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What a fantastic toy this is. The Vtech sort & soar rocket is a shape sorter, which claims to be suitable for toddlers 9 months and up. Now, I remember having a shape sorter "ball" - you know, the one where you posted the shapes into the ball and when it was full you had to pull REALLY hard on the handles to separate the two halves of the ball and shake the shapes out? Well, kids toys have come a long way since then, and this rocket is no exception. It still has sorter slots, but also does so much more! Unfortunately, as with many modern toys, it does need batteries (4 "AA"). The good news though is that there is an OFF switch.
The rocket itself is made from colourful plastic and seems very robust. It has five slots, each one a different shape (naturally) and surrounded by a coloured ring, which can light up. Someone kindly bought it for my six months old son for Christmas, but his older brother, who has just turned 3, has had the most play out of it so far. It comes with 5 colourful plastic shapes, which baby so far has enjoyed turning over in his hands and banging together - he's a little too young for "sorting" yet! But the bright colours of the rocket also grab his attention, especially when his older brother does something to make it move or play music, so I am sure that this toy will continue to be played with for a long time.
There are 6 different activities to choose from and you select these using a sliding switch on the front of the sturdy base. As soon as you turn the unit on, the rocket rotates back and forth with its lights flashing and plays a jaunty tune. It then announces which activity you have chosen - for example, "learn colours". Fortunately for parents there is a volume control switch on the base.
The activities available are: colours, music, counting, shapes, sounds and free play. These determine what the rocket does when your child pushes one of the shapes through the appropriate slot. Most are fairly self-explanatory, for example, in "colours mode" the rocket announces the colour of the ring that the shape was pushed through. Likewise, each slot has an associated shape, funny sound or piece of music. The musical gems are "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow", "Au Claire de la Lune", "This Old Man", "Pop! Goes The Weasel" and "Sing a Song of Sixpence". Vtech even helpfully supply the lyrics in the instruction manual, which is very helpful for a 9 months old - oops, I guess they expect parents to be involved after all. After every tune or announcement, there is the obligatory rock back and forth and "digital" music to indicate that the rocket is getting ready to "blast-off". This is the piece de resistance. When every shape has been successfully inserted, the rocket shouts, "blast-off" and gives a round of applause; it then shoots upwards on the central pole, which enables the shapes to come tumbling back out. My 3 year old loves this, although he has worked out that you can get the same effect by pressing the button on the top of the rocket as well.
Overall, I think that this is an excellent toy. Children seem to stay interested in it because of the different activities, and because it rewards them for their efforts by doing something fun. From my own experience, it seems to appeal to a broader age range than some of the so-called educational toys. Most importantly, it doesn't get on my nerves (yet?).
As I mentioned, this toy was a gift, but it appears to be widely available in the usual suspects including Early Learning Centre, Argos, Index and Woolworths, priced around £19.
For more information, you could visit www.vtechuk.com.