Star Wars Action Figures – Review

How’s the Star Wars obsession panning out in your house at the moment?  With the third of the recent Star Wars releases hitting our screens at the back end of last year there was a predictable plethora of Star Wars related merchandise available to purchase ready for Christmas.  Ben was lucky enough to receive a bundle of Star Wars toys from Hasbro to review and I’ve decided to split them into two reviews – the first being of the Star Wars action figures – Interactech Kylo Ren and Star Wars Forces of Destiny Ray of Jaku and BB-8 figure.  I should add a disclaimer here . . . I know nothing about Star Wars, I haven’t even watched it . . .anyway, moving swiftly on . .

Star Wars Forces of Destiny action figures

Star Wars action figures

Interactech Kylo Ren

Klyo Ren is the son of Hans Solo and Leia (which you would think would make him a good guy but I’m reliably informed that after being trained by Luke Skywalker he went over to the dark side!)  As such he’s dressed in dark clothing with a black helmet in the vein of Darth Vader – Ben was impressed that when he pushes the helmet onto the figure’s head it makes a noise to signify the helmet being fastened which he tells me is just like in the film.  Who am I to argue?  In fact the Interactech Kylo Ren has over sixty different sound effects and phrases and a light up light sabre.  The figure also uses a motion sensor to “respond to specific movement and activate awesome battle affects” – I must admit I haven’t quite figured out what that means but what I can tell you is that Ben is a big fan of this Kylo Ren figure and loves playing with it.  The sound effects are true to the film and he found it thoroughly entertaining to investigate them all!

Kylo Ren action figure

Kylo Ren action figure face

Kylo Ren action figure with helmet

Kylo Ren light up lightsaber

Star Wars Forces of Destiny Rey of Jakku and BB-8

Rey is training to be a Jedi and as such is the “good guy” who stands up for what she believes in along with her fiesty, loyal droid BB-8.  Ben has been asking me for a BB-8 toy since he saw The Force Awakens so I think he was probably more excited about the BB-8 figure than Rey initially!  The Rey of Jakku action figure features an extendable staff which she holds in her hands and when you squeeze her legs together she twists and swings her lightsaber to strike- Ben thought this was ace!  Rey’s costume and features are detailed and true to the film, her accessories can be removed and she is highly pose-able making her great fun to play with.

Star Wars Forces of Destiny Rey of Jakku and BB-8

Rey of Jakku action figure - face and hair

Star Wars Forces of Destiny Rey of Jakku - super poseable action figure

Star Wars Forces of Destiny Rey of Jakku - squeeze legs to swing lightsaber

BB-8

The two characters are the ideal size for playing with and acting out dramatic battles together.  They’re good quality and built to withstand the sort of “active play” you’d expect from a Star Wars battle and they’re both on offer on Amazon at the minute too!

Star Wars Forces of Destiny Rey of Jakku and BB-8 with Interactech Kylo Ren

*Disclaimer – Ben was sent these Hasbro Star Wars action figures free of charge for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Anki Overdrive Starter Kit – Review

I’m handing over to Dave for this review – car racing and techy toys are very much up his street so he was almost as excited about the Anki Overdrive Starter Kit as Ben: 

Anki Overdrive, for anyone not familiar, is a cross between Scalextric and a mobile phone racing game.  When I opened the Anki Overdrive Starter Kit I was greeted by two cars, a charging station, some track risers and ten pieces of track (6 bends and 4 straight pieces).  You may have noticed that I’ve not mentioned any means of controlling your cars but that’s what brings this toy into the modern era and I’ll explain more about that in a minute.  The track pieces use magnets to hold themselves together, making it very easy and convenient to try different track shapes, a number of which are suggested on the box.  After you’ve put your track together and charged your cars you need to download an app to your phone or tablet (Android or iOS) which will let you control your cars and navigate the game generally.  Once you’ve downloaded the app and created a profile you are asked to put the cars on the track.  The cars then drive around the track to ‘scan’ it.  A diagram of your chosen track shape is drawn on the screen of your device as the cars ‘scan’ it.  You can then race.  Either against a friend or a computer opponent.  You control the speed of your car via  your phone’s screen to race around the track, and you tilt your phone left or right to change lanes as you race.  Necessary for overtaking.  More importantly, the phone gives you control over one more thing which sets this apart from games of old . . . the weapons!  Yes that’s right… Weapons.  As you’re racing around the track you can blast your opponent to knock them out of action for a few seconds which can really change the shape of a race.

Controlling the Anki Overdrive Starter kit with an android mobile phone

Each car has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.  In their natural state, one is quicker while the other has more firepower.  Of course this keeps things interesting.  If it’s necessary there is an option to ‘balance’ the characteristics of the cars for a more even competition.  As you race you accrue gold coins which you can use to buy upgrades for your car in the shop through the app.  These vary from car to car but follow the usual themes of bulking up your firepower, your weapons range or the ability of your car to take damage before it is out of action ‘briefly’.  Ben loves the upgrades and spends ages reading through all the options before buying his additions.

Anki Overdrive Starter Kit - car racing track

Boys racing the Anki Overdrive Starter Kit

Different game modes are available after you’ve played a few games against the computer and unlocked them.  The interesting thing is that when you are playing against the computer you still have both cars on the track which makes the racing feel more real than just playing on your phone.  The game mode that Ben and I play the most was ‘Battle’.  In this game you are both racing around the track but the number of laps you do makes no difference.  The aim, unsurprisingly, is to knock out your opponent.  You fire your weapons through your phone.  In reality, a light flashes on your car, but if you’re close enough to your opponent then he takes some damage and his phone will vibrate to let him know.  After as while you can get an upgrade which allows you to fire weapons behind you which keeps the racing interesting.

If you’re feeling flush you can add to your track with more bits of track or extra cars (up to four cars can race at once to keep you and your friends/kids happy). There’s sections of track available which give you banked turns or jumps and even collisions!  There are also ‘Super Trucks‘ which you can add to your set which unlock extra game modes and look really cool but you could easily spend quite a bit of money doing this.

Anki Overdrive Starter Kit

The only things I can fault with the Anki Overdrive Starter Kit is that the racing is a little rudimentary.  I found I could keep the car at full throttle throughout the track without any real problems.  Although Ben managed to spin off the track any number of times so maybe I’m just a natural! I doubt it though. If you were a fan of the physical throttle on a Scalextric set then you won’t be impressed with the controls.

The kids really enjoyed the game and it was something I was happy to play with for more than an hour.  So if you’re looking for a racing experience for the family/kids which feels more real than a mobile phone game then it might be worth a look see.

*We were sent the Anki Overdrive Starter Kit free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own.  Post contains affiliate links.* 

Cicciobello Love ‘n’ Care Doll – Review

Regular readers will know that Amy is a big fan of dolls.  They are her “go to” toy and she spends hours looking after her babies – feeding them, changing their clothes and carrying them around.  For a while now, “Baby Jack” has been her favourite to the extent that I could probably have got rid of all the others without her even noticing.  However “Baby Jack” now has a contender for the top spot in the form of her new Cicciobello Love ‘n’ Care doll, more commonly known in our house as “Violet” (and yes, we know he’s meant to be a boy but hey…)

Cicciobello Love 'n' Care doll

The Cicciobello Love ‘n’ Care doll allows your child to quite literally love and care for their baby.  When Cicciobello is feeling poorly or sad, he cries and his cheeks flush.  It’s then up to your child to make baby feel better using a range of accessories.

Amy was beyond excited when Cicciobello arrived in our house but was super patient as I made her wait a few days until the weekend so I could take photos of her new toy.  Of course what I didn’t realise was that Cicciobello didn’t come with batteries (3 x AA) so we went through all the rigmarole of unpacking him only to find that we couldn’t play with him straight away.  Luckily Dave was actually at the supermarket at the time so Amy didn’t have too long to wait.  As you would expect with children’s toys these days, you do need a screwdriver to access the battery compartment but it wasn’t long before Dave had Cicciobello up and working!

The first thing I want to mention is that Cicciobello’s cries aren’t too irritating, but you really don’t want to be loosing any of the accessories he comes with – particularly his dummy as this is basically the magical solution which keeps him asleep (just like real life!?!)  Amy is a bit of a pain when it comes to keeping hold of accessories for toys so I’ve given her a special case to keep all of Cicciobello’s things in and so far this seems to be working!

The basic premise is that when Cicciobello cries and his cheeks flush – then you know he’s poorly and you have to do whatever it takes to make him happy again – this might be a drink of milk, some medicine, checking his temperature or even an injection in his bottom.  Amy was quick to point out that Cicciobello is too young to have juice so it must be two types of medicine!  Each time Cicciobello is poorly, there will be different solution – sometimes you will make him happy straight away with a drink of milk, other times you’ll have tried three or four different solutions before he settles.  You know when he’s better because his cheeks no longer glow red and he makes contented sounds.

Feeding Cicciobello some milk to make him feel better

Checking Cicciobello's temperature

Listening to Cicciobello's tummy

Giving Cicciobello an injection

Cicciobello is happy now!

I must admit that I’m not a massive fan of Cicciobello’s crazy hair or the feel of his outfit (it’s the sort of fabric which you know is just going to get stuff stuck to it and look a mess very quickly) but these are minor niggles – Amy is completely besotted with him and wants to take him everywhere we go (poor Baby Jack hasn’t had a look in all week!).  The moment she comes in from school she goes to check on him and questions if I’ve been looking after him or not!  At £59.99 he’s definitely one for the CHristmas lists this year!

Pop on over to the Smyths Toys Facebook page to see how you could be in with a chance of winning a family trip to Italy! 

*We were sent the Cicciobello Love ‘n’ Care doll free of charge for the purposes of review.  All thoughts and opinions remain our own

Hatchimals Glittering Garden – Review

Now first up I’m going to hold my hands up and say this toy has been sitting under my desk for far too long, waiting for me to find the time to photograph and review it for you – so apologies for my tardiness however hopefully it’s now just in time for you to start thinking about *ahem* Christmas . . . Luckily Chloe had absolutely no idea what was actually in the box or I don’t think she’d have let me get away with leaving it there for so long.  So without further ado, let me introduce you to Hatchimals Glittering Garden – Chloe’s first Hatchimal.

Hatchimals Glittering Garden

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Hatchimals they are magical creatures who live inside eggs.  It’s your job, as the egg’s owner, to love and care for it until it’s time to hatch.  As you love & care for your egg, its eyes will light up and it makes cute little noises to let you know how it’s feeling.  Nestled inside the glittering egg is one of two interactive Hatchimals Pengulas with sparkly wings and soft twinkling fur.  When it’s time to hatch, you will be able to see the Hatchimal’s rainbow eyes. You can encourage the Hatchimal to peck its way out by touching the egg.

Once your Hatchimal has hatched, you can raise your Hatchimal through 3 stages of life – from baby to toddler to kid.  Your Hatchimal signifies the start of each new stage by singing “Hatchy Birthday”.  You can teach your Hatchimal to walk, talk, dance and games.  It will even repeat what you say in its own voice.

When you first open the packaging of your Hatchimal it’s worth bearing in mind there is a fairly lengthy instruction book – your Hatchimal can only hatch once so this isn’t something you want to get wrong.  Although Chloe is a fairly confident reader the instructions are not aimed at children so I wouldn’t suggest this is a toy you can just leave your child to crack on with themselves (pun intended!)

The hatching process takes around 20 – 25 minutes, though you can turn your Hatchimal off if you want to pause the process.  Your Hatchimal can’t hatch without you so there’s no panic that you’re going to go to the loo or for some lunch and come back to your toy and find you’ve missed the main event!

The Hatchimal's eyes glow through the egg to let you know what it needs

During the hatching process the Hatchimal’s eyes glow different colours through it’s glittery shell – the different colours signify a different need eg your Hatichmal is cold, sad or hungry – and each of these needs can be met in different ways eg rubbing the bottom, tipping it and so on.  In all honesty Chloe and I found constantly checking the key to see what her Hatchimal needed was a bit of a faff so caring for her egg was more by pot luck than good management.

You need to love and care for your egg so it will hatch

After around 20 minutes of Chloe’s love and care, her Hatchimal began to hatch.  It was a bit of a shock at first and if I’m honest Chloe was a little unnerved initially before just being really excited about the whole thing!  Watching her very own Pengula hatch was pretty exciting!  It takes a little while for the Pengula to hatch, and of course it’s tempting to just rip the top of the shell off but that would defeat the object wouldn’t it!  Chloe was super excited to see which of the Pengulas would be inside.

The Hatchimal taps its way through the egg shell

If you look after your Hatchimal it will hatch by itself.

One of two Pengulas inside the hatchimal

Obviously a significant part of the Hatchimals appeal is the novelty of watching the toy emerge – this is a fairly expensive novelty if you’re not going to touch it again!  By the time Chloe had hatched her Pengula, she’d had enough and was quite happy to turn her new toy off and leave it for a bit.  I was pleased really as it meant she was stretching the appeal somewhat and could go back and rear her new baby Pengula through it’s three life stages at a later date.

Sparkling wings and fur - Hatchimals Glittering Garden

Raise your Hatchimal through three different life stages

There’s no denying that at around £65 the Hatchimals Glittering Garden is an expensive toy but it’s also seriously exciting and definitely one which would bring the wow factor come Christmas morning!  (You can pick one up on Amazon at the moment for less than £50!)

*We were sent the Hatchimals Glittering Garden for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own.  This post contains an affiliate link which means if you choose to buy through this link I receive a small percentage of your purchase price at no cost to you*

Hatchimals Glittering Garden - Is it really worth the money?

MOKURU: The next big fidget toy? – Review & Giveaway

Fidget toys are all the rage at the moment aren’t they?  Everywhere I go I see kids whizzing fidget spinners around their fingers and I can’t tell you how many I’ve confiscated in the classroom.  They drive me mad but there’s no denying that they have their place and kids are going crazy for them.  Launched in the UK today is the latest offering to the “fidget market” if you will – the Mokuru Desk Toy.

MOKURU fidget toys

MOKURU is the latest craze to hit our shores from Japan.  At first glance it really doesn’t look all that exciting but believe me once you get it out of the packet it’s infuriatingly addictive.  Ben literally can’t leave it alone.

Designed to test and refine your balance and focus, it reminds me a little of the bottle flip everyone was so obsessed with last year.  This little wooden toy has been carefully crafted from quality materials to ensure perfect balance – which if you’re going to be trying to learn tricks with it is really important, it’s not good having something which isn’t quite right (so it’s worth mentioning here that there are cheap copies of the MOKURU available but you get what you pay for . . . )

MOKURU desk toy

The first thing Ben tried to do with his MOKURU was just to make it “walk” across the table – if you tip it too hard (or not hard enough) you will knock it over and it will just roll away.  Once he’d mastered this we had a look at youtube to see what else we could try and found that the “simplest” trick to master as a beginner is a “basic flip” which means letting the MOKURU flip over but stopping it again with a flat hand – the challenge is to stop it in a vertical position. Although Ben found this really tricky to start with, a bit of concentration and determination meant he was soon improving!

MOKURU toy - flip

Ben was most impressed by the “flip and hold” manoeuvre which means flipping the MOKURU and then catching it on the back of your hand – he has been trying do this almost constantly ever since.

MOKURU tricks

MOKURU Flip & Catch

I must warn you that, being made of wood, the MOKURU can be a bit noisy as it’s being flipped around on your dining room table or laminate floor – this certainly isn’t a toy I would want to be used in my classroom during learning time.  That said, if you survived the noise of constant bottle flipping or whirring fidget spinners I reckon you’ll be ok . . .

Ben and I made this video of him playing with his MOKURU straight from the packet so he’s no expert but you can really see how frustraitingly addictive it is and how determined he is to nail the tricks!

He’s super keen to take his MOKURU to school to show off to his mates. . . .

MOKURU fidget stick

If you’d like to win a MOKURU for yourself then just enter by completing the Rafflecopter below ensuring to do this accurately to avoid disqualification.  There will be three winners.  The colour of the MOKURU will be picked at random, this cannot be chosen by the winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can find MOKURU in the following places:

Website
Facebook
Instagram

Despicable Me 3 Remote Control Inflatables from Bladez Toyz – Review

What do you get if you combine a remote control with an inflatable minion?  A whole lot of fun that’s what!
Despicable Me 3 Remote Control Inflatables from Bladez Toyz - Review
Ben, Chloe and Amy – like most children of their age – are big fans of Minions and are all really excited about going to see the new Despicable Me 3 film at the cinema at some point soon – I think I might have to make that one a rainy day treat in the summer holidays.  Anyway I’m sure you can all imagine how chuffed they were to discover we had been sent two characters from the new Despicable Me 3 film – Fluffy and Tom.
Despicable Me 3 Remote Control Inflatables from Bladez Toyz - Fluffy and Tom
The toys are ready to play with in minutes – thankfully they don’t take too much blowing up (even I was able to do both of them with my rubbish asthmatic lungs, inflatables are normally deferred to Dave!) and as long as you’ve got a little screwdriver handy for the battery compartments you’re good to go.  It’s worth mentioning that the toys don’t come with batteries – you will need 6 x AA batteries in total (4 in the main unit and 2 in the controller)

Inflatable Minion straight from the box

Despicable Me 3 Remote Control Inflatables - Tom
Despicable Me 3 Remote Control Inflatables - Fluffy

Although Ben is fairly experienced with remote control toys, I don’t think Chloe has really played with any before however the simple handset needed no explanation and she soon had Fluffy whizzing around the playroom (though her favourite thing was to just spin her round on the spot!)  Even Amy was able to have a really good go at playing with the inflatable characters making them a great introductory remote control toy.

Despicable Me 3 Remote Control Inflatables - handset

During the course of play we discovered that the toys are rather reminiscent of weebles – you know those toys from your childhood that you couldn’t knock over?  The inflatables are really well balanced and even if you knock them they will right themselves.  By the very nature of them being inflatable you don’t really need to worry about them damaging your furniture or hurting you if you they crash into you.

Playing with inflatable Tom

Minion races
The material of the inflatable feels quite thin and I honestly thought that they would have burst within a day’s play however, so far, there’s been no such accidents.  Each toy does come with a handy puncture repair kit should the worst happen!
Although Fluffy is mute, Tom does have a number of Minion phrases – which we found amusing at first but I was soon glad to discover you could turn this off on the base of the toy.  We have found that the toys seem to travel better on the rug in the playroom rather than the laminate floor or the living room (and they’re a whole lot quieter then too!)
If you need an inflatable Minion in your life (and let’s face it who doesn’t?) you can pick one up at your local Entertainer Toy Shop or online.
*We were sent the toys free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Baby Annabell’s Brother – Review

Let me introduce you to the newest member of our family.  This is Baby Jack (more commonly known as Baby Annabell’s brother).  He arrived in our house a few weeks ago now to shrieks of excitement from his new Mummy, Amy.  Amy is fully obsessed with dolls at the moment – be it at home, at her childminder’s or at play school – if you ask her what she’s done that day the answer is almost guaranteed to be “played with the babies”.

Little girl with Baby Annabell's brother

Cuddles with Baby Annabell's brother

Baby Annabell’s brother is the most realistic doll I’ve come across yet.  He has a lovely face, we’ve all seen some scary dolls haven’t we?  In terms of his size and weight, he feels very much like a real baby in your arms.  (Yes, I’ve been caught inadvertently rocking him when Amy has passed him to me.  It’s just a standard motherly instinct isn’t it?)  This also means that as well as the wide range of Baby Annabell branded clothing available – he also fits real baby clothes!  We’ve bought him a couple of sleepsuits in the sale in Tesco and found that the newborn size is probably a little big for him so I’m keeping my eyes peeled for tiny baby outfits now.

Baby Annabell's brother

In terms of Baby Annabell’s brother being a “boy” the only actual difference I can see between him and the comparable Baby Annabell is that he has a blue spot on his tummy – he doesn’t have any of the usual boy ‘bits and bobs’ which means you could just as easily dress him in pink clothes and have a girl baby for the day. . .

Baby Annabell’s brother comes with a bottle, dummy, bib, nappy and a random pendant which I can’t possibly figure out a use for and all things which Amy has promptly lost.  Obviously one nappy doesn’t last very long when your baby is small so you can buy replacement Baby Annabell branded nappies (or just pop to the supermarket for tiny baby nappies which fit almost as well!)

Changing Baby Annabell's brother nappy

Baby Annabell's brother in nappy

Now Amy adored “Baby Jack” from the moment he was born (or removed from the packaging, whichever) and I must admit I was tempted to swerve the whole putting batteries thing in but in the interests of a proper review of course we had to . . .

Baby Annabell’s brother takes 4xAA batteries and rewards you with babbles, gurgles and realistic mouth movements as he sucks on his bottle.  He even yawns, falls asleep and wets his nappy.  Of course these functions, whilst exciting, means he’s no longer a great option for Amy to keep in her bedroom at night – we’ve had enough of being woken by sleeping babies thanks so very much!

Baby Annabell's brother in bed with toddler

Amy is completely besotted with Baby Jack and takes him everywhere – either in her pushchair or a carrier just like I used to use when she was little!

*We were sent the Baby Annabell brother doll for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own.  Post contains affiliate links*

Y Velo Balance Bike – Review

Balance bikes weren’t really a thing when Ben was learning to ride a bike – or at least not so as I knew about them!  He had a fairly typical bike with stabilisers and whilst that was great for him to get going and enjoy riding around it did hold him back when it came to actually learning to ride his bike properly.  In an attempt to avoid the same pitfalls with Chloe we bought her a Kiddimoto balance bike but found that whilst it was pretty, it was heavy and cumbersome so she never really got on with it.  Amy has tried to use the same bike once or twice to no avail so I was really excited when we were offered the chance to review the Y Velo balance bike.

Amy was at home when the Y Velo balance bike arrived so was immediately very giddy and told anyone who would listen on the school run that she had a new balance bike!  I promised her I would try and fit it together the following day so we could take it out for a ride in the park whilst the big two were at school and the weather was nice!

The Y Velo balance bike arrives in a number of pieces and whilst it’s fairly obvious how it all fits together, I just didn’t seem to have the strength or knack to get the front wheel on and quickly gave up promising Amy that Daddy would have a look when he got home!  Typically Dave didn’t struggle at all and had Amy’s new bike put together in just a few minutes – cue her attempting to ride it around the living room!

Of course with summer just around the corner (we hope) it’s the ideal time to start getting our bikes and scooters out again to make the most of the sunshine and fresh air!  All three kids were excited at the prospect of dusting off their respective bikes and scooters and heading to the park on Sunday afternoon for a whizz about!

Y Velo Balance Bike

Three year old on Y Velo Balance Bike

Y Velo Balance Bike padded handle bars

As Amy has never really used a balance bike before the Y Velo balance bike is a great starting point for her to be able to learn to steer and balance before she adds in complications like pedals!  Ben was keen to show her exactly how to ride it and was whizzing around all over the place (despite being far too big for it!).  Amy on the other hand is currently quite happy to sit on her bike and sort of walk it along if that makes sense.  She’s already getting quicker at doing this and I’m sure as time goes on she will develop in confidence to go faster and start to lift her feet off the floor a little as she learns to balance.  I was impressed with how quickly her steering came on in just the short time she was riding it this weekend – I think her experiences with learning to ride a scooter probably helped her there!

learning to ride the Y Velo Balance Bike

chunky wheels on Y Velo Balance Bike

What we love about the Y Velo balance bike: 

* It’s really lightweight compared to our previous balance bike making it much easier to manouver

* The seat is height adjustable for longevity – though Amy is pretty tall and already has it on almost the highest setting at three years old.

* The seat and handle bars are both really comfortable

* The wheels are nice and chunky to aid balance

* The bright colour means the bike is easy to spot

* It’s a really sturdy, quality bike – the £49.99 is an investment in a bit of kit that will easily be passed onto younger siblings or friends

little girl riding green Y Velo Balance Bike

I think it’s safe to say Amy is a big fan of her new Y Velo balance bike and I’m excited to see her progress over the summer months!

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 exclusively 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*