Learning Personal Survival Skills During Swim Academy Pyjama Week

Each term, Puddle Ducks hold a Pyjama Week – and whilst getting in the pool in your PJs is a bit of a giggle and the lessons are all great fun this is also for a much more significant reason.  If you or your child were to accidentally fall in the pool or any other body of water for that matter, the chances are you are not going to be fully prepared – wearing your swimming costume, hat and goggles.  No, it’s far more likely that you will indeed be fully clothed and believe me this is a whole different ball game.  Being fully clothed in water is a strange experience and one which makes swimming very difficult – your clothes weigh you down, they make it harder to move through the water.  By swimming in our pyjamas several times a year, we are normalising this for our children hopefully removing some of the unfamiliarity should they ever find themselves in water unexpectedly.  Teaching them to swim in their clothes as part of a fun and familiar swimming lesson gives them a head start should the worst happen.

Now that Amy is in Swim Academy things have stepped up a gear and in our most recent Pyjama Week she was also taught skills to help her rescue someone else who is in trouble in the water.  Namely don’t get in yourself but go find help.  She was taught how to lie on her tummy and reach a long object (in this case a woggle but in real life more likely a rope or stick) out to the person in distress to give them something to hold on to.

The rest of the lesson focused on vital life saving skills such as being able to float, to jump in and turn immediately to reach for the side (or safety!), treading water and also how to swim normally in clothes without the hat and goggles she is used to her in Swim Academy lessons.

Puddle Ducks Swim Academy Pyjama Week - Swimming on woggles

Puddle Ducks Swim Academy Pyjama Week - swimming in PJs personal survival skills

Puddle Ducks Swim Academy Pyjama Week

Puddle Ducks Swim Academy Pyjama Week jumping in

Puddle Ducks Swim Academy Pyjama Week reaching for the side

Puddle Ducks Swim Academy Pyjama Week - learning to float

As you can see, Amy thought the whole experience was great fun but, sitting on the side, it was clear that everything Amy was being taught might just save her life in an emergency.  Although the focus of Pyjama Week is specifically on teaching personal survival skills, water safety is a significant feature of any Puddle Ducks or Swim Academy lesson and let’s face it, the main reason most of us send our children for swimming lessons.  Amy is constantly being taught things like reaching for the side, how to tread water or to roll onto her back and float – I’m not convinced Ben and Chloe have ever been taught anything like this in their local council lessons where the focus is . . . well actually I don’t know what the focus is but I guess that’s the point.  When I watch Amy in her Swim Academy lessons I can see exactly why she’s being taught everything she does – be it for personal survival or as a next step towards learning a common swimming stroke like breast stroke or even butterfly (Ben couldn’t believe Amy has already started to learn butterfly at 4 having only recently started to do it himself!)

Pyjama Week is just another reason that we flipping love Amy’s Swim Academy lessons with Puddle Ducks!

*Amy swims with Puddle Ducks Greater Manchester free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions and remain our own*

Grass & Air Light Catcher Mac – Review & Giveaway

Now that spring finally seems to have arrived, it’s time to pack away the big bulky winter coats and swap them out for something a bit lighter.  Of course the British weather can never be trusted so we’re still rocking a waterproof over here in Manchester as we face those April showers!

This spring my girls are wearing matching Grass & Air Light Catcher macs.  Now if you’ve not heard of Grass & Air before, they’re a Manchester based brand with a passion for getting kids outdoors whatever the weather . . . this is an ethos I can get on board with.

Grass & Air Light Catcher rain coats

Sisters wearing matching Grass & Air rain macs

The Light Catcher rain macs are a new addition to the Grass & Air range, similar to their “Rainster” but with a super cool twist – as well as being fully waterproof the Light Catcher macs feature a high tech reflective print which means in normal daylight it is barely visible but when the light hits it, it reveals a cool raincloud print!  In addition to the subtle reflective raincloud print the raincoats also feature reflective zip detailing.  This is a far cry from those reflective yellow arm bands we used to get from the road safety people as kids and I know for sure my Grandad would have flipping loved the idea of a reflective coat!  He was so safety conscious and I hated it, I thought it was boring and totally uncool – not words you could associate with the Grass & Air Light Catcher macs that’s for sure!  My kids have no idea that their rainclouds are actually a really clever safety feature, they just think it’s a bit of a novelty!

Grass & Air Light Catcher with reflective coral zip detail

Grass & Air branding

Of course during the spring and summer months the girls are not likely to be wearing their raincoats in the dark, they are long in bed before the sun sets now, however that doesn’t mean we don’t have plenty of grey, wet days ahead of us – this is Manchester after all!

One of the things that both girls really liked about their new raincoats is that aside from all the practical features I’ve just mentioned above, they’re actually really quite pretty.  The gathered waist detail and longer length made the coats feel grown up and almost dress-like and as such made them an instant win with my girls!

Grass & Air raincloud Light Catcher

Grass & Air longer style raincoat

As you can see from the pictures, both girls have plenty of growing room in their Grass & Air rain macs as well as room for a jumper underneath.  Because of the longer style, the nipped in waist and elasticated cuffs they can get away with their coats being a little big (yes, I am one of those Mums but, if I’m investing in outwear, I want to get as much wear as possible out of it and usually aim for two years!) Amy is wearing age 5-6 and Chloe 7-8 and I would say these are very much true to size – both girls are quite tall and as such are generally wearing a size above their actual ages of 4 and 6 anyway.

Grass & Air Light Catcher raincloud print

matching navy Grass & Air macs

I’m thrilled to be able to offer you the chance to win a Grass & Air Light Catcher mac in either the Raincloud print as pictured on Chloe and Amy or the shorter Lightening Bolt style.  Just complete the rafflecopter below, ensuring to do this accurately to avoid disqualification!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*We received the girls Grass & Air Light Catcher macs free of charge for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Tile Style Bluetooth Tracker – Review & Giveaway

Tile bluetooth tracker - find lost keys

“Col, where are your keys?”

“I don’t know love? On the side? In my bag? On the table?”

“Why can’t you just put them in the same place every time?”

Welcome to a typical conversation in our house . . . Dave keeps his keys in the pot, where they should be . . . he always knows where his keys are.  Mine on the other hand?  Well I put them down wherever I happen to let go of them after coming in the house – they could be dropped back into my handbag, popped on the dining table, the kitchen side, in the door or, very occasionally, in the pot where they actually belong.  It drives Dave insane and if I’m honest wastes precious minutes of my time when I’m trying to leave the house and can’t find the damn things.

Tile bluetooth tracker - find lost keys

See that little white and gold square on my keys? That’s my new Tile Style – part of the pro range of Tile Bluetooth trackers.

Weighing just 11g and less than 4cm x 4cm, this little beauty is a discreet, stylish addition to your key-ring.  And yet, it’s a complete game changer.  The Tile Bluetooth trackers are the modern day equivalent of those key-rings you used to whistle at in the 80s except this time you use your phone to ring your keys.  Such a simple idea but insanely successful.   Whilst whistling for your keys was never all that effective, your Tile Bluetooth tracker can be reached up to 100ft away and, if it’s too far for that, your Tile app will record it’s last known location.  Oh and the Tile Style is waterproof up to 1.5m deep for up to half an hour, just in case you drop your keys in a puddle or the swimming pool!

And, if you can’t find your phone?  Well then you double tap the button in the middle of your Tile and it will ring your phone for you, even if it is on silent.  This has already proved ridiculously useful as I’m notorious for leaving my phone on silent after a day at work and then not being able to find it – just another thing that drives Dave crackers!

Of course I’ve used my Tile Style on my keys but there’s a whole range of Tile Bluetooth trackers from super slim ones to tuck inside your purse or wallet to tough ones for your sports gear.  Personally I’m tempted to invest in a number of Tile Mates to attach to the kids’ special cuddly toys and I’ve suggested to my Dad that he might want to the get the sport one for his keys too!

The one downside that I’ve come across thus far is that the battery life of your Tile is guaranteed at a year and after that you need to be prepared replace your Tile.  However, this is where the “reTile” program comes in and gives you the opportunity to upgrade to the latest Tile technology at up to 40% discount – you can’t really say fairer than that can you! (Oh, and your Tile is made of 99% recyclable materials too so that’s one less thing to worry about!)

If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning a Tile Style worth £29.99 (and a whole lot of peace of mind) then just enter using the rafflecopter below – ensuring to do this accurately to avoid disqualification.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

* I received my Tile Style free of charge for the purposes of review however all enthusiastic thoughts and opinions remain my own. This post contains affiliate links*

Geomag Panels & Mechanics – Review & Giveaway

Ben is basically king of construction in our house. His obsession with all things LEGO started at the age of 4 and he can now confidently put together models aimed at children far older than him. We’ve tried other construction ranges (Meccano, K’nex etc) but nothing has quite grabbed his attention in the same way until now.  When Ben saw the boxes of Geomag he had been sent to review – he couldn’t wait to get his hands on them!

Geomag Panels 464 Set 

The Geomag Panels set consists of  192 pieces – a mix of magnetic bars, steel balls and bright, transparent geometric panels which fit together easily to build stable structures.  Ben started off making a simple structure from the instructions using just the rods and balls before moving on to one of the most complicated structures on the sheet – I did suggest he might be better of building the smaller things first and building up to that once he’d got a handle on how the Geomag Panels worked but no, Ben knew best!

Geomag Panels 192 Set

It didn’t take him long to get to grips with the instructions or how the Geomag pieces worked – and what I was really impressed with was his perseverance when things didn’t quite work for example if he knocked a panel or rod out of place.  This would have driven me insane but he just popped it all back together again and carried on.  Perseverance is a key word in education at the moment and only last week Ben’s teacher was talking to me about the need for him to challenge himself more so when he was happy to persist with building his chosen structure even though it didn’t go right for him first time, I was thrilled.

Geomag Panels - magnetic rods and steel spheres

Geomag Panels - bright coloured panels

Geomag Panels - bridge building

Geomag Panels - building a bridge

Geomag Panels - adding coloured panels for strength

With 192 pieces, this set provides endless possibilities for creating ever evolving constructions – the examples on the instruction sheet are just a starting point to demonstrate what the Geomag pieces can do – I can’t wait to see where Ben takes them next!

Geomag Mechanics set

The Geomag Mechanics range is an evolution of the Geomag Classic line – adding in different shapes and colours which allow you to investigate how magnetic forces can trigger mechanical movement.  Ben has been looking at magnetism at school this half term so he immediately realised that using the magnets to repel one another was going to make his structure rotate and move.

Geomag Mechanics, whilst aimed at age 5+, is a more complex system and as such is intended for more expert players – children who have already got to grips with how the Geomag system works.  Typically Ben decided to have a go at the Geomag Mechanics system first, depsite my suggestions that he might be better of starting with the Geomag Panels set . . .  As he’s 8yrs old and fairly experienced in construction toys, he did manage to make the first Geomag Mechanics build without out too much stress – a little frustration and a few mistakes are of course great for learning!

Geomag Mechanics

Geomag Mechanics

Geomag Mechanics - clear instructions for the build

Geomag Mechanics - magnetic rods and steel balls

Developing fine motor skills with Geomag Mechanics

The sense of achievement when he managed to successfully complete the structure and then make it move, made for a very excited young man!

STEM skills with Geomag Mechanics

The teacher in me of course is dancing at the opportunities for fine motor development, understanding shape, fostering problem solving skills, designing and making . . . Geomag are ticking so many STEM boxes right there!  I think Geomag have as much of a place in the classroom as they do at home.  Maths and Science are very much Ben’s ‘thing’ – he as ambitions to become an inventor and I forsee a future in engineering for him if I’m honest so being able to play whilst developing skills which might help him achieve those ambitions is a bit perfect!

You can buy Geomag at Smyths and The Entertainer and also find them in the following places online:

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Youtube

And, if you’d like to win a Geomag Panels set worth £90 then just complete the rafflecopter below, ensuring to do this accurately to avoid disqualifcation! Good luck!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cocoon: Smart Home Security Camera – Review

It’s been a while, but the Cocoon: Smart Home Security Camera review is a bit of a techy one so I’m handing over to Dave:

I’m very home security conscious.  I go round every night making sure that all the doors are locked and windows are shut properly.  When I’m away I worry that Colette will forget these things and we’ll be burgled.  I have to fight the urge to text her and ask every single time I’m away.  No joke.  I’m also interested in tech.  No joke.  So when the chance came to review a tech based home security product I was all too keen to get involved.

The Cocoon smart home security camera is a tennis ball sized camera that sits in one corner of your house and with the hope of providing you with peace of mind when you’re out.  The camera connects to your WiFi network and you can interact with it via an app.  The app lets you watch what the camera can see at any point just by opening it.  The app also lets you set up profiles for anyone who has a smart phone and will be in your house regularly.  As people with profiles leave your house the camera knows, because they’re no longer connected to the WiFi, so it arms itself.  If the camera detects something while you’re out then you get a notification and you can watch a video of your house to see if you should be bothered.  Pretty good so far.

Cocoon Home Security Camera

You might think one camera can only provide you with protection for one or two rooms of your house depending on how you position it.  To get round this the Cocoon smart camera uses ‘subsound’ technology.  What this means in essence, I think, is the camera listens to your house and analyses the sounds.  If it hears something out of the ordinary then it lets you know and you can decide whether to set the alarm off or not.

Setting up the camera through the app is painless.  Create an account.  Add WiFi password.  Add other members of family with phones and you’re away.  As this is a ‘smart’ device it tells you that in the first few weeks you will get false alarms.  These are a part of the learning process.  You telling the camera that what it heard is fine allows the camera to adjust itself to the unique noises of your home.  And false alarms you will get.  When one of these comes in you have the choice to watch the video its recording.  There’s two options then, tell Cocoon everything is alright or sound an alarm.  If you sound the alarm it’s pretty loud.  I’m quite confident that if anyone was in your house and you set this off they’d shift pretty quickly (that sentence also works if you remove the ‘f’ from ‘shift’).

Cocoon camera app

A problem we both encountered with this system is that showing a video feed requires a decent internet connection.  When I’m at work the reception can be a bit hit and miss.  Sometimes I’d get a notification and try to watch the video.  It would buffer for a minute until the video ended, then the notification would disappear.  You can’t go back and re-watch it after the fact to train it when you’ve got a better connection.  While it’s buffering you still have the option to tell Cocoon everything is alright, or set off the alarm, but if you can’t watch the video then it seems a little pointless.  As it won’t be learning correctly and you don’t actually know if everything is alright.

We’ve been using the Cocoon for about eight weeks now and here are my thoughts.  In practice our Cocoon gave us false alarms all the time.  It did get better after the first few days but goes through phases of constant false alarms which we had expected would have passed by now.  I had to switch my phone to silent while in work because I was consistently getting notifications, which other people in my office were commenting on.  While away for the weekend both Colette and I ‘disarmed’ the camera remotely, using the app, to stop the constant notifications which of course defeats the object.  The camera forgot who I was meaning that I would set it off whilst in the house on my own because Colette had gone out so the camera had ‘armed’ itself. Whilst doing DIY I could stop and watch little videos of myself sawing or painting while the Cocoon panicked that I was an intruder.  To combat this I reset the camera, I reset the app, I re-did my profile and reconnected to the camera.  Each time the camera would forget me again, I don’t know why. The camera never forgot Colette though – maybe she’s more memorable than me? I don’t know.

The idea for the Cocoon smart security camera is good.  It looks good, it’s unobtrusive (so I don’t think you’d necessarily notice it if you were breaking into someone’s house), the set up is easy and the app works well, when you’ve got a decent internet connection.  The video quality is good, which would aid in the identification of any robber who was caught by the camera, and as I said if you put that alarm on then it is loud.  The only thing which doesn’t seem to work is the ‘smart’ part of the camera.  Ours learned but not to the extent we had hoped and returned false alarm after false alarm over the whole eight weeks – perhaps we just live in a really noisy area?  It can be pretty frustrating having to take your phone out of your pocket for the fiftieth time to tell Cocoon that everything was alright.  And for us that’s the deal breaker  – whilst we love the idea of being able to see what’s going on in the house when we’re not there, the constant false alarms are just too much for us.  I’d be interested in seeing the next version of this product to see if it actually learns. If it does then we’ll be interested.

So all in, the Cocoon smart home security camera is a great idea, but we just haven’t been able to trust it and rather than thinking “Oh heck what’s going on in the house” it has tended to be more of a “God there’s another Cocoon notification, turn the damn thing off.”  For us I can see the Cocoon being really handy as the kids get older and we want to know that perhaps they’ve got home from school ok – but I would definitely do this by just watching the app rather than having the Cocoon armed and notifying me! 

*We received the Cocoon smart home security camera free of charge for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Winter Adventures with Reima – Review

It has been said many times before but we are big believers in the quote which goes something along the lines of;

There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

We like to get outside whenever we can and always have an array of appropriate waterproof jackets but earlier this year on our trip to the beach with the Mini Travellers team, I realised that actually our coats just weren’t warm enough.  No amount of jumpers, scarves and gloves layered underneath our waterproof jackets was going to be a substitute for proper thermal insulation!

Over the last few weeks I’ve been extremely grateful for the children’s new Reima jackets – they have kept them warm and dry in all weathers – from pouring rain to the -5 temps and heavy snow that the #BeastfromtheEast has treated us to!

Reima jackets in the snow

snow ready coats from Reima

Reima Roxana jacket

Finnish company, Reima are global leaders in functional kidswear – determined to help children discover the wonder and fun of being outdoors whatever the season, whatever the weather.

Dog walking with Reimatec jacket

Reima coats

The Reimatec winter jacket is totally waterproof and windproof made from technical material which is water and dirt repellent as well as breathable with thermal insulation effective to -20 (which I don’t plan on testing any time soon so I shall take their word for it!)

Adjustable cuffs on the Reima Regor

Lots of pockets on the Reima Regor

All three kids love their Reima jackets – the inner lycra cuffs and smooth polyester lining makes them super comfortable.  The shaped cut, adjustable cuffs and hem means that whilst really cosy, their coats don’t feel overly bulky – they can still get one with whatever it is they want to be doing be it running, climbing or chucking snow at each other!  (The jackets also feature a snow lock at the waist which is obviously great for winter sports but hasn’t proved to be a necessary feature in Manchester as yet!)

The fleece lined hood features a visor and also a flap to fasten up around your neck – Amy isn’t a big fan of this as she doesn’t find it very comfortable, but on a really cold and windy day being able to tuck as much of your face away as possible is a lifesaver!  The velcro fastenings on the coat are substantial and we’ve found that sometimes the neck flap can end up caught on inside of the hood which I suppose over time could cause a little superficial damage but it’s really the most minor of irritations.  I’m generally not a fan of detachable hoods (kids pulling them off in playgrounds or losing loose hoods in cloakrooms is a right pain) however I totally get the point of them from a safety point of view – should the hood get caught on anything, it will come off easily.

Peaked, removable hood - Reima

Neck protection and plenty of velcro

Although this Reima jacket  would be totally at home on the slopes, it doesn’t look out of place in the park or on the school run in Manchester – in fact we’ve had so many compliments on the kids’ jackets, espeically Amy’s with it’s bold stripe!  Chloe wasn’t completely convinced by her bright blue coat initially but she loves it now – and I like that their vivid colours makes them easy to spot when we’re out and about on an adventure!

Bold stripes - Reima Roxna in berry

As you’d expect, these are not cheap jackets – you get what you pay for and in this case that’s high-tech, weather-proof clothing.  With bit of shopping around you can currently find Ben, Chloe and Amy’s coats at around £70 – £90.

*We received the kids’ Reima jackets free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Spring ready feet with Hotter

The weather man might be threatening a deep freeze over the coming week but I’m embracing all things spring over here.  The days are getting noticeably longer, the skies are blue and there’s a bunch of tulips in my living room.  Spring is on the horizon and I’m loving it!

Looking ahead to my spring wardrobe and finally packing away those heavy winter boots, I’m excited to crack out my new Hotter Angel shoes in a beautiful bright red suede with a patent toe cap detail.  The white low-wedge heels looks fresh and stylish and perfect for lifting those staple navy stripes this spring!

Hotter Angel shoes

Red patent toe caps, suede pumps

Red suede pumps with patent toe from Hotter

You know I’ve had a few pairs of Hotter shoes in the past – with a wider foot (and a chunky calf) – their width fittings and half sizes are a godsend.  Rather than coming in a choice of fitting, the Angel shoe features dual fitting insoles – meaning that if you need a bit more room, you can just whip the main insole out.  Interestingly, despite my usually wide feet, the shoes fit with the insole in – though I think this might be because it was first thing in the morning and cold when I tried them on in store!  I love the fact that the dual fitting insoles means that if I find my feet are bigger during the warmer months, my shoes will still fit comfortably.  I actually tried the Angel shoes on in a 7.5 as well as my standard 8 as I found one of them was a little sloppy.  Typically the 7.5 was much too short but the super helpful Hotter staff sorted me out with a half insole which fits under the ball of my right foot and gives the perfect fit.

They make your feet look like a size 6!

When you have bigger feet, there’s always the fear that shoes will make them look even bigger – for example a pair of Vans tends to make my feet look like boats.  But the dainty, femine style of the Angel just makes my feet look neat and tidy – and in fact one member of staff in store commented “they make your feet look like a size 6!” – which we both agreed is basically the holy grail of footwear!

Size 8 Hotter shoes

Navy stripes with red - classic combo

Currently these gorgeous shoes are also available in navy blue, powder pink or aqua and I can see a couple more pairs slipping into my wardrobe.  Much as I’m not normally a pink kinda girl, I absolutely adored the rose gold metallic toe cap detail on the powder pink pair and well, we all know I have a pretty major love affair with navy!

Loving my new Hotter shoes
I think it’s safe to say that this beautiful pair of shoes will be on heavy roation throughout the spring and into the summer this year!
*I was given my Hotter Angel shoes free of charge for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain my own.  Thanks to Jenny from Let’s Talk Mommy for her photography skills!*

A full term of Swim Academy Lessons

Today marks the start of a new half term of Swim Academy lessons for Amy.  Having moved up to her “big girl’s swimming lessons” back in November, we’re now a full term in and it’s time for an update!

For those of you who don’t know, Swim Academy is the next level, ‘all grown up and swimming by yourself’ big sister of Puddle Ducks.  This means that Amy now gets in the pool by herself whilst I sit on the side (warm and dry) watching her!  At first I was really quite nervous as to how she would take to this – she was so used to having me to cling onto, however she’s taken to it like a duck to water . . . (I know, I know, I couldn’t resist!)

Although it’s a big step up from the Puddle Ducks Little Dippers class to Swim Academy – there isn’t suddenly an expectation that your child can swim by themselves!  The adult to child ratio in the pool is 1:4 and the sessions feature a mixture of swimming practice where all the children are swimming at once using appropriate supports (eg a woggle under each arm, or a single woggle across the chest depending on the confidence and ability of the individual child) or focused activities where the adults are concentrating on one child at a time while the others wait safely on a step at the wall.  You might remember that I wrote quite some time ago about how much waiting around Ben and Chloe seemed to do in their council run swimming lessons, but this really isn’t the case for Amy at Swim Academy.  At most she has to wait for three children to take their turn before it’s her go again meaning she has a chance to have a rest but not to get bored or for me to feel like her lesson time is being wasted.

For me, the biggest change is that I’m obviously sat at the side of the pool watching Amy swim from a safe distance, which means I can really see what she’s getting up to – how hard she’s trying (or not) and the progress she is making.  I love being able to watch her swimming independently (albeit very slowly) across the pool on her woggle.

Because Amy’s Swim Academy lessons are more grown up than her previous Puddle Ducks sessions, there’s a lot less singing which surprisingly hasn’t bothered her.  She soon got used to the new routines, structures and instructions.  Swim Academy lessons are less about games and confidence boosting and more about learning to swim properly – getting the breathing right, learning proper strokes (eg Amy has started to learn how to move her legs for breast stroke).  That’s not to say her lessons aren’t fun – she clearly has a whale of a time but as an observer I can see how things have stepped up and where they’re going – which is great!

Obviously Amy has good weeks and bad weeks – there have been lessons where she’s cried and clung to Claire or Kirsty for dear life and weeks where she has astounded us by happily swimming with her face in the water and blowing bubbles or even attempting a surface dive.  One of things I’ve noticed is that now her lesson is on a Thursday tea time (as opposed to a Monday morning) she’s more susceptible to being really tired – on those days where she’s worn out, her lesson is a bit of a nightmare so to combat that I’ve insisted she has a sleep on a Thursday afternoon when she gets in from Nursery.  A couple of hours in bed and a good snack before we set off to her lesson makes a world of difference to her performance.  Over the last couple of years of swimming lessons it has been really clear that the timing of Amy’s lesson is really key and so that’s something worth bearing in mind if your own child isn’t entirely enthused by their swimming lessons!

*Amy swims with Puddle Ducks Greater Manchester free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

PizzaExpress & World Book Day

*This is a commissioned post for Mumsnet and PizzaExpress*

It’s happening loves, World Book Day is on the horizon.  I’m sure it’s only five minutes since the last one however frantic costume based negotiations have begun in the Team WGOAA household . . . basically this involves them coming up with whatever character they want to be and me figuring out how we can make it work with whatever we already own, with minimal effort.

I have a full on love / hate relationship with World Book Day if I’m honest.  Fostering a love of books and reading? Yes I’m down with that.  Encouraging children to share their favourite books with one another? Yes that’s a winner too.  A whole day of celebratory book based activities in school? Yep, I’m all over it.  Arguing with kids about whether Spiderman is really a character from a book or not and parents feeling guilted into shop bought “character” costumes from opportunistic supermarkets however, is really not my bag.

One World Book Day celebration we can all get on board with though involves pizza!  Yes ok, stick with me.  Pizza and books isn’t an obvious natural fit, I get that.  However, PizzaExpress have joined forces with World Book Day in a special, first of it’s kind, collaboration!

We popped along to a local PizzaExpress earlier this week to investigate.  Sometimes eating out with kids is plain hard work – stressing about them being noisy and disturbing other customers, worrying that they’re making a mess or wasting the food you’ve just spent your hard earned cash on and yet other times, it just all works.  I think a lot of this is down to your choice of restaurant – choosing somewhere that’s child-friendly and naturally a little noisy is always going to make life easier.  PizzaExpress is just that – family-friendly without being tacky or low quality.  The children’s menu is far more varied than I would have expected, offering gluten-free and dairy-free options if needed.  The staff were all super friendly and keen to make sure that the children were entertained and that we were all really well looked after.  The food was delicious – we might have gone all out and had three courses – all in the name of research you understand?  All in we had a really lovely evening where Dave and I were able to actually relax and enjoy our dinner whilst making the most of some quality time with the kids – and you all know what a win that feels like when it comes good!

PizzaExpress - starter

PizzaExpress - children's dough balls

PizzaExpress Fiorentina pizza

PizzaExpress Piccolo bolognese

PizzaExpress honeycomb cheesecake

It’s not unusual for children’s menus to feature a bit of colouring in or a word-search to try and keep the little one’s busy whilst they wait for their food but PizzaExpress have really upped their game on this collaboration with World Book Day.  With a focus on encouraging kids to “use their imagination and unleash their creativity” through reading and sharing a story at PizzaExpress – this isn’t a “sit down and shut up” job but more a “get the whole family involved and have a proper conversation” situation which I absolutely love.  Ben and Dave spent ages playing snakes and ladders in the standard children’s activity pack whilst the girls got on with the colouring in the special World Book Day inserts.

PizzaExpress and World Book Day menu inserts

The special edition “Dough Ball Times” not only includes a £1 book token but is packed full of suggestions for age-appropriate texts (featuring some of our favourites like “The Day the Crayons Quit” and “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls” or “Wonder” along with others we’ve not come across before like “Claude in the City” or “Bumble Bear“) for your child to put their book token towards!

Pizza Express World Book Day - Dough Ball Times

The main focus though of the Dough Ball Times is the special World Book Day and PizzaExpress bookmark competition.  You can enter using the special Piccolo menu insert or online here.  It’s super simple to enter – simply design your bookmark, take a photo and upload into the pizzaexpress.com/worldbookday with first prize for each age group being a £250 book token!  (That’s a lot of books!)

Pizza Express & World Book Day - bookmark competition

Children's World Book Day activities at PizzaExpress

Win a year's supply of books with PizzaExpress and World Book Day

If you go into PizzaExpress on World Book Day itself (1st March in case you’ve forgotten!) then you will find that staff are all dressing up for the occasion and customers can vote for the “best-dressed” PizzaExpress restaurant team!

It had been ages since we’d taken the kids to PizzaExpress but I can assure you, after such a lovely evening, we’ll be back very soon!

KS1 SATS Prep with Letts – Giveaway

*Commissioned post for Letts*

The start of the second half of the spring term at school signals a countdown to an array of statutory testing for many children – be it the Phonics Screening Check in Year 1, or SATs in Years 2 and 6.  The validity and benefit of each of these tests is of course a post in itself but if you have children preparing for tests later this year it stands to reason that you will want them to feel prepared and able to do their best.

This year, Chloe will take her Year 2 SATs – and I don’t expect this to phase her at all if I’m honest – her school don’t put huge amounts of pressure on their six and seven year olds and the tests are simply treated as “jobs” to do.  And, whilst I do want her to do her very best and will be pleased if this is rewarded with high scores, in reality I know that the results of the tests mean very little to the individual child.

Essentially “revising” for the Key Stage 1 SATs test isn’t something I would particularly advocate, however there is nothing wrong with doing extra work at home to reinforce what is being taught at school!  I know I loved a good workbook when I was younger and Chloe is much the same.  She was genuinely excited when I presented her with the Letts KS1 SATS Success Revision Guides for Maths and English.

KS1 SATs prep with Letts

The books are very much ‘revision’ guides, giving you a brief overview of the different topics your child is expected to know by the end of Key Stage 1.  The books are filled with tips and tricks to help your child to understand and remember the important bits of each topic alongside helpful suggestions of ways in which you can further reinforce this as a parent.  Each page also features key word definitions which as well as being helpful for your child, could be a complete lifesaver for you as a parent – things in education are so different now compared to when we were at school and the technical language our children learn can be a bit mind-blowing at times.

Lett KS1 SATs revision guides

All the information is clear and concise and laid out in a child-friendly way so that, left to their own devices, your child could probably manage to work their way through a good chunk of the revision guides by themselves.  Of course, they would get far more out of them if you sat down together and did it though as this means that you can check their understanding and address any misconceptions as they arise.

Practice KS1 SATs test questions

Throughout the books there are opportunities for your child to practice and test their knowledge as well as practice SATs style questions to work on too meaning that you can both ensure your child is confident and prepared when May arrives so that the tests just feel like any other school job, nothing to get stressed about or panicked over.

Letts workbooks for KS1

If you’d like to win a bundle of Letts KS1 SATs Revision Guides the enter using the Rafflecopter below – ensuring to do this accurately to avoid disqualification!

a Rafflecopter giveaway