The Good Dinosaur {Movie Review}

In a Boxing Day bid to get everyone out of the house this morning, we went to our local cinema to watch The Good Dinosaur, Pixar’s latest contribution to movies for kids.

I’ve always loved Pixar movies, so I generally go into them expecting it to be for the kids, with comments and suggestions thrown in for adult enjoyment too, and Pixar doesn’t disappoint in this film.

The Good Dinosaur is a story about a smaller-than-average dinosaur, the youngest of three, born to a farming dinosaur family in a world where a meteor didn’t hit earth and dinosaurs aren’t extinct. The youngest dino, Arlo, is scared of everything, even though his daddy is very supportive and believes that he’ll ‘make his mark’ yet.

As life happens in the stories, Arlo’s dad is killed in the process of teaching him a valuable life lesson, and life on the farm becomes hard. Before long, Arlo is swept away on a torrent of water, and begins his arduous journey towards home, growing and changing and learning from his experience in the wild as he goes.

Arlo comes across various ‘bad guys’ and defeats them, befriending human-with-dog-like-qualities “Spot” along the way. Previously his nemesis, Spot becomes Arlo’s best friend, and before Arlo finds his family again, he helps Spot return to his own kind. Arlo returns home where his mother initially mistakes him for his father, before realising it’s her son returned, and everyone lives happily ever after. It is a children’s movie after all

Since watching the movie I’ve read a few reviews on it, and I’m surprised by the hysteria this movie has caused in some sectors. My children aren’t exactly die-hard, cold hearted monsters, but we didn’t cry from fear or emotion. My three year old did require a lap though as some parts were a bit scary.Read more: The Good Dinosaur {Movie Review}

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Michael Foreman – Book Review

Pavilion have released a new version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Michael Foreman.

Alice's Adventures in WonderlandThe traditional story in this new version of Alice in Wonderland is the same story we all know and love, as Alice falls down the rabbit hole, making her life ‘curiouser and curiouser’. The story has all the well loved characters, including the mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat, but Foreman has put his very own spin on it, as an artist is wont to do.

As compared to the bold and bright pretend world of a cartoon Alice in Wonderland this version is slightly darker in it’s rendering of Alice, but at the back of the book the illustrator explains his reasoning for this – he uses a picture of the actual child that inspired Alice, a girl called Alice Pleasance Liddell as the starting point for his Alice, which I think is unique and such an amazing way to pay respect to a literary character and the author.

Another thing I don’t think I’ve seen before is that the illustrator makes the real world sepia-toned, while Wonderland is in full colour.Read more: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Michael Foreman – Book Review

The New Doll In Town: Project MC2

A few months ago my daughter was browsing Netflix for something to watch when she came across Project MC2, an action miniseries about four teenage girls who use their science know-how to be secret agents and save the day. She was engrossed in it and has watched it a dozen times since, so when I saw there were dolls to match, I was excited to get her one.

Since watching the show, she’s decided that she wants to be both a scientist and an inventor – in her spare time when she’s not being a dancer, that is – and who am I to stand in her way.71JAgxLCgkL._SL1500_

Read more: The New Doll In Town: Project MC2

Free Christmas Themed Dino Flip Game

Remember a while back I told you about the Dino Tales App and the Safari Tales App ? Well, Kuato games is back at it, and they’ve come up with a cute new game for their loyal fans… and it’s free.

Dino Flip is their way of saying “thank you” to all the fans of the Tales games. They’ve created a beautiful match pairs game, again featuring all the sweet baby dinos. The Dino Flip game gives you four board sizes or difficulty levels, getting harder with each size. Dino Flip is basically a memory match game, where you turn over two cards per go to find a matching pair. Aside from being fun, the game aids in memory and recall and visual spacial awareness. It also features the cute dinosaurs from Dino Tales, with a Christmas theme.10 images to uncover including Christmas themes. There’s also a timer to track your best times to beat, encouraging young minds to develop memory skills and hand/eye coordination – and as always the best part of Kuato games: No adverts and no in-app purchases!iPhone Screenshot 1

Read more: Free Christmas Themed Dino Flip Game

Messages And Calls From Santa From Portable North Pole

Portable North Pole is an internet based system whereby you can send phone calls and video messages from Santa to your child.  We’ve done this a few years running now, always including it in our Activity Advent Calendar ideas

The parent logs in, sets up a voice or video call, adds in a bit of information, hits send and you’re moments away from a phone call from Santa – who is calling from Quebec, apparently, when you see the number coming up on your phone!

If you do the naughty/nice list you could, for example, get Santa to make an ‘encouraging’ call early in December saying that your child needs to listen a bit more (We don’t use Santa for behaviour modification, so we’ve never used this one), but there are also other options – for example Santa can call your child to say that he knows things are better and you’ve made an effort to improve (this one talks about an elf that keeps an eye on you, and that you’ll go on a ‘nice’ list.) But there are also calls to say well done on an achievement, or done well at school.

Untitled

There’s another section on behaviours to improve – we don’t use these, but I’ve been tempted more than once to use the ‘stop fighting and arguing’ one, which is relevant and could be better than yelling. The jury is out!

There’s also a whole section of Christmas eve phone calls, which are great – Santa from the sleigh, cookies for Santa and so on, and a phone call that could be particularly useful if you’re away from home at Christmas, is one where Santa says he’ll still find you, not to worry – this was useful for us last year when we spent Christmas in Australia.

Earlier I said you could also use this as part of your Advent Calendar? A few examples are the phone call saying that Santa received the letter you sent – so that could make a great call a few days later. Similarly you could do the same with any wish list your child may have shared.

Like the phone calls, my children love the video calls. There’s a free video call which is perfectly good. We’ve used it a few times.  However the Premium videos give you choices – for example you can go on a 5 minute tour of the ‘secret places’ in Santa’s Village. Or a minute long clip of the reindeer getting ready to take off on Christmas eve, or watch the elves sort out all the letters in the post office… With an unlimited package you could literally have a video a week, corresponding with what you’re doing on your activity advent.

The videos also have a lot of personalisation options – the child’s closest family, a picture of their house, a toy they may have asked for, and loads of other things, which will then all show up during the video, like on the cover of the book Santa looks in, and so on.santamessage

As for negatives, the only thing that I think could be improved is that each child gets their own call, you can’t have two children in one call. This makes it tough when you’re trying to get Santa to give them both the same message – you have to ‘send’ the call and make sure you have the right child in the room with you without raising suspicions! But that’s only a minor detraction.

The premium package – called the Gold Pass – costs £9.99 and I think it’s pretty good value for the sheer joy the kids get from it. Ameli is 6, and she knows Santa isn’t real, but that we like to pretend that he is, and even she gets really into it, responding to his questions and squealing gleefully when she hears his voice.

Make Christmas even more magical by offering a personalized video message from Santa now from PortableNorthPole.com!

We received a free pass for Portable North Pole in exchange for this review. 

Christmas Gift: My First Scalextric

One of the gifts under many trees this year will be a My First Scalextric set, a beginners introduction into Scalextrics. I remember playing on a set myself as a child, many many moons ago, but I don’t remember what it was.

We’ve been reviewing the My First Scalextric set, and been  having a lot of fun with it.

Firstly I should say that setting up, I didn’t follow the instructions, so don’t look at my pictures as an example of set up!scalextric

In the box you will find the track pieces to form a figure-of-8 track, two stilt contraptions to hold the raised track up, two controllers and their related cabling, and two cars. There’s a general colour scheme is red and yellow with the track parts in grey.

The track clips into each other, and also fits with other tracks from the Micro Scalextric range, so while you use this as your starter track, you can build on it as your child(ren) get(s) older and more confident.

When setting up, if you’re as newbie to Scalextrics as the child this set is for, it’s useful to follow the instructions, because it should be set up with the arrows all facing in the direction the cars will be going. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration by just doing it the right way from the start.scalextric2

That said, it’s not hard to set up, and is pretty quick. You don’t need batteries either, which is another bonus come Christmas day.

So how does it work? We’re quite happy with it. I’ve read other reviews where people have complained bitterly about the My First Scalextric set, but considering that we don’t have ‘proper’ Scalextric to compare it to, we are quite happy. If you go too fast around the corners you fly off the track (much like driving in real life, then!), so there’s a bit of skill to it too.


YouTube Direkt

I like that there are grooves in the controllers, so you can stop children from just going full throttle from the get-go, and in so doing prevent the cars flying off the tracks to an untimely demise.

While this is a set for young children, from 3 years of age, it does require some adult supervision. You can’t just leave the kids to it (I know mine would have the cars riding up and down the walls of the house and over the carpets and in the bath, if I left them to it). Instead the little connectors on under the cars need to be kept protected to make sure that they make the right contact on the track.

For fans of Scalextric, My First Scalextric may not be your favourite set, but it is a good starter set, and it’s definitely a good set for younger children if you don’t want to spend a fortune on a beginners kit. And as far as Christmas gifts go, it’ll be great for spending time and having fun together after all the gifts are unwrapped on Christmas morning.

Nothing Beats A Bike Competition #NothingBeatsABike

Halfords are running a Nothing Beats A Bike competition where the winner can win a bike for your child, just in time for Christmas.  There’s also a competition below where you can win a lovely 16″ Carrera Star worth £199 too.Carrera Star Kids' Bike - 16"

In order to participate in this campaign we were given a bike for Ameli for Christmas, so obviously we haven’t tried it out yet – it’s still poorly hidden in the boot of the car!

I must say I was really impressed with my experience at Halfords. I arrived with my order confirmation, and the bike mechanic I had to speak to was busy bleeding the breaks on someone else’s something but they didn’t keep me waiting long at all. Kevin arrived with the Carrera Star 16″ bike and I was thrilled. It just looks like a serious bike, but diddy. I loved it immediately.

Since I also now need a bike for Aviya, Kevin walked round with me showing me the other bikes available at Halfords and talking through the pros and cons of the specific styles and designs. He was so incredibly knowledgeable I was very impressed. There wasn’t a question I had that he couldn’t answer.

Before I could take ownership of our Carrera bicycle, we went through a checklist of bike safety. Kevin made sure I knew where to twist and what to tighten (we had to leave the handlebars skew so that it would fit into the boot of the car) and he talked me through Halford’s service plans, where for £10 a year I could bring them any punctures and flat tyres, among other things.

The whole experience was lovely and I felt really confident in our choice of bicycle and in any needs we might have for after sales service. Halfords have a standard 6 week check-up service where you can bring the bike in six weeks later to make sure everything is still as it should be (the break cables specifically), but since that would be a week after Christmas, Halfords have allowed a six month grace period for people buying bicycles for Christmas.

Carrera Star Kids' Bike - 16"Oh, and another service Halfords are offering that I think is fantastically insightful is their Christmas storage offer – reserve the bike for £10 and pay it off immediately or in instalments,  and they’ll keep it for you till a few days before Christmas, build it for free, and you can collect it and only need to hide it for a day or two. I love that and wish I’d thought of doing it that way earlier!

I would highly recommend Halford’s bicycle service, and think their Nothing Beats A Bike Campaign is well worth supporting.

Doesn’t this advert just take you back to the freedom of our childhood days?


YouTube Direkt

To win a Carerra Star 16″ bike for your own child, leave a comment below with your favourite style from the Halfords website.

T&Cs: The competition runs for one week, ending 23:59 4 December 2015. The winner will be selected by Diary of a First Child using Random.org, based on the position in the comments. Winner will be notified by email, so please make sure you add your email in the required space. Winners will have one week to respond before a new winner will be selected.  The prize cannot be exchanged for money. The Prize will be sent out directly by Halfords.

Winner

Christmas Gifts: Snapfish Photo Book Review

Ah, the digital age. One of the negative side effects of it is that people no longer make photo albums. I used to spend hours building giant scrapbook-like photo albums on winter evenings but now most of my photos are all digital, the only way to get at them is on-screen. In recent years I’ve returned to making albums, but these days they are smaller, with less scrap booking and more pictures. My most recent album is of our trip to Disneyland Paris, and I’ve made a copy for my sister’s Christmas present too.Snapfish Photobook

Using Snapfish to make up photo books is simple and easy, and as time consuming as you want it to be.

Once you’ve decided what book type you want you can upload all your pictures from your computer, Flickr and Facebook, then import them all into a book. This can be a five minute job where you let Snapfish lay out the book and you submit and publish, or you can spend hours as I tend to do, adding each individual picture with captions or adjusting the layout.Snapfish Photobook

There are some specific things I like – the fact that you can use a high quality picture to spread across two pages as a ‘background’ image, the vast number of page layout options and the thematic colours along with the autofill option to name a few. Pictures are easily dragged from the album to photobook with immediate confirmation that the picture is high enough quality. Even when it says that the pictures are not high enough quality, like if you’ve pulled phone photos off Facebook, however, with an 8×8 book the pictures might not pass an art collectors’ scrutiny, but they work well enough in the book.Snapfish Photobook

Once the Snapfish photo book is ready and you are happy with it, you can either share it digitally on social media, or you can email it. Alternatively, of course, is getting it printed into a book.Snapfish Photobook

I always go for the 8×8 soft cover books as you can add enough pages and pictures to get you through most holidays or big events. The big bonus for me, however, is that whereas the photo albums from my 20’s to my 30’s take up two shelves of an IKEA bookshelf, the photos for the next ten years fit on a coffee table.  All the photo albums from my teen years were lost in flooding a couple of years ago, and even if I still had the negatives, the cost in printing and hours or redoing the photo albums can never be regained, whereas at least with the digital albums, there’ll always be a record of it, easily replaced by hitting the reorder button.

I think it’s a great advent calendar activity too – sitting together going through the year’s photos to turn into a book of the year.

Clever Keet Bird Playground Review

I am often made to feel a bit bad, because my children want a pet so badly. We can’t have one where we live – the landlord even pulled a face when I suggested a fish! – so I’ve been steadily increasing the girls toy pet supply in the hopes that it will fill the gap for the moment (I know it won’t really, but I’m trying here!). Over the last few months we’ve managed to collect a Little Live Butterfly*, Bubble Pop the Tweet Talking Bird* and Anna, the Digibird*. The latest addition to our collection is the rather epic Clever Keet Bird Playground*.

CleverKeetThe Clever Keet Bird Playground comes with an interactive pet bird who talks, sings, dances and swings, as well as all the playground equipment, including a swing, wagon and mirror.

Finally, there’s also an adoption certificate in the box, to legitimise ownership and all.

On the perch Clever Keet will move himself forward and backwards causing it to ‘swing’, and when he’s on the ‘dance’ perch, he plays music and dances along to the beat of whatever music you have playing in the house. When Clever Keet is hungry you can put him by his food tray and he makes eating noises and sometimes burps much to the amusement of small children.

On the cart or wagon his body propels the whole thing forward – basically it’s the bird’s contact with the metal connectors that causes it to react depending on where it is.

CleverKeet

Actually, this toy does such a lot. Each of the different bits of equipment give it a lot of different options for things to say and you need to go through the manual to make sure you get the best out of the bird and all it’s options.

There’s also a record option where the parakeet will… well, parrot, what you’re saying in it’s own non-gender specific voice. My daughter loves this option and some of the phrases you teach it seem to be absorbed into it’s regular chatter, though I’m not entirely sure if that’s just random selection or if we’ve accidentally and unknowingly stumbled on how to make it do that.

This is’t a cheap toy at £44, but I reckon it’s pretty good value for money, all told.

The only negatives of the Clever Keet is that it’s movements have a loud mechanical sound, which sort of spoils the ‘realism’ of the bird. You also can’t buy a spare bird for the play equipment, which I think is a bit of a shame as there are multiple spaces for the bird to sit and at the price it would be nice to have a second bird if you have more than one child who might want to play too. The birds are quite robust and sturdy, and it’s tough to remove them from their contact perches, but that’s neither good or bad, really.

This play set makes up a huge present under the tree, so it’s pretty impressive and is sure to make someone happy!

 

 

20+ Non-Chocolate Advent Calendars For Him, Her And Them!

I love chocolate. Really, I do. But I don’t like cheap chocolate much, and unless you’re going to fork out a fortune for a decent quality chocolate advent calender, which is quite frankly wasted on kids, it’s worth going a different route on advent calendars.

Whether your reasons are that you don’t want to start each day with chocolate, or that you need a dairy free alternative, or just that you want something a little different, there are a plethora of ideas for Christmas Advent Calendars that aren’t bad for your teeth, your waistline or your taste buds.

For me and my family, Christmas is a time of togetherness and fun. That might sound strange, since we home educate, which means we’re together pretty much every single day anyway, but there’s a difference between together and together. To me, Christmas is a time of drawing in, staying in, cosying up, and having as much fun together as we can.

*Many, but not all, of the links in this post are affiliate links. Buying through them will not cost you any extra, but will send a few pennies my way. Thanks for your support. 

Advent Calendar

Activity Advent Calendars

There are about as many empty box advent calendar ideas as there are people who celebrate Christmas, I think! Pretty much every store that sells Christmas items has their own versions and designs, so it’s up to you to decide what you love best. Keep in mind what you want to use it for (strips of paper? home made cookies? what needs to fit INTO the box)

We use a peg string that I can attach a slip of paper to, or an organza bag containing a chocolate coin and an activity, or the first clue in a treasure hunt, or whatever it is.  It’s a similar idea to this Christmas Tree Advent String (£4.95) and it allows us fantastic flexibility – for example we can put a note on it to find *today’s* advent activity in the airing cupboard, for example.

On a similar trend, and something I’ve seen done as a DIY project, are Advent Buckets. Like the pegs and the boxes they can be filled with sweets, small toys, notes, tickets (to Santa’s Grotto or a pantomime, for example). Unless you happen to have 24 buckets lying around though, I think the £21.99 for this, to be used year after year, is pretty reasonable though.

Another popular idea is the Wooden Advent Calendar, and this pre-lit one from QVC is both beautiful and stylish. (£22.96)

Home Reflections Pre-lit Decorative Wooden House Advent Calendar

Another version of the same, and more colourful and child like is the Gingerbread House Advent from Born Gifted (£34.99) – I love this one – I think it’s one of the prettier of the ‘house’ style advent calendars.

Gingerbread House Advent

And on the topic of what children will love, there are other ‘themed’ advent calendars, like the Advent Train (£34.99), which is just beautiful. I’m a grown woman and it makes me feel all Christmassy – I can imagine a child being over the moon with excitement collecting something from one of these boxes every morning.

Finally, Picture Advent Calendars have a place on the market too. Ideal for someone who doesn’t need/want anything, but wants to be part of the daily excitement too, art calendars are really sweet too. Not only do you have a lovely wintery or Christmassy scene to look at every day, but open your daily door and there’s a mini picture inside too. These calendars by Alison Gardiner (£6.99) are sure to put you in the right mood!

BG-4929 (1)

 Toy Advent Calendars

Another really popular alternative to chocolate is a toy advent calendar, where you normally build a ‘scene’ from the toys in the calendar. In my experience from previous years, while these toys may be Christmas themed, they are played with and loved all year round.

This year we have a Playmobil Advent Calendar for our 3 year old.   We’ve gone for the Santa’s Workshop Advent Calendar (£19.99) which contains twenty-four items, one for each day of Advent. The set includes a Santa figure, two elves and one angel, reindeer with sleigh, gifts, assorted toys, wheelbarrow, basket, and additional accessories to build a complete Santa’s Workshop and a ‘scene’ which can be set up to build it through the month.

download (1)

Aside from Santa’s Workshop, you can also choose from Fire Rescue, Princesses and other Christmas themed Playmobil Advent Calendars too.

There’s also the Lego Advent Calendar, which is always popular and the price pretty much never drops particularly much lower.  There are Lego Friends calendars, Lego Star Wars and Lego City calendars – pretty much something for every Lego fan out there.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

When my kdis were smaller I really liked the WOW Toys Advent Calendar as the girls were able to get involved – (specially when one had Lego and the other wanted a toy too) but I didn’t have to worry about small parts.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

And if you’re a sucker for punishment, there’s always the Play Doh Advent Caldendar (£14.99) too! 24 days of cleaning the carpets. Yay! (But the little people love it. My daughter asks me for Play Doh all the time)

For Her Advent Calendars

This year I’ve done something I’ve never done before. I’ve got an Advent Calendar for myself. Well, no one else was going to, so now I can join the kids every morning! I’m not much of a beauty blogger (at all) but I have the Just My Look Beauty Calendar (£15.95), and I’m really excited about it – not least because I’m actually running out of most of the make up I have. What’s not expired is just about done, so this is both practical and exciting. At £15.95 delivered, and containing 7 nail polishes, 3 eyeshadows, 4 lipglosses, 6 lipsticks, 3 glitters & one mascara, it’s going to be a fun month for me too!

advent-calendar-2015-p7112-7155_image

There are a few others on the market, and some really posh ones from super stores, but those are beyond my beauty needs, but I did also quite like the look of the Find Me A Gift beauty calendar (£19.99).

Mad Beauty Christmas Advent Calendar

And while I know this is a huge ’cause women love stationary’ generalisation – you’ll know if the person you’re buying for does or not  – but Smiggle has a brilliant looking Stationary Advent Calendar (£25)  which is perfect for older girls who may not be into toys anymore either. 488741_mixuk_l

For the Yankee Candle lovers there are now three different Yankee Candle Advent Calendars to choose from.

For Him Advent Calendars

Men get the raw end of the deal when it comes to gifts sometimes, with the options pretty much involving something to eat, and something to drink. Gift makers – there’s a gap in the market here! Never the less, here are a few advent calendars for men that play to all the stereotypes.

Not On The High Street has a Personalised Fortune Cookie Advent Calendar (£44.99)… I can think of so many fun things to put in this for a partner ;)

CookiesThe Naga Chilli Vodka Escalation Advent Calendar (£99.95)looks pretty cool actually. Behind every window is a 3cl dram of naga chilli vodka, except each day they get hotter so by the end of advent he’ll pretty much be getting his head blown off before breakfast. (Yes, I’m aware of the unintended innuendo there.)

The Naga Chilli Vodka Escalation Advent Calendar (2015 Edition)

On the same trend, but a little more long drink after work, and a little less quick shot than the vodka, is the Craft Beer Advent Calendar (£60) from Ails By Mail.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar 2015

Have a very happy and fun fill Advent!