Thursday, 17 April 2014

Just Like Being in the Famous Five!



Going for a walk with the family is one of the nicest things you can do, not only is it free and you're getting some exercise but it is a time when you can talk and explore together. For us, it’s always memorable.

Like everyone, there are some areas which we go to time and time again. Despite the changing seasons it can be a challenge convincing the children to visit again and so I've started thinking about different ways to engage them. There are loads of free resources and ideas out there and we like to use:

The other thing which works very well is to read a book and then use that as a source of inspiration. So for example, we have taken walks where we have hunted for Julia Donaldson's Stick Man and members of his family whilst  Eric Carles amazing books and activity sheets  have inspired us to collect stuff to make collages of animals. Walks over the varied landscape of Hatfield Forest have turned into adventures using Michael Rosen's We're Going on  Bear Hunt  and more recently Shouty Arthur  has reminded us not to be too noisy on our quests.

Since we started reading The Famous Five we have decided to be the Famous Five and re-create their adventures in which picnic's feature heavily. This has added a whole new dimension to country walks and to be honest has enabled me to pretend that I’m little again.


Getting out and about in the countryside is often hungry work and Yeo Valley has some great recipes that are suitable for a whole range of outdoor pursuits. Our favourite is the Campfire Sausages with Cider sauce which is the perfect warming, tea time treat when we’ve been busy exploring all day. They’ve also just launched their latest on-pack promotion where from March to July you can win one of two classic VW Campervans. So if all this talk of exploring and adventures has got you thinking then why not enter for a chance to win!

Disclaimer: I'm a Yeo Valley Brand Ambassador. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Review: The Desolation of Smaug

Stretching a kids book that's shorter than any one of the three volumes of Lord of the Rings into 3 movies was always going to be a task and a half and there is plenty of padding and a bit of silliness in The Desolation of Smaug but the very fact the trilogy isn't hell-bent on taking itself too seriously makes everything all right. The best manifestation of this is Bilbo, played ably by Martin Freeman. There is such an understated level of humour in Freeman's performance, something so obviously absent from Elijah Wood's Frodo in Lord of the Rings, that anything that's maybe a little too ridiculous is seen as such with Bilbo's fine sense of the ridiculous.

There are some wonderful set pieces, such as the barrel riding escape from the elves, or the battle with Smaug under the mountain but they are all intentionally laced with humour, counterpointed rather well with Thorin Oakenshields complete lack of humour and humanity. Or should that be dwarfity?

The film isn't perfect, it's a bum numbing two and a half plus hours long and it shows with plenty of extra material that those familiar with the book might not recognise. Gandalf's encounter with Sauron while the companions get tangled up with spiders is a bit at odds with the tone of the rest of the film (it's mentioned in passing by Gandalf in the book) and it finishes on a rather unfair cliff hanger but that's to be expected of the middle film in a trilogy.

The burning question is how does the Desolation of Smaug work as a family film? The Hobbit trilogy is much lighter in tone than the Lord of the Rings, and there is plenty of slapstick to make the kids laugh. Counterpointing this is the spider sequence which is quite sinister, and the overall running time. Younger children may baulk at the running time but slightly older kids, heading towards teens, will love it and it will set them up nicely for Lord of the Rings in a couple of years time.

Review: Walking With Dinosaurs; The Movie


You cant go wrong in our household with a dinosaur movie. As a family of fossil hunters we all have a keen interest in dinosaurs and ambitions to actually find one in the future. I think this movie uses some of the footage from the BBC television series and frankly it looks awesome.

Walking With Dinosaurs; The Movie tells the tale of a little boy who doesn't like dinosaurs, he discovers a dinosaur tooth thanks to a bird pointing it out and then the world around him turns into the dinosaur world. Well, this is my seven year olds take on it. I actually couldn't get much of a look in because I used the digital download code on my ipad! The children then sat glued to the screen and I was occasionally allowed the chance to look at some of the bits which they considered super awesome.

From what I saw my only criticism was that it does come across as rather American and I did find the use of the world 'mom' rather grating. I thought that the whole movie was brilliant in that it was really educational for the children and they were really glued to the whole thing (they are aged 2, 5 and 7).

Afterwards at dinner we were discussing it and I was told that the best place to be in a herd is in the middle and that's where the kids would aim for if they were dinosaurs. I thought that was brilliant, I was really impressed.

 This is a totally watchable, great educational movie. It really makes a change to find something where the kids passively learn without even realising. Yes, its quite American and from what I heard and saw some of the scripts could have been a little bit more polished, however if you think of it like you would any other animated movie then they don't seem bad. I think its because the dinosaurs look so polished and real you expect a BBC natural history style documentary and as an adult its quite hard to get your head around that. As I say though, my kids had no issues at all and they are all keen to watch it again. I reckon this might be the movie by which we remember this Easter Break.

Ive been given some games to go with the film, I thought this Memory game was quite good:

Review: Zinc Scooters

The five year old scooter expert
One of the things which my children seem to excel at is scooting. Little Fifi in particular is an expert and we've had to swop between a two wheeler and her mini-micro scooter on the reception school run because she's so good at it. We were asked to have a look at a fantastic Zycho stunt scooter by UK company Zinc.

From the moment the scooter arrived the children were really excited, the fact of the matter is that this scooter just looks super cool. They all wanted a ride, even the husband. Such was the competition over this scooter that I decided to set up a scooter riding competition. This was a bad idea, as I immediately realised it would inevitably lead to tears. However, once the idea was floated it had to be enacted, I just hoped that the hubby would do enough to 'win' so we could continue with a shared scooter.
Fantastic deck on the scooter

In many ways for testing a scooter this wasn't such a bad thing as it demonstrated that the scooter could be used by our (admittedly exceeding good) five year old, the seven year old and the thirty nine year old (incidentally 6 ft 5 tall). Its made from incredibly sturdy aluminium which seems to deal with the variety of weights and strains each rider placed upon it.

The deck of the scooter is ideally designed with rounded edges and a really grippy deck (unlike our other scooters). This is brilliant for stunts but in my humble opinion also incredibly useful for the scooter crazed child who likes scooting in even the wettest of weather.
The seven year old has a go

I'm really impressed with this scooter, I think it will last a child for a good few years realistically from about seven years all the way through teenage years which makes it a very good buy. As long as your child is wearing appropriate safety gear you could do a lot worse than to encourage them to really get into scooting and trying out a few stunts, these days children spend far too much time sedentary indoors. Something like this is the perfect way to encourage them that sport and outdoor activity is really cool.

If you fancy one yourself you can get hold of one here:
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Disclaimer: We were given a scooter to review


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

How a child sees the world

I'm often hunting for my camera, the children seem to view it as their own and use it to take random photos of their world. In a way it seems a shame to try to prevent them doing this because I'm left with a rather unique record of things. Here are the latest offerings:


My brothers...
Earmuffs on my lap

The view from the dining room table
Self portrait in cat costume



Featured Post: Top UK Family Holiday Destinations

Deciding where to take the children for a holiday can be stressful. There are so many places to choose from, each with their own merits, so it can make it really hard to narrow it down to just one perfect holiday destination. They key is to find somewhere that has something for all of you - you'll find some great tips for family holidays on  Travelodge's blog and a few more suggestions below to help you work out where to spend your next family holiday:

London 
China Town in London's West End

England's capital city, London really packs a punch when it comes to things to do with the kids. With everything from beautiful parks and open spaces like  Greenwich Park, Royal residences like Buckingham Palace and the London home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Kensington Palace, historical sites like The Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, attractions like the London Dungeons and the London Eye, along with family friendly eateries The Rainforest Cafe and Sticky Fingers, London really is a wonderful place to visit with children of all ages. There's so much to see and do here! You of course have all of the attractions and sites of historical interest to visit. Add that to the amazing shows like Shrek and The Lion King that you'll find in the heart of the West End and the numerous child friendly events that take place throughout the year and you have a city break that can't be beaten. 

Hastings

On the Sussex coast, Hastings was originally a fishing village surrounded by beautiful lush green countryside. Still true to its roots, you'll find evidence of its history as a fishing village everywhere you look, from the boat yard to the fishing museum and pirate caves. There are some great beaches to enjoy, a pier packed with amusements, arcades dotted along the seafront and a seafront funfair. It's a classic British seaside resort and one that never seems to go out of style. You'll find donkey rides, crazy golf, trampolines, shops selling donuts and sticks of rock, fish and chips restaurants and a pretty old town packed with historic buildings and antiques shops. Board the tram up the cliff and enjoy the views over the town and out to sea from the cliff top fields, or perhaps even take a wander up the country lanes and visit one of the farms selling homemade ice cream and cakes along the way. 

The New Forest

This beautiful part of Hampshire was once the private hunting ground of King Henry VIII. The deer remain even today and you can see them if you venture into the forest along the many paths through the centuries old trees. You're surrounded by wildlife here, and it's not uncommon to spot donkeys, horses, cows and even pigs wandering through the forest, open spaces and even up the local high street! The houses and buildings here are so pretty you'll see why they make it onto postcards. It’s a great place to get back to nature, explore the pretty woodland and coastal villages and towns, enjoy a market or two and maybe even try your hand at horseriding. 


Wherever you decide to visit this year, with a little planning you're sure to have an amazing time. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

#AhoyLegoland; Pirate Adventures for all the Family at Legoland Windsor Resort


Legoland Windsor just keeps getting better and better. Each time we visit there is something new to see and do so we were really thrilled to hear all about the new adventure playground at the resort. If Pirate Shores is anything like the revamped Duplo Valley playground the kids really are in for a treat. We were invited along to try it out but rather unfortunately it isn't finished so all I could do is stare at the hoardings in anticipation of the frenzy which will be induced in my children when it is.

The whole pirate area has been revamped and one of the highlights is the Pirate Falls Treasure Quest Log Flume ride which has 100 new Lego models to spot as you join Captain Goodbrick on his quest for the treasure quest. You'll also be pleased to hear that there is a new burger kitchen in this area, rather handy for hungry little pirates!

To be honest though, there is so much to do that it really didn't matter in the slightest that the adventure playground wasn't finished as my children set about the challenge of visiting every single ride and attraction in the park in a day. I'm convinced this isn't possible and I think I was proved right when TEN hours later we staggered out of the park disappointed that we hadn't been on the Skyride, the cinema or the Hero Factory. Now, to be fair the husband thinks he went on the large Dragon roller coaster at least seventeen times (with two separate  children) and there was an immensely long wait for the boating lake.
Enjoying the view before embarking on the Dragon Rollercoaster

One of the things which people always ask is whether there is enough to do for the under three year old age group. I'd say that there was plenty, I think the only issue is when you have older children because either the group splits up or there is a little bit of waiting as the minimum height is 90 cm for lots of the rides. That said, little Ned enjoyed the Laser Quest in the Egyptian temple,  Atlantis submarine ride, the train rides, the Enchanted boat ride, the Pirates of Skeleton Bay show and the entire Duplo Valley/ mini land. I'd happily just take him personally, as I don't really like roller coasters and I was forced onto a train uppy downy thingy which left me dazed for the rest of the day- thanks husband for that!
How many kids can you fit in a Lego racing car?

I'm not going to pretend that Legoland is a great cultural experience or anything, its literally just pure unadulterated fun. I have so many happy memories of trips to Legoland with the children that it really will be one of those places I remember going my entire life. I always think that its a really good idea to have a few places where the family can bond and enjoy a bit of fun together without any pressure and Legoland is one of those places. If you haven't been before its really worth a trip and even if you have been, there will soon be the new Pirate Shore playground to enjoy. Book in a trip with the family this season, I know we will definitely be back!
Inside the Duplo Valley playground
Disclaimer: We were given free entry to the resort and some food vouchers, but we would have gone and loved it anyhow!

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