Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Playmobil EverDreamerz...

Disclosure: We were sent the products featured in this blog post to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I have a bit of an issue with dolls. Honey has some great ones, some terrible ones and some average ones in-between. The terrible ones lose limbs, have torn clothing and sometimes their paint even chips off. The average ones sit in a drawer for a year or two and then get passed on to a younger friend or relative or sent to the charity shop. But the great ones? They encourage role play, story telling, imagination and even problem solving. The great ones, like the new Playmobil EverDreamerz, are played with often and by everyone and will be kept and passed down to cousins and grandchildren in the future. 

As children, my brother and I were lucky enough to own some Playmobil sets and I remember them keeping us occupied for absolutely ages. They were such good quality, robust enough to pass on to our younger sister a few years later and then I took it all into work with me years after that, for classes full of excitable 6 and 7 year olds to enjoy. I am pleased to report that modern Playmobil seems to maintain the high quality standards I remember.

Playmobil's new EverDreamerz collection couldn't be more up Honey's street if it had been designed by her! The dolls are brightly coloured, come with a whole host of accessories to inspire exciting, creative play. There are two worlds, Candy World and Comic World and there's an introduction to the characters and collection on the Playmobil website. Honey loved watching the cartoons, singing along to the positive, empowering song and playing the simple online game, this content is all free for anyone to access.

The packaging is great. Aside from a few small, thin plastic bags (which can be recycled alongside your supermarket carrier bags), everything else is cardboard and is designed to be reused and then placed in your kerbside recycling bin, once it reaches the end of its life.                      

Inside each box, there's a doll and a range of themed accessories, including a bracelet which your child can add charms to. Everything comes in small parts, ready to be assembled at home, hence the recommended age of 7+ for these dolls.

Each set also includes a water pen, which can be used on the stickers provided, to reveal words, patterns and designs, there's also a collector's card and sticker set to go with each doll.


So, if you're looking for cool toys that will stand the test of time, you can find the full range of EverDreamerz here.

Honey wears... Butterfly dress by H&M

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

It's all about you...

I was kindly gifted these books in exchange for an honest review.

When Wonderbly got in touch to see if I would be interested in choosing some of their books to review, I was so excited. I'd seen their adverts online and had put them on my list of sites to visit when I was looking to give an extra special gift. You can search the site by age, bestsellers or occasion and easily add personalisation to make your book one of a kind.

With Father's Day coming up, we chose a present for Daddy, from Ace, entitled 'Ace loves Daddy this much'. You enter your child's name and choose the illustration that most closely resembles them, in the first instance. After that, you can choose between a hardback or soft cover (pricing varies depending on which option you choose), then you choose a colour for your front cover and you can even add your own dedication at no extra cost.

Ace Loves Daddy This Much
The website is very user friendly, with clear menus and easy to navigate pages. You can even preview your whole book before you commit to buying it, which is great for checking you've spelt all the names and entered other details correctly. I was kept up to date with shipping progress via email and our books arrived really quickly.

Opening up the new books
Once you have finalised your book, you can choose whether or not to have it gift wrapped (extra charge applies). The wrapping is in the form of a pretty, cardboard envelope, which can be recycled, used again to gift a different book (or book shaped object) or it could be used as part of a craft project, which is what we decided to do with it. 

The other book I chose, is called 'That's MY Cake!' and it's all about how we sometimes don't want to share things, but it often turns out better if we do. It's perfect for siblings who have been spending more time than usual together and have been navigating the world of taking turns and sharing things they may not normally have to. As you can tell from the photograph above, Honey was so excited to see that the book was all about Ace and herself, she especially loved the personalised dedication!

Honey is a proficient and avid reader and found the book easy to read, she just needed help reading some of the larger numbers. She was amazed that the facts surrounding their ages were accurate (another thing to double check when you preview your book, as the numbers are calculated from your children's dates of birth) and loved that they were the stars of the story.
Sharing the new books
Beautiful pictures and such a fun story
I chose the hardback versions and I was not disappointed, the quality is brilliant. The colours are vibrant, the pages are thick (Ace proof) and the illustrations are so lovely. Honey and Ace absolutely love reading these books, they don't sit on the shelf for long at all, which in my opinion is the true sign of how good a book is!
These books stand out in a crowd(ed bookself)
If you'd like to order your own Wonderbly personalised book for Father's Day (or just because), visit their site by clicking here and enter your email address to receive a voucher for £10 off your first order, or enter my name (Steph Gore) at the checkout (where is says 'Been referred by a friend?). In the interest of full disclosure, I will receive money off my next order if you use my link or name when you order.

Thanks for reading my review and I hope you have fun designing your own books!

Honey wears... Flower hairband from a festival last year
Ace wears... Yellow shorts from Cotswold Baby Co

Monday, 25 May 2020

Secret learning...

There are so many brilliant activities out there for keeping little ones entertained at home. My main sources of inspiration are Pinterest and Instagram, I'm forever taking screen shots of activities I like the look of or think I can adapt for my own children. Often, the activities are just for fun, but there are nearly always learning opportunities to be found if (like right now) you want to draw them out.

A few weeks ago, we criss crossed the patio with masking tape and used pavement chalk to fill in all the shapes we created. While we worked and after we had finished, we chatted a lot about shape. This is just one example of how you can create learning opportunities during a game or activity.

Set Challenges
Find a rectangle and colour it yellow.
Colour the smallest shape blue.
Jump on a triangle.
Throw a stone onto a rectangle.

Ask Questions
How many triangles can you see?
What is this shape called?
Can you see anything else in our garden that is square shaped?
Can you see any more rectangles?
How many sides does this shape have?
How many corners does this shape have?
Can you see any letters in our pattern?
Can you see any numbers in our pattern?
Which shape is the biggest?
Which shape is the smallest?
How many different shapes can you see?
How many shapes are there altogether?
Which shape has the most sides?

Ask Trickier Questions (depending on age or stage)
Can you see any symmetrical shapes?
Are any of these shapes squares? Why/why not?
How many right angles can you see?
What is the length of the sides of this triangle?
Which shapes are regular?
Which shapes are irregular?
Which angles are acute?
Which angles are obtuse?
Can you name some 3D shapes that have rectangular sides?

So you see, home school doesn't have to be worksheets every day, there are loads of activities you're probably doing already that you can find learning opportunities within. Let me know if you have a favourite activity with added 'secret learning'!

P.S. Aside from all the learning that took place, these photos also lead to me cleaning our patio due to how grim it looked here! I spent a happy hour scrubbing the slabs using a cream cleaner, water and a stiff bristled broom (another hack seen on Instagram) and we were all amazed by the results. It feels like we have a new patio!

Honey wears... Tutu by Candy Bows

Friday, 24 April 2020

One mans trash...

We are currently feeling very grateful that we are allowed to leave the house each day for a walk or a bike ride around our local area. We have rediscovered footpaths we haven't walked down for 10 years, discovered places we've never been before and realised that our children can walk a lot further than they let on, especially if they have a challenge to keep them occupied!

Here are some examples of the fresh air challenges we have given the children recently. All of them can be made quickly and easily using things from your recycling box and home. Text in blue demonstrates an English link (EYFS/KS1) and text in red demonstrates a maths link, just incase you're looking for ways to sneak a spot of learning into your fun!

1. Treasure Hunt

A cardboard rectangle.
A felt pen or marker pen.
Double sided sticky tape.

You can differentiate the task depending on your child's stage. Ace loves letters and numbers and is absolutely loving sounding out short words, so I used sound buttons to help him read some of his clues independently. I also specified some quantities, so he could practise his counting and so that we could ask him questions such as 'how many have you got?' and  'how many more to make 5?' For Honey, I suggested that she could try to make her blades of grass the same length and I also used synonyms for some of the words on Ace's board so that we could talk about vocabulary choices.

I was wearing a gilet, so I peeled off Ace's tape and put it in my pocket as we went along, but you could peel it all off before you begin and then leave the rubbish at home.

2. Nature crowns

Packaging paper.
Sticky tape.
Double sided sticky tape.

We used string to measure Honey and Ace's head circumference, then cut a piece of packaging paper to size for each of them. We then spread the paper out on the table and added strips on double sided tape. Finally, we used normal sticky tape to secure the ends. As we were walking, Honey and Ace chose flowers, twigs and leaves they liked and added them to their crowns. Ace was thrilled to find some pink tipped daisies and loved blowing the dandelion clocks, while Honey tried to make her crown a sea of different colours.

3. Bunting

Packaging paper.
Toilet roll tubes.
Felt pens.
Stampers (optional).

This one isn't something to take on a walk with you, but my children love seeing bunting whenever we go out, so we thought we would make some of our own. First cut the paper into a row of even triangles leaving a strip at the top so that they all stay together (you can make your strip whatever width you like). Then use your toilet roll tubes to stamp circles/ovals, depending on the shape of your chosen animals. When the paint is dry, use your felt pens to draw eyes, noses, legs etc as appropriate for your animals. Finally, use pens or stampers to add wording (if you want to). We made these for Easter, but you could make them for lockdown birthdays/anniversaries/just because!

4. Clipboard

A cardboard rectangle.
A large paper clip.
A blob of Bluetac.
A felt pen or marker pen.
A pencil.
Rectangles of packaging paper.

I made a couple of little clipboards for Honey and Ace, to add a twist to our daily walk. On our walks, we noticed that lots of people had drawn and coloured rainbows or left bears in their windows to brighten other peoples' days. A couple of times, we tried to keep count of how many we saw, but we kept forgetting our total! I drew a simple table on to a piece of packaging paper and off we went, keeping a tally of the things we saw along the way. We stopped to count our running totals (in 5's and 10's) and then found the difference between the totals once we got home. You could also use the clipboards for indoor or outdoor sketching, or for making lists of trees, flowers or types of cars you see while you're out and about.

5. Nature weaving

A cardboard rectangle.
Elastic bands (you could use string instead or cut lines straight through the cardboard).

Finally a use for all the elastic bands out postman has dropped over the last year or so! Ace's set himself a goal of finding sticks shaped like different letters, he managed I, y and t. Honey wanted to find things that were exactly the right length to fit widthways on her weaving board.

Honey wears... Gryffindor scarf by Nanna
Ace wears... Flower crown by Ace

Monday, 13 April 2020

Get out (while you can)...

There's nothing that can't be solved by getting outdoors, well very few things anyway. If tensions are running high, simply opening the back doors and pouring the children into the garden can work wonders for everyone's mood. Often, a walk to your local parkland is in order (obviously avoiding play areas at the moment) and sometimes an adventure further afield is called for! 

A couple of years ago, we explored lots of our local National Trust properties, which included meeting up with friends and family for woodland walks and this year (after lockdown), we are joining Historic Houses, so will be doing more of the same I'm sure. We love getting outside whatever the weather and having the right kit is crucial to make sure that it can happen.

A Comfortable Backpack

I love the Vans Realm Backpacks and we have a few in the house! They were the perfect size to carry our sling, potty, spare clothes and some snacks when Ace was smaller and now I use mine to carry snacks, drinks, spare clothes and all manner of adventure essentials, including our Scrunch buckets and spades, binoculars and compass. Honey used to take hers to the childminders and has used it as a school bag for the last few years, so it's been worth the initial outlay.

A Travel Potty

While a nature wee is a common occurrence when out in the countryside, sometimes when they're first potty training, little ones can announce the urgent need for a number 2 at any time! Although it's not something we need to carry around with us anymore, we used and loved My Carry Potty with both Honey and Ace, you can read more about our potty training experiences here (Honey) and here (Ace).

Waterproof Outerwear

A warm, waterproof coat is worth its weight in gold. Things to look out for include, a hood that stays up during the wind and rain, upright pockets so that gloves don't fall out and a warm lining. We love the Puddle Buster coats from Frugi and also have warm, padded coats from Mountain Warehouse for chilly but dry(ish) days. For warmer days, I carry a lightweight, parkway waterproof for each of them, in our backpack.
Waterproof trousers or dungarees are key too. Not only do they keep little bottoms dry when they're sitting on the sand (or in a puddle), they also provide a valuable extra layer to protect from chilling winds. Our favourites are from Mountain Warehouse and Grass & Air and our tip is to wear them over the top of wellies instead of tucked in, as this helps keep wellies dry inside too!

Waterproof Gloves

My children love to pick up sticks, stones and other treasure on our walks. If we're on the beach, they also love to build sandcastles and climb rocks. All of these things are fine during the warmer months, but when you're out in the wind and rain, little hands can get very cold and when they're cold there's whinging and when there's whinging, nobody has fun! Mountain Warehouse come up trumps again here, we rate their ski mittens and gloves and love that the elastic cuffs can be tucked into sleeves to keep out the weather.

A Cosy Hat

Everyone's Granny ever used to tell them that '10% of your body head is lost through your head', so a decent hat is an absolute must! We love Little Hotdog Watson hats because they're water resistant, have a cosy, thinsulate lining and are even reflective for those darker days. My favourite things about these hats is that they can be fastened underneath your chin so they don't blow off your head and also the they are not too bulky, so can easily be worn under a hood for double warmth! They also do amazing summer hats which have SPF and mosquito repellent built in, they're worth every penny.

Appropriate Footwear

Cold extremities are the absolute worst on an outdoors day. I've already mentioned the importance of keeping fingers warm, but keeping toes warm is essential too! Recently, I was lucky enough to win our family a set of Warm Wellies and I can honestly say that our recent winter holiday to Devon was the first time EVER that my toes have stayed toasty all day while wearing wellies. I have tried countless different sock combinations previously, as well as welly liners and have always ended up with freezing toes. The Warm Welly Company make neoprene lined wellies, which keep my feet warm and dry while only wearing my normal day to day cotton socks. To say I'm impressed is such an understatement! 

At the moment, the children's Warm Wellies are too big for them, so they have tall wellies (so they can wade in deeper puddles without water cascading over the top) and insulated, moisture wicking welly socks, which seem to do the trick judging by the lack of wet feet complaints! For tall wellies, we rate Muddy Puddles and Mountain WarehouseFor warmer days, unlined wellies or hiking shoes can save the day.

Spare Clothes

When the kids are kitted out in full wet weather gear, we don't carry spare clothes in the backpack anymore, but we do tend to keep a full set of everything back at the car just in case. The one time we didn't do this recently, Ace decided to go for a swim in the sea (in february) and water went down the neck of his coat (brrrrr). He had had to wear my jumper until we could raid the local charity shops for a more appropriately sized one!

Wet bag

We keep the wet bag from our brief foray into cloth nappies in our backpack which is great for making sure wet clothing stays away from the rest of our things. Bags for life and Ikea bags are also great to keep in the car boot for containing wet garments and footwear.

So if you've broken up the fourth fight of the morning, ended up in an argument about whose turn it is to pick a film or found chocolate smeared on the sofa, get out. Draw chalk rainbows on your patio or path, practise your ball skills in your garden or explore your local area and make the most of your government sanctioned period of daily exercise. Breathe in, breathe out and enjoy the fresh air, I guarantee it will make everyone feel better.

*Everything mentioned has been bought by us (apart from our Warm Wellies, which were a Facebook giveaway prize). I have linked our most useful buys so you can find them easily if you're looking for anything similar, none of the links are affiliate.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

What a waste...

It was Anne-Marie Bonneau (aka Zero Waste Chef) who wrote "we don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly." 

She's right isn't she? As a family:

1. We have two cars (one petrol, one diesel).
2. Since moving out of town, I use my car every week day and some weekend days (as opposed to approximately 3 days per week when we lived closed to town).
3. We have a tumble drier and a dishwasher.
4. We don't often cook from scratch.
5. We eat a lot of meat.

However, having said all of that...

1. Our cars were chosen with good fuel economy and low emissions in mind (this is a lie, I chose mine because it was pink, the other things were a happy coincidence). We also use my husband's car for our family holidays, so while it's not 'trains over planes', our carbon footprint is lower than if we were flying abroad each summer.

2. We only drive half of the school run each time, parking near our old house and finishing the journey on foot/bike/scooter. We also try to do errands while we are out in the car, so we aren't making extra trips.

3. We hang our washing out during the summer months, so the tumble drier gets a break.

4. We recycle any food related cardboard, jars and tins we use and our local supermarket recycles plastic bags, from frozen vegetables and the like.

5. We have started choosing some things from the vegetarian freezer during our weekly shops and have found quite a few alternatives that we will definitely keep eating.

If zero waste sounds like too much to take on, here are some of the ways we are trying to reduce our impact on the planet, maybe some of them could work for you too.

Nom Nom Kids
We first started using Nom Nom Kids reusable pouches for purees and yoghurt when Honey was tiny. Since then, Suzanne has added larger pouches, snack bags and sandwich bags to her repertoire and we have bought and used every single one of her products. They are a daily feature at snack times and in our packed lunches (even I use them) and they have helped us save hundreds of sandwich bags/pieces of clingfilm from going to landfill.
A sea of Nom Nom
One of my favourite ways to use the snack bags, is to portion out larger bags of crisps, biscuits etc so that they last longer and so that only one single use packet has been used. Often, the kids will share a bag of Quavers or Mini Cheddars without even realising, whereas they would usually eat a whole packet straight from the original bag.

Saved from Landfill
Although we try to cut waste where we can, my tendency towards time and effort saving foods inevitably creates rubbish. Since we moved to a larger house, we have started recycling crisp packets, kids snack wrappers, biscuit packets and so much more. In our neck of the woods, a local lady and her trusty helpers work tirelessly to sort, pack and send the different waste categories off for recycling via the Terracycle scheme. All the money they raise goes to the charity Kicks Count and all the waste they sort DOESN'T go to landfill!

For a full list of what can be recycled via Terracycle within Gloucestershire, click here. To stay up to date and to find out where your nearest collection hub is, join the Facebook group Recycling for KC - Cheltenham and Gloucestershire.

Kerbside Recycling
In our area, we have recycling boxes for plastic, paper, tins and glass and a bag for collecting cardboard. The list of things that can be put in our kerbside boxes can be a little bit confusing, with different sources contradicting each other, but recent additions include dead batteries, aluminium foil and aerosol cans. As the street we live on is fairly narrow, a smaller lorry is usually sent to collect our recycling fortnightly, so we don't worry too much about sorting within the boxes. At our old address (just down the road), a truck with compartments for each waste type collected the recycling weekly, so we sorted within the boxes to make the refuse collectors' jobs a bit easier.

Since moving house a year ago, we also have a food waste bin for the first time. Tea bags, coffee grounds and the occasional toast crust make their way into the food bin before the day even begins, add egg shells, potato peelings and floor snacks and our little bin is often quite heavy by the end of the week.

Recycling Centre
In our old house, we designed everything to take up the least amount of space and while we had plenty of room for bins and recycling boxes outside, inside was a different matter. Now that we have more room to store the boxes, we have also started recycling juice cartons and because we will be going to the recycling centre anyway, we save odd bits of wood (like lolly ice sticks), scrap metal (85,000 Ikea allen keys anyone?) and we also take the leaves that fall onto our lawn, when one of us can be bothered to collect them up!
Ace loves helping at the tip!
Eco-Able is the brainchild of the lovely Danielle, she has curated a marketplace full of fabulous alternatives to single use. She is a stockist for the aforementioned Nom Nom Kids bags and pouches, as well as many other products that can help you on your way to planet friendly living. Here's our Eco Able top five:

Playdough - Their eco friendly, vegan play dough comes in a cute, metal tin. The colours are gorgeous and the consistency is lovely, it's perfect for modelling, and also great for chopping, rolling and mark making. The sets come in a handmade, reusable fabric gift bag, with 25p from every sale being donated to Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. The tins are really pretty too and I can think of loads of uses for them once the play dough comes the end of its life (e.g. refill with more play dough or wash and use for storing hair clips etc).

Goats milk soap - According to the blurb, unprocessed goats milk helps to get rid of dead skin cells, making it perfect for shaving and moisturising. I have been using the plain goats milk bar for a couple of weeks now, instead of shower gel and my skin is lovely and soft.

Soap saver - This little pouch not only helps keep your soap together (thus making it last longer), it is also a fabulous alternative to a plastic shower puff. Oh, and it encourages your soap to dry out between uses so it isn't all slimy next time you need it!

Reusable wipes - We used reusable baby wipes part time when Ace was in nappies (I never got my head round using them out and about) and since he potty trained, we have sold the boxes, but kept the wipes for mopping up spills, wiping faces and even cleaning the bathroom. Eco-Able stocks cute, colourful wipes which are made from fabric off cuts and sewn together using left over pieces of thread. They are backed with super soft flannel, making them perfect for little (and big) faces and they also come as rounds which are ideal for removing makeup (I have even sacrificed one of mine for removing nail varnish, which has eliminated the need for any single use cotton wool in our house).

Reusable cups and water bottles - I don't drink tea or coffee (which is apparently very strange for a teacher), but I do genuinely love water! From the age of 16, I worked as a lifeguard and spent a lot of time on very warm poolsides gulping back litres of water per shift, to stave off dehydration. A reusable bottle was essential, but I also used to buy bottled water whenever I was out shopping. These days, I carry reusable water bottles for myself and the children most of the time. When we go out for the day, it's as natural as packing my purse and my keys and I can't remember the last time I bought a bottle of mineral water.

Buying Pre-Loved 
If we want or need something, my first instinct these days is to search for it on Facebook Marketplace, in a selling group or on ebay. Buying things preloved and locally has saved us a lot of money over the last few years and the pre loved marketplace has also allowed us to move on unwanted items of our own and earn some money in the process.

So although we aren't perfect, we are trying and we will keep trying. The kids are on board and we regularly have conversations about how we can look after our planet a little better and they get involved in all our efforts, taking many onboard with gusto... apart from giving up Happy Meal toys... On the rare occasions we visit McDonald's, these are still seen as a huge treat. Here's hoping McDonald's and other companies offering similar, plastic tat, will come up with more Earth friendly alternatives in the not too distant future.

*Although we were kindly gifted some items from Eco-Able, all thoughts and opinions within this blog are my own.

Ace wears... Hat by Little Hotdog Watson

Playmobil EverDreamerz...

Disclosure: We were sent the products featured in this blog post to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I have a bit of an issue w...