Lacing Letters from Learning Resources – Review

Learning Resources have been on my radar for more years than I care to remember – pretty much since the start of my teaching career I think and we don’t need to talk about how long ago that was *ahem*.  Learning Resources products are commonplace in classrooms – providing fun, quality resources to support teaching and learning.  But, they’re not just for school!  In fact we have several of their products at home already.

The most recent addition to our Learning Resources collection is a tub of Lacing Letters.  A tub of ‘sounds’ (or graphemes to give them their technical term) which can be threaded onto laces to create words.  Now this isn’t just a standard set of letters – this particular tub contains sounds from Phases Two and Three of Letters and Sounds.  (‘Phonics’ is taught in “phases” which means that sounds are taught in a specific order and the Phase Two and Phase Three sounds are taught fairly early on in your child’s phonics education).

Learning Resources Lacing Letters - graphemes

If I’m honest I don’t actually know what Phase Chloe is on now, but I would think she’s somewhere along Phase 5 (and getting ready for her Year 1 Phonics Screening Check – but that’s another post entirely!)  When I gave Chloe the tub of Lacing Letters to have a play with, the first word she decided to spell was mountain which she must have been learning at school that week – otherwise it’s a really random choice!

Writing words with Lacing Letters from Learning Resources

Learning Resources Lacing Letters - writing names

She quickly realised that she needed to thread the letters on the the other way to normal so as to avoid writing her word backwards!  And we chatted a bit about making sure the letters were positioned the right way round too.

Threading Learning Resources Lacing Letters

The letters (or graphemes) are easy to handle and the threading laces benefit from a nice long tip meaning that Amy was perfectly able to thread the letters on for the sake of a fine motor skills activity working alongside her big sister!

The yellow laces have a long tip - Learning Resources Lacing Letters

The Lacing Letters tub contains 12 laces and four of of each grapheme making it ideal for small group work in a classroom situation – there’s also a little leaflet inside with some suggestions for activities if you’re lacking in inspiration!

At over £20 for the tub I would suggest they are probably a bit of an expensive investment to have at home when your child will quickly progress beyond Phase Three (though as Chloe proves, they are still useful further down the line) but for classroom use they’re fab!

*We were sent the Learning Resources Lacing Letters free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Sands Alive Cake Shop – Review

Have you come across Sands Alive yet?  It’s the most bizarre substance – super-soft, non-toxic sand which is infinitely mould-able and clears up easily . . . it’s almost across between normal sand and play-doh but softer, and less messy.  Ben got a really small tub for Christmas which he enjoyed messing about with but the Sands Alive Cake Shop is our first proper foray into playing with this special sand.

Sands Alive Cake Shop

The Sands Alive Cake Shop from John Adams is available elusively in Argos and retails at just shy of £20.

Both girls were keen to get stuck in and make a start on their cakes!  There’s no instructions needed – just mould and go basically!

Sands Alive / kinetic sand

texture of Sands Alive kinetic sand

Sands Alive Cake Shop cake moulds

sands alive - fastening the cake mould togther

Sands Alive Cake Shop - almost good enough to eat!

Sisters playing with Sands Alive Cake Shop

Sands Alive - patterns with rolling pin

What we loved about it:

* It’s super soft and feels lovely in your hands
* It moulds really well – showing up intricate details from the cake moulds
* It’s all-natural materials so there shouldn’t be any reason for it to irritate the skin
* It doesn’t dry out – there’s no need for fancy storage containers
* The cake moulds and rolling pins are really easy for little hands to use
* It’s really easy to clean up – it picks up really easily and anything left will just sweep or hoover up, this stuff isn’t going to get trodden into your shag pile!

What we’re not so keen on:

* If you’re one of these that doesn’t like to have the play-doh colours mixed then this isn’t for you, after your first couple of cakes then the pink and white sand are just one big blob which didn’t offend my girls in the slightest but I can imagine it might set some people’s teeth on edge
* The price point is fairly high to my mind when you can make / buy Play Doh for a lot less, but for the novelty factor and the fact it’s easy to clean up maybe its worth it?
* Oh and you can’t eat it, no matter how tasty it looks!

All in, these two are big fans and are keen to get it out again for another play!

*We were sent the Sands Alive Cake Shop free of charge for the purpose of review*

Draw & Discover books – Review & Giveaway

Draw & Discover - having a go

At the moment Chloe is super keen on anything to do with drawing and colouring in.  She’s suddenly discovered a real love of it and will spend huge amounts of time carefully choosing her colours and doing her work to the very best of her ability (and getting suitably cross with herself if she makes a mistake.)  The latest offering from best selling children’s author & illustrator Yasmeen Ismail, “Draw & Discover” activity books are aimed at inquisitive children age 4-7 and I was sure they would appeal to Chloe.

Draw & Discover

Due for release at the start of February, the Draw and Discover series features two books “Push, Pull, Empty, Full” and “Inside, Outside, Upside Down” – each book features simple text and instructions to guide children on an adventure through 30 fun colour and drawing activities.

As it turns out the Draw & Discover books are a hit with both Ben and Chloe.  I love that they give both structure and freedom – sometimes a blank piece of paper to write or draw on can be a bit daunting.  The Draw & Discover series gives you some guidance to get you going but your only limit after that is your own imagination!  (Or in my case a complete lack of artistic talent!)

Draw & Discover

Draw & Discover - having a go

If you’d like to enter to win the Draw & Discover books please complete as many of the Rafflecopter options as you would like, ensuring to do this accurately to avoid disqualification.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*We were sent the Draw & Discover books free of charge for the purposes of review.  All thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Teksta Micro Pets – Review

Fresh on my radar this week are Teksta Micro Pets . . . I’d never heard of them before we were sent them to review but the idea of miniature robotic pets that respond to touch and voice sparked my interest. Surely Chloe would love these!

The Teksta Micro Pets are the smallest Tekstas ever, fitting comfortably in the palm of your hand.  There’s four different animals to collect; Puppy, Kitty, Racoon and Dino each with their own playset which can all be linked together to create “the ultimate adventure world”.

Teksta Micro Pets - Puppy with light up eyes

Teksta Micro Pets - tiny robotic puppy

The track comes in pieces and can be arranged numerous ways to custom build your own adventure park, however it does come with clear instructions for some suggested combinations to get your started!  I’m utterly rubbish with construction things – I lack both skill and patience.  Ben however has these in abundance so I left it to him.  (It does say on the instruction sheet that adult supervision may be required but Ben was more than capable of connecting the tracks together without my interference!)

Teksta Micro Pets - putting the track together

Our little Teksta Micro Pets puppy has been renamed “Isabelle” by Chloe who unsurprisingly thought he was really cute.  I must admit that his funny little electronic beep of a bark caught me unawares the first time I turned him on.  I didn’t give Chloe any instructions for play with her Teksta Micro Pets puppy, just flipped the switch on the back of his head to turn him on and left her to it.

Teksta Micro Pets - on / off switch

Teksta Micro Pets - excitement

When you talk to your pet, clap or make sounds he will walk, ‘bark’ and flash his eyes.  If you pop you hand in front of his path he will automatically stop.  You can pet your puppy by gently pressing the button on the top of his head and he will respond by making a noise and flashing his eyes.  You can even ‘train’ your Teksta Micro Pets puppy to only move forwards by pressing and holding the button on top of his head and clapping.

Teksta Micro Pets - puppy on track

Teksta Micro Pets - puppy chasing ball on track
Teksta Micro Pets - clap to make the puppy move

Safe to say, Chloe was thrilled with her Teksta Micro Pets puppy and whilst she’s probably not quite so bothered by the track itself, her new friend is here to stay.

*We were sent the Teksta Micro Pets set free of charge for the purposes of review.  All thoughts an opinions remain our own*

PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar Review

There is no escaping it now, Christmas is coming.  December is not far away at all and it’s most definitely time to start thinking about advent calendars – unless you want to be rushing round Tesco late at night on 30th November grabbing whatever naff chocolate offering is left on the shelves . . . In recent years advent calendars have really upped their game.  I remember as a kid having a paper one – one that just had a picture behind each door! Remember those!?  Yeah they don’t cut the mustard now do they . . . from a PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar for the kids to luxury beauty calendars or even gin – there’s something for everyone right?!

This year we have our very first PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar – and I’m pretty excited about that!  Now of course for the purposes of writing you a proper review, I have opened a couple of the doors – just to give you a flavour of what’s inside – but I’m sure you understand why I haven’t opened them all . . . I don’t want to ruin the surprises for you guys, nor do I want to spoil the PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar for my own little team!

There are six PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendars available this year – which means in theory Ben, Chloe and Amy could have a different one each.  We have “Christmas on the Farm” which I love as it’s perfectly unisex!

 PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar

Each door of the PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar opens to reveal a part of a festive farm scene – these are normal sized PLAYMOBIL figures and accessories so the play value from this advent calendar is huge!  It comes with fold out 3D scenery for you to build your set on throughout the course of December.

PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar

PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar - open door

PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar - cow

PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar - cows

Somehow I’ve managed to keep the PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar a secret so that’s going to be a lovely surprise for the kids on the 1st December and I can’t wait to see them build up the scene piece by piece.  Of course part of me would like to pack it all away at the end of December and bring it out again next year but I know realistically it’s going to go into their steadily increasing PLAYMOBIL collection!

*We received the PLAYMOBIL Advent Calendar free of charge for the purposes of review.  All tboughts and opinions remain our own*/small>

PLAYMOBIL Pirates – Review

PLAYMOBIL Pirates - Ben & Amy show off their new sets

When Ben spotted our most recent PLAYMOBIL Pirates delivery he was pretty excited.  Pirates are just cool right?  This month we have a set of three different pirate themed sets which all work great individually but even better when combined as a full set.

PLAYMOBIL PIrates sets

Ben took charge of piecing together each set by himself – he is super confident with LEGO and other fiddly construction sets, unlike me who is all fingers and thumbs.  I’m rubbish when it comes to all the little bits and pieces that come with PLAYMOBIL but he loves faffing about and getting it all set up.  I’m glad that, at 7, he’s that bit older and is able to construct it all himself otherwise it would fall to Daddy!

PLAYMOBIL Pirates - Ben & Amy show off their new sets

Playmobil Pirate Captain – 6684

We loved all the details which came with this individual pirate figure – Ben thought it was ace that he had a “peg leg” and I loved his crutch and parrot!  The attention to detail is spot on, from the eye patch and stubbly beard to the way the crutch is designed to remain standing and provide a perch for the parrot.

PLAYMOBIL Pirate - 6684

PLAYMOBIL Pirate Raft – 6682

The PLAYMOBIL Pirate Raft apparently floats on water though we’ve not tested this ourselves – if I’m honest I don’t really want to them to put the PLAYMOBIL in the bath along with everything else!! The Pirate Raft comes with two PLAYMOBIL Pirates and a range of accessories including firing cannons for extra protection when under attack!

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PLAYMOBIL Pirate Fort SuperSet-  6146

Being the biggest of the three sets, of course this was the one Ben was most excited about so I made him wait till last . . . mean? Me?!

This set consists of a pier with a jetty and a lookout area / tower.  Ben said he thought this would be better if it was a complete building rather than just the front section and I can see his point but it would be harder to play with I think.  The PLAYMOBIL Pirates Super Set includes a floating rowing boat and firing cannon along with three pirate figures and a treasure chest full of gold coins!  Again the level of attention to detail and all the additional accessories is fantastic, there’s so much to play with – Ben loves setting up little scenes and acting out pirate adventures!

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I think the PLAYMOBIL Pirates Super Set makes a fantastic starting point for your pirate adventures whilst the other PLAYMOBIL Pirates sets just add to the fun and imaginative play!

Ben with PLAYMOBIL Pirates

PLAYMOBIL Pirates - all three sets together

We were set these PLAYMOBIL Pirates set free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own

Playmags Magnetic Construction Set – Review

For as long as I can remember Ben has shown an interest in magnets.  If I’m honest I find them rather fascinating myself!  Magnets combined with construction was always going to be a winner for my boy.  I know he is drawn to a magnetic construction kit at his after school club but it’s not something we’ve had at home until now.

Playmags Box shot

Playmags are a range of award-winning magnetic building blocks designed to be super easy to use thanks to their magnets which attract on all sides, even when flipped round.  Even before we’d opened the set, I was excited for the learning potential of these colourful, magnetic tiles –  my head was buzzing with ideas for exploring the properties of shapes all whilst playing.  Of course the kids weren’t thinking about the properties of shape at all, they were more interested in getting on and seeing what they could build.

Playmags magnetic tiles

What we love about them: 

The bright see-through tiles are really pretty too look at!

The tiles are much bigger than I expected meaning that Amy is perfectly able to play with them

The magnets attract on all sides making them really easy to fit together

There’s so much learning potential – spatial awareness, properties of 2D & 3D shapes – Ben has quickly learned to differentiate between three types of triangles and name them.

One 60 piece set is enough for hours of play, but you can buy additional sets to build up your collection

Ben playing with Playmags

Playmags tulip

What we’re not so keen on: 

Ben was a little frustrated that the booklet which came with ideas of things to make wasn’t specific to his set so it means that he doesn’t always have the right colours or pieces to make the things he wants to

Playmags aeroplane

Available from Amazon or for further information visit www.playmags.com

*We were sent Playmags free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opionins reamin our own*

Sleep Tight All Night Teddy – Review

Amy sleeping

I’m grateful that for the most part, all three children have always been pretty good sleepers.  They have all had a fairly fixed bedtime routine from a very young age (Ben was in fact just 5 weeks old) and I’m sure that has played a big part in their ability to go to sleep without too much fuss each night.  Amy didn’t sleep through regularly till she was about 15 months old but having to share a bedroom with Mummy & Daddy was definitely a factor in this!

Ben has always been a bit of an early riser.  We tried the ever popular Gro Clock with him but for a number of reasons it wasn’t really a big hit and in the end he just learned to play quietly in his room until it was time to get up.  Chloe on the other hand loves a good lie in, I often have to wake her for school and she has been known to sleep in till 9am on occasion

Mostly Amy sleeps well but can be disturbed by Daddy getting ready for work in the morning (at 5.30am . . . ) and thinks it is time to get up.  Usually I can go in and tell her that it’s still night time and she will try to go back to sleep – this is of course easier as the mornings are getting darker as obviously “dark = night time” right?  Last week she woke up at about 5am, nothing to do with Dave as he was still in bed, and told me quite clearly that she didn’t want to be asleep any more and that her eyes wouldn’t stay shut.  I’m sure you can imagine that I told her quite clearly that it was the middle of the night (slight exaggeration there) and that she really must go back to sleep.  I can’t tell you how glad I was that she did indeed manage to shut her eyes and drop off!

Sleep Tight Teddy Bear

Sleep Tight All Night Teddy from Golden Bear Toys is designed to help your child to understand when to sleep and when to get up – which means in theory I shouldn’t have to get up and tell Amy to go back to sleep as the teddy should be able to do the job for me!

Sleep Tight All Night Teddy features a timer which allows you to specify how long your child should be asleep – either a full night or just a quick afternoon snooze.  Amy is pretty good at having a sleep in the afternoon and generally has to be woken in time for the school run so we’ve stuck to using Sleep Tight All Night Teddy for night time sleeping.

Amy sleeping

In it’s simplest terms Sleep Tight All Night Teddy features a glowing light in his tummy which shows up red for “stay in bed” and green for “get up and go” – Amy had this sussed without me even explaining it to her.  She saw the pictures on the box and told me quite clearly what the lights meant – off to a good start there then!  Although red for stop and green to go is a pretty obvious choice of lights and one which we all understand, there’s actually a good dose of science behind it – green wave lengths are thought to be be beneficial during daylight hours helping to boost attention and reaction times (where can I get me some green lights?!) however it is most disruptive at night as it reduces the amount of melatonin in the body and affects your ability to fall asleep.  Red light is the least upsetting to your body clock and melatonin production therefore is the best choice for night time!

green light

Sleep Tight All Night Teddy - red light

Sleep Tight All Night Teddy’s tummy doesn’t glow all night – just for a short time after you’ve given his tummy a squeeze which means that if you wake up in the night (or after the pre-set wake up time is reached) and give him a cuddle, he will soon tell you if it’s time to get up or not.  I would have liked to have been able to set a regular wake up time however it’s necessary to set an allotted number of sleeping hours each night at bedtime which I fear could become a little tiresome.

Alongside the clever tummy light, Sleep Tight All Night Teddy also makes a range of “soothing sounds” to help your child fall asleep or “fun character phrases” for day time play.  These come with the option to mute or alter the volume according to your child’s needs / preferences.  As Amy is almost three and goes to sleep pretty well, we haven’t used the “soothing sounds” – I must admit I don’t think they sound very soothing but I’m a 36 yr old woman and white noise has never been my bag.  I know lots of parents have had great success with white noise so it’s definitely worth a try!

Civil War Slide Blast Armour & Blaster Reveal Shield – Review

Ben (and Daddy) are big fans of super heroes in general so there was much excitement when the Civil War Iron Man Side Blast Armour and Civil War Captain America Blaster Reveal Shield arrived at our house!
Civil War Nerf toys
Neither of the toys take batteries which is a win and means they are pretty much ready to play straight from the box, there is a little assembly required but this was something Ben was able to do himself so it’s certainly not complicated.   Each toy comes with two Nerf darts which is the bare minimum for making the most of these toys so I would suggest you probably want to invest in some spares – I think we all know how quickly they’re going to get lost in a bush or behind the sofa don’t we?
 Civil War battle
Iron Man’s Slide Blast Armour
The Iron Man Slide Blast Armour features a handle grip and adjustable strap which means you can hold the armour steady while you press a button to slide the armour up your arm and a second button activates the blaster – shooting Nerf pellets up to about 5m.  Ben was impressed by how far he was able to get the Nerf pellets to travel.  You do need to be quite strong to get the blaster to activate as neither of the girls could do it – but then as the toy is aimed at age 6 plus I think that’s fair enough.  It’s worth mentioning that Ben thought the Slide Blast Armour would only work if you are right-handed however I’ve had a look and it just means that the pellets come from the bottom rather than the top – the design is such that the armour doesn’t look like it’s upside down.
Iron Man arm
Iron Man Arm Blaster
Iron Man handle
Iron Man arm extended
Captain America’s Blaster Reveal Shield
At first glance, this looks just like Captain America’s shield with its iconic star and stripes pattern – however, with one press of the central star button it pops open to reveal a trigger on the handle and two Nerf darts which will easily fire a good few metres.  The shield can be worn on your left or right arm without problems.
Captain America Shield
Captain America press button
back view of shield
Blasting Captain America shield
Both toys have been a big hit in our household and we think they’d be a great addition to any Christmas list (yes I really did just say that!) but bear in mind that you’re going to want to buy some spare Nerf darts to accommodate for some over zealous blasting!!
*We were sent these toys free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Playmobil Fire Chief’s Car #5364 – Review

Despite a real love of construction and small world in our house, we’ve never actually had any PLAYMOBIL toys until now.  I guess we’ve stuck to the HappyLand which is obviously a bit younger, or LEGO which is a different ball (or brick) game entirely.  I’m thrilled that we’ve been asked to be PLAYMOBIL Playologists this year as it means we’re going to be introducing plenty of PLAYMOBIL to our house and I know it’s going to be loved by all three of them!  As a top manufacturer of preschool toys, it feels a little like PLAYMOBIL has a foot in both camps so to speak suiting Ben’s love of making things and the girls’ love of small world.  Amy in particular loves small world at the moment and the more grown up feel to PLAYMOBIL means the big two are far more likely to want to play along.  (And let’s face it, anything which has all three kids playing happily together is onto a winner!)

PLAYMOBIL Fire Car

PLAYMOBIL Fire car kit

As Ben is pretty experienced when it comes to building various constructions sets I decided to leave him to it.  The PLAYMOBIL Fire Chief’s Car comes part built with a booklet of clear pictorial instructions on how to complete it.  Unfortunately we didn’t realise there are two parts to the book – if you start at one end it tells you how to complete the basic car, if you start at the other end it tells you how to fit the remote control unit.  We started at the wrong end.  This meant the instructions felt unnecessarily complicated as we kept finding bits that were irrelevant . . . more fool us!  We only realised once Ben had put the whole set together that there was a more basic version of the instructions at the other end of the booklet!
Building PLAYMOBIL

The Fire Chief’s Car with Lights and Sound can be upgraded with a RC module – I must admit neither Ben nor I could understand why it wasn’t just included in the set.  It was a bit “Look what you could have won” – particularly as we found the back wheels on the car didn’t seem to move very freely and Ben felt this was probably because it was designed to be remote control.

Aside from this niggle the set was really quite simple to fit together.  Ben found the wheels a little frustrating as they didn’t fit together in quite the way he had expected – and then as I have mentioned didn’t seem to move very freely once on the vehicle.  He really enjoyed adding the stickers for the sat nav and the vehicle registration plate.

The Fire Chief’s Car with Lights and Sound does not include batteries so do make sure you’ve got that single AAA battery to hand if you want to enjoy the full siren effect!  (Or don’t . . . . )  Along with the vehicle itself, the set includes a PLAYMOBIL figure with megaphone, traffic cones, fire extinguisher and other associated paraphernalia.

PLAYMOBIL Fire Chief

This particular set is a limited-edition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the London Fire Brigade with 10% of the proceeds going to the Brigade’s charity of choice.  I think this is a lovely idea but Ben couldn’t quite work out what the stickers were for as there wasn’t a space for them on the car as it was already printed.

PLAYMOBIL Fire Chief playset

The set is a great size for little hands to be able to manipulate – chunky yet with small pieces for those children who have more developed fine motor skills.

Playing with PLAYMOBIL

* We were sent the PLAYMOBIL Fire Chief’s Car with Lights and Sound free of charge for the purposes of review.  All thoughts and opinions remain our own*