Saturday, 21 October 2017

Starry 2in1 Day & Night SmartGlobe With 3D AR Review for Oregon Scientific

The Oregon Scientific SmartGlobes are traditional globes with a 3D AR twist and we've been sent the Starry 2in1 Day and Night Globe for review. The globe contains a light and when you turn it on, you can see 88 constellations superimposed in position over the Earth. There is also an accompanying free app. with thousands of facts about Earth and beyond.

There is quite a bit of plastic protective packaging in this box, but it's very quick to open. Inside you have your globe and it's base. You will need either 3 x AA batteries or a USB charging cable and power source to operate the light as they are not included.

Child Of The Divide - Big Imaginations Festival Launch At Z-Arts

Tonight we attended the VIP Family Launch of the Big Imaginations Festival. This is a huge Family Theatre Event which encompasses 9 Shows over 18 Days at 26 Venues in the North West. The Launch Event was followed by the first North West performance of Child Of The Divide.

The journey into Manchester was uneventful and all the traffic was going the opposite way, and as soon as we arrived we were offered a plate full of delicious veggie and vegan curries with all the extras, so it really got off to a great start!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Nerf N-Strike Elite AccuStrike RaptorStrike Blaster Review for Hasbro (age 8+)

The Nerf N-Strike Elite AccuStrike RaptorStrike is one of the most powerful and accurate Nerf Blasters I've ever used. It's also the biggest, yet weighs very little! A manually operated bolt-action blaster which is incredibly simple to use, this is one of my new favourites. My 9 year old is a big fan too!

Nerf N-Strike Elite AccuStrike RaptorStrike review for Hasbro

This huge box is almost entirely cardboard and very eco-friendly as well as being super simple to open. The rubbery fastenings around the blaster do need cutting because if you pull them and they snap back, they really sting! Everything else goes straight in the recycling though.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Ravensburger 3D Puzzle Review. Jigsaws for people who don't do jigsaws.

I'm not a person you'd usually associate with jigsaws, but when I saw the Ravensburger VW T1 Campervan Puzzle at BlogOn I was smitten. The model is a plastic 3D camper built using jigsaw pieces and they were kind enough to let me review it. I was also fascinated to see if it was the most fragile thing on the planet.

This is a 162 piece puzzle from Ravensburger's 3D range, recommended for age 10+ and measuring around 30cm (1ft) long when completed. And it's a Volkswagen Campervan. I've written about Volkswagens before - I've been travelling in them for the last 15 years.

Hot Wheels RC Drone Racerz Drone and Vehicle Set Review for Bladez (8+)

Hot Wheels RC Drone Racerz is a drone and a vehicle in one. You can fly the drone indoors or attach it to the included Hot Wheels car base and it will fly across those jumps and loop the loop with style.

The box is mainly cardboard and opening takes seconds to open. Inside are lots of printed cards - they fold into ramps, a ring (to jump through), a start/finish sign and a phone stand for filming your driving.

The box also includes the Drone Racer, Controller, Hot Wheels vehicle base, 2 interchangeable body shells, spare blades, instructions and a USB connector for charging. In a move of sheer genius they also include a small screwdriver to insert the 4 x AA batteries for the charger (not included).

Monday, 16 October 2017

Dell'Ugo Complete Meals and Evexia Thrive Gluten Free Fresh Pasta Review

Dell'Ugo and Evexia Thrive are two brands hoping to bring delicious fresh pasta to everyone. Dell'Ugo create really delicious 3 minute complete meals that anyone with limited time can enjoy, and Evexia Thrive have a free-from range that makes life a lot more tasty for people on a gluten-free diet. Everything not vegan is made with cheese containing non-animal rennet and suitable for vegetarians.

As much as we'd love to have the time to create our own fresh filled pasta everyday, it's simply not possible and shop bought pasta can be disappointing. Dell'Ugo have been making fresh pasta since 1929, and they've learned a few things along the way.

We were sent two Dell'Ugo Raviolis. Both are a complete meal for 2 in a box and take only 3 minutes to cook.

Zomlings Children's Collectibles / Stockingfillers Review for Magic Box Toys

Zomlings are squishy rubbery characters and Series 6 alone has over 100 different designs. Some are themed and some are rarer than others, but prices start at a mere 50p, so they are a genuinely affordable collectible that my 7 year old especially loves.

We've amassed quite a collection of Zomlings and this was boosted by my visit to BlogOn Conference, as Magic Box Toys were there with the latest release Series 6 Zomlings Blind Bags, Collectors Guide Map and toy sets.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

38 Months #TBCSmiles

Autumn has arrived with a bump. The lawn is a thick carpet of leaves and the heating is going on at both ends of the day. The children my boys play with all go home when the lights come on, and that's becoming increasingly early now. Pumpkins are everywhere and Christmas is coming. It's a natural time for contemplation.

The last month has been a steady one for us. It saw a return to College and Uni for 3 of our big kids and a much emptier house, which is taking a bit of getting used to. It's also my busiest period of the year in the run up to Christmas, so I've been working until the early hours most nights. It's a distraction I'm well aware of, and grateful for.

The past month has seemed to be full of births and losses. It never evens out, although in the grand scheme it should, the sadness from those who've gone is never cancelled out by the joy at those newly born. My heart melts at the sight of a precious infant safely delivered, but my thoughts linger with those who are in the fog of grief.
"You just go on. And then one day... you wake up and it's just the slightest bit better. That's the way it changes, little by little... small increments." The Believers, 1987

I won't include this photo in the smiles because there is no smile, but this photo is pure love, and hope. Never let go of hope. Sometimes it seems it's the only thing left, but it can help you find the greatest of wealth.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Explorer Dinosaurs! Children's Timeline Book Review and Giveaway

On Monday 16th October What On Earth? Publishing in association with the Natural History Museum release a fantastic new book in their Explorer Series. Explorer Dinosaurs! is more than simply a book, as it also contains a 1.8m long (6ft) Timeline Poster.

The Explorer Books are devised by Christopher Lloyd, with illustrations from Andy Forshaw. Readers can also join the Eagle-Eyed Explorer Club, completing special missions and challenges in order to win certificates and prizes. The first 100 successful agents to complete the Explorer Dinosaurs! mission will be presented with a fascinating Coprolite Fossil (petrified dinosaur poo!). Go to the Explorer Club Homepage to find out more.

Explorer Dinosaurs! has 36 pages of text and illustrations split into relating the history of Palaeontology and the discovery of dinosaur fossils, how dinosaurs lived and survived, and how they died. It also has a section on which dinosaurs are still with us - you may be surprised!

Towards the back of the book is a quiz (my boys loved this as much as I used to when I was their age) and right at the back is the Timeline itself. This is an 8 page spread pulling out to a 6ft long poster, which can be removed from the book and stuck to the wall.

What On Earth? books are full of information, but using the timeline format and clear illustrations allows anyone to immediately have a better understanding of the different periods of history and where they actually slot into place. Because the books are written in associated with the Natural History Museum, you can be assured that the information included is to the best of current knowledge correct and up-to-date - even if it is 100 million years old!

Explorer Dinosaurs! is a great book for children of all ages with an interest in dinosaurs, fossils or pre-history. Younger children can read with an adult and take information from the illustrations, older children and adults are still fascinated by the text and the clear way you can see the evolution of the dinosaurs and life on Earth over the past 230 million years or so.

The Explorer Dinosaurs Timeline Wallbook is full colour, with a 36 page hardbacked book and a removable 8 page (1.8m/6ft) fold out wallbook. Available now for pre-order or from Monday priced £9.99. An excellent gift for any dinosaur fan.

If dinosaurs aren't your thing, many other books are available containing posters and timelines. We have previously reviewed the What On Earth? Timeline Wallbook Of British History.

What On Earth? Publishing have offered a copy of the Explorer Dinosaurs Timeline Book for one of my readers. Entry to the giveaway is by Rafflecopter form below, open to UK entrants only and it will end at midnight Sunday 5th November.  Full T's and C's at the bottom of the Rafflecopter form. 

To see my other giveaways or for advice if you are new to Rafflecopter forms, please go to my Giveaways page...

What On Earth would like to send all of my entrants a discount voucher - for this reason alone the first and only mandatory entry is to enter your email address. Your details will not be used for any other purpose and you won't be subscribed to any regular mailings.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We were sent our copy of Explorer Dinosaurs! for review.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Disney On Ice presents Passport To Adventure, Manchester Arena Review

We were lucky enough to be invited to see Feld Productions Disney On Ice presents Passport To Adventure at Manchester Arena on Wednesday night. This show kicked off the Manchester run, which ends on Sunday 15th October.

It's safe to say we were all in good spirits and really excited about the show - especially seeing Peter Pan and of course the characters from Zootropolis! My children weren't in the mood for press photos, so we obliged.

The children were impressed by the Fit To Dance team and their boomerangs though - throwing and catching on skates is very skillful. I didn't see a single skater fall all night, it looked to be a near perfect performance.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Letts Study Guides for Key Stage 2 SATS (Updated for 2018) Review.

Letts have recently updated their Key Stage 2 study books for the 2018 SATs tests. They've made them more friendly and less formal, and the chunks of text are smaller and less intimidating. It's a new look that should appeal to more children, as the revision and workbooks seem less like a test or school work and more like a traditional 'rainy day' puzzle book.

It's well known that I never force my children do homework unless they're off school ill or fall behind. As long as they are on target, I let them spend their free time doing (within reason) what they choose. Sometimes they choose to play LEGO or computer games, and sometimes they want to draw, write or fill in puzzle books. By having a range of activities available, it's often clear to see that your children really just want to explore and learn.

My two boys are completely different characters and I doubt it's ever been move evident than in the  picture above. My 7 year old launched into the page and answered questions without hesitation. My 9 year old sat and read the entire 2 page spread before he did anything. The Letts books suited them both equally and they both felt that this wasn't really 'work', it was more like a quiz.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Technology Will Save Us - Create Something Great Using Science!

Technology Will Save Us make really exciting kits for children that mix craft, science, technology and coding with play and fun. Each kit actually creates something useful and clever that your child can be proud of, while supporting their STEM learning in school and stretching their own understanding of the world and how it works. I'm a big fan.

We've been sent the Electro Dough Kit (4+) and the Thirsty Plant Kit (8+), and we also have the brand new Mover Kit (8+), so we'll take a look at that too. Each of the kits are housed in an attractive box and require no exotic extra ingredients, making them ideal gifts.

Monday, 9 October 2017

The NorthWest UK On Location

Brookside was filmed on a housing estate in Liverpool, I visited as a 14 year old. You could get as far as the end of the road without being on a pre-booked tour and as he left I managed a close sighting of Barry Grant (or Paul Usher as his Mum calls him). That was enough to please my teenage self. A real-live TV person in the flesh. Brookside and Neighbours were really the only things I really watched regularly and I was unlikely to spot anyone from Neighbours any time soon.

I'm contacted to work on some unusual collaborations sometimes and aside from my encounter with Brookside Close, being asked to write about locations for TV and Films in the NW for a #SeenOnTheScreen post had me stumped at first. I don't really watch a lot of TV nowadays and although I watch a ton of movies, I've never paid much attention to where they're actually filmed.

Brainstorm Toys for Space Loving Kids!

Brainstorm make great toys for kids who like to think and they've a huge range of toys for children with an interest in space. Tonight 7pm-8.30pm they'll be hosting a Space Week Twitter Party and they've sent me an awesome selection to take a look at ahead of the party. It's only just arrived, so I haven't been able to review anything properly unfortunately - however on the plus side that means my boys haven't seen it, so I can repackage and hide some of it for Christmas!

The Rocket Projector & Room Guard (rrp £29.99) is suitable for children aged 6+. It's really easy to open and has barely any plastic packaging, great for Christmas morning. It does take 3 x AA batteries (not included), so you'll need to get those ready plus a small crosshead screwdriver to install them.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

October Events for Families in the NW UK - Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire

October half term looks to be another cold and wet one, but there is still plenty to do and there are loads of places to go with family of all ages. Here are some of the events and activities on offer this year...

The Big Imaginations Festival kicks off on 16th October and runs until 5th November with 9 shows over 18 days at 26 venues. Find out more by reading my Big Imaginations Festival post. Events in Merseyside, Manchester, Cheshire and Lancashire. We have reviewed one of the performances - Child Of The Divide

The LEGO Ninjago Movie (U) Review - At LEGOLAND Discovery Centre

No spoilers - I don't agree with spoilers...

We had thought we'd missed out on any previews of the new LEGO Ninjago Movie as we couldn't get down to London, but then we got an amazing invitation to go and see it at the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre!

We've been to the Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre many times over the past 6 years, but rarely when it's closed to the general public, only once at night and definitely never to see a full length movie. When the boys realised where we were going, especially with it already being after tea, they were incredibly excited.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Mayka Toy Block Tape Review (age 3+) for Rainbow Toy Awards

This year among the Rainbow Toy Awards entries is Mayka Tape - the original toy block tape. Made by a company called Zuru, Mayka Tape is available in 9 different colours, 2 stud wide or 4 stud wide rolls and 1 metre or 2 metre lengths. We've been sent a selection of different colours and sizes to review.

The first thing you notice about Mayka Tape is the packaging. Snap shut hard plastic cases protect the tape and make it look really attractive, so it's perfect for giving as a gift.

Actually the case serves another purpose, as the tape is spooled inside and held at both ends. That makes it easier for children to control and harder for them to 'accidentally' leave it somewhere it'll be ruined or trodden on.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

My Gym Teacher Is An Alien Overlord Book Review for Scholastic Books

This is our second review for the Scholastic Books Laugh Out Loud Awards, or the Lollies for short. My Gym Teacher Is An Alien Overlord by David Solomon is one of the 4 finalists in the 9 - 13 category, and my newly 9 year old and I have both read this separately.

This is the sequel to My Brother Is A Superhero, but it works perfectly well as a standalone book. It stars a young lad named Luke and funnily enough, his brother is a superhero.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Space Week Activities & Giveaway with Ora Kitchen Towel & Puffin Books

Ora and Puffin Books (part of Penguin Random House) have teamed up for Space Week, and asked if I'd like to join in. Ora Kitchen Towel naturally lends itself to rocket-building, it's the perfect accompaniment, so along with my 7 and 9 year old boys, we've come up with some Space Week activities that won't break the bank!

1. Make A Space Station
Every Spaceman, Cosmonaut or Astronaut wants to go to the Space Station like Tim Peake. You can have your Space Station behind the sofa, or practically anywhere, but on this occasion we decided ours was going to be under the kitchen table. I prepared some construction materials and my 9 year old took on the role of designer.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Star Wars Force Link Starter Playset and Figure Review for Hasbro (Age 4+)

Many years ago my oldest boys had a Star Wars toy that spoke. We were in awe of the amazing technology that could tell which character had been placed in the base and then spill out accompanying sounds and phrases. Star Wars Force Link from Hasbro is a very similar toy, and it's been brought right up to date.

Force Link wearable technology works with every Force Link figure and vehicle, activating sounds and lights. It is motion-activated and when you move your character you can have a backdrop of sound effects to enhance your gameplay - and save you having to say 'schwoooosh, znnnnnnnrrrrr, schwoosh' yourself.

The Force Link Starter Set contains the Force Link wrist unit and the figure Kylo Ren. Packaging is mainly recyclable card with a bit of plastic, and unboxing is really quick.

Smyths Toys Top Toys For Christmas 2017

Smyths Toys have just announced their Top Toys List for Christmas 2017 and it's a really interesting selection. These are the toys predicted to sell incredibly well and judging by the number which are currently out of stock, I think the public are already buying.

This year the list includes a good mix of pre-school, early years and toys for older children, with a range of prices from £19.99 to £199.99. Modern electronics feature heavily, with most toys battery operated and some of them streets ahead of technology available even a couple of years ago. Personally I'm a bit disappointed to see STEM skills poorly represented, with only 1 science toy among the list - it is a beauty though!

Monday, 2 October 2017

LEGO Build Off Challenge: LEGO MASTERS Adults v's Kids!

You may have recently seen the LEGO MASTERS TV show on Channel 4 recently. Last weekend we were invited to the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre in Manchester to take part in our very own version. A LEGO Ultimate Imagination Build Off Challenge, to find out if we adults still have any creativity left...

We've been to the Discovery Centre many times, but this is only our second visit since they had a massive refit, rebuilding the entire soft play climbing area to create the Ninjago City Adventure. My boys were delighted to be back and it was almost a struggle to stop them playing in order to take part in the challenge.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Retro Top Trumps - Which Packs Would You Bring Back?

Top Trumps have been popular here for as long as I can remember. My young boys still play with some of their older sibling's sets, and they have a few of their own too. I picked up brand new Despicable Me 3 and Marvel Avengers Assemble packs at BlogOn last weekend, but it was the Retro Packs which really caught my eye!

If you haven't ever played Top Trumps, you've missed out. An incredibly simple game which anyone aged around 4-5 or older can play, straight out of the box, it really is as simple as comparing cards and saying who's is best!

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Air Hogs DR1 Micro Race Drone (Luke Bannister Edition) Review (age 8+) for SpinMaster

Our latest review for SpinMaster is the DR1 Airhogs Micro Race Drone. Drones are incredibly popular this year and the technology has really come on massively. This indoor drone has flight assist technology with automatic take-off, height lock and landing. Perfect for the beginner.

Your drone is packaged in a carefully thought out box with minimal plastic packaging - easy to open and recycle on Christmas morning. You will have to charge your drone via USB before you can play (40 minutes for approximately 7 minutes flying) and the controller takes 2 x AAA batteries (not included).

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Star Wars Bladebuilders Path Of The Force Lightsaber (4+) Review for Hasbro

The Bladebuilders Path of the Force Lightsaber is so much more than a light up stick you wave around. It knows whether you have chosen the light or dark side and has motion sensors and awesome sound effects. There's even a Hasbro Star Wars Studio FX app so that you can make your own videos...

Packaging is almost entirely recyclable card and it's super easy to open (great for Christmas morning). The Lightsaber needs 3 x AAA batteries, but does come with demo batteries and we haven't had to change them yet, so if it hasn't been played with a lot in store, you may be lucky.

There are 3 parts - the Lightsaber itself and two different handles - one Jedi, one Sith. Both handles have moving parts with retractable 'blades'. They're easy to use at the press of a button and not at all sharp or dangerous.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Lumie Bedbug Optimised Bedtime Nightlight For Children Review

Lumie make lighting products that are far more than 'just a light'. Well-known for their excellent Bodyclock which slowly increases in brightness to wake you gently and naturally, they have recently released a brand new product for children with the opposite aim, the Lumie Bedbug.

Just like the Lumie Bodyclock, the Bedbug makes best use of coloured lighting, but in the case of the Bedbug it is to help ease your child to sleep and it can also be left on as a gentle nightlight. Absolutely ideal for parents of babies or children who wake in the night or may need changing or attending to, this is an excellent way to have enough light to see without disturbing the whole house.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Our Shrinking Household.

Our young people have all reached the age where they've left school and are moving on. It's exactly what you hope for as they grow up, but then the day arrives and they say they're moving out, and somehow you can't be more shocked by it.

One of ours started uni last September, one moved out over Summer and a couple of days ago our eldest went. He's moved out before for uni, almost exactly 4 years ago, but was back after 9 months. Now a much more mature working young man who has gained an apprenticeship from Bolton College, I doubt we will see him moving back again.

Surprisingly he's not a Chef..
We've gone from a household of 9 to a household of 5 and it's a heck of a difference.

There is less washing and cooking and the dishwasher isn't on twice a day. The house is so quiet at times, some evenings we have no young people around at all. I came downstairs this morning and stared at my kitchen table because it's the first time in 8 years that it looked as tidy when I got up as it did when I went to bed. I don't even know if I like it.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Sticky Brick Tape Review

Sticky Brick Tape is a new and exciting thing and the moment I saw it a thousand possibilities came to mind. Being able to secure your LEGO almost anywhere is something all adult fans have wished for, I'm sure, and turning that into a reality is a dream come true.

We've been sent 4 different coloured rolls of Sticky Brick Tape to review - 1 metre each of red, blue, grey and green.