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 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. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Dobble Kids

Dobble Kids is the KING of card games to play with children a range of ages. 

No complicated rules, no messing around, no claims of things not being fair, of it being too hard, of it being too easy - just a fun, fast - paced game that we have ALL been enjoying. 

It's been such a hit that Jellybean has even asked to play Dobble instead of beating his Dad at chess some evenings! I never thought I'd see that happen...

If you don't know about Dobble, here's the low down. 

A set of 30 cards, each with a number of animal pictures in different sizes on the face, the aim is to be the first to spot the matching animals on each pair of cards. No matter which cards you pull out there IS a match - but sometimes it might take you a while to spot! 

The game brought out the competitive nature of the entire family and seeing the kids really enjoying it and getting excited is fun - but it's not one to play just before the bedtime routine! 

There's also a grown up version (it's on my Christmas list) and it's the perfect game to play at just about any time, or in just about any location; we'll be taking it on car journeys and whenever we visit family, as well as using it just to make the kids sit down for a while! 

Tom and Jerry tricky trap house

A timeless favourite cartoon, Tom and Jerry amuses my kids as much as it amused my brother and I when we were kids - and our parents before us. 

And when we were sent the Tom and Jerry tricky trap house the kids had an absolute blast putting it through its paces. 

The house comes with small Tom and Jerry figurines and a number of 'tricky' accessories that they can use to trick, trap or terrorise each other - and the kids had loads of fun finding all these; highlights were the hiding place in the roof and the fridge that throws food and drinks around when it springs open! 

As they played the two sides of the house kept coming apart, which bothered them, but they were being pretty rough and the way it clicks back together shows that the makers have put thought into this problem area and made it a feature, which clicks together easily, rather than a place that could actually break. 

The legs on the piano have fallen victim to over-enthusiastic play (there is one that is a 'trick' leg that comes off and twists under - the boys thought they ALL were!) but aside from that everything else is surviving well - and when I say my kids have been playing rough, I mean it! 

The house has also starred play with teenage mutant ninja turtles, Spiderman, Fireman Sam and a whole host of moshi monsters, and been part of the imaginative, creative play they've really started to get into more and more recently. 

At £27.99 from Flair this toy is one that would be a fab present for any kids with a taste for the classics, and a bit of rough and tumble, and will give them hours of play in a whole range of ways. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Fireman Sam ocean rescue set

This week the boys were very excited to see a parcel had arrived when we all arrived home; they had been in the after school club and pre-school and I had just arrived back from work and we were all tired, it was getting dark, and there was a strong chance of some grumps happening - but the day was saved by their big surprise! 

The Fireman Sam Ocean Rescue playset;

This is a toy that the kids ADORE and which has - for parents - just one flaw. The flashing lights, spinning firemans pole, jet ski that fires at speed across the floor dramatically, and tiny Fireman Sam figure that can have all manner of adventures, are all brilliant fun - and the boys gathered their collection of fire engines and other Fireman Sam toys to create a whole fire and rescue scene that entertained them three evenings in a row after school. 

The toy is a sturdy, chunky thing that doesn't look like it's going to break easily, even when a power ranger is crammed into the clasp on the fireman's pole when he's clearly too big for it. 

The scope for imagination and play is huge, and will make this a toy that is a part of most activities they create and works alongside a lot of other playsets.

The one thing I'd change is, of course, the bit the kids love most; the siren. Two triple A batteries in the top of the tower make the blue light flash and the sirens ring out to alert Fireman Sam to the latest emergency; the siren is terribly realistic, and particularly piercing, and has been the endless background to all play in the house for days and days and days...I'm praying the batteries run out soon and the kids forget that it ever did that...

Other than that this is a hit! 

The set retails at £34.99 and would be a great Christmas gift for little ones who love Fireman Sam or noise!