Tuesday, 29 July 2014

#Streamteam Post: Netflix will save your sanity this summer- and help the kids to learn

From experience what works best for me over the school summer holidays is to have a plan of action. I've come to find, that if we have a rough theme for each week and then plan it out with activities related to it, not only is it easier to plan the days but the children actually have a really great learning experience.

This year I have a whole series of activities plan, some related to the exploration theme which my friends are also doing and some related to the children (and my) interest in Natural History. I've tried to create a mixture of museum visiting, making the most of the good old outdoors and craft activities at home. However, all kids need a bit of down time and its important I think to let them rest and recover from their year at school. That's where you can be a bit crafty!

We are lucky enough to be part of the Netflix #Streamteam which means that we have Netflix available for the kids and its a brilliant source of fun and entertaining films and programmes. However, it also has loads and loads of fantastic educational content, including these amazing BBC Natural History series:

We have been working our way through Walking with Dinosaurs and have combined this with a trip to the amazing Sedgwick Museum in Cambridge and of course, fossil hunting at every opportunity. I've started devising a plan for making our own plaster cast fossils which I will shortly share, once we have experimented. Suffice to say, this is not only an entertaining programme which the children will happily watch but they now know nearly as many dinosaur facts as me!

The Blue Planet ties in really nicely with our Exploring theme as it allows me to expand upon some of the themes we will be looking at. For example, The Frozen Seas episode deals with the Arctic and Antarctic in terms of wildlife and the effect that this has on the locality. It ties in nicely with looking at some of the amazing expeditions people have undertaken both historically  and in the present day. We will also go to the Archaeology and Anthropology Museum and the Polar Exploration Museum in Cambridge to really bring all these elements together. In terms of crafts  I thought making penguins would be fun and for the older children we would do a little bit of soap carving which I loved doing when I was little.

There are loads of other programmes with different themes to utilise in your summer activities and, of course when the kids go to bed you can catch up on some brilliant drama yourself. I can't stress how useful Netflix is, I cant imagine not having it now!

If my ideas don't fire your imagination Netflix have teamed up with Kelly Ladd Sanchez to create some Story Starters. These are a BRILLIANT idea, basically you can use them to spark the kids imagination into creating their own stories. They are perfect for the car but would also make a brilliant addition for those of you (like me) trying to get their kids to write more to improve their literacy.

With a bit of careful thought and a great on demand service like Netflix you can really make the most of your kids down time and turn it into a worthwhile learning experience. I'd love to hear your comments about what you might be doing and what inspiration you have drawn from various programmes and films for activities.

Disclaimer: I'm part of the Netflix Streamteam which is a brand ambassador programme. I genuinely love the service and use it daily, these are activities we are doing this summer.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Nut Job and a Epic Adventure for us!

I must admit this Sunday was slightly unusual in that the hubby wasn't about to assist with the children, instead he had headed off to the Commonwealth Games, child free! I wasn't too fussed as we were all excited about going off to see The Nut Job which has been heavily advertised on the TV channel my kids watch. I must admit, I was really excited because following the film we had the chance to go to Hampstead Heath for some nature activities with the rangers. I think I was more excited than the kids to be honest.

At the crack of dawn we headed off into London, I dropped off Ned because I thought he might be too much of a handful in the cinema and continued our journey on the A1m. That was until the car broke down. Thus began a nightmarish morning which culminated in getting to the train station (somehow- thanks to 'limp mode') with just enough time to get to the cinema and discovering all the trains into London cancelled. Thanks First Capital Connect, I don't know why I expected them to work really. These things are sent to try us and add to the rich tapestry that is life don't they. I'd also like to say a special thank you to the person driving in the slow lane who decided to give me a driving lesson as I tried to pull into the slow lane when I lost all power in the car. Yes, lets all slow clap him for driving at the same speed as me, gesturing that I should be going faster.

So that was that, I still haven't managed to see The Nut Job, so I can't actually tell you whether its good or not. The trailer looks ace and its a film about squirrels, so it should be entertaining. I shall have to leave you with this information and the trailer. The film is in cinemas from August 1st. We will be first in the queue...

In animated 3D, "The Nut Job" is an action-packed comedy that follows Surly, a mischievous squirrel, who must plan a heist to get into his town's biggest nut shop in order to help his pals in the park gather food to survive the winter. Together with his sidekick, Buddy, he will assemble a ragtag crew to help him get inside -- and take them on a fun-filled adventure they'll never forget.

Voice Cast Includes: Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Katherine Heigl, Liam Neeson and Maya Rudolph

Making Colour and a Book Review: The Colour Thief by Gabriel Alborozo

Last week we went off to the National Gallery to have a look at their Making Colour exhibition. This in itself proved a little bit of a challenge because their website would only let me book 2 children's tickets for each adult ticket and since there was one of me and 3 children I wasn't convinced I'd be able to even get into the exhibition.

The exhibition itself looks at different colours and pigments in paint. We learnt all about the colour wheel and the best use of colour, how some pigments have faded and changed the look of paintings as we see them today. We also learnt how some visitors to galleries are not at all tolerant of children and I was really shocked to hear some ladies saying that they thought it disgusting that we had brought our children into an art gallery and that they would ask for their money back. A discussion about this is an entire blog post in itself and to be honest, I'm still feeling the rage and re-running what I should have said to these two old bags.

The children did really enjoy the exhibition and I think it was a great learning experience for them given the amount of conversations we have had about it since. As a result I've been keeping an eye out for suitable books for them. Perhaps the best factual book I've come across is The Usborne Art Book about Colour. The book also broadly follows a similar format to the  exhibition so its very useful for follow up activities.

And so it was with perfect timing that The Colour Thief by Gabriel Alborozo arrived for us to have a look at. This is the story of a little alien called Zot that lives in a world without colour. He comes to visit the distant planet he sees from his colourless planet and takes the colour. This is quite an unusual and interesting story and we loved the little twist at the end.

For us, this was a really valuable book as it enabled me to build on our experiences at the Making Colour exhibition and it linked in really nicely. I couldn't have asked for a better bedtime read really!

In terms of the actual book it is printed on really nice matt paper and has a lovely hard back cover. The illustrations have a lovely feel about them and they are in a lovely  colour palette.

If you are thinking about colour with your children then this is an ideal book. The story is so unusual that I think that it would make a wonderful addition to your bookshelf.

If you want to find out more have a look here.

Disclaimer: We were sent this book for review purposes

Testing out the Panasonic W850 at a Playmobil Event

A few weeks back we were lucky enough to go along to the opening of the new Playmobil 40th anniversary suite at the Waldorf Hilton.

Well, those people at Playmobil clearly don't know how *good* I am with technology as they trusted me with a fantastic Panasonic W850 video camera for the duration of the event.

This was a great chance to try out a new video camera. I don't actually have my own proper video camera so this was a learning curve. However, the Panasonic W850 is very straightforward to use and it wasn't long before I was getting to grips with the zoom and everything. Anyway, here are my efforts. Enjoy!

Book Review: Specs for Rex Written and Illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail

The last book we reviewed by Yasmeen Ismail was her debut 'Time for Bed Fred!' and this still remains a firm favourite with the children. Specs for Rex is her latest offering and tells the story of little Rex who has some new glasses and tries to hide them from everyone he doesn't want to be different.

Like all of Yasmeen Ismail's books this is beautifully illustrated and a lovely fresh story. Its a particularly useful book for children who are coming to terms with needing their own glasses. I don't think I've come across a book about needing glasses before so its a welcome addition to the bookshelf. As a spectacle wearer myself I thought it an enjoyable read and I think it gave my kids a little bit of an insight into what its like to wear glasses.

If you'd like to find out more and have a look at some more of Yasmeen's amazing work have a look at her website here.

Disclaimer: We were gifted this book for review purposes

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Review: Where Bear? Written and Illustrated By Sophy Henn

                                "Once there was a bear cub who lived with a little boy..."

And so starts this brilliant tale of a boy and a bear for little two year old Ned and his big brother and sister. The little bear gets too big to live with the little boy, he is just too big and too bearish, and between them they need to decide where he will live. This is a book full of humour and subtle messages about growing up, making choices and friendship. We loved it. I shall be buying this book for my little niece and nephew. I really think it might be a modern classic.

The book is one of those books which you wont give to your children when they leave home, you'll keep it yourself. Its beautifully presented in hardback with a matt finish and feels special before you've even opened it.

I loved the story and the children responded exactly as I hoped to it. It is the illustrations that set this book apart though. If you want to learn about illustrating a great children's book you need look no further than this. The illustrations are simple, characterful and stylish. The colours used easy on the eye, making it visually perfect for nurturing little sleepy heads at bedtime.

Where Bear? is a fantastic book, which for me will have pride of place on the bookshelf next to some of my prized kids books. It reminds me a little of Chris Haughton's books and if you like them you'll love Sophy Henn.

Where Bear? is published by Puffin in Hardback on 7th August 2014 priced at £11.99 and is aimed at ages 3 + but I can vouch that my 2 and a half year old loved it. You can find more about Sophy Henn at her website.

Back to School with Nutmeg at Morrisons

I'm fast becoming a convert to Morrisons, for years I've been telling people how brilliant the cafe is in the St Albans branch and our recent food challenge proved to me that you could actually get some amazing quality meat and fresh produce for extremely reasonable prices. Now, I've had a chance to take a look at their School Uniforms.

girls polo shirt £2/3 for 2
Morrisons has its own clothing range called Nutmeg which I must admit I hadn't really paid much attention to until now. For me, shopping is a fraught experience and its a matter of speed over anything else and so if I can avoid an aisle I will. However, I think I've actually been really missing out because if the school uniform we just got for review purposes is anything to go by we could have got some really nice, well made clothes for a fraction of the price of other places.

I'm a keen advocate of supermarket school uniform for my children, in my experience it tends to wash and wear better than expensive bespoke stuff. It also has the added bonus that when they use the black permanent marker pen and 'accidentally' manage to draw a line all down the front of their top, or fall over and rip their trousers, or fall head first into the poster paints you don't feel so bad about replacing the garment. That means you can concentrate on the child's injury or homework rather than trying to repair school uniform. Maybe that makes me sound wasteful, but hopefully I sound like a better mother for it!

Boys polo shirt £2/3 for 2

Bow detail girls trousers £3/4
t feel so bad about replacing the garment. That means you can concentrate on the child's injury or homework rather than trying to repair school uniform. Maybe that makes me sound wasteful, but hopefully I sound like a better mother for it!

We were sent a couple of packs of their polo shirts (white). The girls version has a lovely scalloped edge to the collar which I thought was a nice detail. They are soft rather than hard and the label is printed inside rather than all scratchy which I thought was a nice touch that they had thought about. At just £2 for a pack of 2 they are a bargain.

plimsolls with velcro straps £2:50
The school trousers and skirts for girls were brilliant. Fifi loved the trousers with a bow detail on the pockets and I thought this made them stand out from the usual ones which can be a little bit boyish. The skirt we were sent was great quality as well (a bargain at just £3) and I loved that they were coated with Teflon fabric protector, something which is definitely required in our house!

Finally we were sent some plimsolls. Finding plimsolls that fit properly are the bane of my life. These Nutmeg ones are great because they have adjustable Velcro straps. Basically ideal.

From having a look at these items I think its fair to say that I think its well worth checking out Nutmeg at Morrisons for school uniform. I'd head there quickly before they sell out!

Disclaimer: we were sent these items for review purposes


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