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

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.

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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. 

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!

 

 

Lalaloopsy Jewellery Maker Toy Review

Ameli loves Lalaloopsy, so when I was asked if we’d like to be Lalaloopsy ambassadors for the year, I thought with her birthday coming up it would be a great way of spoiling her a little, without having to cost me much! Just after her birthday we received our first Lalaloopsy toy for review: the Lalaloopsy Jewellery Maker (or Jewelery Maker if you’re in the US!)Lalaloopsy Jewellery MakerThe Lalaloopsy Jewellery Maker is part of the Tinies series, meaning it comes with three small Lalaloopsy characters and one golden ‘limited edition’ one.  The Jewellery Maker is also a 2-in-1 toy, as it is a Jewellery Maker, but also a Ferris Wheel toy.

As a toy it has little tea cups with lids that the Tinies can sit in as they go on the ride, which can lead to lovely imaginative play as the children describe the ‘view’ over the ‘landscape’ from the ferris wheel. It’s also a good safety talk introduction as we discovered when one of the Tinies plunged to an untimely death when the lid hadn’t been closed, and received a spin from a ‘helpful’ little sister. (You’ll be pleased to know she was resurrected by a kiss and a cuddle).

As a Jewellery Maker, there are pros and cons to this product. I think if used in conjunction with regular manual threading of beads, it’s just a bit of fun. I wouldn’t let it be the only means of threading beads for my girls though as there’s a lot of developmental value in terms of both dexterity and hand eye coordination that happens when children try to string beads.

That said though, the jewellery maker is fun as it allows children to thread the provided plastic ‘string’ and feed beads into the receptacle, which then shakes and vibrates the beads onto the ‘needle’ feeding it onto the string. In this way kids can create a pattern and make their own jewellery.

There are enough beads for about two full necklaces, and about the same in string, but you can add any beads that have at least a 2mm hole, and you can use any safe string too, so it can be a gift that keeps on producing.

I would have liked a closing container for the beads so that they don’t end up filling up every nook and cranny of my house, but I imagine most crafty people will have something they can use.

Battery life on the Lalaloopsy Jewellery Maker seems to be pretty decent, since it only powers a little spindle, really, and it long outlives the beads. It’s unfortunate that the ferris wheel itself doesn’t actually turn when the button is pushed, but I guess when you’re threading jewellery is no time to be distracted by fun on the fairground.


I was sent this toy for free as part of the Lalaloopsy Ambassador Programme. Views and opinions are my own (or that of one or both of my daughters!)

Eco Kids Planet Magazine Review

I love finding good stuff. I think it’s the feeling ‘normal’ women get when they find a killer pair of shoes or a designer dress at a bargain price – a bit of a rush, excitement and sheer joy. That’s how I feel when I find something that I think is just straight up GOOD. And that’s how I feel about the Eco Kids Planet magazine*.

EcoKids Planet MagazineAs a home educating family, I think this magazine is particularly useful, but at the same time I think it’s great for any child who might enjoy watching Animal Planet – and in fact most children do, given half a chance.

EcoKids Planet MagazineEco Kids Planet Magazine is aimed at 7 – 11 year olds, but my six year old enjoys reading through them too though she needs some help at some parts of it, and finds it a little wordy in parts – not a problem for someone who doesn’t have to concentrate on every word, I think.

Each magazine deals with a specific area of geography. Issue 11 was The Eastern Himalayas, and Issue 12 was India for example.

Within the general scope of the country there are different articles exploring things like the wild life, or specific things within that region. For example, in the Himalayas region, there’s a discovery article for Incredible Animals, an article on The Mystery of the Yeti, Honey Hunters of the Himalayas, and an interview with a snow leopard.EcoKids Planet Magazine

In the India issues, there’s a feature article on the Mighty River Ganges, an interview with a Bengal Tiger, an article on animals of the Ganges, an ancient folk tale from India and a Jungle Book ‘Fact & Fiction’ article.

Each issue also has activities like colouring, cut and play activities, crosswords and a science or nature project.

There are even pull-out posters, with world maps or animals or board games and so on.EcoKids Planet Magazine

From start to finish each magazine will probably keep a child busy for an hour or two, but obviously these are really only starting points – you could get them to read The Jungle Book, or do a project on what they’ve learned, or whatever is age appropriate and takes your fancy.EcoKids Planet Magazine

It looks like the next issue, Issue 13, is on Scotland, which is fantastic for us as there’s an easy ‘link’ there, with it being a country they are already familiar with, so it’s an easy starting point. And there’s an article on unicorns, so that’s an easy win.

I love this magazine for the same reasons I loved the StoryBox magazine from the same publisher – there’s no ‘free’ tat that comes along with it, the paper is decent quality and these feel like books you can put on the shelf and refer to again and again, but they provide bite-sized bits of information, so not as overwhelming as an encyclopaedia might be.  There’s no advertising, except for the magazine itself, and the paper is FSC certified and even the ink is biodegradable vegetable ink.

Eco Kids Planet also has a current offer on where you can pick up 3 magazines for £6, with their direct debit offer. There are no extra upfront payments, no need for renewal notices, and you can cancel at any time.  The magazines are normally £3.50 or subscribe and save £8, paying £28 for 11 issues with the code ISSUE11 here.

We really think these are a valuable, enjoyable and thoroughly worthwhile subscription.

I was given a year’s subscription in exchange for a review. Opinions are honest and my own. 

Cleaning, Chores & The Hetty Cleaning Trolley

The summer holidays are over, and even families not going back to school, are heading back to our ‘term time’ routines. Or at least this one is! We might not have a daily school run, but many of our extracurricular activities and clubs run on a term-time timetable, so it forces us into that kind of schedule. That means that things like cleaning and domestic activities need to fall into a routine too, to make sure that they are actually done.

81Mb0U1jK1L._SL1500_ 81HFb9AouXL._SL1500_Another thing I like to do at this time of year is a bit of de-cluttering, clearing out, packing away of things that we won’t be using over the winter months. Our house is small, and we don’t have a private garden, so it’s essential to my mental well being that we have space around us.

Of course, with a five and a three year old, I don’t feel the need to do every little thing myself, and getting them involved in household ‘chores’ is important – as is cleaning up after themselves.

While the children really can use general house hold cleaning equipment – a broom, a brush and shovel, or a mop or duster – when we were sent the Casdon Hetty Cleaning trolley for review, I was quite pleased that they took a sense of ownership over their tasks.

They certainly view them as ‘real’ cleaning equipment. Recently they were sitting eating crackers on the sofa – which they aren’t allowed to do, because of course, the crackers tipped over and ended up down the back of the cushions! I helped them take the cushions off, and they had to clean up the mess themselves, so off they trotted to their cleaning trolley, and grabbed the brush and shovel for the sofa and the broom for the floor.

The Casdon Hetty Cleaning trolley comes with a brush, shovel, broom, mop, and a spray bottle, all with specific hanging space within the trolley. The trolley stands up on it’s own, and is is wheeled, so small people can move it around.  The mop has a slightly longer handle than the broom, and comes with a wipe for washing the floor. (We’ve found wet wipes fit in well, and since they are wet they do provide actual cleaning ability.)Casdon

The Casdon Hetty Cleaning Trolley comes with stickers to decorate your equipment, but aside from that it’s all pretty quick and easy to put together. The kids helped their dad and they quickly built all the parts.

The only problem I have with this trolley set is a pretty obvious one: it is painfully pink, and there’s really no need for that. The “boy” version called Henry is red. Much nicer!

All in all for the RRP of £15 (At the time of writing it’s £10.99 on Amazon*) it’s pretty good value, and makes a nice addition to the play kitchen. We used this printable chore chart from Tinyme to make up our own chores, which the kids can do with their cleaning trolley, which helps me a little around the house, but more importantly, gets them involved with the business of a hygienic lifestyle from a young age – which is as important as learning to be a doctor or scientist or whatever other ambition they may have for their future.

Ravensburger Games {Review}

ready set go

One of the benefits of home education for me is the ability to learn through play. Of course learning through play is relevant whether children go to school or not, and one of the fun ways to encourage learning without anyone even knowing they’re learning is through puzzle and board games.

We were sent a selection of Ravensburger games to review, and they’ve come in very handy over the wetness of these British “Summer” days.

The four sets we were sent were: My First WordsABC Game, My First Clock and Ready Set Count!*.

Ready Set Count! Ravensburger Games

ready set count

The first game we unpacked was Ready Set Count!

This game is a first counting game, perfect for my 3 year old. While it can be played with the included dice, we found it best for learning what each number looked like. Each card set has an animal(s) image, fingers that show the number, the numeric image and the dice representation of the number.

I set like with like – so fingers in one pile, dice in another, numbers in a third and the animal images in the last. She picked an animal card, counted the figures on it and then found the corresponding fingers, number and dice. She has a great time sorting the sets together, and then organising them into their correct numerical order.

Played as a game each player can roll the dice and find the corresponding number set to match.

This set has the obvious learning goal of counting, but also number recognition and a taking turns/sharing. It can be played by 1 – 4 players.

My First Clock Ravensburger Games

My First ClockThe My First Clock Game consists of a clock and 27 game cards. They bill this as having three ‘games’ in one, with double sided ‘clock’ cards that show analogue and digital times.  The cards can be used in different ways – put them in order of time and describe what you would normally do at that time. You can also us it to look at the digital times shown on the cards and try to put the hands on the clock face to the correct time, winning a card each time you do this or finally, players take turns to set a time on the clock face and everyone else must try to find the clock card that is closest to that time.  Or of course, you can just let your child figure it out on their own, setting the time to match the activity.

This definitely helps to develop “number association, recognition of routines and sense of the abstract concept of time” as it says in the description, and with a little help it’s a very useful device for learning how to tell the time.

The cardboard clock face has movable plastic hands that you assemble yourself, so it’s a good opportunity for learning the difference between the long and short hands too. These aren’t the best design ever, as the clock ‘hands’ come out quite easy but for £6.99 for the whole set, it’s sufficiently effective and safe enough for a 4 – 9 year old.

ABC Ravensburger Games

My First WordsBased on a ‘flashcard’ style of learning, the ABC Game is filled with two-piece puzzles with one for every letter of the alphabet and a corresponding image card – a & apple, b & bird and so on.

These cards are ‘self-correcting’ which means if you try to put the wrong image to the wrong letter, you won’t be able to slot the puzzle pieces in together. This is good as it’s a gentle prod to try something different, rather than a ‘YOU’RE WRONG!’ which I like.

My First Words Ravensburger GamesABC

The final game we have been playing is My First Words, which is a great follow on from the ABC game. Having learned the alphabet, this game introduces little ones to their first simple words. As compared to the other games, I think this one is more about word familiarisation rather than actually learning words – largely because they can put the word together by putting the picture together, but it does help with familiarity of the words. I like that it’s fun, and that it’s play, but that my girls feel a sense of achievement when they can shout out what the word is, and be right.

For all the games, the cards are decent quality – you have to remember these aren’t expensive puzzle sets – and they last well. The can all be stored within the boxes they come in, and these are stackable in a toy box or shelving unit too, so it’s easy to tidy it all away.

Alfie Outdoors By Shirley Hughes {Book Review}

I didn’t grow up in the UK, or in fact in any kind of regular family – sorry guys – and despite earning a BA in English Language and Literature at university, there are many authors that I never heard of till I became a parent myself, names like Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl and a few others, including Shirley Hughes. (Don’t feel too bad for me though. I had a love affair with The Famous Five, could tell you anything you wanted to know about Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys, and spent hours and days adventuring with Trompie en die Boksom Bende and Liewe Heksie.)

Recently I was sent a press release about Shirley Hughes new book Alfie Outdoors and it wasn’t the name that I recognised in it, but the illustration style, and I realised that it was the same author as a Lucy and Tom Christmas story that my children love.

Alfie Outdoors

This new Alfie story doesn’t disappoint. Filled with beautiful pencil sketch-style (I have no idea about actual names for art styles!) images, and children with chubby cheeks, it’s a delight to read. My three and five year old daughters are engrossed in it with every reading, and they love living through the sowing of seeds, the watering, the waiting, until carrots grow. Their eyes widen every time Gertrude the Goat disappears, and they sigh with relief every time she returns.

The fact that the main protagonist is a little boy makes no difference to them – they seem to share in the common experience of being children, impatience, fear, loss, joy, despite the difference in gender. Alfie Outdoors

Alfie is an all-round wholesome book. From tilling the land for your food, to washing drying on a line, to dad holding hands with his son, this story is a throwback to what in retrospect seems like a simpler time – or in fact was for us as children! It is thoroughly beautiful.

It also ties in perfectly with loads of themes, like patience, caring for animals, growing your own food, summer and friendship. There are plenty themes to tie this story with whatever lesson you may be trying to teach your child. We even managed to use it as a catalyst for talking about all the bugs you find when you turn over stones in the garden – and it ties in really well in preparing for the autumn by creating a home for natureAlfie Outdoors bugs

Capitalise on the learning in this book with the bug hunt worksheet from Twinkl, or one of the ‘plant life cycle’ worksheets for sunflowers or beans.

Shirley Hughes’ Alfie Outdoors is a beautiful book, a lovely story, and well worth having on your shelves to return to often. It’s available from Amazon UK here with an International Edition available at Amazon US on 25 August 2015*.