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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Have a half-shell heroes Christmas

We work with lots of companies through the year - and this has led to some lovely relationships with PR's - and one of the people I most enjoy hearing from is Sarah, who works late, emails at weekends, and works with some of the fantastic toy companies we've done reviews for in the last year. 



Knowing what big fans my boys are of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - and of the new Half Shell Heroes range, which is aimed more at their age range than some of the other toys, Sarah got in touch to say we were being sent something special - and soon a parcel arrived for each boy. Inside was a special tree decoration and a card sent straight from the Half Shell Heroes themselves (shhh don't spoil it) and these brilliant toys tucked inside a tree decoration. 


The boys have yet to discover that they could get the turtles out of the baubles - but I've had a good play and they are going to be VERY excited when they realise they can take them out and have adventures with them. 

Slightly cuter and smaller than the other turtles toys we've got (and we've got a lot - not just the ones we've reviewed on here!) the Half-Shell Heroes range are suited to younger fans and match with the newer cartoon series that runs on an almost constant loop in between Minecraft videos found on YouTube! 

The baubles also fit perfectly into the theme of our Christmas tree...by 'theme' I just mean a kind of "more is more" approach, as you can see - with lots of things that the kids LOVE to spot tucked among more traditional decorations! 







Blogging brings me lots of things - but it's the relationships I've built with people that make it most worthwhile. On my tree you will also see some amazing Hama bead decorations - made by the fabulous Tammy from Me and the Tiny Three and sent as gifts for us - and they are a HUGE hit! 

Monday, 10 November 2014

Ringo Flamingo board game review

With Christmas rapidly approaching I'm trawling shops and not fast forwarding adverts on kids TV in the hope that they - and I - spot something that's fun, sturdy, affordable and unlikely to annoy the ever living heck out of me that I can add to the lists we write for Santa this year. 

It's hard to get the balance right between things they want, things we can afford and things that aren't TOTALLY RUDDY HIDEOUS (board games pulling snot out of someone's nose anyone? Scooping dog poo?! NO!) 

But board games that entertain everyone from three years old to thirty *cough something cough* aren't always easy to find. 



Last week we were sent a copy of Ringo Flamingo and asked to give it a try and see what we thought. Brilliant is what we thought. 

We've played every day, we've bullied visitors into playing, we've arranged playdates with little friends as an excuse to play some more - this game is addictive. 



It's also something that I don't have to pretend to be bad at so I don't beat them every time - they have genuinely got as much chance as I have of doing well at this one. 

You have to use your little boat to launch your rings at the board and try to get them over a flamingo to rescue them - but avoid the crocodiles! 



We've also used the boats to see who can launch their rings the furthest (I totally would have won but Midget Gem cheated I tell you!) and we've played it like a traditional ring toss, standing a couple of feet away and throwing the rings. 

In every variation this game has been entertaining, competitive, balanced and fair (as long as no three year olds cheat) and we all love it. 

It's overtaken the orchard game as the one we play together most, and Jellybean has even turned down the chance to beat his Daddy at chess for another round of Ringo Flamingo! 

Though the game is aimed at children 5+ Midget Gem had no trouble understanding and joining in, and it really is something anyone of any age can get their head around and have fun playing. 

You can get your own copy (and honestly, you should, I'm not just being positive because it's a review) from big bad Amazon for £15.93

We were sent our copy for free to review on the blog. Opinions honest, no additional bribes, threats or promises exchanged.  

Friday, 7 November 2014

Four fantastic books to be won

I recently got chatting to a children's author - Russ Brown - on Twitter about his range of books and was thrilled when Russ offered to send me the full range, so that I could read them with the kids and see what we thought. 

Each of the books has a moral, but rather than being a bit preachy about it they have a fun twist that delivers a message in a way that makes the children listening ask questions and begin discussions, rather than just being told something.

The first book is a fun variation of the Christmas story - Daisy the Donkey's first fare. It took Jellybean until the end of the story to realise it was about the nativity and - as a child who has fully, and surprisingly, embraced religion he loved the way the story came together. 



The second book is Poppy's planet. It's a fun story about a cute penguin (we love penguins) who is worried about the planet, and that's a message my kids are totally on board with. 



The third book - Monsters in my math book - is about the struggles and anxieties that children deal with day to day, and the struggles that other children might be going through that we have to take into consideration when we interact with them. This is by far the favourite in this house; partly because my boys are both crazy about maths and numbers, but also because - for Jellybean in particular - other people's feelings are baffling, so a story that explains that and ways to deal with it works brilliantly for them. Jellybean reads this one in bed most nights now, often to his brother. 



The final book in the collection is The Field Fued - a story about sharing. This is a great message for my boys, who find sharing a little challenging at times, to say the least! This is a sweet story about two animals learning to share and think about others. 



The books are all very sweet and they all sparked conversations and messages that the children were interested to think about and discuss. 

And - because I'm great to you - I've got a full, signed set of the stories to give away to a lucky reader. 

I'm going to ask you to comment below to enter, telling me which book is your favourite to read with your kids and why. The winner will be selected at random next Friday - the 14th November - from everyone who commented, and the full set of signed books will be winging their way straight to you.

Good luck - and let's talk books! 



Sunday, 26 October 2014

Little gifts

I’ve blogged previously about Jellybean being on the gifted and talented register. He is in a class now – as a year one child – that is made up mostly of year two children. This means that he’s far happier at school now than he was at various points in reception, and he is generally mixing with the older children and building friendships with them that are closer than friendships he made in his first year of school.
He is processing information at a huge rate and every day has more questions and facts and ideas, and is creating stories, scenarios and situations in which he can explore this knowledge. He spends a lot of his time at home making maths puzzles and doing sums, some quite complex, and his fascination with numbers and patterns in numbers is a joy to watch; he gets such satisfaction from this play, and can focus for hours on his activities. He’s also very interested in computers at the moment.
Midget Gem is a bright button, too, and though he doesn’t seem to have his brother’s lack of empathy or understanding of other people’s feelings, he does have the rapid grasp of new information and endless drive to ask more questions, learn more things, and understand the world around him.
Last night we had a parents’ evening at Midget Gem’s preschool and, though we know he’s bright, he’s less showy about it than his brother so I was very interested to see how he was doing there. We know he’s happy, and excited to go, and loves his keyworker (is in love WITH his keyworker!) and that matters more than anything – but to know he’s also doing well would be a bonus!
It turns out that he’s doing brilliantly. There are various measures they check against that he is surpassing, and so his lovely keyworker said she is doing the next level with him – which is where they look for children to be at the end of their time in preschool, ready to begin reception class; again, in many areas, he is surpassing these measures.
He is fascinated – as his brother – with numbers, patterns and mathematical games, and knows his alphabet and phonic sounds for the letters, and is beginning to put these together and to write them himself. He can do basic sums and count to 100. He isn’t interested in drawing recognisable pictures (something Jellybean has just recently begun to do – and he has gone at it like an addict, creating comics and complex story boards!) and in preschool Midget Gem often doesn’t want to draw, and his keyworker bribes him with maths games to sit and do some pictures with his friends!
She used the word ‘gifted’ over and over again, and said that we should speak to the school before he starts to support his learning in the ways that we speak to them about Jellybean’s.
Both boys are very ahead of their peers academically.
For Jellybean this has led to some difficulties building relationships, as he struggles to relate to children his own age in many situations, and is quite sensitive. Midget Gem doesn’t have that issue, and seems to be very popular and have a large circle of friends in his preschool class, naming one or two over and over as his best friends, but this is something I’ll keep an eye on with him as I remember Jellybean’s preschool teacher (a different preschool) saying the same about him and he never quite got it.
I don’t think Midget Gem has the same difficulties as his brother, but he does have quite a temper and gets very frustrated if he doesn’t get his own way. He likes to lead the play and decide what will happen, and this is something we need to work on when he’s with other children.
All in all I’m very pleased with the way he’s being cared for, and educated, in the preschool we chose. His keyworker understands him very well and commits a lot of time and attention to making sure that he’s happy and enjoying himself, and he is such a happy boy – he loves going to school, he has fantastic fun when he’s there, runs in through the door without a backward glance, and is happy to be picked up and talk about his day at home time.
Having two children on the gifted and talented register isn’t always going to be simple – keeping up with their endless questions, explaining things in ways they understand that expand their knowledge but aren’t too complex, but also don’t patronise because of their young age, is challenging. They are so very bright, and won’t be fobbed off with simple explanations for most things, but want the details and a full understanding of how things work, why, how they were developed and who by. I don’t always have enough answers and this frustrates them as they think I ought to know everything – but ‘it just is’ or ‘because’ or ‘that’s it’ aren’t good enough answers – so I spend a lot of time looking things up to share knowledge with them.
This week we’ve put a huge world map up on their bedroom wall and both are now asking lots of questions about how the world is connected, which countries are where, what people living in those counties are like and what languages they speak – and their thirst for information is endless.

They are, however, still tiny children – and we had a great afternoon at the weekend talking about how far Santa has to fly from the north pole to take presents to the penguins in the south pole!


(they look pink because I had lipstick on, and kissed them all over their faces) 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Octonauts Gup Speeders launcher

This summer one of our family trips was to the Sea Life Centre in Weymouth. There the kids were really excited to meet characters from Octonauts – a show they had always quite enjoyed, but since meeting them they’ve been bigger fans.
So when we were sent an Octonauts Gup Speeders launcher to review they were really excited. When the parcel arrived it said ‘Fisher Price’ on the box and Jellybean immediately got excited, because he knows that means toys, and he helped me to tear the box open to get at the goodies inside.

The toy needed putting together – but it was so simple that even I didn’t need the instructions, and clicked it together in moments – which was a relief because I think the boys might have actually exploded if I’d taken any longer than that.
Luckily there were two little vehicles included – so they got one each – and immediately got to playing.
According to the instructions the arms of the set should be up, then you put the vehicles inside, click the button on the top as fast as you can, and the arms should pop down and launch the characters to the rescue!
In reality it didn’t always work like that – I’m not sure if it’s just that the kids weren’t doing it right or if it just doesn’t work quite as it’s meant to – but we found that leaving the arms down rather than expecting them to drop as the characters were launched worked better. Sometimes they dropped, sometimes they didn’t and the vehicles just crashed with a horrid grinding sound – but if we just left the arms down they always seem to launch.
So down they stay!
The kids have also experimented with launching all manner of other vehicles from the set – micro drifters being the most popular – and the vehicles that came with the set have been involved in all kinds of other games, and played with in the bath to act out Octonauts adventures with the sea animals that are always played with in there.

This toy retails at £24.99 and you can buy yours from Asda by following this link if you have Octonauts fans. It’s a robust and fun toy – it doesn’t work exactly as described in the accompanying leaflet and sometimes it doesn’t launch when you’re expecting it to, or launches before you’re ready, and the kids sometimes found that frustrating – but sometimes it just added to their fun. I think Midget Gem is just a little too young for the set, and Jellybean had more success with the launching mechanism, but overall I think this is a set they will enjoy for a long time, and they are already asking for the rest of the collection of vehicles that come with the range, which I’m sure we will be adding to their Christmas stockings when the time comes (SORRY FOR MENTIONING THE C WORD IN OCTOBER!)
Overall I think it's a fun toy - the kids rate it more than I do, and after a couple of weeks of play are totally over the fact they have to leave the launch ramps down to play - it's factoring in many of their games and that's proof that it's a good one! 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Lost in my head

If you followed this blog from the beginning - or even from just a few months ago - you'll notice that the number of posts, and the things I post about, has changed pretty significantly in recent weeks. 

I made a decision to blog less over summer, and spend it lazing around with my kids, and take some time out from blogs and websites and writing. 

I slowed down my freelance work at the same time, sticking to just a few regular gigs, and overall just took life at a lesser pace. 

Then everything changed. Life hit a million miles an hour and lots of things changed at once and it all got a bit...enormous. 

There's a lot of things that I can't, or don't want to, talk about on here at the moment, and for the first time ever I don't feel like this blog is the place to share things that are happening in my life.

The person in this blog feels like a different woman to the one I see when I look in the mirror, and I don't feel like I recognise who I am at the moment, and it's all a bit hard and exhausting. 

The kids are very up and down at the moment, too, and rather than writing about them and what we're doing I just want to spend my time getting through each day and keeping them as happy as I can. We're all tired, and it's hard work when everyone is tired. 

I don't know what that means for this website, for the people who want to read funny stories or moments from our day, for any of it really. I just know I feel like I'm a bit lost in my head, and that doesn't translate well to funny stories. 

Maybe it's the time of year, maybe it's just all the changes getting on top of me, maybe it's none of that and things just change. Who knows. 

Ravensburger 'how to train your dragon' jigsaw review

Sometimes we love noisy toys, and messy play, and mud, and rowdiness. 

And sometimes we don't. 

Sometimes we love things that we can sit quietly at the table (or on the floor) and do together, thinking it through and puzzling at it...like a puzzle...for example! 

We were sent a set of three 'how to train your dragon' jigsaws; 


The kids love jigsaws and Jellybean was excited to see that these said five plus on the box, because he's five, and each of the puzzles has 49 pieces - making them more complex than any of the puzzles we've owned before. 

Jellybean is a very smart kid (they both are) and generally finds most things easy - and when he doesn't find things easy he's quite likely to get a bit stroppy or want to stop, because he finds it frustrating. I wondered if that would happen with these puzzles - but popped on our 'how to train your dragon' DVD and got the puzzles out for some quality rainy afternoon entertainment. 

There was a couple of moments that Jellybean got frustrated, and Midget Gem was a bit little to do these alone, but with us all sitting together it turned out absolutely perfectly. 




Midget Gem liked sorting the puzzle pieces into the three piles - plain, stripy or spotty backed pieces for the three puzzles - then sorting the edges from the middle pieces, and while Jellybean put the puzzles together Midget Gem helped him to identify which pieces might be next by spotting colours and patterns that fit in the picture. 

I thought I might need to be quite hands on, but having caught them in a rare co-operative moment they sat nicely for quite a long time working together on the puzzles, and it was really nice to see. 

The puzzles are, of course, great quality and the patterns on the back mean you can easily sort which pieces are for which puzzle - and though my OCD gets a little twitchy with the kids mixing them all up, I know it won't take long to sort next time we play. 

The set is a bargain at just £5.99 on Amazon at the moment and for fans of the films would make a great gift.