Top critical review
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Great theory, tougher practice
on December 21, 2007
I purchased this book so I could have more fun with my daughter, about a year and a half at the time of this review, and teach her a thing or two about creativity along the way. When I first got the book and read it, I LOVED it. There were tons of homemade recipes for saving money, ideas seemed relatively simple, yet fun, directions thorough... However, when I started implementing the ideas with my toddler, I slowly changed my mind.
I see a number of problems with this book:
Homemade recipes sound wonderful. You save money, you use ingredients you already have in your pantry, and you feel like such a handy supermom, what's not to love, right? Well, wrong...
First, the recipes often call for things I definitely don't have in my pantry, I was not even sure what some things were. For instance, cream of tartar. I wrote down a list of things I needed for a project and asked 3 employees at the store for it and all of them pointed me to tartar sauce. So, I had to go home empty-handed and do research online to find out what it was and why I needed it and where I could buy it, what I can substitute it for, etc. Most of the sources online seemed to indicate that it is something that used to be big in baking, but hardly ever needed now that we have baking powder. It'd be nice if the author provided some substitutions. I ended up using baking powder and it seemed to work alright. I later accidentally found cream of tartar in the spices section of my grocery store - and I looked in baking to no avail.
Another things is that a lot of recipes (80%, I'd say) call for tempera paint... If I'm going to buy paint, why buy tempera paint and mix it with stuff to make finger paints, might just as well buy finger paints - will probably end up cheaper. Same goes for, for example, a home-made blackboard. You need to buy the tape that has that chalkboard surface or chalkboard spray paint. Well, both are rather pricey, so it is almost as cheap to buy a ready-made chalkboard easel (not to mention much less trouble). Also, some recipes call for things like "an old grater you no longer use" (because you're going to be grating a bar of soap, for example) or "a big appliance box". I don't know if it's just me, but I think my Mom still uses the same grater she had when I was a year and a half and I don't buy big-screen TVs on a monthly basis... So, I don't really have all these lying around the house, nor is it always easy/cheap to find/buy one just when you want to try a project - often it really is easier and maybe even cheaper to just buy whatever it is you were going to make (case in point - beads).
Also, many recipes call for huge amounts of flour, salt, cornstarch, and food coloring. While those aren't that expensive in and of themselves (and food coloring CAN be), they add up! 4 cups of flour here, 4 cups of flour there, with a lot of these recipes not having the same shelf life as the store-bought equivalents. So, once again, the savings are questionable, even if we don't factor in the time we have to spend preparing stuff versus buying it ready-made.
The quality of projects.
My daughter is a pretty determined and focused toddler when she wants to be, but a lot of those projects are too contemplative to really keep her attention for more than 10 seconds. For instance, exploring the sounds and textures of a piece of foil or the much-favored by many feeley goop. My daughter was done exploring the sounds and textures of foil in 5 seconds and she did not want to explore the feeley goop at all after the initial try, so how was I supposed to make her realize that it has some unique qualities? The same goes for quite a number of projects that are meant to just "explore", but I realize that it is highly individual and there might be children out there who love those projects, just be aware that it is not automatic. Perhaps some of these activities would work well in a group, where children can feed off of each other's ideas and where interaction is already exciting enough, but for one child they can be a tad on a boring side and are over too quickly to be called an "activity".
Another thing in the projects I often have issues with is their messiness. The author does do a good job of outlining how to prep the working space, but with some projects, the colors will get splashed all over the place - it's toddlers we're talking about! I can cover a relatively large portion of the floor and the whole table, but I can't cover the walls and the ceiling... Not to mention that toddlers are known to run away in the middle of a project. So, unless you have a whole room you don't mind getting dirty and where you can contain your child (porch, sunroom, child-proof play room?), some of those projects will be just too much of a risky business to attempt in a nicer room. We live in a fully-carpeted apartment, and there is no way I'll be able to clean it up nicely if my child decides to have too much fun with one of the messier projects.
Finally, I find some "cooking" directions a little too sketchy. I have never made this thing before, I don't know what it should look and feel like, I actually ruined a couple of projects because I did something too soon or too late, even though I thought I was following the instructions religiously - there went 4 cups of flour and 2 cups of salt :-). Just so you don't think I'm a complete idiot, I do bake regularly and cook quite a bit too, and while sometimes my pizza dough made from scratch does turn out a little drier than I like, it is always edible, never a complete failure.
Overall, I'd say it's a good book with good ideas. If I were a kindergarten teacher, or had 2 or more kids of different ages, I'd probably rate this book better. But as a parent of only 1 child, I'd probably ever use only 1/3 of all the ideas of the book, with 2/3 being eliminated for one or several of the reasons mentioned above, which I find rather disappointing, since I am not paying only for the ideas I'm using...
Our favorite project so far? The bread. It did not taste spectacular (although was edible), but my daughter loved messing with the flour, watching it turn to dough, playing with the dough, etc.