Friday, 17 October 2014

Club Chic Girls - Review

My 7 year old twin girls are very lucky as they get a number of great things to review. The latest item they have received has only just launched and both girls love their Club Chic doll.

With five to collect there is something for everyone. We were lucky enough to receive the whole set but I asked the girls which one each they would like to keep and we will pass the other three to friends of theirs, as it is always good to share!

Based in Bear Valley Hills, the Club Chic girls are totes the trendiest, coolest bears around! Each Club Chic doll has their own individual style and comes complete with personalised fabric outfits and a super-styling hand bag that your little one can use too! It explans on the box who each girl is and what their style/ personality says about them.

These are who my girls choose -

Miss M - Candy, as she would love to have pink hair like her and she is really into fashion, which apparently Miss M tells me Candy is too. her name also sounds American which is something Miss M would love.

Miss E - Pippa, truth be told Miss E did not strongly identify with any of them, I suspect this is because she is still figuring out who she is as an individual. She liked Violet as she is arty but she didn't like her Goth look so she opted for Pippa in the end as she wears glasses like Miss E does and she blogs like Mummy,

The dolls retail for £16.99 and you can pick them up from most good toy retailers like Smyths Toys. So what do you get for your money? Take a look and see -

I found the dolls a bit odd as they have such big heads and small bodies and I had wondered if they would stand up unassisted but they do and my girls think the big head, big eyes look is cute and I suppose they are what matters. The actual doll itself seems well made and all the parts move, the hair is the same as any doll like this and the painted face is well done. I really liked the fact that the dolls have a childs body and there is no emphasis towards perky boobs and slim hips!

The dress on Crystal is literally just a piece of fabric with a velcro fastening, so not much to it but it fits the theme and looks good on her. The purse that comes with it is very cute and again velcro fastens and my daughters will enjoy using these for their pocket money.

I think these make a nice Christmas present idea and my girls are certainly happy with their dolls.

If you like what you see you can check out more of Vivid Toys brands on their website, it is always good to find a British brand.

Disclosure: We were sent these dolls free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Baby Annabell Rocking Cradle & Nightlight

Of course what every child wants for their doll is somewhere cosy and beautiful for them to sleep at night and Miss E is over the moon that her doll is now by her bed in a cradle rather than a cardboard box (which is where she had been the last couple of months).

The rocking cradle is very cute and is was super easy to assemble, I didn't even look at the instructions. The good news is it also comes apart easily if you need to move or store it. The little lamb that hangs above baby's face plays a sweet lullaby and projects lights onto babes face and Miss E thought this was very special. She also particularly likes the gold plastic sheep end to the cradle leg, as it looks like the bed is for a princess (so I'm told!).

The cradle basket itself is two hard wires and a sort of fabric covered cardboard bottom so it can fold flat and then expand when the weight of the baby is in it. You can remove the fabric so it would just be sponge clean if it got dirty. You get a little padded satin pillow and soft sheet for the cradle and these are nice and fit well.

The rocking cradle and nightlight has an RRP of £44.99 and the cheapest I found it was £40.90 on Amazon  It does not appear that genuine Baby Annabell dolls or accessories get reduced anywhere as I could not find any particularly great deals on them.

Disclosure: We received this toy free of charge. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Review: OMY Colouring Posters

At the end of August a press release dropped into my inbox to advise me about some beautiful colouring products available from OMY Design and Play. After a browse on their website I realised that my children would like these products especially Miss E (aged 7 years) and my boy JJ (aged 10 years) and I said yes to a couple of products for review.

It is now about a 3 weeks after they have arrived and I have to be honest and say they have hardly been used. When they first arrived the kids saw them and 'ohhed' and 'ahhed' about how nice they were and my twin girls sat down to do some colouring straight away - one with pencils and one with felt tips (always different those two). They told me they liked the placements and they seemed to be enjoying themselves but realistically they didn't want to sit at the large dining table (where the placement would sit flat)  they wanted to sit on the floor and use the coffee table so they could watch TV at the same time. This made things a bit harder as the placements are bigger than an average size tray and they always use trays on the coffee table to protect the wood.

The actual placements are each 30 x 42cm and are a good quality thick paper, it is also recycled which is good. There are 24 place mats in a pack and we choose the City Map design, which means we had 6 each of the following - Paris, London, New York, Rio, Tokoyo and Atlas. We also could have chosen the Fantastic design pack. Each pack of 24 placements retails for £13.90 and that makes it about 60p per placement, which I don't think is bad value at all, given the good quality paper, the size and the intricate designs for colouring.

Postage in included in the price of the product and I love that, nothing hidden. That is normally the thing that puts me off buying online. There are also options to pay if you wish for courier service and to receive the product quicker than the standard 2-3 day delivery time.

We also received a London giant colouring poster, this measures 1.14m x 0.8 metres and is designed to go on a wall, the floor or a large table. We have not used this yet as I am saving it for a children's event I'm running in November. I will use masking tape to put it on the tiled floor and then lots of children will be able to colour it at the same time when we have messy church with a theme of love our world, God's special creation. The giant poster retails for £9.90 and again postage is included in that price. It comes folded into a small cardboard case and thus posts easily, you can see the folds when you undo it and that annoys me a little but my kids were not bothered by it when I asked them.

We have found that pencil, crayon and felt tip pens all work well on the OMY colouring products and that gives the child choice to use whatever they fancy. I do think these products are lovely if you want to sit down quietly and companionably with your child and do some colouring together, I can imagine Miss E and my mum doing this on a cold winters day. I think that has been some of the problem in the last few weeks, there has hardly been a spare moment.  The kids have all gone back to school, there has been tons of homework and we have had plans each weekend as well as visitors for a week. I know these products will come into their own when it is too cold or wet to venture out into the wonderful 220 acres that we live in.

You can see below the size of the giant poster and also the intricate detail of the poster.

There are six different designs of the giant poster and that means there is something to suit everyone and if this one is not large enough for you then you might be interested in the giant colouring roll this is 1.8 m x 1 metre and I think it would be fantastic as a centre piece for a birthday party, school holiday club or maybe Sunday club. It retails for £19.90.

In all these are really nice products but because they are so large it means they are not very portable and have not been played with as much as say a smaller colouring book that is easy to take to the car or a restaurant or a day trip out.

Disclosure: We received these colouring products free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Free School Lunch for Every Child in Infant Schools in England

Such a shame that my little girls have moved into Key Stage 2 and won't be eligable for free school meals!

In an attempt to help ease the financial burden on families with young children in England, Nick Clegg has announced free school lunches for every child in state funded infant schools. Influenced by the recommendations of the government commissioned School Food Plan, the new policy entitles every child under 8 to high quality lunches saving parents on average £437 per child over the year.

For years government bodies, health authorities and the media have reiterated the benefits of high quality meals in cognitive development and learning in children. There are numerous reports and studies highlighting the correlation between children eating highly nutritious meals both before and at school leading to an increase in academic performance, healthier eating habits and a reduction in childhood obesity.

Students who were involved in the pilot study in County Durham and Newham provide evidence to support these claims as they were reported to have experienced positive improvements in their health, attainment and social cohesion with the introduction of the universal free school meals. They were found to be on average 2 months ahead of their peers elsewhere in England and were more likely to achieve their target levels at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 in Maths and English. The introduction of universal free school meals within these areas reportedly did more to improve literacy levels than the nationwide introduction of the compulsory ‘literacy hour’ in 1998. Interestingly, the pupils whose results improved the most markedly were children from the poorest households who benefited from the removal of social stigma and an improvement in atmosphere.

Even with the unarguable of pupils eating healthily at school, the introduction of the universal free school meals policy still has its objectors. Although head teachers and local authorities have voiced their support for the introduction of the new policy, there is a growing concern with schools preparing for the launch of the new national curriculum and upgrading their dining facilities that the government has over-promised and under-delivered. Nearly 2700 schools will not be ready to serve hot meals by December with students being offered cold meals until facilities can be upgraded or kitchens built.

The government has made just over £170m available to help schools upgrade their dining facilities to the latest high quality stainless steel kitchens to comply with their stringent health and safety guidelines, but this is reportedly not enough. There is a reported short fall of £25m in cash required to provide free school meals with local authorities diverting funds that were originally earmarked to repair school roofs to plug the shortfall.

At £600m, the overall yearly cost of the universal free school meals policy, may seem quite steep, it is a lot less than the £6bn a year it costs the British tax payer for treating illnesses caused by a bad diet. The introduction of the universal free school meals policy highlights the government’s long term commitment to our children’s learning and welfare as well as easing the financial burden on families. As Nick Clegg states: “Universal free school meals will help give every child the chance in life that they deserve, building a stronger economy and fairer society.”

What do you think of the introduction of free school meals for children under 8? Have your children enjoyed the free meals? All comments are welcome below.

Everybody Learns

I've recently become aware of a company called Everybody Learns and I have to say that I really like that company name. It is so true, everybody does learn but they just might do it at different rates and in different ways.

This is what Everybody Learns says about themselves on their website -
The Everybody Learns website is the work of teachers who believe we can make a difference. It attempts to present an accurate picture of education in this country, in so far as it is relevant to reading. In addition we provide advice on how to prevent or overcome the problems children will encounter in our schools.We are a learning support business based in North Yorkshire in the UK. We offer reading software solutions and other resources to help children learn. We have customers across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.
As far as I can tell the biggest product that Everybody Learns supplies is their online reading software Lexia, This is a subscription based service that I've not had any experience with. They also sell reading and writing workbooks suitable for first readers and both younger and older readers. These can be used alongside the Lexia reading course or independently. We had received some of these workbooks for review with my daughter Miss E, but it turns out that right now I can't use them with her. She has just gone into KS2 and as she has dyslexia she is overwhelmed with the change in learning styles that KS2 has bought. Her homework has tripled and thus we need to allow her time to settle and to feel happy in her education, I won't be one of those pushy Mums, her well being is far more important to me than her educational attainment level.

We received the complete set (8 books) of Lexia reading and writing workbooks for younger children. As a parent I found it quite hard to know what level I should be buying for my child as I could not see any indication of age or school year that might help guide me.

There is a full list of what is covered in each of the levels and it looks something like this "Level 4 Skills: Blending and segmenting vowel digraphs and vowel-r words, reading and writing two syllable words, reading and writing sentences, reading stories and answering comprehension questions, reading and spelling sight vocabulary words, learning word meanings." but actually that did not help me at all as I'm not a teacher and not aware what my children should be doing at what age.

Each workbook is between 45 - 49 pages long and they are printed on thick folded A3 paper so they do start to look quite dog-eared pretty quickly but I suppose this is not a problem as they will be short lived and moved through fairly quickly. Also at £24.99 for a set of 8 workbooks (including postage) that is only about £3.10 per workbook so they are a good price.

At the beginning of each workbook there is a key explaining what the child needs to do within the book and this gives good visual clues and is nice and clear. Then at the top of most pages you see those signs helping the child be aware of what they have to do. There is no colour or stickers to the workbooks so they are much more school like and lack the fun of something like the Gold Star books, but your younger child can colour in the pictures and they might enjoy that.

Here are a few sample pages from the books. Some of them do look quite wordy as you can see in the bottom right image -

We were also sent the set of workbooks for older children, called Strategies for Older Students and I can honestly say there are pages in those that I have no idea about; it feels to me as if they were designed for teachers/ tutors to use with students rather than parents. It does mention a Teachers Notes but I was not sent that and maybe that is the key to understanding those books.

After having a good look around the Everybody Learns website I was a bit saddened to see statements such as this -
* If you are a parent who is concerned about your child’s reading progress you are almost certainly right to be so. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. The truth is that if your child struggles with reading, you cannot trust the schools to help them overcome their difficulties. Overwhelmingly, they fail to do so.
* If you have been told by your child’s school that his or her reading progress is satisfactory, check it out. This might not be the case.
* The standards set by the UK government for our children are much too low and, even so, too many children fail to achieve them.
It does feel a bit like scare mongering to me and I don't like that. I'm not saying our UK schools are perfect but equally I don't feel making children spend hours at home (in the style of the Japanese or Chinese education systems) is right either.

The free reading assessment did seem quite useful and I had a go myself at both year 2 and year 6. It was simple and easy to work and I might get Miss E to try this out as it will give me an idea what level she is at. I won't be doing it with my other two as I can see from their interaction with me and home learning that they are age appropriately developing in their reading skills.

On the left is one of the pages of the year 2 test and it audibly asks me to click on words. Then on the right is the assessment from my year 6 test.

The Everybody Learns blog is worth checking out and there are regular posts recommending books for your child's reading age, this is great for me as my JJ (aged 11 years) is an avid reader and I never know what to buy him as he has devoured most books I know if already. I also read a feature about helping your pre-schooler with phonics and actually some of the tips are probably still really applicable now for me to use with my Miss E who is still struggling to master reading.

I think if you are the kind of parent that is interested in your child getting in some extra reading and writing practise at home then you might enjoy these workbooks.

Disclosure: We were sent the workbooks free of charge for the purpose of a review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Lake District Dairy Co Quark Cooking Sauces

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a nice hamper of ingredients so I could try out the new Lake District Diary Co cooking sauces. It is always good to receive one of these kind of hampers as it forces me to move out of my boring routine and to try something different. I'm not the worlds most inventive cook (despite being a qualified Chef!) and we could end up with the same meals all the time if I didn't occasionally stretch myself.

These cooking sauces are made from Quark and I can't recall if I've ever tried Quark before to be honest. I mentioned it to my husband and he turned his nose up, saying when he had it in his younger years it was awful so I was then interested to see what he thought of the cooking sauces.

Quark is spoonable soft cheese made from British cows milk and it is good to be using a product that is made at home and has not travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles to get to me. The Cooking sauces are sold in a 200g pot and they look very attractive. The retail price is £1.75 and this is comparable to other sauces I might buy. there are currently three flavours - Garlic and Herb, Tikka and Tomato and Basil and all are naturally low in fat.

None of the sauces contain any preservatives or artificial flavours and they seem to come with about a 2-3 week shelf life and as a diary product they must of course be kept chilled. I think these cooking sauces make a great healthy alternative to other diary ingredients such as creme fraiche or double cream and what is really good is that the sauce can be used as a cold dip, so is fabulous for buffets and packed lunches too.

My favourite sauce was definitely the tikka, it came with the ingredients to make Chicken Tikka and Quark rice and we all really liked this. It was not too spicy but was flavoursome and made a good biriyani style meal, although the consistency of the meal was wetter than  a biriyani but that did not bother us. Everyone asked for seconds of this.

I was asked to make a Quark version of spaghetti carbonara, they called it Quarkonara which made me smile. It is impressive when you read that using this cooking sauce instead of cream cheese will reduce the fat content of the dish by 28g, a massive 88% and the calories per portion dropped by 227 kcals too. I also like the ease of the cooking sauce, cook the pasta and pour in the sauce, ham and a little cooking water and perfect finished dish once heated a bit. Sadly for me I thought the taste of this was pretty foul, one of my daughters would eat it but the other refused and I had to cook her something else so we wouldn't buy the Garlic and Herb one again, it was just too strong in smell and taste.

As far as the tomato and basil sauce is concerned we never got to use it. It was in date but when I opened it I noticed there was a bit of the orange around the outer lid which made me wonder if it had burst a little in transit. I assume it had as when I put my finger in to try a little it was fizzy and tasted bad. It also stained my hands as it is a vivid orange colour, so I've really been put off that one I'm afraid.

Our family would buy the tikka sauce again as it was very pleasant with the rice, sadly the other two are not for our family.

Disclosure: We received a hamper ingredients for the purpose of this review, I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Miss E loves nurturing her Baby Annabell

Miss E has always been good with babies, she has never had a younger sibling but both our neighbours have younger girls and one had a new-born last year when we moved here. So since being in this house she has grown up with little ones around her. She very often runs in at early tea time and asks if she can go and feed Gracie with our neighbour. She chats to her, hold her and plays with her. It is beautiful to watch and the other day she told me that her and Gracie were making memories together which I thought was gorgeous.

When she was younger she had some baby dolls and they didn’t really get played with much so they went to the charity shop when we moved but since being here and her being friendly with Gracie she has been wanting a baby of her own. When a Baby Annabell doll arrived for her to play with just before we went on holiday she was very happy and it is the perfect doll for her as it encourages nurturing.

Here is a short video of Miss E interacting with her baby -

You need to insert 4 AA batteries into the back of the Baby Annabell doll and then when you flick the switch she will come to life. This autumn a brand new rocking feature has been introduced, which only adds to the life-like role play fun that can be had between little ones and their dolls. Rocking the doll from left to right will gently send her off into a peaceful sleep. If she becomes upset, stroke her cheeks or gently pat her on the back to calm her down and soothe her.

She also cries real tears, drinks her water, sucks her dummy, burps when you pat her back and also giggles and makes contented noises. It is all very cute and Miss E and her twin Miss M absolutely love these features and I have been having to set the timer to ensure they both get a fair turn with their baby. I have to be honest and say I’m grateful for the off switch as Baby Annabell is fairly noisy when left to her own devices!

Baby Annabell is suitable for children aged 3 plus and she comes with a pink romper suit, hat, bib, bottle, dummy and cute necklace with photo. The doll retails for £49.99 which means she is an investment buy but I believe she will last for years and is certainly fabulous if you have a young child who needs to get used to a new sibling arriving.

You can buy all sorts of wonderful accessories to go with your Baby Annabel doll, Miss E is coveting the highchair and change bag so that she can feed her baby and change her nappy. I've told her it is not too long until Christmas.....

Disclosure: We were provided with the Baby Annabell doll free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.