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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Very Best Sheepdog, Colin the Crab and the Official Playmobil Annual 2015 - children's book reviews

The Very Best Sheepdog

When Ben, a gentle sheepdog, befriends Bo, a fun-loving lamb, he becomes the laughing stock of the farm yard. With both his parents being prizewinners, the expectation on Ben was high, but he just couldn't herd sheep.  But when a storm comes and scares all the sheep away, it's Ben who has to save the day. With his good nose and his love for Bo, Ben bravely battles the elements to try and save the flock.

The gentle text and illustrations bring the story of an unusual friendship to life.  It is a heart warming tale about nature and farming, which shows how perseverance and self belief can overcome difficulties.  The relationship between Bo and Ben is so cute and beautifully portrayed.  At the end of the book, little ones will be rooting for Ben!

children's book review

The Very Best Sheepdog by Pinny Grylls and illistrated by Rosie Wellesley
RRP £5.99 Pavilion Children's Books

Colin the Crab

This little pop-up book from Norfolk based beach merchandise company Gone Crabbing, is not only a lovely story, it also contains a very important message about respecting creatures when crabbing and rock pooling at the beach.  It has some great pop-up elements to bring the story to life, which Freddy really enjoyed. 

Colin the Crab shares a rock pool with his best friends Sally the Starfish and Mike the Mussel.  They have an idyllic life until two children come along.  Colin watches in horror as his friends are caught and thrown into a bucket and taken away.  He sobs big salty tears as he tries to think of ways to get his friends back.  Thankfully, the children know how to treat living things and when they are returned to the rock pool at the end of the day, they explain to Colin how they were looked after by the children.  It is a really good way of showing families the right way to respect nature when it comes to compassionate crabbing and rock pooling.

Colin the Crab is not only the star of this book, he is also the star of the totally 'clawsome' range of seaside inspired gifts sold at Gone Crabbing.  He certainly is a cute little creature!  Hopefully, this story will encourage little ones to be more compassionate and respectful when they discover animals in the natural habitats.

This is a lovely gift idea, which compliments the other products in the Gone Crabbing range.

Gone Crabbing

Colin the Crab is by Susie Mason and illustrated and engineered by Robert Crowther.
Available from Gone Crabbing for £7.99 (also available is the Colin Crab mug and soap).


Official Playmobil Annual 2015

This is definitely one to look out for in the run up to Christmas if you have any Playmobil Knight fans at home.  Annuals always make great presents to pop under the tree and they keep kids amused for hours, so they are always a good buy.

The annual is full of puzzles, colouring pages, quizzes and games all based around helping the Green Dragon Knights defeat the evil Red Dragon Knights.

The book is perfect if your child is a fan of knights, dragons and castles as it is dedicated to that theme.  The content is like that found in an activity book and doesn't include stories or cartoon strips at all.  The paper is thick and glossy and the full colour photos are spectacular.

It's a great choice for Freddy but if you have a child who prefers princesses, animals or fairies, they may not be as keen on the Knight theme.

Playmobil, annual

RRP £7.99


We received these lovely books to review.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Goodyear Driving Academy and Young Driver - improving road safety for young people

The Goodyear Driving Academy is on a mission to improve the road safety of young drivers.  Their aim is to teach road and driving education to children from a young age, and the key to this is to provide parents and teachers with fun and interactive tools to help introduce kids to the rules of road safety long before they get behind the wheel of a car.  It is a frightening statistic that young drivers aged 17 - 24 year olds, account for 22% of injury road accidents, although they only make up 9% of road users. Their inexperience and youthfulness is often responsible for this over representation when it comes to accidents.  The current format of the driving test doesn't help youngsters learn true road safety with a graduated, long term approach to learning. It has been proven that teaching children about road safety from a younger age can have a positive effect on reducing young driver road accidents.  Goodyear are investing in this road safety revolution to give our youngsters a safer future on the roads.

The Goodyear Driving Academy has three main parts, each giving children and their parents, the opportunity to learn important road safety information and preparing young people to become tomorrow's drivers.

The Goodyear Driving Academy Parent Pack is a booklet of ideas, activities and information for parents to use with their children. It covers everything from crossing the road as a pedestrian; speed limits; driving conditions; the highway code and vehicle maintenance. The booklet is very user friendly with illustrations throughout and includes ideas for games to play with children to raise their awareness of road safety. You can download a PDF version here:  www.parents-matter.co.uk

road safety, kids driving lessons


The Driving Academy is a great online resource at drivingacademy.goodyear.com where children can learn the vital information and knowledge that they will need as future drivers. The basics of the highway code are presented as fun facts for kids to learn (also useful for polishing up road knowledge as an adult) plus there is a hazard perception game to give kids a taste of what it is like to be in control of a vehicle.  It's fun as well as being educational.  For car mad kids to teenagers about to sit their theory test, this is a great site.  The girls have enjoyed trying out the game and have learned some useful highway code knowledge.

The Young Driver scheme gives children as young as 11 the chance to get behind the wheel and learn the basics of driving for real in a safe off-road environment.  Youngsters get to drive a Skoda Citigo, fitted with Goodyear tyres, with a registered instructor, where they will learn the basics as well as manoeuvres such as reversing and parking. These young driver lessons take place around the country.  Kizzy and Ella were invited to have a go at a Young Driver driving lesson at Crewe.  Although Ella is now 18, she has been reluctant to start driving lessons and this was the perfect way to introduce her to driving a car for the first time.  Kizzy is 11, which seems so young to take control of a vehicle, but is the perfect age to start learning the necessary skills and building confidence!

The Young Driver site in Crewe was situated in a huge car park area for Bentley Motors.  Cones and road signs were laid out to create a road system where the cars could drive around.  The girls checked in and were assigned their driving instructors.  They headed out to their cars along with the other youngsters.  After some preliminary checks and instruction, the girls were off, driving around the course independently.

Goodyear, Admiral, young driver


The girls both did brilliantly.  Kizzy (in the white car) was a natural at steering and completed a slalom course during her hour's lesson.  Ella (in the red car) took really well to driving and even ended up parallel and reverse parking during her lesson. The instructors were really lovely, patient and friendly, giving good, clear instructions and advice.  After just one lesson, Ella is now confident enough to take to the road for real and has the advantage of her experience.  We plan to keep up Kizzy's driving lessons over the next few years and preparing her for when she is 17 and able to take her driving test.  

                                          


Not only was this a real learning experience for the girls, they also had a lot of fun.  It was brilliant watching them.  They both received a Driving Diary for them to record their progress in, which can be handed over to their future driving instructors, who will then be able to tailor their lessons accordingly.

I was lucky enough to jump into the backseat of Ella's car to film part of the lesson.  I was very proud of how cool and calm she remained, even with the pressure of having a passenger sat behind her, recording her every move.

                             


The Young Driver lessons are a great investment in a child's future and would make a fantastic birthday gift. I still can't believe my 11 year old drove an actual car...what a fantastic experience!

Prices start at £31.99 and you can find out more at:  www.youngdriver.eu

You can join in the conversation about the Goodyear Driving Academy and Young Driver on Twitter @goodyear_uk and @youngdriver

Tarzan - The Legend Lives

This new take on an old classic is an interesting re-imagining of the story of Tarzan.  A more realistic style of CGI animation creates a jungle which is not cutesy and cartoony, but wild and violent.  The themes are quite adult, with lots of quite shocking deaths. Definitely not one for sensitive children - and definitely worthy of the PG certificate.  The human characters bear an uncanny resemblance to SIMS characters, which humoured the older children no end.

Tarzan


Starting with a prehistoric meteor crashing to Earth, the story focuses on the ongoing search by Greystoke Energies for the powerful rock that possesses its own natural energy and has spawned its own ecosystem. During one such mission, Little Tarzan loses his parents in a helicopter accident and becomes adopted as part of a family of gorillas, where he learns how to be the 'hairless ape' of the jungle.  

Years later he ends up in conflict with the new CEO of his late father's company, the ruthless William Clayton, looking to exploit the area and its resources at any cost.

Jane is a conservationist who joins forces with Tarzan to help protect the jungle from the destructive intentions of  William Clayton. Romance blossoms between the pair and Tarzan is on hand to rescue her from the dangers of the jungle (in true classic Tarzan style). 

This film was indeed quite brutal in parts and the storytelling was aimed at older children.  Freddy cried at some of the more heartbreaking moments but cheered as Tarzan's famous battle cry united the jungle against the bad guys!

Out from 25th August from retailers such as Amazon where it is priced at £10 to pre-order on DVD or download to watch online.

downloadable activity sheet
Open in a new window and print out the worksheet.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Little Live Pets at Eureka! The National Children's Museum

We were lucky enough to be invited to the Eureka! The National Children's Museum in Halifax for the Little Live Pets takeover.  I was really excited to take the two little ones on a day out to a place that has the ethos of encouraging kids to play to learn.  Plus we were delighted about discovering the must-have toy for summer, the Little Live Pets from Character.


The museum was so hands on, perfect for children who want to explore, play and touch everything!  There are six galleries where kids are encouraged to interact with the exciting exhibits.  These were our three favourite areas:

All About Me is an amazing area dedicated to the workings of the human body.  From exploring the senses to pretending to be a doctor to finding out about bones, brains and the digestive system, the newly opened area was a huge hit with Freddy and Kizzy.  Freddy loved filling in his All About Me Passport, taking part in activities to test his reflexes, monitor his heart rate and measure his body.  The Health Centre allows children to role play as doctors, midwives and dentists.  Freddy loved giving the pregnant woman model a scan and seeing her baby on the screen.  He also enjoyed testing his brain and body on the climbing wall.  At 11, Kizzy was interested to learn facts about the human body, look at X-Rays and microscope slides and take part in some experiments. It is such a great area with so much to see, do and learn.

Eureka, hands on, learning


Living and Working Together is a fabulous reconstruction of a little town complete with garage, post office, shop, bank and petrol station.  Kids are able to role play all the jobs from being a postman to a cashier to a car mechanic.  It was great fun!  Kizzy and Freddy enjoyed the bank vaults where they were able to crack codes to enter the bank's safety deposit boxes and discover the content of customers from Doctor Who to Harry Potter to our Queen. The garage was pretty cool too.  They changed tyres, used petrol pumps and learned about the parts of an engine (with dad's expert tuition!!)  There is also a house where you can learn about what happens when you flush a loo, play with water, have fun in the kitchen and explore your dreams. 

Tyres, tiger face paint


Our Global Garden takes children on a voyage of discovery of the outdoors, looking at environments as diverse as the Arctic, the jungle, the town, the countryside and the sea bed.  There are so many things to explore.  Kids get to surf and light up a city; play instruments in a jungle hut and see through the eyes of a rat.  Whilst in the Global Garden, we also took part in the Little Live Pets Bird Watching Trail, finding hidden birds and solving the clues to find a word.

Eureka, museum, family fun

Outside the main Eureka! museum building is a huge sandpit, grassy areas and some outdoor activities and there are lots of events taking place throughout the year.  A cafe and gift shop are on site and the toilet facilities are good.  The area is lovely, with views of the countryside, as the 13 acre site is nestled between Beacon Hill and the town centre.

We were treated to a yummy buffet lunch and Freddy got his face painted, which made him very happy!  The children also made glass painted butterfly sun catchers and  coloured in Little Live Pet colouring sheets.

tiger, face paint, Eureka


The Little Live Pets area let children get up close and personal with the latest interactive toys.  With gorgeous birds and butterflies to play with, little ones can enjoy the feeling of holding a fluttering butterfly on their hand or chatting to a tweeting, talking bird.

The butterflies are very beautiful and the movement is very realistic, but Freddy fell in love with the birds.  Petting them makes then sing, chirp and tweet with a moving beak that makes them seem alive!  Pressing a button allows you to record a message which is converted to chirrupy bird language and tweeted back to you.  Freddy loved the mimicry feature, which enhanced the play value of these cute little toys.

bird, butterfly

The Little Live Pets Birds (RRP £9.99) and Butterflies (RRP £12.99) come in a host of colours and designs making them appealing to every taste.  You can also buy a Birdcage complete with a bird for £19.99 and a Butterfly House with a butterfly for £22.99.  Perfect for displaying your collection.  


Entrance to Eureka! is £11.95 for ages 3 to adult, but your day ticket can be converted to an annual season pass for free allowing you to visit as often as you like over the year.  There is so much to do and so much fun to be had, having access for free for a year would be fabulous for families.  It's an amazing deal.

Find out more at:  www.eureka.org.uk

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A Fantastic Family Holiday with Forest Holidays

With the beautiful weather we have been having, holidaying in the UK has been a great option this year.  So we were delighted to spend a week staying in a gorgeous and luxurious log cabin at Blackwood Forest in Hampshire with Forest Holidays.  The stunningly beautiful 270 hectare Beech forest is the perfect setting for a tranquil break surrounded by nature, but with easy access to major roads, Micheldever railway station (which is just 40 minutes from London) and local amenities.

The large three bedroomed Silver Birch cabin was exquisite and quite honestly the nicest accommodation I have ever stayed in at a holiday resort.  A feature floor to ceiling window gives magnificent views of the idyllic surroundings and makes you feel a part of the great outdoors, while making the rooms feel light and airy. The decor was modern, clean and well conceived, bringing in elements of the forest along with a bold but tasteful colour theme that runs throughout the cabin.  The place was spotless and so well equipped, with an excellent kitchen, which included microwave, oven, hob, fridge freezer and dishwasher.  Little touches such as the inclusion of Jenga and Scrabble made you feel immediately at home.  The optional entertainment package offers wi-fi and TV channels if you want to stay connected to the outside world.  It was cosy, comfortable and a real home from home.

Forest Holidays, UK holidays

Having a private outdoor hot tub was the most luxurious addition to our holiday home.  It was serviced daily and had a rubber duck left on top to let us know it was safe to use.  It was wonderful to relax in the hot tub, and it was particularly fabulous at night with its underwater lighting.  Freddy absolutely adored it, thinking it was his own private outdoor bath/swimming pool.  

Forest Holidays, UK holidays

UK holidays, Forest Holidays


The forest setting is glorious.  The cabins are spaced well apart so you feel quite secluded, adding to the magic and enchantment of the break. The cabin has two parking spaces outside, which is really convenient. There are lots of walks and cycle tracks around the forest and a really great 3.8 km trim trail, which we went around several times in the week.  Some days we never saw another soul on our walks, it was so tranquil, peaceful and relaxing.

The exercise equipment around the trim trail caused some healthy competition as we tried to outdo each other.  On the squat lift apparatus, Ian felt quite superior, being able to lift the same weight as the three kids could lift together!  It was fun to challenge each other on the monkey bars, sit up bench and balance beam. All the equipment was wooden or made from green metal so it blended in nicely with the surroundings, and came with clear instructions for use.  It was a great way to enjoy some exercise and following the trail provided a well signposted walk through the forest.

Forest Holidays, UK holidays


The Forest Retreat is at the centre of the resort, offering a cafe, coffee shop, reception and well stocked shop.  You can book activities and in-cabin spa treatments and pre-order take away food such as pizzas (which can be delivered directly to your cabin) or baked goods to be picked up for breakfast.  The quality of the food was excellent, especially the freshly baked pain au chocolats that we all enjoyed as a morning treat. We loved the coffee shop and were able to sit outside in the sunshine with our drinks on the decked area. They have a nice menu offering light lunches and meals, and also have a bar. There is also a cycle hire shop and a children's play area. The facilities are more than adequate, providing everything we needed, with friendly, helpful staff on hand.

Forest Holidays, UK holidays


Getting away together to such a lovely place, with amazing accommodation and being blessed with such gorgeous weather has made us even bigger fans of holidaying in the UK.  From our location in Hampshire, we had easy access to the New Forest, the Isle of Wight and Winchester for day trips, but mostly we just really enjoyed exploring the forest and relaxing in the hot tub together.  We even took part in the #getyourskillson challenge and had some fun in the great outdoors while we were there.

Forest Holidays, UK holidays


One of the biggest pleasures of our holiday was simply having fun in the forest: running, jumping, balancing, playing, hiding, swinging and exploring.  We looked at the flora and fauna of the forest and breathed the fresh air on our outdoor adventures.  It's exactly the kind of holiday that I would want my children to enjoy together.  It was perfect.

Forest Holidays, UK holidays


Forest Holidays offers "simple luxury in stunning locations" with nine idyllic resorts to choose from. Blackwood Forest was beautiful, tranquil and the cabins are outstanding. The resort wasn't overcrowded or commercial, it's just so peaceful, unspoilt and in harmony with the nature that surrounds it. It is definitely somewhere I'd stay again, we loved it.  Somewhere to escape to and reconnect as a family.

You can find out more about Forest Holidays and book your own break at www.forestholidays.co.uk.

Forest Holidays, UK holidays


We received a discount to use against this holiday in return for an honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own...we genuinely adored it!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Collins Back to School Learning Resources

Collins have a great range of back to school resources, which are perfect for supporting your children's learning at home.  From pre-school to A'Level, the range covers every step of a child's education, and includes atlases, dictionaries and work books.

Kizzy has received the KS3 range, which will see her through the start of her time in secondary school, covering English, Maths, languages and geography.  The books are user friendly and are completely up to date with the curriculum changes.

education, school


            


Freddy received the KS1 bundle which covers the core subjects and the new curriculum.  The language books include a CD and stickers to make the learning of a foreign language fun and engaging.  The Easy Learning books are an excellent way to support English and Maths skills, while the dictionary, thesaurus and atlas will be great resources to help with homework or projects.

Collins, school


               

Collins is offering parents 30% off their back to school books plus free p&p until 30 September 2014 by using the code SCHOOLBAG30 at the checkout.

You can also win one of 50 bundles of books for your child in a Collins branded schoolbag at Collins.co.uk/backtoschool

We took part in the #GetYourSkillsOn challenge!

This summer, whilst away on our Forest Holidays break in Blackwood Forest, we took part in the Tots 100 #GetYourSkillsOn challenge with Robinson's Fruit Shoot. It provided a really entertaining framework for the activities we planned to do, and provided lots of fun photo and video opportunities, which may otherwise have been missed.

To take part, we had to choose ten challenges from a list of forty, and record the children as they tried  out their new skills.  There were lots of laughs along the way and it was lovely to see the three children joining in and supporting one another in their efforts.

Carrying out the activities against the backdrop of the forest and the beach added a real element of adventure and the children rose to the challenges brilliantly.

Some challenges were a pretty easy such as having to balance something on your head for 15 seconds. Kizzy did a good job walking with a frisbee on her head, keeping a straight back and her chin up.  Not to be outdone, Freddy had a go too, running with it on his head!

Get Your Skills On, Fruit Shoot


At the seaside, the kids wanted to get in the sea to catch a wave, but as we didn't have the kit for a day's surfing, we decided to let the waves catch them instead!  (A little artistic licence in the completion of this challenge!!)  Freddy loved his first ever taste of running in the sea and jumping the waves.  It was such a pleasure watching him and hearing his giggles as he experienced the joy of the seaside with his sisters.  The sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day.  His water confidence increased massively, as he was very timid around it before discovering the fun of the surf.

Get Your Skills On, Fruit Shoot


Den building has been an activity that everyone has enjoyed.  Using the fallen branches from trees and making a wigwam shape around a tree trunk has proven to be a very efficient way of building a natural, outdoor den.  Being in a forest provided the best environment for den building, Gruffalo searching and bear hunting.  Freddy has had a wonderfully imaginative forest adventure and the den building definitely added to his games.

Get Your Skills On, Fruit Shoot


We bought Freddy a frisbee from a shop and introduced him to the fun of the flying disc!  Due to the problem with his eyes, his 3D vision is not as good as it should be and I do worry about the limitations this may give him.  However, after putting the frisbee in his hand, he showed excellent throwing and catching skills and not once did his vision hinder his ability.  He very quickly got the hang of it and learned a fun new skill.

Get Your Skills On, Fruit Shoot


Piggy backs are always fun and it was lovely to see Ella and Kizzy giving each other rides through the forest. When I was a little girl I had a piggy back related injury and broke my nose after falling flat on my face while carrying someone on my back.  Thankfully the girls were much safer and more stable than I was!

Get Your Skills On, Fruit Shoot


Swinging as high as you can is one of the challenges that the children really loved.  Freddy has just learned how to swing on his own and can get himself going and swing really high with confidence.  He has loved the play area here at Blackwood Forest.  But when we found a rope swing in the woods it was too good an opportunity to pass by.  Kizzy had a go and managed to swing really high until she hit a tree and went into a death spiral!  It was very funny watching her spin round and around.  Maybe I should have saved her, but I was too busy laughing.

Get Your Skills On, Fruit Shoot


I was really proud of Kizzy for having a go at climbing trees.  She was a bit nervous, but felt the fear and did it anyway.  Challenging yourself physically is an exhilarating thing to do, and it feels so good when you accomplish what you set out to do.  Kizzy was very brave and managed to negotiate the branches of a tree to get quite high.

Get Your Skills On, Fruit Shoot
  

Other challenges that the children completed were building a sandcastle on Sandown Beach on the Isle of Wight.  It was not the best sand for making castles so they made a raised mound of sand surrounding a deep hole that quickly filled with sun warmed sea water.  (I really liked it as it reminded me of a fantasy land from Westeroes in Game of Thrones for some reason.)  They managed to get some dry sand from further up shore and mix it with the heavy, wet sand to make two turreted towers overlooking their miniature kingdom, using Freddy's new bucket, to complete the grand structure. They didn't last long though, because Freddy was desperate to jump on them!  That is one of the joys of building a sandcastle though.


Get Your Skills On, Fruit Shoot


After the excitement of the Commonwealth Games and in particular the thrilling men's 4 x 100 m relay, the children are all very interested in athletics.  So staging their own 100 m sprint (albeit clad in wellies) gave them a chance to embody their inner Usain Bolt and run like the wind!  Freddy enjoys racing his sisters and giving himself a cheeky headstart.  There were so many long stretches of open forest paths to run down whilst we were on holiday.  The children got plenty of exercise and fresh air in the great outdoors.

Get Your Skills On, Fruit Shoot


On one of our day trips, we watched some street performers in Winchester who were doing a street dance demonstration. Freddy was so intrigued by the popping and locking and the break dance moves that the kids were doing. When we got back, he wanted to try his own street dancing moves based on what he had seen. He was utterly adorable pulling his moves and doing his thing.  As a result of the dancing, we are going to be finding a street dance class for Freddy to attend so he can perfect his B-Boying!  This has been the best part of this challenge, discovering a new skill that Freddy wants to explore further.

              


We have really loved taking part in this challenge, learning new skills and having fun together.  It was a great idea for keeping the kids active and entertained, and I absolutely adored watching them getting stuck in. Here is our video showing how the children got on as they embraced the #GetYourSkillsOn challenges.

              


This is our entry into the Tots 100/Robinson's Fruit Shoot #GetYourSkillsOn challenge.

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