Updated: Oct 7, 2019
When I was asked to trial the Deluxe Baby Sensory Bag from Busy Little Bears I jumped at the chance! My Little girl Matilda and I have been attending Baby Sensory Classes and I know how much she enjoys playing with the various items supplied during the class and had thought about sourcing these items myself so to have them offered to me in a bag all set and ready to go was lovely!
The website says "The deluxe sensory activity bag for babies is filled with an assortment of interesting and fun items to keep your baby happy and engaged. Along with everything in the standard sensory bag this deluxe version includes additional items that will support early development. Each has been specially chosen to help develop fine motor skills, social skills, imagination and cognitive development. This bag also contains activity cards with clever ideas about to make best use of each item." (Weblink at the end of the blog).
The bag itself is a lovely cotton bag in a bright orange colour with a drawstring pull, emblazoned with the company name on the front. On looking at the items, the one thing that concerned me was that there were no CE markings or any paperwork in the bag declaring these items to be safe for use by children. Considering the deluxe sensory bag is aimed at babies who put everything in their mouths, I would expect a declaration or marking on each toy. There were only 3 items with such a marking, the bubbles, sensory ball and teether rattle. With this in mind, I contacted Busy Little Bears to check that the toys were CE marked and BPA free where possible. I got a very prompt response from Tania at Busy Little Bears who confirmed that all the toys met European Standard EN 71. This standard specifies safety requirements for toys and compliance with it, is legally required for all toys sold in the European Union. She also mentioned that the toys were BPA free where possible. Being BPA free isn't something that is necessary in the UK however, there has been a lot of debate over whether this chemical is safe to use in the manufacture of plastics and many companies are heading in the BPA free direction. Baby bottles and items directed at babies tend to be BPA free so it's always something I look for (my day job is in Quality Assurance, explains it all ha ha!).
CE Marking, however, is a legal requirement for all toys entering the country. You can read more about the safety requirements on the government website, unfortunately, unless you're willing to pay through the nose, there isn't much information about EN 71 (or BS EN 71, which is the British version of the international standard!). This standard lays out the actions which should be carried out to ensure the safety of the toys and when CE Marking can be applied, in line with European Directive 2009/48/EC (safety of toys). This means, that as all the toys conform to safety standard EN 71, they are CE Marked. As the CE Marking wasn't obvious on the toys themselves, I would expect some paperwork with them to state that they have all been safety tested and are suitable for children. I have added links for the government pages on CE Marking, a couple of links to information on EN 71 and the link to the European Directive if you would like a little light reading before bed (or in fact, to put you to sleep!).
Now, on to the exciting bit.... the toys!
The bag contains a mirror, 2 sensory scarves, a spiky light up ball, a wooden rattle, sensory ball, teether, 3 sticky bricks, 3 link rings, a pot of bubbles, 5 visualisation cards and a set of activity cards.
Set of activity cards
This is the first item you should look at in the bag as each card details ways to make best use of the contents. There is a laminated card for each item, all the cards are linked by a ring to keep them together. These cards are really helpful for a first time mum, or just any mum who isn't really sure what to do with the items. There are tips like "tickle fingers and toes with the scarf" and "play hide and seek with the sticky bricks using the scarf or bag". These are just two examples but there are at least a couple of suggestions for how to use each item in play and from there, you can make up your own games! Some of the suggestions are repetitive as you can do the same activities using different items, but this still gives your little one lots of entertainment!
The mirror is plain, circular with the company label on the back. My little one loves looking at herself in the mirror and as this one is light and plain, she can hold it herself. We like playing Peek a boo with the mirror. I’ll sit Matilda in front of me and hold the mirror so she can see us both, then flip it over so she can’t see us. We can spend quite a while doing this and get a lot of giggles!
We got a red and a green scarf but the colours may vary. This is another thing we like to use for playing peek a boo. We also like shaking the scarves. My little girl likes the scarves but mainly wants to eat them!
I did worry, that as we played with the scarves they were likely to fray, and I was going to be constantly worrying that my baby would get her little fingers tangled up in the loose bits. Having been along to sensory classes where this had been the case , it was a big concern and I made sure to keep a close eye on our play with scarves for this reason. However, the scarves have been used quite a lot and are still in one piece with no frayed edges or loose strings! I will still keep a close eye on the scarves during our playtime for normal wear and tear but I'm happy that they will last a while before I have to discard them.
Spiky Light-up Ball
There is one spiky light up ball in the bag, to make it light up, you tap it off a hard surface. This item, I’m a bit more disappointed with. My little girl loves lights and she loves these balls as they are light enough for her to grip and she can chew on it.
I am disappointed in this item though as the battery burst and leaked battery acid on the inside of the ball. I have been in touch with Busy Little Bears who were very apologetic that this had happened and assured me that the balls have been safety tested and this was a one off issue. The lovely Tania at Little Busy Bears then sent us out a new ball.
I think the battery may have burst due to the heat we've been having lately, it's been so warm! The bag itself has never been in direct sunlight and neither has the ball but I can't think of any other reason the battery would burst unless it was faulty. As we have a new ball and have had no problems using this one, I think the heat must have been too much for the original ball. There was a label attached to the second ball which did have the CE mark on it, this wasn't present on the original ball.
The rattle is made of wood and ours is painted as a ladybird, the design may vary for this item. Matilda loves shaking it and eating it with equal amounts of enthusiasm. It's a lovely little rattle, good for small hands to hold and it's smooth so babies won't get wood splinters in their little hands. This is a definite favourite in our house, the colours are lovely and bright and it's small and light enough that Matilda can hold it herself. We do quite often take this along shopping or out in the car with us to distract Matilda while we're out and about.
The sensory ball is made of soft plastic with lots of bumps all over. Matilda enjoys rolling the ball over the table of her highchair and trying to pick it up. She also likes a good chew! It's a good sized ball for little hands and it's good for rolling and encouraging baby to roll it back to you. This is the ball with the CE marking stamped on the side of it.
The teether is another item which may vary in colour and shape, our teether is a pink butterfly which can be seen in the pictures above. This is another firm favourite in our house. The wings are made of hard rubber for chewing and the body is made of plastic. The teether is also a rattle. Matilda loves this little teether and we often attach it to our sling when we're out so she can shake it and chew it while I'm on the school run. It's a good size for gripping and as there are holes in the wings, it's a good toy for strapping on to dummy clips and accessory straps for carrying around and keeping them safe at the same time. The rattle itself doesn't bear a CE mark, the packaging it came in did have the CE mark on it.
You get three sticky bricks in the bag, these items will also vary in colour and shape. These are good for encouraging babies to feel the bumps, stick them together and as with all other baby toys.... they're good for a chew!! Matilda likes a little play with these but she loses interest quickly, maybe as she gets older, she'll have a bit more interest in them..... Her four year old brother however, took them to add to his collection of sticky bricks, convinced that she was stealing his toys! This is one of the items where there is no visible CE mark and no way to tell if the item has been safety tested.
The link rings are a favourite of ours, there are three supplied in the bag. They're good for encouraging babies to link them, bash them and chew. They're also very good for adding other toys too and dangling toys from a play mat if you have one. This is what we usually do with them, then we can dangle lots of toys for Matilda to catch and play with while she's sitting on her mat. These can be seen in the pictures above. These don't have a CE mark on them, they do have some information stamped on each ring and with a little googling, you can find the product (Bright Starts Lots of Links) and from this can see that they are CE marked and BPA free.
Pot of bubbles
The bubbles are my least favourite item in the sensory bag, they look cheap and you have to fish the bubble wand out of the mixture which I don't like. I would rather the wand was stuck in the lid so you don't get covered in bubble mixture every time you want to play with them. My 4 year old loves blowing bubbles for his sister and he can open the bottle but then the mixture ends up all over the floor as he's too busy concentrating on getting the wand out to pay attention to how he's holding the bottle! For this reason, I've transferred the mixture into another bottle which does have the wand fixed into the lid. The bubbles do have a CE mark on the side of the pot.
The visualisation cards are black and white pictures, as babies can only see in black and white to start this is a nice touch. The cards are double-sided with pictures of shapes and animals on them. Matilda isn't that fussed by these to be honest, she prefers to eat them! She does like when I wave them in her face, like a fan but isn't too bothered about looking at the pictures.
Now that we've had a play and discovered which toys Matilda likes best, which ones we're not so keen on, the last thing we need to do is talk about the cost. The cost of this bag is £24, for me, this seems a little steep. I like the bag, the contents and the idea of this product, however, I'm not sure I'd be willing to pay quite so much for it given that all these items are readily available to buy and you could make you're own kit at a lower cost. I think there needs to be a bit of consideration given to ensuring there is some safety advice and possibly a declaration of conformity or something showing that the products are safety tested and compliant with the legal requirements.
All in all, I do like the product and the idea of having a "travelling bag of tricks". It is very handy to just grab as you leave the house and it ensures I always have toys to keep Matilda occupied but for me, the cost would put me off purchasing one.
EN 71 Wikipedia: