What We Like
Fun, simple concept
Lots of mix-and-match pieces
Can be played alone
Encourages sorting, matching, and make-believe
What We Don't Like
Short playtime per session
Tray has no lid
When I was little, I spent hours playing with paper dolls. I loved to switch out the little outfits, but the intricate cutting and tab-bending required of my then very small hands was frustrating. The Melissa & Doug Nina Ballerina Magnetic Dress-Up Set eliminates that hurdle and lets tiny fingers focus on the fun part. I enlisted my friend’s adorable 3-year-old daughter to give this toy a whirl. Would it be easy enough for toddler play? And would it keep her entertained? Let’s find out.
As you would expect of Melissa & Doug toys, the doll and stand in this set are made of solid wood. The doll, Nina, is magnetic, as are the 27 sturdy board pieces in the shape of outfits and accessories. These pieces can be put together into six prescribed ensembles or mixed and matched to the player’s liking.
The set comes in a pink sorting tray where we keep the pieces—there are slots for Nina as well as her hat, top, bottom, and shoe wardrobe options. I do wish that the storage tray had a lid, as the pieces are likely to spill and get lost.
I do wish that the storage tray had a lid, as the pieces are likely to spill and get lost.
The Nina Ballerina character has beige skin, chocolate brown hair pulled up into a high bun, twinkling, dark blue eyes, rosy cheeks, a bright, wide smile, and fingernails painted pink. Her arms are stretched up over her head in a rounded shape (first position) and her feet are pointed out, somewhere between first and second position (her heels aren’t quite touching).
Nina has an inviting, happy face but is of indeterminate age—maybe a little girl but maybe an adult, although her athletic body has proportions closer to an elementary student. After looking at her somewhat intently, I noticed that her arms are about the same length as her legs. In fact, I think if those arms were hanging down, they might touch her ankles. I find this a bit strange, but our 3-year-old tester, Nova, didn’t notice.
Our tester took to this ballerina right away, calling Nina her ‘ballet friend.’
She tells me Nina is also three, “just like me,” and says she’s the best dancer in the world. Simply put, our tester took to this ballerina right away, calling Nina her “ballet friend,” as in “My ballet friend wants to wear the polka dot skirt,” “My ballet friend looks pretty in her purple tutu,” and “Do you like my ballet friend with the red bow or the crown?”
Entertainment Value: Brava!
This toy is super fun to play with, whether as a solitary activity or in pairs. I think more than two kids would be too much, as there is only one figure. While the concept of playing with this set is simple, it actually involves more layers of thinking than you’d expect. It combines dress-up with dance as well as sorting, matching, and the implicit challenge of creating the best outfit, which gives the toy more of a game-like feel.
The only downside I see is that after about 10 to 15 minutes, its allure seems to wane. Plus the flat, thick quality of the Nina figure doesn’t lend itself to playing with her as a doll. (She is 8.5 inches tall, half an inch thick, and 4.25 inches at her widest spot.) Once Nova and the other little kids who tested this toy with me had used each wardrobe piece a few times in a session of play, they were pretty much ready to move on to a new activity. That said, they would enthusiastically engage with the toy each time we got together to play, so I think it’s definitely a good option to have in rotation.
The only downside I see is that after about 10 to 15 minutes, its allure seems to wane.
There are options for extending playtime, too. The backside of the tray features a large sticker with drawings of the six dance costumes, as well as a list of play extension activities: tell a story about the ballerina once she’s been dressed, trace the figure and outfit pieces on paper and then color them, or remove a piece from the set and try to recall which piece is missing. These ideas were quite interactive and kept the kids happily engaged for another 15 or so minutes at a time.
Age Range: 3 … 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
This toy is designed for children aged 3 and up and is specifically targeted to preschool to first-graders. It’s very intuitive to use, so little ones will have no trouble figuring out what to do without any instruction. Even better, the pieces are big enough for tiny hands to manipulate easily so they can do it “all by themselves.”
This toy is very intuitive to use, so little ones will have no trouble figuring out what to do without any instruction.
Older kids will enjoy taking on the extension activities listed above or coming up with their own unique ways to play. For instance, my 7-year-old son decided to see how many of the magnetic pieces he could get to stick onto Nina at one time.
Ease of Cleaning: A snap
This set cleans easily and is resistant to liquids. All that is needed to keep this toy clean is an occasional wipe down with a lightly dampened rag. If anything should go wrong with your toy—or your child just doesn’t connect with it—Melissa & Doug offers a “100% Happiness Guarantee.” Just call the company, and it will resolve your issue or provide a refund.
Price: On pointe
Melissa & Doug’s Deluxe Nina Ballerina Magnetic Dress-Up Set retails around $13. This is a good price—comparable to similar products on the market—and particularly good considering the set can be returned at any time. The toy is made of solid materials that are built to last through hours of play, and the tray doubles as storage for all those magnetic pieces.
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Nina Ballerina Magnetic Dress-Up vs. Mudpuppy Cat Fashion Magnetic Dress-Up Sets
Both these magnetic dress-up toys deliver lots of fun. The Mudpuppy version retails around $17 ($4 more than the Melissa & Doug set) but also includes 40 magnets and four scenes to inspire play.
Instead of a dancer, the Mudpuppy set centers on a funky chic cat, and it comes in a tin that closes to keep all the pieces contained. I’d say both options would be big hits with kids. Choose the Melissa & Doug set for the budding ballerina and the Mudpuppy kit for those with a passion for pets.
- Product Name Nina Ballerina Magnetic Dress-Up
- Product Brand Melissa & Doug
- MPN 3554
- Price $12.99
- Weight 1.7 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 11.5 x 8.25 x 1 in.
- Manufacturer Recommended Age Range 3-6 years
- What’s Included 27 magnetic pieces, tray
- Warranty 100% Happiness Guarantee