Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Peter Rabbit's Christmas Tale - Giveaway

I'm pretty sure that each child has "their" programme which they would watch over and over and over again without ever tiring of it.  For Ben at the age of 2 it was Postman Pat on repeat and my word was it a lifesaver in those final stages of pregnancy with Chloe. We could be found most afternoons pegged out on the sofa together watching the same two or three episodes over and over whilst I snoozed.  Chloe, at the same age, loved to watch "Pete" - this was a love affair which lasted for the best part of two years.  Although her tastes have broadened somewhat she still enjoys the familiar comfort of good old Peter Rabbit. 

This Christmas, Peter Rabbit is off on a whole new set of adventures with a collection of 8 wintery episodes - sure to be a hit with little ones over the holidays. 

If you'd like to win a copy of the DVD for yourself, just complete the rafflecopter below - ensuring to do this accurately to avoid disqualification.  

The promoter will make every effort to get this out to you in time for wrapping up for Christmas but obviously we can't promise this! 

Tried & Tested Tuesday

Welcome along to another #TriedTested Tuesday, we hope you’ve got some fabulous reviews to share with us this week?  It's officially December and we can really start to get into the festive mood now *sticks on a few Christmas songs as she writes*

We really do appreciate your support each week with our #TriedTested linky – so many of you are fabulously loyal and we love you for it!   Please have a quick read through the points below to make sure you know how things are working:

* Tried & Tested is open on Tuesday – from 8am to midnight on the same day 

* We’d love to share your post on Twitter – please tweet us your link (@Lollinski & @FamilyFever) along with the #TriedTested hashtag and we’ll retweet that for you

* If you’d like Colette to tweet you a reminder each week when the linky is open then please drop her a tweet (@Lollinski) and she’ll add you to the list

* We will continue to feature our two favourite reviews from the past week and we have introduced a brand new “featured blogger” badge which we’re very excited about! If you are this week’s featured blogger we will send you over the code which we would love you to add to you blog post or sidebar!

So if this is your first time here then welcome along! You can find out more about it and how to join in here. If you’re a regular then welcome to you too, it’s lovely to have you back! Crack on, link up and share some commenty love – let’s face it, that’s what makes linkys work.

This week our favourite reviews have taken a bit of a festive theme:

Lapland UK review from A Strong Coffee - We're starting to get really excited about Christmas now and this fab review put it right in the mood for our planned festive adventures.


The Magic Door Store review from Mummy Daddy Mia - For those of you planning a bit of "Elf on the Shelf" fun this December this Magic Door could be just what you need.  (There's even a discount code too)

If you link up please do make sure you visit your hosts Family Fever and We’re going on an adventure to leave a comment on the posts we have each linked up as well as a couple of others if you can – we know that people really, really appreciate the feedback!  We do ask that you link a maximum of 2 posts each week to keep things fair for everyone – if you choose to link up an extra post please make sure you visit extra posts in the linky to balance it out.  

Please don’t link up a linky or comment on other people’s posts asking them to join your linky too as it’s really not good etiquette! (Additional or irrelevant posts will be deleted out of fairness). We do our best to visit each post and leave a comment but we can’t promise to get round everyone every week, life has a tendency to get in the way! We would love it if you grabbed our badge and popped it on your post too so other people know where to find the linky.

We're going on an adventure

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Lipa Theater app by Lipa Learning - Review

When it comes to screen time we are really conscious of what we allow the kids to play.  We like the apps they're using to have a purpose - to promote learning, challenge their thinking and problem solving skills or helping them with their reading.  App stores are awash with apps aimed at children and let's face it, some are better than others!  Whilst we have a number of trusted apps which we always fall back on, we do like to add new ones in occasionally to keep things fresh. 

We've recently been introduced to Lipa, claiming to be a "new generation approach to childhood development" and we were keen to try out their latest release Lipa Theater (which is currently only available for Apple)

Lipa Theater offers you a stage with a range of characters and props allowing you to create your own fantastic tales.  In theory, the only limit here is your own imagination.  In this active storytelling game, you build the perfect Wild West drama, or an out-of-this-world alien comedy set on Mars, while learning all about design and creativity.  The teacher in me loves this app.  I love that you can set up and act out your own stories.  This isn't just throwing birds around or tapping wildly at a screen to match coloured candies.  There's some thought and imagination required to get the most out of this app. 

When you first log into the app you are greeted with a screen telling you a little about the app.  This is only seen the first time you log in so I can't actually tell you what it says now, maybe should have paid more attention to that the first time!  

Anyhow, as you open the app the home screen offers up a nice big, green, pulsing "play button" in the middle of the screen making it perfectly clear to your child what they need to do!  There's also a "settings" button which allows you to change the language (Lipa is available in 8 different languages already!) and also volume controls for the sounds and music (a vital option in my opinion!)  The bottom of the screen gives you a "For Parents" button which invites you to download the Lipa Gateway app.  There's also a further button offering the option of "more games" taking you to a catalogue of Lipa games which are available - I'm pleased to say that there is a Parental Lock on this option which means your child shouldn't be able to download apps without your permission - that said it isn't exactly complicated; "Swipe left with one finger", so I think Ben would probably manage to break that one but our App Store is password protected anyway. 

So onto the game itself. . . 

I must admit that at first we had some trouble with the sound, although we could see that the Joker character on screen was speaking we couldn't hear anything.  I made sure the sound was up on both the ipad and the app but nothing made any difference.  In the end it just seemed to start working but this has happened once or twice since.  I've spoken to a couple of other people who have the app and haven't experienced the same issue but we've found that if you go into the "My Story" section and activate the video camera it all seems to wake up so then you can move back out to "Theater School".  Of course, the sound isn't working - you basically can't do anything as you need to be able to hear the instructions! 

I had a quick scout through the app myself so I could see what it was all about and downloaded the Lipa Gateway app so that I was able to make profiles for each of the children.  This is easily done and means their information is carried across Lipa apps. 

When I passed the iPad over to Ben I was keen to give him minimal instruction to see if he could just get on with it himself.  The home screen shows two options "Theater School" and "My Story" - the idea being that you complete Theatre School first so that you can get a feel for the app and what it does.  
As you work your way through Theater School, the Joker character gives instructions for you to follow allowing you to master various features, unlocking new ones as you have got to grips with each one.  I encouraged Ben to take his time with Theatre School and explained that if he didn't understand everything properly then he wouldn't be able to use the app to its fullest. 

Once Ben had completed Theater School and moved on to My Story, I let him play around for a bit before realising he didn't quite get what he was supposed to do.  Once I demonstrated it for him and the fact you could record your own narration over the top of your play he was really excited.  He loved choosing different scenery, adding characters and props before pressing the "film" button and acting out his little story with his own voice over the top.  Obviously this isn't the easiest thing in the world and requires a little practise and effort but he was really focused on giving it a good go.  He loved being able to play back his performance.  
Chloe, at 4, wasn't quite as adept as Ben at using the app and preferred to just create a tableau with her chosen scenery and characters.  

What we love about it:
* This is an app which requires thought and imagination to the get the best out of it 
* The characters are bright and appealing
* Everything works smoothly and is easily accessible for young children
* The movement of the characters makes them look like real puppets in a puppet show
* It's easy to change the scenery with a quick swipe to the left / right
* Details like the curtain rising as you move from section to section of the app make it feel very "theatre like"
* Being able to set up profiles on the Lipa Gateway means each child can save and access their own creations
* The parental controls to avoid accidental additional app downloads 
* There's no advertising (as you would expect from a paid for app)
* There's no risk of in app purchases
* Theater School teaches you about the features of the app before you leap into playing on your own
* You can save your creation and then download it to your device, email it to someone or upload it to Facebook
* Recording your own voice over your story is great for developing speaking and listening skills, for developing a real "story telling" voice and using expression
* This is a great way of developing story skills without actually having to write things down 
* Being able to watch your work back means you can appraise it and think about how you can improve next time! 
* You can work as a team to create and tell a story together, using different voices and taking control of different characters
* Ben says he loves that he can find so many different things to do

What we're not so keen on: 
* The issues we've had with the sound have been a little frustrating
* This isn't really an app you can use with the sound off so headphones could be a good plan!
* The American spelling of "theatre" bugs me
* We'd love for it to be available on Google Play too as our children have android tablets.
* The characters have really irritating voices - the kids thought they were great but they drove me crackers. 

The more I play with this app the more things there are that I like about it.  It has been really well thought out and, with a bit of concentration, Ben is really starting to get to grips with it.  I think it would work really well in the classroom as well as at home.  I'm looking forward to investigating some more Lipa offerings. 

*Disclaimer - I have been compensated for my time in writing this post, however all thoughts and opinions remain my own*

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Things I'm looking forward to this Christmas!

It's nearly December . . . this time next month will be Christmas Day!  I'm about half way through the Christmas shopping and have spent much of today rehearsing for Christmas performances at school, I'm starting to get excited! 

Last year was a bit of a funny Christmas for us, it was the first time we had hosted Christmas in our own home and as such was a Christmas we I had mixed feelings about.  It was lovely to be in our newly extended house and to be able to have both mine and Dave's family here with us.  Dave cooked a pretty impressive feast and we didn't have to cart our whole world to York.  But I have to admit it just didn't feel quite right.  Christmas for me is all about tradition; about the things we do year in, year out which make it feel like Christmas.  (Dave is literally rolling his eyes at me as I write this)

With this in mind I wanted to share with you some of the things I'm really looking forward to about being at Mum and Dad's this Christmas:

1. The Christmas tree
For many reasons we have only ever had a fake tree at home so I'm always really excited to go to Mum and Dad's where they always have an enormous real christmas tree decorated by my little sister.  I love the smell of a real tree, I even love the pine needles on the floor! 

2. The present room
Mum and Dad have a huge living room which they don't use so much during the summer months however come the winter it comes into it's own with its huge comfy sofas and coal fire. Last time we spent Christmas there, we'd taken a break from opening gifts to have some breakfast when Ben asked "Can we go back in the present room now?!" and we've called the living room that ever since!  I can't wait to see the room all decorated for Christmas and their little faces at the piles of presents when "he's been" on Christmas morning.

3. The coal fire 
There really is nothing like a massive open fire at Chrismas I promise you.  I missed the fire so much last year.  It sounds ridiculous but it just didn't feel like Christmas without it.  Mum lights the fire first thing in the morning and keeps it going all day.  I love curling up on the sofa with Dave after the kids have gone to bed, eating my turkey buttie and mince pie watching Christmas telly in front of the fire.   Dad even sent me a picture of the fire when they got home from our house last Christmas - how mean is that! 

4. A full on festive feast 
As I said at the start of this post, Dave really did do an amazing job of Christmas dinner last year but that doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to a traditional "Dad and Nic" Christmas dinner!  Every now and again we debate wether we should have turkey or try something different - but in the end we all know that it wouldn't be Christmas without a massive bird!  (Check out Donald Russell for some turkey based hints and tips)  Although Dad and Nic tend to tweak things and add new bits and pieces to the meal, there are certain things which are part of our Christmas dinner by law - and this includes prunes stuffed with shallots and wrapped in bacon.  If I remember rightly this was one of those recipes Mum got from her Prima magazine many many Christmasses ago and they're one of my favourite bits of Christmas dinner! 

5. The magic
This year may well be our most magical yet - Amy is old enough to get the excitement of Christmas more this year and Ben is still young enough to "believe".  I know our Christmasses are numbered so I will be working super hard to keep the magic alive for as long as possible.  Ben and I were only discussing this week that Father Christmas would know we would be back at Granny and Grandad's this year and that he'd probably be relieved as they have a proper chimney!

So there you go, I can't wait to pack the car up with three excited little kids, stick on some Christmas songs and make our way across the M62 for our full on family Christmas at Mum and Dad's. It's going to be a good one! 
*This is a collaborative post*

Brush up on Brushing with Oasis Dental Care

According to a leaflet Ben and Chloe brought home from school last week, under fives in Oldham have some of the worst tooth decay in the country.  Nice.  That's a statistic to be proud of then. 

Perfectly timed with the Oldham Council "Big Brush" campaign last week, we had already been invited to take part in the "Brush up on Brushing" campaign with Oasis Dental Care
In order to encourage more regular, more effective teeth cleaning we were sent a special box with a reward chart, an egg timer, a brand new electric toothbrush and cinema vouchers as a treat. 

Oasis Dental Care are keen to get kids excited about taking care of their teeth, particularly making sure that they brush for the recommended two minutes, twice a day. 

Ben and Chloe have always been pretty good about brushing their teeth - if a little too independent.  Whilst we supervise brushing, they're not always too keen on letting us have a go ourselves to check they've got into all the awkward places.  As they get older they are getting better at remembering when to brush their teeth and the bedtimes are absolutely routine but I hold my hands up to there being mornings where we've got part way to school and I suddenly ask "Have you brushed your teeth?".  At 4 and 6, this is not their responsibility.  It is mine.  

We decided that Chloe should be the one to have the shiny new toothbrush and that in itself has been a huge incentive.  Having a grown up, electric toothbrush is an enormous novelty!  Her new toothbrush makes all sorts of beepy noises to let you know when the time is up - and we particularly love that rather than immediately expecting her to brush for the full two minutes, it builds up to that steadily over time. 

We've never been hot on the whole "two minutes" thing if I'm honest.  Two minutes is longer than you think and I guess I've tended to work on the basis that if they've had the brush around their mouth we're not doing too badly.  I've meant to invest in a timer for them but have never got round to it so I was thrilled to find one in our special Brush up on Brushing box.  Ben loves the idea of the egg timer we were sent and he's been keen to make sure he brushes his teeth for the full time the sand is trickling through!  

Of course the whole time that Ben and Chloe are taking increasing responsibility for their own dental care, they're setting the perfect example for their little sister.  Amy loves to brush her teeth, or more chew her toothbrush to bits.  Usually she will let us have a go afterwards to check that they're all sparkly clean. 

After a full month of focusing on our brushing routines I'm confident that our new regimes are embedded and that tooth brushing has become more exciting!  Ben has even asked for a new toothbrush like Chloe's for Christmas! 

Next job on the list is to book everyone a check up at the Dentist and then enjoy our trip to the cinema! 
*Disclaimer - We were sent a special box of goodies to aid us in our Brush up on Brushing month.  All thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

A full house clean from Fantastic Services - Review

It's Tuesday afternoon, shortly after lunch, Amy is in bed and I've got an hour or two to crack on and get some work done.  Mostly this is a time to write, to catch up on blog admin and edit photos.  This is often to the detriment of the housework.  I'm never sure how to class my work situation - am I a stay at home mum, a work at home mum or am I neither of these because I actually teach part time?  Any which way you look at it; between my supply work, looking after three children and writing this blog my life is busy. 

Our house is generally pretty clean but it's rarely tidy.  Anyone who visits us will be familiar with the cluttered kitchen surfaces or the dining room piled high with stuff.  With three kids and a dog along with a general lack of storage, it's a constant battle to keep things where they should be.  Ben and Chloe are getting much better at tidying up now and we are starting to assign them set tasks, for example it's now Ben's job to wipe the table down after every meal.   

It can be hard to prioritise my time - should I be cleaning, washing, writing, sitting on the floor doing jigsaws with Amy, reading books with Chloe or building Lego with Ben?  I try not to write when the kids are around, though I do often check my social media and send emails.  Blogging is generally saved for when they are sleeping and I can concentrate.  Washing, cleaning and ironing?  These are all things I do whilst they're playing or watching tv.  Sometimes I feel guilty that I'm doing stuff like that when I could be playing with them but then I remind myself that they need those clean clothes and clean home to live in and it's also setting a good example to them for doing these things themselves one day.
At the moment Amy is very demanding of my attention.  She likes to be near me, to cuddle, to be picked up, to climb all over me.  If I'm trying to tidy in the kitchen she will follow me around saying "Miss you Mummy, you sit down, love you all day Mummy" until I sit on the sofa with her.  Of course the moment I do sit down, she's off to do something else.  She just wants me to be near by, so she can see me and talk to me.  I find myself saying "Just wait a minute love, Mummy's got to do her jobs" but then I have those moments where I realise she isn't going to want this forever, there will come a time where she's more than happy to leave me to clean the kitchen and iron because she's all grown up and doesn't need me to play with her any more.  I sit down.  I cuddle her.  I let her make me cups of tea and bring me dinner from her kitchen in the playroom. 

Today I haven't had to make any of those decisions.  Today Fantastic Services came and did all my cleaning jobs for me.  During the three hours that they were here they have cleaned, scrubbed, polished, mopped, tidied, wiped, hoovered and even washed up. 

I've never had someone in to do the cleaning before so I was unsure what to expect and I must admit I was a little nervous.  Would I feel comfortable having someone in my house?  Would they do a good job? 

The booking experience was simple, a quick phone call to discuss timings, to check the parking situation outside our property and also to check my priorities for the clean followed by a confirmation email explaining what I should expect from the cleaners on the day.

Bang on the allotted time Alex arrived at my front door and introduced himself.  He carefully put on blue over shoes to protect my home before asking me to show him around the house and talk to him about what I needed doing.  I had mentally prioritised my bathroom and kitchen and explained that I really wasn't bothered if they didn't do anything in the bedrooms as they weren't particularly tidy and only really needed a dust and hoover anyway so I was happy for Alex and his cleaning partner to focus their attention elsewhere.  Alex was keen not to miss the rooms out and explained they would still hoover and dust if that was OK with me.  Once I had finished showing him the rooms they got on quickly, bringing their equipment in from the car and making a start on the bathroom and kitchen as these were the rooms I had highlighted as being the most important. 

I wasn't completely comfortable being in the house whilst Alex and his partner were cleaning - mainly as I just didn't want to get in their way, especially with Amy at home.  Amy thought Alex was wonderful and was keen to chat to him so I felt I should probably get her out of the way.  We took ourselves off for a cheeky hot chocolate and a bit of window shopping which was a lovely way to spend our Tuesday morning, especially knowing that someone was cleaning our house for us!  I must admit it felt a little strange going out of the house leaving behind people I'd never met before - it does rather go against your natural instincts!

Amy and I were able to take ourselves out for a cheeky coffee date and come back to a clean and tidy house.  When we got home the Fantsatic Services cleaners were about two thirds of their way through our allotted time.  The kitchen was sparkling - our high gloss cupboard doors, which are the bane of my life with smudges, smears and finger prints are now streak free and shiny.  All the surfaces had been thoroughly cleaned and it was clear that things like the toaster had been moved to be cleaned underneath rather than just quickly wiping around them.  Any bits and pieces which had been left in the kitchen had been carefully arranged and tidied up into a neat pile to allow me to put them away quickly later. 

Our bathroom is a notoriously dusty room, I think it comes from a tiny gap in the wall which is awaiting an extractor fan.  Today, however it's bright and sparkly right down to the silver tile trims.  The floor isn't quite up to the standard of the rest of the room, I'm not sure if it was missed completely or if it just dried funny and needed an extra wipe once the job was done.  

The bedooms, which I hadn't really expected to be done within the time, have all been hoovered and polished inluding the mirror in our bedroom.  Even the beds have been made and the children's toys picked up and put neatly on the window sill. 

The living room and dining room were the last to be done and as such probably suffered a little from the time starting to run out - at first glance they're pristine, the mirror is clean and streak free, the perpetually dusty tv stand is now clean and shiny. On closer inspection some of the picture frames haven't been polished but as I say, I think this is more due to a lack of time than poor workmanship.  I was really impressed that the sofas were pulled out and cleaned underneath as this could so easily have been missed!

Over all I'm absolutely thrilled with the service provided by Fantastic Services.  Three hours of cleaning by Alex and his partner has cleaned much of my house to a higher standard than I would ever have time for myself - it would have taken me at least a full child free day to clean as thoroughly and effectively.  And, more than just the clean house, they've given me time.  Time to spend with the kids, to get my work done or to sit on the sofa in peace.

The three hour clean we have experienced today would have cost £79.  I particularly love that, unlike other local services I've researched previously who insist on a regular booking for a minimum time, Fantastic offer a one off cleaning service so that you don't have to commit.  Just every now and again when you're time poor or have a spare few quid, you can book in as many hours as you like and just prioritise the jobs which need doing.  If at the end of your time there's still work to be done you can even extend your booking for an additional fee.  Would I have them back?  Absolutely. 

Should you wish to try out Fantastic Services yourself I'm able to share with you a special discount code - use Colette10 to receive £10 off your first service (Min charges apply. Subject to availability and area coverage.  This code cannot be combined with other offers and discounts)

*Disclaimer - We were provided with a one off three hour cleaning service free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own* 

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