Friday, 14 September 2018

Can Toys Really Help Your Child’s Development?

Many parents misunderstand the power of toys and what they can do for your child’s growth. Some parents are adamant that their children don’t need toys, and that they should learn to get enjoyment from learning new things. This includes reading books, watching educational shows and learning to be productive. However, the reality is that a bit of fun needs to be mixed into your child’s development, and toys provide the perfect balance of enjoyment and education–as long as you pick the right ones.

In this article, we’re going to be talking about how toys can help with your child’s development. Be it playing with different infant blocks, puzzles or creative toys, we’ve got a couple of fantastic choices that you shouldn’t overlook.

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Lego

Lego is fantastic for kids of all ages thanks to the wide selection of toys available. As your kids grow older, there are some fantastic options such as Lego Boost Robotics that allow your kids to program robots by using simple sensors and electronics such as a tablet or smartphone. It’s a brilliant introduction to computer science and can provide hours of fun and education for your kids.

Art

Be it simple pens and pencils, paints or even classic crayons, art is a fantastic way for your kids to express themselves and draw things that they see from life. It helps them with colours, it helps nurture their creativity and it’s a brilliant way to learn unique art skills that could become a passion for your kids later on in life. There is plenty of art related toys such as stencils and colourful rainbow pens that can stimulate their art.

Twin painting project, creative kids

Cubes

Classic cubes are fantastic for younger children. You can get softer fabric cubes as opposed to wooden ones for more safety. They come with lots of unique textures and patterns on them which are sure to entertain your kids and younger babies as well.

Music

Music toys are a great way for your kids to recognize different tones and also understand a little about music itself. This is great if you notice that your kids have an interest in music from an early age, such as if music calms them or if they’re drawn to certain types of music. These can always be replaced and upgraded with something more modern in the future if your kids really do love using their musical toys.

Puzzles

Be it seasonal Christmas puzzles or puzzles of their favourite cartoon characters, puzzles are fantastic for development. They teach your kids how to solve problems, it improves motor skills and helps with their hand-eye coordination as well.

Puzzle time fun

Hopefully, this article has shown just how important toys are to our child’s growth and development, and also how it can stimulate them to try new things as they grow older. It’s not all about fun and games–toys can also be educational when used correctly, but you need to think hard about the type of toys you offer your kids and also pick toys based on their preferences and what they seem to enjoy.

* Disclaimer: This is a contributed post and may contain affiliate links.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

My Baby is N I N E!

Rewind to the Beginning

Last Monday, the 10th of September, my oldest son officially reached the halfway point to being considered an adult. Scarily, it only seems like yesterday he was born so I'm hoping the next nine years rapidly slow down. My first memory of Ben is of a tiny, sparkly-eyed, bubble-blowing, perfect little bundle. I'll never forget that rush of overwhelming love when I set eyes on him for the first time. This little boy changed my world forever the day he made me a Mummy.


N I N E

Here we are, nine years on, and my baby is now a handsome little boy who I could not be prouder of. He is caring, clever, determined and full of fun and mischief. He loves whizzing about on his bike, playing video games, is an awesome singer and has a fascination with technology, space, and science. 




Some days he needs a little extra encouragement and a push to get him focused but wow, once he is in the zone, he amazes and impresses. He's a witty little guy who can have us all in stitches and when he laughs you can't help but laugh too. His brother and sister adore him. Zachary definitely hero-worships his big bro and races to keep up with him when it comes to riding his bike and playing games. 


Birthday Wish

My birthday wish for Ben is another year of awesomeness, even better than the one before. I hope he has fun and achieves everything he sets out to do while getting the much-deserved recognition for it along the way. So here is to a year of seeing lots of smiles on Ben's face. 



Now to help him start compiling his list of 10 things before he is 10... 

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Expanding the GraviTrax Fun

This summer we have been busy exploring magnetic forces, gravity and kinetic energy with the GraviTrax from Ravensburger. The GraviTrax track system is a brilliant way to teach kids STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) concepts and bring them to life in a fun way. The good thing about the GraviTrax system is the availability of expansion sets which add to the fun and learning.


GraviTrax Expansion

GraviTrax takes marble runs to the next level, allowing little engineers to design and build structures using STEM concepts. It is a good idea to start off with the Starter Set and play around with designs and configurations, it really impressed me to watch the kids ideas grow and develop as they played and experimented. When I introduced three expansion sets there was a flurry of ideas for how they could be used, the loop and catapult were instantly in high demand.



Expansion Building

The GraviTrax Expansion Pack allows you to extend your GraviTrax Starter Set with over twenty-five components including 2 card bases, a transparent level, 8 large vertical tiles, 4 small vertical tiles, 2 'Y' bases, a 3 way base, a vortex base, an end target, 4 bases for inserts, 2 catcher inserts, a free fall insert, a 3 way Starter base insert and a target insert. It is perfect for kids like mine who want to build bigger and more complicated structures.


Expansion Looping

The kids saw the Expansion Looping addition and couldn't wait to test it out. They said it reminded them of having a little mini rollercoaster and wanted to see it in action straight away. The interesting part was figuring out how much power they would need to get the gravity sphere to actually loop-the-loop. We did a lot of experimenting with this one and the kids definitely learned about the dynamic forces of nature.


Expansion Catapult

There is no denying catapults are pretty awesome but it takes a bit of experimentation to overcome the force of gravity and get the gravity spheres to actually fly through the air. The Expansion Catapult brought a new dimension of fun and skill to our GraviTrax building and racing fun.


Our Verdict

We have loved expanding the GraviTrax fun with these three Expansion sets. The kids have learned so much from building and experimenting with GraviTrax that I, as a parent, can see real value in the products. The availability of expansion sets is brilliant as it adds more dimensions and challenges to keep STEM learning fun while continuing to engage your child. 

Where to Buy

The GraviTrax track system is available to buy online from Amazon, the Expansion Pack is currently priced at £19.99, the Expansion Looping add-on is £15.10 and the Expansion Catapult is £9.99. 

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Go Imagine with Microsoft Surface Go



Last week Ben and I were invited to the Microsoft Go Imagine event in Covent Garden, which was run in partnership with John Lewis to celebrate the launch of the new Surface Go. This was a fantastic opportunity to get creative with the Surface Go during workshops and I also got to attend a very interesting panel discussion.


Creativity and Imagination

The main focus of the event, other than the launch of the Surface Go, was the importance of creativity and imagination in children's development. This topic was explored during a panel discussion based around a new study by Microsoft Surface which revealed that the majority of UK parents believe creativity and imagination are just as important as the core subjects. The panel was led by presenter Ben Fogle, who was joined by Gilly Binks, Surface Category Lead from Microsoft, William Jones, Head of Buying Technology from John Lewis, Britmums Co-Founder Jennifer Howze and Cath Prisk, an Education and Outdoor Play Expert.



Just like the 84% of parents in the study, the panel, who are all parents too, agreed how important it is to let kids be imaginative and encourage their creativity. One of my favourite quotes of the day came from Ben Fogle who said, "once you have creativity, you can do anything". I completely agree with this statement, creativity drives problem-solving; if you can think creatively and use your imagination and initiative you can always find a solution.


The discussion kicked off with the question, "What is creativity?" to which there were some great responses but was best summed up by Gilly Binks who said, "creativity is about imagination and bringing ideas to life". She went on to talk about how parents believe children are the best creators in the family and we need to fuel this creativity and give them the tools to bring it to life.


Technology Fuelling Creativity

This lead to the role that technology plays in inspiring and aiding creativity in kids and it was agreed that it compliments traditional childhood education in a positive way. As Cath Prisk said, "technology is a tool to help and facilitate". We can not only use technology to entertain our kids by playing games and watching videos, but we can use it to help inspire them through the exploration of ideas found online in blogs and guides for things to do or places to visit. It is also a wonderful resource that is readily available which allows parents to be informed and retain our "clever cred" when asked the endless, inquisitive questions children throw at us. Just ask Ben Fogle about the time he was caught secretly looking up how to light a fire using flint and steel on YouTube after being asked to demonstrate it at a school camping event.



From a practical point of view, technology allows us to be creative and imaginative on the go, letting learning continue whenever, wherever we are. Being able to get creative without the mess is also a big bonus. While everyone recognises the importance of messy play, sometimes parents simply don't have the time or want to face the huge clean up which inevitably follows a painting session with their little budding artists. Rather than saying no to a child's request to drag out the paints, glue sticks and glitter, technology can come to the rescue and allow children to get creative using Paint 3D or one of the many amazing apps available.

Parental Controls and Safety Online

Trusting your kids to give them enough independence to explore and do things on their own is something every parent faces, whether that is letting them walk to the shop on their own, explore the woods or go online. Every child is different and parents seem to instinctively know when their child is ready to take on these challenges by themselves. Just like making the decision to let your child head off to explore the park by themselves, it is reassuring to know that you can make that decision with technology too. Gilly Binks explained how the Surface Go can be used in 10S mode which allows only pre-approved trusted content so you can be happy your kids are safe online and not accessing any apps or content they shouldn't be. You can also set timers and usage limits to keep screen time within your desired limits for your child.

Getting the Balance Right

The big question a lot of parents have is how do you get the balance right between technology and traditional play and learning? Cath Prisk told us how we should not see a division between technology and nature. Technology is a seamless part of children's life these days and, as Jennifer Howze said, you find the right balance through parenting which will be different for every family. Creativity is not just about arts and crafts, but maths and science too and the fun ways we can play and teach kids problem-solving without them even realising they are doing so. Kids learn best when they are having fun and the more creative education can be, the more effective and better the outcome will be.



I have seen this first-hand this summer with my three children who have been using an app called DoodleMaths where they compete with their classmates to be top of the class Hall of Fame and earn stars which allows them to design and accessorise their own pet or robot along with "doodling" and creating pictures. They love the creative side of this app along with the competitiveness which has resulted in a massive improvement in their math skills over the last 5 weeks but best of all, I haven't had to ask them to do it, they just want to play and are learning so much as a result.


The conclusion of the discussion was that education should be creative and utilise technology to make that happen. Technology can make learning more fun and effective if used correctly. The aim is to marry creativity and achievements together. Bridging indoors, outdoors, education, home life and parenting in a careful balance and measure, and tablets can be that bridge. 

First Impressions on the Surface Go

So what did I think of the Surface Go? I like the size and how light it is which makes it a perfect family friendly travel companion device. I love the pen interaction and the keyboard is great as it would enable someone like me to work and blog on the go. The integrated kickstand makes it ideal for watching movies and from what I've seen of the camera, the quality is really good.


The Paint 3D workshop run by artist Paul Kercal was a fantastic way to showcase not just how creative kids and families can be with the Surface, but also what a powerful tool this tablet is for someone who needs to knock up whizzy graphics and presentations quickly and easily for work. The pen interactivity makes the creative process feel so easy, allowing you to have maximum control over your design. I do wish I had one to save always having to rely on my laptop.

I was asked to sum up the Surface Go in three words after using it and fun, creative and portable sprung to mind. It is a perfect family-friendly tablet. It allowed me to creatively collaborate with my son during the workshop, we shared ideas, worked together and most of all had a lot of fun and laughs while doing so - especially at the crazy end result of our mashed up multi-eared creature.


After using it, do I want one? Yes, absolutely but I would also want the pen which is an additional accessory priced at £99.99 but is worth the extra cost in my opinion. I'd also need to check out the selection of kid-friendly cases that are available as we all know what kids are like with tablets.

The Surface Go starts at £379 for the basic model which is, in my opinion, a fantastic price for a family-friendly tablet that is powerful enough to meet the needs of everyday work and play. For further information on the Surface Go head here.  

Saturday, 18 August 2018

L.O.L Surprise Biggie Pets Review

Zoey is a huge L.O.L fan so I knew the new L.O.L Surprise Biggie Pet M.C. Hammy we were sent to review would be a huge hit with her. If you have a L.O.L toys fan, I can pretty much guarantee they will go nuts for these super-sized L.O.L Biggie Pets.



Biggie is Best!

The L.O.L Surprise Biggie Pets definitely live up to their name as they are bigger and packed full of over 15+ surprises including accessories for both you and your pet and more. There are four different pets to collect in the range including M.C. Hammy, Dollmation, Hop Hop Bunny and Neon Kitty who is exclusive and "ultra rawr".



Part of the Eye Spy range, they come with special spy glasses which let you read hidden messages. The funky spy glasses fit your pet too and they definitely complete MC Hammy's super cool look. What kid doesn't love the idea of glasses which decode messages? Just check out the teaser on the packaging below.



Endless Surprises

These pets come in a translucent "biggie" L.O.L ball which is good as it lets you pick your pet meaning no risk of duplicates which gets parent points from me given the size and price of them. The ball itself can be used as a pet carrier and comes with a handle which you attach to the ball. I should mention this handle also doubles up as a necklace which you can wear if preferred.



Opening the ball is simple, just twist it until the arrows line up and reveal your biggie pet inside. We were sent the very cool M.C. Hammy who is not only an adorable little pet but a piggie bank or possibly the cutest backpack ever as it comes with straps that can be attached.



The Biggie Pet comes with a Baby Reveal card which you use the spy glasses to decode and discover which species you have. Next comes the fun bit, opening up your biggie pet and discovering all the surprises that are hidden inside including wear-and-share accessories and more. You need your special spy glasses to reveal hidden messages for this. There is lots of excitement revealing whether you will get 2 or 3 babies or perhaps food babies.


The babies come in little containers filled with kinetic sand which you have to dig out using the spade. It can be a bit messy so we did it on a tray at the kitchen table but it makes for a very fun activity and adds to the whole element of surprise. The babies and food babies are really cute and it is fun checking what special abilities they have such as colour change using iced or warm water.


Our Verdict

This is by far the biggest L.O.L Surprise we have had to date. It was so much to unwrap and reveal everything and the surprises really did go on and on. We love the Eye Spy element to these Biggie Pets, the kids had a lot of fun wearing the glasses and decoding the special messages and jokes. The wear and share aspect of the accessories is a nice feature, especially the charms which you can attach to the necklace with hooks. There is fun play to be had with the wishbone and the fortune teller heart spinner which is a big hit. This L.O.L ball is definitely packed with a 'biggie' amount of surprises and would make an awesome birthday present or one to added to your L.O.L fan's Christmas list.

Where to Buy

L.O.L Surprise Biggie Pets are available to buy from Smyths Toys and Amazon priced at £36.99 and are suitable for ages 3+ years.

*Disclaimer: I was sent a L.O.L Surprise Bissie Pet to review. All views and opinions are my own and unbiased.