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Having much older brothers and sisters, year old Freddy really does reap the benefit of my experience of which toys really are must haves and which are duds. The Vtech First Steps Baby Walker definitely falls into the must have category, so how could we help but buy it for his first Christmas.
Puppy Says Clap Your Hands - A Parentís View
Although it has been slightly modernised, the design of the Baby Walker really hasnít changed that much in the almost twenty years since I first bought one for my eldest child, which goes to show what a classic toy this is. First things first, and maybe I should warn you that this does need minimal assembly. Nothing too taxing, the rear legs need attaching and 4 AA batteries (not supplied) need installing, but enough so that I set it up on Christmas Eve ready to be played with on the big day.
The main body of the walker is made of tough, brightly coloured plastic, the use of the primary colours (red, yellow and blue) really do draw a little oneís attention to it. The walker runs on four wheels, that are well spaced to provide a stable construction for a toddler to push along, while with a handle height of approximately 50cm, itís a good height for them. Although the wheels are free-wheeling, when a toddler leans on the walker it does slow it down a little (especially on a carpet) meaning that it doesnít run away on them too much. So this is an excellent first push along toy, but itís so much more than that.
On the front of the walker there is a detachable play tray, thatís absolutely brimming with activities. One thing to note here is that even though there is a volume control, which allows you to choose between low and high volume, even the low volume is very loud and will drown out the TV. The on/off switch is easy to operate, all it takes is to slide it along, so simple even a year old can do it. Once switched on the walker makes a multitude of different noises depending on which activity your child chooses to partake in. In the top left hand corner there is a very cute looking puppy, who when pressed will cause the walker to burst into song. More specifically a song that you will soon learn by heart, which begins with the words youíll soon dread to hear, ďHello BabyĒ. The walker then carries on serenading us for a good few minutes, while the keyboard on the bottom flashes.
Beneath the puppy there is a set of three cogs that make a crazy noise when turned. Personally, I think this noise is quite sweet, well for the first few times itís played in the morning. Under these cogs there is a butterfly whose wing can be flapped to and fro. Not only does this butterfly wing change the walkerís mode, from music to numbers and ABC, but this wing also sets off a Ďpeek-a-booí. Beside the butterfly there are a set of four buttons, all of which are different colours and shapes and are numbered one to four. Depending on the mode the walker is in these buttons might say the number, or colour and shape or even play a tune. What I like here is that itís a definite English voice and that the tunes are familiar, but what I donít like is that the voice is just a teeny bit patronising.
Down the right-hand side of the walker there is a telephone and cradle. With the older version, the telephone was
attached to the walker by a spiral cord, but with this newer version the telephone is not attached. The telephone itself is made of clear green plastic and filled with little beads so it rattles when shook. When the telephone is placed in the cradle the walker, rather strangely says ďwell doneĒ. The final feature of the play tray is a keyboard with five large, light-up keys each of which is a different colour and has a letter and object beginning with that letter printed on it. What sound the keys produce again depends on which mode the walker is in, with just musical notes being played when in musical mode. In learning mode, it says the phonetic pronunciation of the letter, then the name of the object and finally a noise associated with that object. I especially like that rather than saying the name of the letter it pronounces it.
So this walker does cram in an awful lot of activities, but wait, I havenít finished yet. Right at the bottom of the front of the actual frame there are three rollers that rattle as they are turned. The final feature of the walker is that it folds down flat when not in use, meaning that it takes up very little space when leant against a wall.
The whole construction of the walker is excellent, it is extremely durable, well thought out and actually genuinely educational. Although the batteries are not supplied, we are still on the original set of AA batteries and they are still going strong with many hundreds of hours play. It is also easy to wipe clean, I simply use anti-bacterial spray and a cloth and it still looks good as new. Thereís a reason why youíll see this walker in so many mother and toddler groups and even hospital waiting rooms, and that this is simply a quality toy. Freddy was also given a similar walker from Tesco as a Christmas present and the difference in quality was very noticeable. With the Tesco version really being the poor cousin, with far less activities and simply looking cheap and nasty, which is surprisingly considering it only cost a few pound less. As an adult, I think this is a classic toy that is a must for any toddler, yes it is noisy, but the smile on the childís face as they find something new that it does is worth the earache. So I, personally am going to give the Vtech First Steps Baby Walker a resounding five stars out of five. But itís not just my opinion that countsÖ
Hello Baby - A Childís View
Before I go into any detail about how Freddy plays with the walker and how much he loves it, Iím going to tell you a little bit about him, as this is a toy that can be played with in different ways according to what developmental stage your child is at. Freddy received this at Christmas when he was almost eight months old, an age when most babies are able to sit and can probably crawl and maybe even starting to walk. Unfortunately, Freddyís gross motor skills are delayed, meaning that at Christmas he couldnít sit unaided and only got around by rolling. In fact Freddy didnít manage to sit unaided until he was almost eleven months and only started to crawl this week at almost thirteen months.
As Freddy was unable to sit unaided when he first received this, we started by taking the play tray off the front and then putting it in front of him while he was on his front. It didnít take long for him to realise that he could make a lot of noise and within minutes he was bashing out tunes on the keyboard. Ok, Iíll admit that this is a noisy toy, but the delight on Freddyís face as he belted out a tune made that noise worth while, I wouldnít put this on full volume though. The next thing Freddy discovered was the phone, which he found easy to remove from the cradle and even now he loves to shake it, try and get the balls out and use it to have full-blown conversations with Daddy.
As Freddy steadily became more mobile, he would roll over to the walker, play with the rollers and then shout for the play tray to be removed for him to play with. Because Freddy is rather good at switching toys on, it didnít take him long to learn how to switch this on, and turn it to full volume, meaning that I soon realised that second guessing him and switching it on myself saved my ear drums from exploding. Although he couldnít manage to put the phone back in the reciever (it doesnít seem to hold very well), it didnít take my little genius long to realise that there was a button in the cradle that set that noise off. Cue lots of showing off fine motor skills as he pressed that button, again and again and again. Talking of fine motor, Freddy also loves the cogs, one of which has a handle to turn, while another has an indent.
Over the last four months the walker has had extensive play, and yet itís something that Freddy still loves now and something that is helping him learn new skills. Although he canít quite pull himself up to standing, Freddy loves to stand holding onto the handle and I must say that it is very secure and takes his weight really well. Freddy also tries climbing up the front of the walker and can often be seen on his knees pressing the buttons.
Whatís really surprised me over the last couple of days is how much Freddy is learning from this. While he was playing with it today, I decide to see just how much he was taking in while pressing the buttons and asked him where the ball was. Amazingly, he immediately pressed the key with the ball on before looking up at me with a huge grin on his face. Thinking it was a fluke, I then asked where the dog was, but it wasnít a fluke, because he pressed the key with the dog on. The same went with the car, apple and elephant, so he definitely knows which object is on which key. After this I watched him quite closely as he played, and noticed that when the walker was in music mode, Freddy would set a tune going and then try to press the keys as they flashed. Another thing Freddy loves is to sing and dance along while the tunes are playing, which he thinks is even more fun when Mummy joins in.
As welling as playing with this while itís switched on, Freddy will also spend a very limited amount of time playing without the lights and sounds. Heíll roll the rollers and turn the cogs for a couple of minutes, before making his way to the switch to turn it on. As for the phone, that gets played with so often that it doesnít live on the walker any more. I would, perhaps have preferred that the phone was still attached to the walker, but do understand that this may then have caused a choking hazard.
Being unable to walk, Freddy obviously doesnít use this as an actual walker (other than when I
Pictures of VTech First Steps Baby Walker
So nearly pulling himself up
stand him up), but from my experience with my older children and their older versions, I can tell you that this is a toy that they enjoyed until they were about two. When they were taking their first, wobbly steps the walker provided just the right level of support, being easy enough for them to push, but not so easy that it ran away with them causing them to fall flat on their faces. I will admit that once they were more confident walkers, the walker did get played with somewhat less, but it was still played with.All in all, as well as getting a thumbs up from me, it also gets one from Freddy just as itís previous incarnation did with my older children. In fact over the last twenty years, Iíve seen this walker be a favourite with many different toddlers. It was even a much fought over toy among the one to two years old when I worked in a nursery. And so Iím pretty sure that Freddy would also give the Vtech First Steps Walker five stars out of five, as it is a toy that he plays with daily and one that he will actively seek out.
Learn With Me
Although a baby or toddler will learn new skills no matter what toys they are given to play with, this walker really does pack a punch in the educational stakes. What skills it will help your baby/toddler master does of course depend on what developmental stage they are at. At the lower end of the recommended age range (6 months), the play tray will be played with more than anything and it will be the babyís fine motor skills that will be encouraged as they press the buttons, turns the cogs and shake the phone. Saying that, the tray will also encourage some gross motor skills as they sit and play with it, reach for it and eventually start moving towards it.
As your baby moves into toddler hood, the walker obviously will help increase their confidence as they stand and eventually walk (as born out by how Freddy will stand holding onto the handle). The phone will also support emerging imaginations as the toddler holds conversations (Freddy especially likes to phone his Daddy up at work). Number and colour recognition are also encouraged as is memory (Iím convinced that Freddy simply remembers which button makes which noise). Musical creativity is also encouraged, as the keyboard is used as piano and the tunes are sung along to. Freddy loves it when we sing along together, and also loves to sing on his own, and even dances. I would even say that very basic letter sounding out is encouraged, although that is limited to the first five letters of the alphabet.
Bye, Bye Baby
This really is one of the toys that I would recommend for any baby or toddler from about six months of age. It is also a toy where I would say, accept no imitations, spend the few pound extra and buy the original and best electronic walker. In the scale of things itís not even that expensive a toy, the manufacturerís recommended price is £29.99, but it can be bought for far less if you shop around. I paid £22.99 at Amazon just before Christmas, but itís currently selling for just £12.49 (with free delivery), which is an absolute bargain. I really canít recommend this walker enough, itís sturdy, durable, folds flat but more importantly is an engaging toy that grows with your child. And so I have no hesitation in giving the Vtech First Steps Walker five stars out of five because it is probably the one toy that I wouldnít be without.
*Pics to follow tomorrow when my phone is charged.