Monday, 28 March 2016

JJ Trials Code Kingdoms

About three weeks ago JJ was given access to the website Code Kingdoms to try out their hands-on coding course for kids (recommended for ages 8 - 14+). I have to confess that I know nothing really about coding and even less about Minecraft itself, so when I was asked if this was something that might be of interest, I sent JJ the link and asked him to take a look and let me know. After a look round the Code Kingdoms site and learning that he would get his own Minecraft server to make modifications on, he was sold on the idea. Take a quick peek at the promotional video and see for yourself a glimpse into what Code Kingdoms provides and why JJ was interested -

However there has proved to be one small problem.... and it is NOT with Code Kingdoms I hasten to add, but with my son. What's the problem? Well JJ LOVES to play Minecraft and not just loves it but absolutely adores and from what I understand he is very good at it.  In fact he holds a Guinness World record for doing something or the other in Minecraft and here lies the problem. He is far more interesting in playing than coding,

So he spent some time checking out the instructional videos on Code Kingdoms and doing a bit of coding but he is already used to using a programme called Scratch at school where you use coloured visual blocks of code to drag and drop and he found Code Kingdoms similar at it's most basic level (but there are three more levels), so to be totally honest with you he didn't use it too much more.

Over Easter I sat JJ down and asked him to give me a tour of Code Kingdoms and explain to me what it was all about. I can edit some HTML in my blog so how different can this be I wondered? Well, the answer is very different. The language JJ was using was all new to me - 'methods', 'for loops', 'coding blocks' and 'boolean' to start with and I can honestly say that if it was not for the superb videos provided by Code Kingdoms I'd still have no idea as JJ really didn't have the patience to explain it all to me.

It is a different world that our kids are growing up in and Code Kingdoms are passionate to help youngsters grow up to be equipped for the digital future by making computing more engaging and accessible, particularly for girls who are underrepresented in these areas of work currently.

CK Code Editor -
First off you have the CK code editor (shown above), which is specially designed for Code Kingdoms and for use by kids interested in learning Java. It is intuitive to use and has an easy drag and drop editor for you to start with but the editing screen is clever as you can start by using coloured blocks of code with pictures and as you become more competent you can move through three stages until you are just editing raw java code. This is one of the things that makes Code Kingdoms unique, as most coding programmes just operate in either drag and drop or text based coding and that means young coders can feel a disconnect as they move from one to the other but not so with Code Kingdoms.

Here is what Code Kingdoms say about why they use Java code -
We strongly believe in learning with real code. Young coders are often taught pseudo-code, which they often master very quickly. The problem is though that it doesn't prepare them enough for the jump to a real programming language and text-based code, so a lot of coders stop there. 
We want to make real code more accessible. Our projects, video content and code editor expose learners to chunks of real code and computing concepts from the very beginning. Even our draggable chunks contain a real language (like Java and JavaScript) with correct syntax to ensure the code compiles for them. 
Just being exposed to code isn't going to make them an expert, but this early familiarisation of real concepts does help to make for a much smoother transition to real code.
To get started -
You need a computer with Minecraft installed and an active Minecraft account for use with Code Kingdoms and wonderfully there is no need to download anything as everything for Code Kingdoms is cloud based and can be accessed via your internet browser (Chrome is recommended). Having had a look at the editor myself I'd say you need to know a bit about how Minecraft works and some of the commonly used technology as many of the blocks of code made no sense to me as I do not know what 'Equip Full Armour Set' means.

Peace of mind for Parents -
The first thing to assure you is that the server that your child is provided with access to from Code Kingdoms is able to be played with friends but JJ tells me it is a whitelist server, which means your child can only add friends whose Minecraft name they know. It is not accessible by the public and thus remains safe.

Also you'll receive emails from Code Kingdoms giving you an update on the progression your child has made through the sequence of tutorials and learning outcomes. As this has been developed by teachers and programmers (with child input) it is linked to the curriculum for 8 - 14 years and logically builds on your child's learning each time they log-on and play.

Video Courses -
Right now there are six different video courses in Code Kingdoms. The idea is that your child watches the video and learns how to write the code/ make the modifications to the server and then they go ahead and actually do it in the editor and when you press run it will be live on your server on your Minecraft account. JJ said it was really good that it runs straight away as it is important not to have any lag. He was disappointed though that the gameplay you do once you have created and saved your mods does not seem to save. He played online with a friend the other day for about 90 minutes and they built quite a lot in their world and next time he went back it wasn't there and he was super unhappy about that.

Code Kingdoms advertise that there is 20+ weeks of videos available but JJ felt it wouldn't take him anywhere near this long to go through them all but I did explain to him that perhaps he has more tech access than many kids and also he is super clever in this area and finds it all very easy. He also felt that the videos were aimed at a younger age than him (he is 12) but as I mentioned before I'm not sure if he had just shut down to the idea of coding when he realised that the server was not as changeable as he hoped (he wanted to be able to purchase plug-ins for it to make it just how he wants it) and really what he wanted to be doing was playing Minecraft rather than learning code.

What support is there?
Tons is the simple answer. Any question that you or your child has, you can click on the support button and send it off and a team of trained teachers and programmers will respond.

What does it cost?
There is no contract for Code Kingdoms and it is £14.99 per month on a rolling basis. I love the fact that you can try it out and see how your child gets on with it as there is a 30 day money back guarantee if you are not satisfied.  Once you have tried it out and know that your child likes it and is gaining valuable coding experience then it might be worth taking out the value 6 month membership, which is £49.99 as a one-off payment.

Will we use it again?
Well JJ says he won't as it doesn't hold his interest but it has certainly peeked mine and I'm pretty sure that one of my 8 year old twin girls would be interested in it, so I'll be having a session with her later this week to introduce her to Code Kingdoms and see if an 8 year old can master it alone or if she'll need my input.

Disclosure: JJ received complimentary access to Code Kingdoms for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Fun Preparations for Easter

My family really enjoys Easter. It is the biggest event in the Christian calendar and as such we throw ourselves into it. Yes, there are some of the more modern, or some might say commercial activities such as giving and receiving chocolate eggs and Easter egg hunts but there is also a lot of activity around the real meaning of Easter and why we celebrate it.

One of the activities that we tend to do each year is create an Easter garden from natural materials. The girls love collecting moss, stones, twigs and such to create the scene of the three crosses where Jesus died and the tomb which he rose again from.

We also enjoy making hot cross buns and this year we have bought some Easter biscuit cutters, so I think gingerbread might be on the agenda too. I seriously cannot wait for school to break up so we can have the time to do some of these activities, its going to be a bit of a squeeze though as Good Friday is the first day of their holiday, so that will be a day for the kids and I to get busy. I pray for some nice weather.

The girls have also enjoyed some Easter crafts, they have made Easter bonnets, decorated eggs and painted decorations and we will go and search out a branch that we can make an Easter celebration tree with.

Many thanks for the chocolate eggs and craft kits that have been provided courtesy of Ollie and Leila who make divine personalised beds for children.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Review: Just4Kids Natural Deodorant

Children seem to be maturing younger and younger nowadays and it is only recently that I have started to buy my 12 year old anti-perspirant and ask him to use it each day. So I was very shocked when I realised that my 8 year old twins were starting to develop some body odour too.

Of course I am keen for them to smell fresh and wouldn't want them to be the brunt of any cruel jibes and thus about a month ago I started to investigate if they needed anything at their age and what might be available to suit their young bodies.

I've never really considered the difference between a deodorant and an anti-perspirant if I'm honest and it had never even occurred to me that anti-perspirants might contain harmful ingredients. Sometimes I really am too trusting that if something has been approved for use that it is OK. I've discovered that anti-perspirants close, clog or block the pores so that sweat is not released and thus there is no odour or wetness, whereas a deodorant just neutralises the smell of the sweat and has an antiseptic action on the natural bacterias that can form under our arms.

I found a spray deodorant aimed at girls aged 8 years plus at one of my regular chemists and bought some of that for my girls to try but it quickly became apparent that one of them used far too much which made me choke and that the other found it really tricky to apply. I was therefore really pleased to be contacted by Just4Kids to ask if the children might like to try out their products.

We received the 4 different fragrances of deodorant for the girls to try out - Sea breeze, Strawberry, Green Apple and Vanilla Cream. At first the girls discounted the two sticks that had boy pictures on the front but as soon as they smelt the green apple one they declared it a favourite. Miss M is now using that one and Miss E choose the Vanilla Cream and we found all the scents to be agreeable and not too strong.

I like the idea of these products as they were developed by a Mum, Karen Lucas, along with her two sons Noah then aged 7 and Oscar aged 10. With lots of research, help and advice from the experts in laboratories they developed the best natural formula, using the minimal amount of the best natural ingredients. NOOSC are the company behind the brand Just4Kids which derives from NOah & OSCar their very own little experts.

Just4Kids are proud to say that none of their products contain nasty chemicals aluminum, parabens or alcohol.

We've been very happy with them so far, they are easy for the children to apply themselves, I've not seen any stains on their clothes and they smell good - what is not to love?

The price is also reasonable at £3.49 for a 40ml container and I see that postage when bought online is a fixed price of £2.99 for second class post and this seems to be regardless of the amount bought, so maybe best to team up with a friend and buy a few at a time. You can find out more and buy Just4Kids Natural Deodorants from their website.

Disclosure: We were sent 4 natural deodorants for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Review: Ravensburger The Snowman & Snowdog 100 pc Puzzle

If you have ever owned a Ravensburger puzzle before you will know how great the quality of their puzzles is. These are not flimsy puzzles that only last one season, these are the kind that you can keep for a few years whilst your child is still enjoying them and then pass them on to a friend or charity shop and they are still in great condition.

It's not just the puzzle though, the box is sturdy too and this is important to me as there is nothing more frustrating than losing pieces as the corners of the box have collapsed!

The Snowman & Snowdog puzzle is fabulous and I think it would appeal to any puzzler. The 100 piece puzzle has XXL pieces to make it more fun for a younger child and they recommend it for children aged 6 years plus.  My twin girls are 8 and one of them in particular loves puzzles and also all things snow, chilly and arctic, so this puzzle will go down a treat when she opens it on Christmas morning.

The Snowman and The Snowdog is a charming film sequel to the Christmas classic The Snowman. Premiered on Channel 4 on the 30th anniversary of the original film n 2012, the sequel brought together The Snowman and his new Snowdog, who has mismatched socks for ears and a satsuma for a nose. I'll have to show my girls the film, as I do not believe they've seen it.

I asked my 12 year old son JJ to make the puzzle up for me and give me his opinion. He said it is a great puzzle, loads of bright colours and not too complex, despite there being a fair amount of white there was enough lines and other colours in there to make it really manageable for a 6 year old child. He also commented on the linen-finished print which gives a nice matt finish and ensures there is no glare even when the winter sun is shining bright. He said the pieces are easy to slot together too.

The finished puzzle measures - 49 x 36 cm and is available for £6.99 on Amazon and I think this is a really good price for a gift that will give hours of enjoyment. I am very happy to recommend this Ravenburger puzzle.

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

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Back to School with Maped Helix

Well here we are just a week into the school holidays and all bar a pencil case the kids are completely ready for back to school. Uniform purchased and size checked, everything labelled and shoes worn in.

JJ was super excited last week when a delivery arrived for him from Maped Helix with the stationary he needs to start Secondary school in September. Starting in year 7 is a special time and the equipment he needs for school is quite different to the years gone by, we've purchased a french dictionary and a gum shield to name just a couple of things.

Maped Helix have also sorted JJ out with an Oxford maths set and he is very excited to start doing the kind of maths that requires compasses, set squares and a protractor. He left Primary school with amazing results in maths and apparently his SAT results translate to a D grade in GCSE if he had taken it aged 11 years, that was all I got aged 15! He doesn't get his maths smarts from me, that is for sure!

I've known the name Helix for as long as I've been alive and even had my own Oxford maths set when I was young so I'm glad JJ is starting school with equipment I know will last him a long time and is reliable. Little features like the safety screw sharpener and compass will give me peace of mind too. JJ also received some very nice Helix Oxford colouring pencils in a tin and the prices are super reasonable as well, I found these for as little as £3.99 when I searched online.

The Maped part of the Maped Helix name I am not so familiar with, so I was interested to read that Maped is the world leading supplier of school supplies and they offer a comprehensive range of writing instruments and education equipment with exceptional design, quality and innovation. JJ also received a few of their items as part of his gift package from Maped Helix.

He received the 0.7mm fluid roller free writer pen with erasable ink, perfect for if he makes a mistake, 3 x 0.4mm graph pens in beautiful bright colours for precision art work and an easy loading mechanical pencil with easily replaceable leads. I think he is all set now.

Maped Helix products are available from all good stationers and many of the big supermarkets. When you go to buy your back to school stationary, why don't you take a look at their excellent range - there is so much to choose from.

Many thanks Maped Helix, JJ is a happy lad now.

Disclosure: We received this stationary in order to undertake this honest review. I have not been instructed what to write.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Did you realise that Morrisons sells Children's Clothes?

Last year I was asked to review some school uniform from Morrisons and I have to be honest now and confess that I didn't hold up much hope.  I thought the clothes wouldn't last very long as they are really quite cheap price wise. Here I am a year later though and the girls are still wearing their Morrisons Nutmeg range uniform that they were sent in August 2014 and I have bought more to go with it.  The white polo shirts are probably my favourite ones as when you wash and tumble them they do not require any ironing and have kept their shape very well and the trousers that Miss M wore then got too small and passed over to Miss E and she loves them. Whereas more expensive school trousers seem to have fiddly flower shaped buttons that Miss E can not handle, these she loves with their chunky hook and eye type fastening and cute bows on the pockets.

The cardigans have stayed in shape and not shrunk at all, despite tumble drying. The only thing is the colour has slightly faded on the button band but after a years wear I'd expect that. The plimsolls were brilliant and didn't wear much on the bottoms and we were able to pass them on when they became too small.

We've received some more uniform recently that we are happily trying out too and Miss M particularly loves her lycra cycling shorts concealed in a little PE skirt. The girls are even wearing a school cardie but in red (blue is their school colour) for casual as they like them so much and the prices are so fabulous, I can't say no.

As Summer has arrived Morrisons have sent me an impromptu hamper, which was super kind of them and quite unexpected. We received a beautiful hot pink beach towel that Miss E has claimed as her own, some sun lotion (which sprays on coloured so the girls can do it themselves) a mini fan, a sticky ball game and a pretty elephant print t-shirt which is possibly the softest material I have ever felt.

They also gifted me £20 in vouchers, which I was happy to spend on some clothes for the girls from theNutmeg range. They needed new leggings so I bought two packs of those at £6 for a 2 pack and also a stunning white cotton cardie, which was just £8. Just take a look at the girls and see how great they look in the Nutmeg clothes. Thanks so much Morrisons.

Disclosure: I received a hamper and a £20 voucher.  There was no expectation for me to blog about this but I was very happy with the goods received.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Review: Cheese and Wine Hamper from Blossoming Gifts

Hampers always go down a treat, it can be so hard to find a good gift for some people. Take my dad for instance, there is never anything he wants and I think in the future a sweet treat hamper delivery may be perfect for him.

When Blossoming Gifts asked if we would like to send my husband a hamper for Fathers Day we were eager to say yes. The kids had a look and knew the Cheese and Wine hamper would be perfect as that is my husbands way to relax in the evening after a busy day at work. A glass of red wine or port with some cheese and crackers.

This hamper retails for £53.99 and the website says it includes -

  • Arden's Mature Cheese & Spring Onion Bites 100g 
  • Barber's Maryland Farm Farmhouse Mature Cheddar Truckle 200g 
  • Ford Farm Double Gloucester with Spring Onion Truckle 200g 
  • Highfield Preserves Red Onion Marmalade 227g 
  • Peter's Yard Original Artisan Crispbread in Box 105g 
  • La Umbra Pinot Grigio 75cl Lidded wicker basket with Handle 
But actually our hamper was slightly different and we had Buiteman sun dried tomato and cheese baguettes and Miller's Damsels wheat wafers instead of the bites and artisan crispbread advertised. We didn't mind this substitution at all as the products we received were excellent quality but I could not see that it said on the web page that items might be substituted, so this is probably something to highlight in the future.

As this hamper includes cheese it can only be delivered Tuesday - Friday and the delivery will arrive between 8am - 6pm. Luckily I have a reception to take all my deliveries otherwise ti might have been tricky to stay in a whole day to make sure I could receive this and put the cheese in the fridge as the actual delivery is not refrigerated.

I felt the hamper looked very nice when it arrived but it did come branded as Virginia Hayward. The lidded wicker basket is great quality and I'll use it again either as storage or to make a hamper for someone at Christmas.

As the cheese was in the fridge my husband spotted it straight away so we both tucked in that night and were so impressed with the quality of the products, the cheese was firm but creamy and the spring onions and chive in the Double Gloucester was a really nice surprise. I had no idea I would enjoy it so much. We are even going to seek out the Miller's Damsels wheat wafers to buy again. My husband also commented that the red onion marmalade was really well balanced as too many we buy have a high level of acidity.

Would I buy one of these again? Yes probably as they really do take the effort out of finding a gift and I now know that I can trust the quality of the products to be very high but in truth they are probably a little more expensive than I can justify.

It is worth taking a look round the Blossoming Gifts website as they have a great selection of floral bouquets, plants and wine, as well as the hampers.

Disclosure: We were sent this hamper free of charge for the purpose of this review.