I must have seen Hama Beads mentioned on loads of parenting and craft blogs in the last year or so, but somehow I still hadn't quite worked out what they were - that may well tell you something about how poor my speed reading skills are!
I had always assumed that they were something for slightly older children than Little Miss C, but then Merry from Craft Merrily told me about Maxi Hama Beads that are designed for children ages three and up and I realised that it was time to take a closer look. LMC has recently spent hours playing with a box of buttons, arranging them into colours and sizes and it made me think that she might be ready for some activities that made the most of the fine motor skills and attention to detail that she's obviously developed.
The beauty of Maxi Hama Beads is that they really are a perfect size for little hands. LMC is just 28 months and yet she had no problems at all handling the beads. The concept of Hama Beads is that you have a hard plastic pegboard on which to place the beads. This board is clear so that you can place a paper pattern underneath it to follow. The pegboards are either shaped or just a simple rectangle. Once you've finished your design you place a piece of special ironing paper over it and then run a hot iron over it to fuse the beads together. This means that once cool you can then lift if off the pegboard and either display it (most of the kits come with stand pieces to use) or use it as a coaster or similar.
We were sent two Maxi Hama Bead kits to review: the Butterfly Starter Kit and the My First Hama Beads Giant Gift Box and I decided to start LMC off with the butterfly kit. As soon as I opened it she was straight in there putting beads on the pegboard. It took a bit to convince her to follow the pattern that came with the kit, but once I showed her what to do she was off. The only small problem I had with this kit was that there wasn't much colour difference between the light and dark purple beads when you look at them end on, so if you're working without good light it can be a bit difficult to tell them apart. Also we didn't seem to have enough of the light purple ones to complete the pattern as it was drawn, but that may well be due to a certain someone having a bit of a tantrum and throwing them across the living room at some point! I found that a couple of small pieces of blu-tac helped to keep the pattern attached to the pegboard as otherwise it did end up not being lined up all the time.
Once the design was complete Little Miss C was so proud of herself and what she had created. I waited until she was asleep before ironing it to fuse it all together. This stage took a bit longer than I expected and you do need to have the iron on a hot setting (three spots) to successfully fuse the maxi beads with them being quite chunky. I understand that for the smaller midi and mini beads a lower temperature is required.
As soon as the butterfly had been finished and she'd congratulated herself, LMC was keen to open the bigger box and start on some new patterns. All the ramekins that we'd collected over the years were put to good use to hold the different bead colours and she quickly started with a love heart design. She lined up the pattern and pegboard herself, but decided that she wanted to change the design and instead use green beads where they had used blue and she quickly informed anyone that would listen about this. Dragging her away from the beads for meals and bedtime has since become quite difficult - she's like a girl possessed and I can now see what Merry means when she's said these can be addictive.
It's great to see her being so creative and making such good use of her fine motor skills too. It's also nice for her to have a craft project that she can get on with with minimal supervision whilst I'm looking after Master C. I can see that once he is on the move I'll have to work out how we remove the risk of potential choking hazards, but until that stage it's just great to see her so passionate about something like this.
Looking online I was amazed to see just how many Maxi Hama Bead Kits are available. I can definitely see that we may end up with quite a collection and I'm also thinking about buying some to keep at my Mum's house for when we go and stay up there too. I think they'd be really good as something that she can sit and do at the kitchen table with her Granny. I also wouldn't mind having a go myself with some of the mini beads - maybe I should add them to my Christmas list!