I do feel that games such as this are an essential aid to a child's development and a wonderful way to spend some quality one-on-one time. Although I must admit I do feel the standard price for this game is a tad high, at the price I paid it's a wonderful investment in a game that will see several years use and is even sneakily enjoyed by adults. The blocks themselves are very durable and far safer for young children than the wooden version, the dice are also far safer and a great way of introducing turn taking. And so I'm giving the ELC Bugs Building Game five stars out of five as it is a game that can be enjoyed by older and younger children equally.
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