When talking with other parents of preschoolers, toys and screen time are always popular topics. How do we help our kids resist the allure of YouTube and other
media? This is where the brand Melissa & Doug comes up.
Melissa & Doug got its start when the husband-and-wife team of Melissa and Doug Bernstein started making fun, educational toys in Doug’s parents’ garage in 1988. Today, the Connecticut-based company has about 1,000 employees worldwide and offers a broad range of plush toys, arts and crafts, wooden puzzles, and other educational toys. The company’s stated mission is “to ignite imagination and wonder so children discover themselves, their passions, and their purpose.”
There are several reasons parents are talking about Melissa & Doug. The company offers a “100% Happiness Guarantee,” which it highlights on every page of its website. It states: “We design every toy to the highest quality standards, and to nurture minds and hearts. If your child is not inspired, give us a call and we’ll make it right.”
The company is also committed to tech-free free play with campaigns like #TakeBackChildhood. Through its products, Melissa & Doug regularly champions play that reveals passions, promotes problem solving and creativity, develops resilience and grit, builds social skills, and sharpens cognitive skills.
Table of Contents
What products does Melissa & Doug offer?
There are a number of ways to shop for Melissa & Doug products. You can look at products available for specific ages. They have categories ranging from birth to 8+ years old. You can also explore its offerings based on categories, such as outdoor play, puzzles, games, learning and education, and more.
The company sells more than 5,000 different toys so we won’t cover them all here, but here are some of its most popular items:
Suspend Family Game ($14.42):Designed for ages 8 and up, this is a fun balancing game that nurtures hand-eye coordination, interpersonal skills, and cognitive skills. 1 to 4 players take turns balancing the odd-shaped game rods on the base.
Wooden Building Blocks Set ($16.99): For kids ages 3 to 8 years old, this is your classic building blocks set. The set comes with 100 durable pieces in nine different shapes and four colors.
Slice-and-Bake Wooden Cookie Play Food Set ($16.99): The Cookie Play Set is ideal for little bakers between the ages of 3 and 5. It comes with 12 pretend cookies, 12 toppings, a baking sheet, a spatula, a knife, and an oven mitt.
Pull-Back Vehicles ($21.24): This one is for the babies and early toddlers. The set includes four vehicles that you can zoom around the house simply by pulling back and letting go. The police car, fire truck, family car, and school bus are made of soft materials so you don’t have to worry about injuries or damage.
On the Go Water Wow! Fairy Tale ($4.99): For kids 3 to 6 years old, this activity pad uses an easy-to-hold water pen to reveal fairy-tale-themed images.
To see all that Melissa & Doug has to offer, visit the company’s store on Amazon.
My son had a blast with the Animal Care Center
Melissa & Doug sent my 5-year-old, Bucky, and me its Animal Care Veterinarian & Groomer Wooden Activity Center (currently on sale for $169.99 on Amazon) along with four play sets. The Animal Care Center is one of its higher-end pretend play toys. At 35.5-inches high by 26.5-inches wide by 33.5-inches long, it has become a focal point in Bucky’s play area. Below, I will go into our firsthand experiences with the role-play center.
Assembling the Animal Care Center took a long time; there’s no getting around that. There are so many parts and pieces and 30 pages of instructions. That said, the two-hour building process was easy, and the instructions were simple to follow. I just turned on some tunes and went to work.
The hardest part of the set-up process was keeping Bucky from playing with the Animal Care Center while I was putting it together. I’d recommend assembling it after the kids go to bed with a beer in hand. Be careful, though. I accidentally put the sign on top backward so that the grooming center sign faces the veterinary area and vice versa. So, on second thought, lay off the beer. Fortunately, Bucky didn’t seem to mind my screw up.
What makes the toy stand out
The long set-up was well worth it.
My wife and I got a kick out of watching Bucky engage with his imagination as he groomed and performed health care to his stuffed animals. It was incredibly cute and heartwarming. Since I didn’t finish assembly until around bedtime, we had to tear him away from the care center to put him to bed. When we woke up the next morning, Bucky was already back at it taking care of his imaginary pets.
After Bucky played with the Care Center for a few days, his interest naturally started to wane. This is when we introduced the other play sets. Below are a few details about each set:
Examine & Treat Pet Vet Play Set ($25.43): Of the animal play sets Melissa & Doug offers, the Examine & Treat is the most popular. The 24-piece set comes with a tote bag, pretend vet medical equipment, and a plush cat and dog. Bucky was fascinated by the recovery cone, and it gave us an opportunity to teach him why dogs needed them.
Feeding & Grooming Pet Care Play Set ($23.15): This set also has 24 pieces, such as grooming supplies, pretend treats and food, food bowls, and another plush cat and dog.
Tote & Tour Pet Travel Play Set ($17.27): The Tote & Tour set has 15 pieces, including a collapsible food and water dish, a leash, a harness, a collar, and name tags for the plush dog and cat included. But, Bucky’s favorite part was the soft pet carrier. He liked to put as many stuffies as possible into it to bring with him in the car.
Wash & Trim Dog Groomer Play Set ($28.59): This set has 20 pieces of pet styling and bathing essentials. This is the only set that only comes with one plush animal, a dog. When you install batteries (not included) into the play blow dryer, it actually blows a little bit. Bucky had fun with that.
The sets appear to have given Bucky an increased interest in our real cats. Rather than terrorizing and chasing them, he’s now much sweeter to the cats. Apparently, he’s shifted from seeing them as his playthings to nurturing them.
My son isn’t alone in his enjoyment of these sets. The Animal Care Center and its associated play sets are among the first toys kids go to when they come over. It’s pretty common to find one of Bucky’s friends walking around the house with one of the plush cats or dogs in some state of veterinary or grooming treatment.
Cons to consider
You really need to have some of the play sets or at the very least a large assortment of stuffed animals to get the most out of the Animal Care Center. I wish it came with some of the pieces you find in the sets, such as the veterinary and grooming equipment.
In the four sets, there’s a total of 83 different pieces. Though there’s plenty of room to store everything in the Animal Care Center, we do end up with toys all over the place. Fortunately, we are used to Legos, and these toys don’t compare to having bricks all over the floor just waiting to destroy the bottom of your feet.
Overall, I strongly recommend giving Melissa & Doug toys a try. The company has a broad enough array of products so there’s sure to be a toy that engages a little one in your life and keeps them from the mind-numbing screens. And, if your child doesn’t like the toy you get, you can take advantage of the 100% happiness guarantee.
Though Bucky takes after me and prefers kitchen play sets, he still had a great time with the Animal Care Center. From my experiences, kids between the ages of 3 and 6 gravitate toward it. I just recommend picking up at least one of the veterinarian or groomer sets to go with it.
If the Animal Care Center doesn’t seem appropriate for your child or it’s just out of your price range, I strongly recommend browsing the Melissa & Doug store on Amazon for gift ideas. I’m certain you’ll find something that appeals to the youngster in your life.