Friday 28 November 2014

Disney's Planes 2: Fire And Rescue Blu-ray Giveaway

On Monday 1st December Disney will release Planes 2: Fire And Rescue on Blu-ray and DVD. Disney's Cars was great, a real change from the movies that were around, and when they released Planes my two youngest were enthralled by it. Planes 2: Fire And Rescue is a very worthy sequel, and makes a great story for young and older alike.

Planes 2: Fire And Rescue giveaway header

Planes 2: Fire And Rescue giveaway Blu-ray pack shot

Thursday 27 November 2014

The LEGO Series 12 Minifigures Bundle Giveaway

We love the minifigures collections and have a full set of most of the releases - although I can't believe they're on Series 12 already! This set are one of my favourites, with some great characters that will really add another dimension to your models and play.

Series 12 Minifigures includes the following 16 characters -  a Space Miner, Battle Goddess, Wizard, Dino Tracker, Swashbuckler, Jester, Piggy Guy, Hun Warrior, Fairytale Princess, Pizza Delivery Man, Video Game Guy, Spooky Girl, Prospector, Genie Girl, Rock Star and a Lifeguard.

LEGO Series 12 full set of minifigures collection

Christmas Gifts For Children aged 3-6

Children aged 3-6 are moving from infant toys towards reading and whole new ways to play. They need stimulation and exploration and the freedom to try out new things in a safe environment. Role play and 'pretend' play are excellent ways for them to learn about the world, and using small parts builds their fine motor skills ready for writing. 

Green Toys are great, and mainly suitable below the 3+ age range. Made entirely from recycled milk bottles, they're brilliant for role play and imaginative play. It's hard to pick a favourite because the children play with all the vehicles in the bath and sandpit, but I love the Rocket and Cookware and Dining set - both suitable for children aged 2+ and can even be washed in the dishwasher!

Green Toys recycled plastic toy rocket ship and astronauts
 Green toys recycled plastic dining set

Sing My Name do exactly what you'd expect from the title - they make CD's and Alarm Clocks which 'sing your name'.  The songs aren't too cheesy or grating, and the clock is really nice. There are thousands of names to choose from - my children have uncommon names but are both on the list. CD's full of songs featuring your child's name are around £15, and the alarm clock around £25.

Sing MY Name personalised alarm clock

Orchard Toys have a huge range of games and puzzles for younger children and they're a brilliant introduction to turn-taking and rules of gameplay. They all encourage discussion and social interaction and expand your child's vocabulary - and they're great fun! The Who's In Space? puzzle (£7.50 age 3+) is still favourite since last year, and the Can You Guess? Game (£11.75 age 4+) is a much newer favourite.

Orchard Toys Who's In Space? Puzzle age 3+Orchard Toys Can You Guess? game age 4+

TinyMe make absolutely gorgeous and practical items which make superb gifts. They cost more than alternatives, but the quality is superb and the personalisation is really second to none, nothing is 'off-the-shelf', it's all made especially for you. The TinyMe wooden name block puzzle comes in a beautiful felt slipcase, is suitable from 18 months and starts at £22.

TinyMe personalised wooden name block puzzles

The Doodle Bear is a surprise hit in our house. We have the Magic Glow Doodle Bear (Around £25 age 3+) which uses not only a washable marker, but a light pen. Both of my boys love it and it's constantly in the wash!

the magic glow in the dark doodle bear

The Hexbug Aquabot might seem a strange one to put in a collection of toys for younger children, but actually it's suitable for age  3+ and if my 4 year old hasn't broken it yet, then it's a great thing. Far less delicate than it looks, and great fun in the bath, we reviewed the Zombie Aquabot which glows-in-the-dark too! Around £8.

Hexbug zombie aquabot age 3+

Books are a perfect gift for children of any age, and some of my favourites for this age group are from The Little Tiger Press. Two we've read a lot recently are Touch And Feel Story Books, which have gorgeous flocked sections that my children like to stroke as I read to them at night - it's very relaxing and calming....Priced around £7-£11

The Little Tiger Press Touch And Feel Story Books

LEGO DUPLO used to just be for little ones, and now it has some more 'grown up' sets that your bigger children will be happy to play with.  The Batman range is excellent and my 4 year old is more than happy to put down the little LEGO and play with this. The Batcave Adventure set costs £39.99 and is suitable for children aged 2+.

The LEGO DUPLO Batcave Adventure set age 2+

LEGO have a great range called Juniors, which are based on larger pieces and don't have tricky builds or lots of small pieces that tiny hands can't quite press together or pull apart. The instructions are really clear and easy to follow, and they build is instantly recogniseable, so small children are immediately rewarded and can see what they're building.
Designed for children aged around 4+. I haven't yet reviewed any on the blog and I really should. They're an excellent bridge for a child moving from DUPLO, and can be incorporated into any other regular small LEGO once your child progresses. The LEGO Juniors Digger shown retails at £9.99.

The LEGO Juniors Digger set 10666

My final recommendation for younger children is a Drumond Park game that my boys both love. Pumpaloons is great fun and we got most use from ours in the garden in the Summer, but it's a great game for parties and games nights as it gets everyone moving! Age 4+ and around £20. 

Pumpaloons from Drumond Park

Some giveaways featured within review posts may now be over - for all of my current giveaways please see my giveaways page. All prices shown on this page were correct at the time of posting.

No-one gave me added incentive to include these items. These are my pick from the reviews I've done this year....

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Christmas Gifts for the man (or woman) who has everything....

Men can be notoriously hard to buy for at Christmas, and sometimes more new socks, ties and Old Spice just aren't needed, or aren't quite fun enough. Hopefully here I will give you some ideas for a present that'll really put a smile on someone's face.

Gadgets are a brilliant thing to buy for Christmas, and useful gadgets are the best - things that won't sit in the cupboard 362 days of the year. We've been lucky enough to review some fantastic gadgets this year - here are our favourites....

Ventura portable power bank and jump start review

The Ventura P Powerbank from Snooper is brilliant. Absolutely tiny compared to the standard, yet it can charge phones, laptops and other hand held devices, but will also jump start your vehicle, AND it's got a torch. Could it get any better? Yes it can - it's so small it can sit under the passenger seat or in a door pocket until you need it, and only needs a top up charge every 6 months or after use. It comes complete with a zipcase to hold all of the accessories. At £99.99 and with that level of function it's a really useful piece of holiday and emergency equipment.

Santa's Snow Grotto at Chill Factore, Manchester

We were fortunate enough to review Santa's Snow Grotto at the Chill Factore in Trafford Park, Manchester last year, and it was absolutely awesome, so we were more than happy when they invited us to revisit this year and see how it has changed. Happily I can report it's barely changed a bit - in fact it looks even better!

Santa's Snow Grotto Chill Factore review

Monday 24 November 2014

The Green Submarine (Toy Review age 6 months+)

We love Green Toys. They are plastic, but they're very special because they're made entirely from recycled milk bottles. The finish is gorgeous, with a dappled, warm feel to the touch - very much like a milk bottle, and the toys themselves are designed to inspire children into creative play, stretching their imaginations and understanding of the world.

Green Toys Recycled Plastic Submarine review

Our 6th Green Toy review is one that my boys have played with a lot - mainly because it's taken up residence in the bathroom! The Submarine is such a simple toy, but this one is very carefully thought out, and offers masses of play value. 

Sunday 23 November 2014

Extra Special Loaves from Warburtons.

Warburtons are very nice to their bloggers, and I have to say I felt a bit spoilt when a hamper arrived the other day full of interesting goodies so that we could try their new range of four Extra Special Loaves.

Warburtons new special loaves reviewed

Friday 21 November 2014

Slow Toys for Christmas...

I've been aware of the Slow Toys movement for the last couple of years, and I'm a huge fan of companies such as Wonderworld, Pintoys, Haba, Hape, Le Toy Van and I've reviewed for Green Toys, Orchard Toys and The Toadstool for a long while now.

Le Toy Van Doll's House Furniture Pintoy Fireman Wonderworld Eco-House
The Wonderworld Eco-House with Pintoy Firemen
Slow toys should allow a child to explore their world and play in any way that seems right to them, they stretch a child and develop a huge range of life skills.

Le Toy Van Wooden Fire Engine
Le Toy Van Wooden Fire Engine
Slow Toys are toys that aren't 'faddy', more classic and not based on a TV show or other character. They're traditionally wooden, although card is fine and plastic is included now as long as it meets the other criteria. Slow toys should not in the main take batteries or be powered other than by the user. They should ideally be produced in a sustainable way, with minimal impact on the Earth and it's inhabitants. 

The super simple Argos Christmas Wishlist app. for children aged 3+

Every year since the oldest was tiny my children have, around this time of year, collected their Argos book of dreams and sat and circled all the things they'd like for Christmas. They do then have to pick out a small selection of those 15 billion items (approx) to write Christmas lists in their own best handwriting, to pass on to Santa.

The Argos Christmas Wishlist app. review

The choice out there is immense, and buying the wrong character or colour or set is all too easy. This is the modern world, young children are computer literate, and so it really isn't a surprise that this year Argos have released a Christmas Wishlist app. that children as young as 3 can use to create their own wishlist online.

A really simple app for writing a child's Christmas list

Thursday 20 November 2014

A better night's sleep with a Dormeo Memory Mattress

At 9 years old after 3000 night's sleep, 2 pregancies and a few month's bedrest when my partner was recovering from Meningitis our old mattress had worked hard. Life had taken it's toll and despite a 10 year guarantee it's time was pretty much done.

We'd looked at memory foam mattresses and then life got in the way, and it wasn't until we realised in September that with the boys not sleeping through, and lying on a surface that wasn't entirely comfortable, we really were getting very little sleep - so we started to research again. Buying a mattress is a very big investment, and sleep very important, so you need to get it right.

I saw MummyOfTwo's Memory Mattress review and then was over-the-moon when Dormeo gave me the opportunity to review too.

New rolled up method of mattress delivery reduces environmental impact

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Hexbug Nano Glow-In-The-Dark review.

We were introduced to Hexbug a little while ago because our 6 year old chose a Hexbug Nano Black Hole set for his birthday in September. The Hexbugs themselves actually remind you of little bugs, skittering around the floor propelled by their vibrating spiky rubber legs and in some cases antennae.

Hexbug Nano Glow-In-The-Dark review.

We were offered the chance to review Hexbug Nano glow-in-the-dark and Hexbug Zombie Aquabot. We've already reviewed the Aquabots, and today I can tell you about the Hexbug Nano.

Three months....

It seems impossible, but it's been 3 months now since Elspeth died. When everyone tells you it'll never be the same again, you don't quite realise just how much.

When everyone tells you that you'll find ways of coping, you have no idea until you start walking just what those ways of coping will be.

When people say 'plod on', they have no idea just how true that is.

When my partner got Meningitis last year I felt I was running in a treadmill that was going so fast I could barely stay upright. I ran and ran and kept everyone fed and clothed and homework sometimes got done and the fish got fed and I kept on going beyond what I ever thought I could, just running and running. It was only when it all slowed down and I wasn't racing from hospital to home to school to hospital to home to bed, that I was able to pause and look around, and see what had been passed by and what needed attention, and I could start to pick up all the things I'd dropped as I ran.

Since Elspeth died I've not been racing on a treadmill, I'm not even walking. I'm trudging through the stickiest mud you've ever stood in. Every single step is ridiculous effort and occasionally you fall to your knees and it's so very hard to get back up. Sometimes you have to just lay there a while and gather the energy, knowing that when you open your eyes the mud will still be there, and it'll still need to be crossed, and you have no idea how wide it is, or if it ever ends. Sometimes you have no choice but to carry someone else, and you have to keep going even with them on your back. Sometimes a hand reaches out and holds yours, and sometimes a wall of people are behind you, all helping to edge you forward.

I have become a master of hats.

I have my professional hat, my blog-posting, thoroughly reviewing, photograph-taking hat. I can be The Brick Castle and talk to you about my genuine feelings for LEGO Minecraft, the educational benefits of Slow Toys. I can research and alt.tag and have pride in what I've posted. I don't need to think of anything sad or hard, I just need to keep writing and editing and it'll all be okay. I can do this, I rock at this.

I have my family hat. The face I show my children, and my partner when he's struggling. I am competent and fill in forms and get to school on time every day and have the uniforms washed and the drains unblocked and food ready for tea. Sometimes I don't quite cope for as long as I'd like, but I need to do it,  for my children. Life for them needs to be better, it needs to be good. I need to keep putting on that hat so that they can laugh and have fun and learn and be proud of themselves and their achievements. They need to be able to look back and see fun, not endless gloom. They need me to read to them in bed at night, and be there with compassion and love when they graze their knees. They need to see it can be done, so that they can see reason for trying.

I have my personal hat. My personal hat is the one I try to hide, the one I don't like. The one that tries to make me fall asleep and play inane games on my phone instead of doing something useful. The one that keeps me awake at night and makes every single thing I do take twice as long because it creeps in and fills my thoughts and won't let me concentrate. My personal hat is why we've run out of toilet roll, it's why I have 1600 unread emails, and it's why my children have had pizza for tea twice this week. It's the reason why I don't remember anything and have to write everything down. It's the reason that sometimes I can't trust my own advice or decisions and it's why I don't want to cook anything complicated. It's stolen my confidence and self-respect and I can't really imagine it'll ever give them back, certainly not unharmed or intact.

Last Friday was my birthday, it was also the day that the Police Coroner chose to return to us in photocopied format Elspeth's diary. Great timing, and it didn't go too well. The mud was unbearably thick and nothing could be done, so I had my birthday on Saturday, which was exactly 3 months since Elspeth died. I think that worked better for everyone. We watched family movies and built LEGO and ate cake and there were some smiles, and mainly there was a lot of sitting together in the living room just being. Everyone had time to wear their personal hat and let their mind wander until the fog cleared a little, and nothing was expected of anyone.

I know that overall the mud is getting easier, I know this because I remember telling my counsellor with some degree of confidence last week, so it must be true despite any blip. I know we can have happy times, I know we can smile and have fun, our long weekend in London showed us that, it was fabulous. I know that we can get through it. I know that Christmas is really daunting, but I have just bought my first present, so I know we can do it.

I also know that this is a positive post, and I'm in a much better place than 4 days ago, or 4 weeks ago, and hopefully you will see that....

Monday 17 November 2014

Articulate and Articulate For Kids review and giveaway

Drumond Park make fantastic board games and last weekend we got to play with two of our favourites. Articulate has been around for a long while, and it's junior version, Articulate For Kids, has just undergone a revamp which sees it suitable for children aged 6+.

Articulate and Articulate For Kids review and giveaway

Our 6 year old is fairly articulate, but lacks nerve, so this is an excellent game for helping him gain confidence with description and memory. It increases a child's vocabulary and social skills. 

Sunday 16 November 2014

Horrid Henry's Christmas Lunch Review

Sadly this isn't a review of a Christmas dinner, although I'm sure a lot of you would be delighted at the prospect of not having to cook one! Horrid Henry's Christmas Lunch, as written by Francesca Simon and illustrated by Tony Ross, is one of the latest releases from Orion books.

Horrid Henry's Christmas Lunch Early Reader book review

Horrid Henry's Christmas Lunch is a Red Band Early Reader, and ideal for those who are starting to read independently. My 6 year old can just about read this to himself, and the format is perfect for him with wide spacing, easy and repetitive langauge, and plenty of great illustrations.

Thursday 13 November 2014

LEGO Minecraft Giveaway - Set 21115 - The First Night

Today I am delighted to be able to tell you that LEGO have very kindly given me one of the fabulous new LEGO Minecraft sets to give away to one of my readers. The First Night set 21115 is my favourite set and at £39.99, it's the one which I think may well turn out to be the most popular this Christmas.

LEGO Minecraft Giveaway - Set 21115 - The First Night

In complete contrast to The Ender Dragon set 21117 which we reviewed yesterday, The First Night is based on your ideal first night in the Minecraft game. This set includes a great little shelter which is hinged with removeable roof, and contains everything your Steve needs to survive the night and progress into the game.

Fruit Bowl Frollipops - lollipops made from fruit

I reviewed for Fruit Bowl a little while ago and we found their fruity snacks to be lovely, so lovely in fact that they've been a regular feature in our house. Frollipops are their latest release - lollipops made entirely from fruit, with each one counting as 1 of your child's 5-a-day. 

Fruit Bowl Frollipops review

Frollipops are a huge leap away from this time of year's tradition fruit lollipop - the toffee apple! Frollipops are sold in packs of 5 x 15g lollipop, in a choice of either apple or strawberry - snakes or rockets. 

'The Boy Who Made Things Up' Early Reader book review

Our latest review from Orion Books Early Readers is The Boy Who Made Things Up, which is written by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by Jenny Williams. This is a Red Band book, suitable for readers who are just becoming confident at reading alone, and it suits our 6 year old perfectly.

The Boy Who Made Things Up by Margaret Mahy review

This book is really quite different to most of the Early Readers I've reviewed, as it gives a real message to parents who may be reading, and I found it quite poignant. It isn't soppy or sad, it's simply a reminder that children are young for a very short time, and they have gifts to give us if we only have the time to see them.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

LEGO Minecraft set 21117 - The Ender Dragon review

LEGO Minecraft has arrived with an astounding amount of excitement in our house, and I don't believe for an instant we'll be the only ones. Although the entire range is designed for builders aged around 8+, my two youngest boys still think they're awesome. We had a look at the full range and gave our first impressions the other day, and today we actually got our hands on set 21117 - The Ender Dragon.

LEGO Minecraft set 21117 - The Ender Dragon review

LEGO Minecraft set 21117 - The Ender Dragon review box back

This is a large set with 634 pieces. Inside the box there are the instructions, 5 bags numbered 1-4, a bag containing the dragon wings and 3 base plates, and a loose base plate - please excuse the photography, this is Manchester in November, natural light is a rare phenomenon.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Batman LEGO DUPLO Giveaway - The Batcave Adventure

Regular readers will remember that I was part of the jury team for the How Do You Play? competition organised by LEGO DUPLO earlier in the year. As a thank you they gave me some Batman LEGO DUPLO to give away, and I kept back one set so that I could give it away this Christmas.

LEGO DUPLO Batcave Adventure set 10545 box front

Best suited to children aged 2-5, the Batcave Adventure set 10545 has 59 large pieces which can be put together in a multitude of ways to create your very own batcave.

TinyMe Wooden Name Block Puzzles (18m+) review

Tiny Me are a company that we really like. They make incredibly attractive and excellent quality goods for children. Most of their items can be personalised and are fabulous gifts to treasure. We've previously reviewed their Trucks And Diggers Wall Stickers and Amazingly Awesome Activity Book.

TinyMe Wooden Name Block Puzzles review in packaging

The Tiny Me Wooden Name Block Puzzles were launched earlier this year with crowd funding using kickstarter. I must admit that with the events that have taken place here, I hadn't actually seen them properly before I ordered and I wasn't expecting my puzzle to arrive complete with a gorgeous thick felt storage case.

Monday 10 November 2014

Monster High Freaky Fusion Hybrid Avea Trotter Doll Review

Avea Trotter is one of the new Freaky Fusion Hybrid dolls from Monster High, and as her name suggests, she's a little strange. Part Harpy (monster girl) and part Centaur (horse woman), she's not your average student, even at Monster High. Suitable for children aged around 6+, and one of the top toys this Christmas.

Monster High Freaky Fusion Hybrid Avea Trotter Doll Review

Now I know that it's a bit unusual for two young boys to review a doll, but it's not the first time and Michael is still a firm favourite, and I do have an ulterior motive. This is very different to Michael, and not something my boys have ever had the chance to look at before.

Monster High Avea Trotter Freaky Fusion Hybrid Doll Giveaway

We have just reviewed the Avea Trotter Monster High Freaky Fusion Hybrid doll, and I'm pleased to be able to offer one as a prize for one of my readers.

Part Centaur and part Harpy, Avea Trotter is one of a new class of Monster High dolls, and one of the big toys this Christmas. 

Monster High Freaky Fusion Hybrid Doll Avea Trotter in box

Saturday 8 November 2014

The New LEGO Minecraft sets!

Minecraft is absolutely huge now, and it's been a feature in our house since it was in alpha version, and I remember very well the excitement when it came to the full game release. Ideally suited to LEGO on so many levels, I got hold of one the first LEGO Minecraft Micro World 'The Forest' set 21102  for Christmas 2012 for my partner.

Series 1 LEGO Minecraft 21102 The Forest set

The official UK launch of the new LEGO Minecraft sets took place the other day. Sadly I wasn't there, but I will be reviewing and launching a giveaway for a set or two within the next few days, so keep your eyes open!

There are 6 sets ranging from £19.99 to £89.99 - The Cave, The Farm, The First Night, The Crafting Box  and The Ender Dragon and The Mine.  All of the sets are quite complex with some small fingerwork and therefore have a recommended age range of 8+. Very different to the Micro Worlds and designed for a full size minifigure, these aren't encased in the cube shape, and are more usual LEGO style.

The New LEGO Minecraft sets overview The Cave 21113

Magic Glow Doodle Bear Review

My younger boys still aren't sleeping well through the night, so being given the chance to review a teddy bear with glow-in-the-dark features is great. The Magic Glow Doodle Bear is suitable for children aged 3+ and comes in a choice of either pink or blue - Starr or Artie.

Magic Glow in the dark Doodle Bear review

We were offered Starr, the pink bear, which is my 6 year old's favourite colour. The boys were far more pleased then I expected, and were anxious to get the Doodle Bear out of the packaging and have a proper look.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Hexbug Zombie Aquabot Review

It may be a little late for Halloween, but the Hexbug Zombie Aquabot is a pet that's not just for one day a year - it's not even just for a small tank, it's brilliant in the bath, and especially when you turn the lights off! Suitable for children aged 3+, it's actually a sturdy little toy that's great fun all round.

Hexbug Zombie Aquabot Review

The box was a bit crumpled when it arrived, but the fish was unharmed and ready for action. My 4 and 6 year olds were very excited - so much so that I had to ask both of them to get off the table!

Wednesday 5 November 2014

The Sims 4 for PC

The Brick Castle has teamed up with EA to offer you the chance to win a copy of the new Sims 4 game. We love it, and our review is here....

Since EA’s original release of The Sims in 2000 the game has sold more than 175 million copies of the series making it one of the most successful video game series in history.

The Sims 4 boasts a whole range of new features ranging from creating Sims to building houses and exploring new worlds.With rich emotions and quirky personality traits the all new Sims are more expressive than ever.

Storytelling with The Sims 4 is more powerful, more fun, and weirder than ever.

The Sims 4 - with added Ghosts and Star Wars

I've played The Sims on PC now for nearly 10 years, and I've watched it change and evolve and increase in size to the immense game it is now. Sims 4 is a continuation of that expansion, with the inclusion of some great new features including Star Wars outfits, the ability to play as a ghost and a host of interesting character traits - including some right nasty ones.
The Sims 4 Review on PC
If your Sim accidentally electrocutes themselves and meets an early demise, they can continue in the game as a ghost, flying around dealing out mini-shocks to the other characters, and if they're killed by poisonous plants, they'll forever be handy with plants.

Yep - you can now have a ghost evil Princess Leia in your family who can't resist doing a bit of gardening, and who wouldn't want to?

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Simple Firework Night Biscuits (Cooking With Kids)

If you've been invited to a firework night party or just want something to dip in your hot chocolate to warm up after an evening outside, these simple Firework Night Biscuits are perfect, and even better, the children can make them - with a little help from you.

Simple Firework Night Biscuits (Cooking With Kids)