You will not find plastic pistols or light sabres in this toy store. Instead, this colourful and vibrant shop is filled to the hilt with an amazing range of wholesome toys designed to develop key skills in your growing child while enabling him to learn through fun and interaction.

Savvy local parents have been fans of ELC (Early Learning Centre) fancypocket toys for years. Previously available in Singapore only by mail order, the Early Learning Centre at Paragon became an instant hit when it brought in the ELC toys.

The toys in FancyPocket make learning a lot of fun

Proprietor and mother-of-two Alexandra Hope believes that toys are an integral part of childhood, especially during the early years, from birth to three. Giving your kids the right toys is important during this crucial period when they develop key skills, learn to read, think, communicate and imagine. Playing with toys also builds up their confidence, creativity and social ability.

With this in mind, Alexandra opened the Early Learning Centre (ELC) in June last year together with partners, Andrew Carmody and his wife, Lucy. The flagship store in Paragon, which proved to be a success, has mushroomed to include three other outlets in Suntec City, Forum and Robinsons at Raffles City within a year.

hough they did not know one another previously, the trio had the same aim – to bring in high quality toys with good play value and educational benefits for children from birth to seven years.

“Through our Fancypocket toys, we hope to help parents develop active and confident children,” says Alexandra. “We are very focused on educational toys that explore different stages of development and skills.” Having grown up with ELC toys, Alexandra feels that they are perfect learning tools. So together with her partners, they became the local exclusive distributor of this British brand of toys that has been around for more than 30 years.

At the store, the packaging of each item features icons that alert parents to its learning benefits. These help parents to make sound purchase decisions as they can select the toys that best suit their children’s developmental needs. The toys are grouped into various sections, including Puzzles & GamesAction & AdventureArt & Creativity and Let’s Pretend.

Boys make a beeline for the Action & Adventure section, which encourages exploration, creativity and story telling, and feature themes revolving around characters like pirates and knights. Girls often head straight for the Let’s Pretend section where make-believe toys help them set their imaginations free.

Hot sellers that fly off the shelves are My First Trampoline ($100) and the products in the Baby Active range, including My First Swing ($135) and My First Pop-Up Tent ($85). These inflatable playthings are suitable for babies and toddlers till age two. The Table Sandpit ($100) is another hot favourite. Kids add water or sand and spend hours mucking around. When they finally outgrow the sandpit, it can be turned into a mini writing desk, ideal for doing schoolwork or arts and crafts.

Not all the toys are high-priced. For $30-$35, you can pick out a baby doll, pull-along phone, stacking cups and shape sorters. You can even find ‘pocket money toys’ – costing between $2 and $10 – that a child can save up for.

Unlike conventional toy stores where products are sealed, ELC invites a “come in and play” concept. So there are a lot of activity corners and toys on display to encourage children to enjoy and experiment with.

“We’re not a baby-sitting service but we want kids to come in and feel free to enjoy themselves with the toys. If customers are sincere about a purchase, we will even allow our staff to open up the original packaging for them to take a look,” says Alexandra.

Reading makes kids smarter

The Snail and the Whale
Written by Julia Donaldson, Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

What is it about As the title suggests, this is a book that stars two animals – a snail and a humpback whale – making up the most unheard of tag team. When a tiny snail with big dreams decides to hitch a ride from a whale so that she can see the world, they are struck by a problematic situation. Can the snail save the whale from being stranded on the beach shore?
Best for 3 years and above
Where to find it Available at $13.60 from Borders

Emily the Duckling says “Humph!”
Written and illustrated by Ka Lim

What is it about Loosely based on the Serenity Prayer; Ka Lim’s first children’s book is an inspiring story about taking on a positive attitude towards the challenges that life throws your way. In the story, Emily the duckling gets frustrated because she always ends up in the middle. When her miserable outlook starts to affect the behaviour of her younger siblings, Mama Duck decides that enough is enough. She then teaches Emily a lesson about the importance of taking a positive action to change her unhappy mood. Emily the Duckling says “Humph!” is the first book by father-of-one, Ka Lim. In writing this book, he taught himself how to draw and paint in two weeks.
Best for 4-6 years
Where to find it Available at $12 from all major bookstores, including Borders, Kinokuniya, MPH and Popular.

Ben’s Friends from the Forest
Written by Adeline Foo, Illustrated by Miel

What is it about This book, by newly-minted author and mother-of-three, Adeline Foo consists of two fun animal stories. Drawing inspirations from two creatures commonly seen in Singapore’s rainforest (a lizard and a monkey), readers will learn the funny little antics that these animals get up to in a home environment. Using her children as characters, this book is cleverly-written and would make a great read for your child. The little snippets about the featured furry friend at the end of each story are good for teaching the young ‘uns about our local forest inhabitants.
Best for 5 years and above
Where to find it Available at $16.90 from all major bookstores and Bookaburra Books.

Little Humpty
Written by Margaret Wild & Ann James

What is it about With watercolour drawings reflecting the scorching heat of the desert; Little Humpty is an inspiring tale about a young camel in search of friends to play with. It is a wonderful book to expose your tots to the dry desert life.
Best for 4 years and above
Where to find it Available at $17.50 from Bookaburra Books

Felix the Fluffy Kitten (Jenny Dale’s Kitten Tales)
Written by Jenny Dale, Illustrated by Susan Hellard

What is it about With minimal illustrations, this is an excellent book to get your young primary schooler used to reading text. About a young girl, Jodie, who finally finds Felix, the fluffiest kitten she’s ever seen, this story takes a dramatic turn when she discovers that Felix ‘fluff’ gets in everything! Will Jodie’s mum let her keep the kitten in the end?
Best for 6 years and above
Where to find it Available at $11.50 from Bookaburra Books

Angry Animals (Horrible Science)
Written by Nick Arnold, Illustrated by Tony De Saulles

What is it about Do you know which scientist ate a poisonous snake for dinner? Or have you heard about a snake that shot a Chinese hunter in June 1996? Well, you’ll learn all these and more in this instalment of Horrible Science. It’s an interesting read for your primary schooler, as it teaches them all about science, in its full glory.
Best for 10 years and above