Tuesday 31 July 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 3 - The 5cm World Challenge

Some activities make a great challenge, either for yourself or against other people. Today's activity is an outdoor one that is perfect for a quick competition and makes you look at the world in a different way to normal. What is everything made from? Is concrete just concrete? Is grass just grass? Where do the living creatures hide in your garden? You can get better at noticing your world, the more you pay attention...

The 5cm World: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral
Get up close and personal with the ground beneath your feet.

EQUIPMENT (for each person if you aren't challenging yourself).
Outdoor space
2 sheets of paper or card (we used 1 of each).
Something to write with

Monday 30 July 2018

5 Minute STEM Activity 2 - The Floating Arm Trick

I've drafted a few 5 minute simple STEM activity posts and I'll share them with you over the next few weeks of the Summer holiday. These 5 minute activities are designed to make your children think and learn about what makes up their world. None of them require anything complicated or any scientific qualifications, and if you want to learn more - you have the Internet and the entire knowledge of the world, right there in front of you...

The Floating Arm Trick.

You don't need any equipment other than yourself and a flat wall. A closed door works perfectly.

Sunday 29 July 2018

The Kitchen Science Cookbook Review - and a 5 Minute STEM Activity (Age 4-14+)

Here at the brick castle we are very keen on easy and fun science experiments. Children ask loads of questions and by exploring their world they learn the skills to answer those questions for themselves.

I've written several 5 minute STEM activity posts that cost pennies, and I'll be posting one a day for as long as I can keep up. By coincidence we were asked if we wanted to review The Kitchen Science Cookbook by Dr Michelle Dickinson. She is part of Nanogirl Labs and believes, like me, that science should be for everyone.

The Kitchen Science Cookbook is chock full of fantastic experiments and challenges, so the first 5 minute STEM activity for this Summer holiday is from this book.

The Kitchen Science Cookbook is a big hardbacked book which is split into several sections of experiments and activities - colourful, construction, edible, electricity, motion, pressure, reaction, sound and surfactant. Before that though, it has information about safety and how to conduct experiments, note taking and other useful tips.

Saturday 28 July 2018

Bunch O Balloons - easy fill water balloons review and bundle giveaway! (Age 3+)

We've all seen the adverts and 'oooooh'ed' and 'ahhhhh'ed' at the sight of loads of water balloons filling up at once, with no knotting and no surprise bursting. The stuff of dreams for a young child or a harassed parent, can it really be true? This is a video review, so you'll see our results - and Zuru Toys are also giving a bundle to one of my readers...

Bunch O Balloons were a new thing to the UK last year and this year our sunshine really means they're perfect. We've been sent the Bunch O Balloons Launcher Value Pack to review. Suitable for age 3+, although obviously someone older will have to supervise and help with filling, this set is a full battle set!

Friday 27 July 2018

Flat Squirrel by Fiona Faith Ross. Children's Chapter Book Review

One of the latest releases from Matador Children's Books is Flat Squirrel by established author Fiona Faith Ross. The Flat Squirrel of the title is called Duggan, and he's a flying squirrel. Duggan and the other animals all face the usual struggle for survival, especially concerning finding food.

Duggan lives nearby a busy road, and lost his Mum there in a tragic accident which he remembers all too well. He needs to cross in search of more food though, and once over, he spends time with a new bunch of animals who are tentative friends, prepared to share what they have, but always a little wary of the others.

Although the characters are animals, this isn't 'babyish' and I imagine it in a similar animated style to 'Over The Hedge' or another modern movie. The storyline is modern and even though I haven't ever seen a Flying Squirrel in real life, I can picture the scenes easily in my mind. This is in no small part due to the excellent illustrations by Fraser May. Black and white line drawings, they are very well done and remind us that we are talking about real animals, especially when they are in human environments.

The Handlebards present Twelfth Night at Ordsall Hall Theatre Review.

Last night we were guests of Salford Community Leisure and Ordsall Hall Open Air Theatre to watch the world's first cycling theatre company, The HandleBards, perform Shakespeare's classic comedy love story Twelfth Night.

The weather is currently amazing, so we took folding chairs and umbrellas (as insurance), covered ourselves in factor 50 and set off. Parking was arranged close by and it was possible to book a picnic in advance, which was waiting for us when we arrived. Proper night off.

I've never been to Ordsall Hall before, but I will definitely visit again with my children. It's an amazing location which was first mentioned in records in 1177, and sits amid the apartment blocks and factories of Salford. Shakespeare's own rose between many thorns. The museum is free to visit and open all year. We had a glimpse, but no chance during this visit to look properly.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

i-Top Electronic Spinning Top Game Review (age 8+) for Character Options.

As soon as we hear 'Spinners' now, we think of fidgets and I expected i-Tops to be similar, but in fact they are much more like the traditional wooden toys we've all played with - but with a brilliant use of electronics to count spins, create animations and keep high scores. Competitive spinning!

The packaging is really massive compared to the size of the toy and half plastic. It's really easy to pull open, but you aren't going to need it afterwards, so only a few points for Earth-friendly. It's Christmas-morning friendly though, batteries are included and play is instant once it's in your hand.

Dr Beckmann are getting steamy in the laundrette...

It is warm, or is it just me? If you are as old as I am then you will definitely remember the iconic 1985 Levi's ad, where the rather attractive Nick Kamen took his kit off to wash it in the machine at the laundrette. Dr Beckmann remember it too, and they've very kindly recreated it for our viewing pleasure...

The Dr Beckmann version stars former Eastenders and Extras star Shaun Williamson, and he was given hints on how to really get the hearts pumping and turn up the sex appeal by the team from Queer Eye. When asked for a comment he said:
“I’ve played many a character in my time, but the opportunity to step into Nick Kamen’s shoes for Dr. Beckmann’s latest ad was one I simply couldn’t turn down... I don’t usually do the laundry in my underwear, but then again I wouldn’t usually wash blue jeans and a white t-shirt together - turns out you can with Dr. Beckmann Colour and Dirt Collector sheets.”
Susan Fermor, Marketing Director for Dr. Beckmann, said:
“In the absence of the gorgeous model from the original ad, Shaun was the obvious replacement".
Take it away Shaun...

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Cyril And Pat by Emily Gravett Children's Book Review And 3 Book Giveaway

Cyril and Pat is maybe a little young for my family, but Emily Gravett's work is so beautiful and the story is such a fabulous message that sometimes an exception should be made. This large format hardback book is written in rhyme and very cleverly leads you to the final word of each page... and then surprises you by saying something completely different.

I read together with my 8 and 9 year old boys - because reading together is still nice sometimes, even when you can read yourself.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Meningitis - 5 years later...

Five years ago my partner was in bed unable to control his own temperature, stay awake more than about 30 minutes or concentrate on anything more complex than Storage Wars.

He was 10 days into his recovery from Meningitis, and I was attending my first ever Blogging Conference, leaving him in the care of Elspeth, who regularly presented him with fluids and medicines, took temperatures, and opened and closed his windows accordingly all day.

I had a broken toe that I'd smashed against the bed frame, so I was wearing flip flops (not actually a wise move. My toe set bent and I couldn't get shoes on until it was re-broken). I was so exhausted that when I caught the tram home I zoned out, came to and tried to get off the tram 2 stops after I'd got on, no-where near my home. But I had to go to the conference because I needed to take time off being nurse, and I had people to thank.

In the most terrifying hours, when he first became ill, it was bloggers on my screen who told me I was doing the right thing and soothed me and told me it was going to be okay. When I was all alone at night, in a house full of worried sleeping children, having left my incredibly sick partner in the care of the hospital and terrified he might die, it was bloggers who kept me company until I slept in the early hours, and who were there for me when I woke at 6am.

The blogging community is huge and inevitably there will be losses, but this week I have watched this group of people come together in a mutual horror and sadness over the sudden loss of one of the old school. One of the pillars who felt like she had always been there and we had every right to assume she would be there a long time yet. The sudden death of Kate, best known for WitWitWoo, is a blow indeed. I met her several times and in real life she was as big a personality as she was online. I was always in awe of her. Tall, always perfectly dressed, with amazing hair and just oozing confidence and sexiness. I wished I had the balls to be as confident as her.

This weekend hundreds of bloggers have donned their swimsuits and bikinis and enjoyed the sunshine with confidence - they've all been a bit more #witwitwoo and the smiles show they've all enjoyed it. They took their life back for themselves for a moment and to hell with anyone who didn't like it.

My partner is now 5 years into his recovery and we are realising now just how broken he is. He can control his temperature now, but he can't remember very much of the last 5 years. He is failing to make new long term memories and is very forgetful in everyday life. He has permanent pain in his hands and legs, and his extremities don't have as much sensation as they should. He walks with a limp and tires easily. But he is still here. We are in that respect lucky.

In the last 5 years we've had to race straight through hospital triage 2 more times with my partner as he experienced massive bleeding due to pretty impressive tonsilitis and also when he attempted to have a heart attack. I have my own issues with my intestines refusing to stay in the correct place and am facing my 3rd surgery to stuff them back. We also lost one of our teenagers, destroying everything we thought was true and everything we expected to happen, and placing us somewhere we never anticipated. We have all become far more aware of our own mortality.

Kate's legacy is a fabulous one, because we should all be able to find the courage to do those things we want to do without listening to the scorn of others. We should all be able to laugh at those who tut. We should all have the confidence to #bemorewitwitwoo

Life is short. You aren't going anywhere, you are already there. Don't wait for the right time for too long, because it may never come. Eat the cake, wear the swimsuit with a big grin, throw water balloons with the kids. Stop what you are doing and step outside and just shut your eyes and feel the world turn. Take joy wherever you find it. Live your life for now, don't save it for later.

My thoughts tonight are with Kate's boys, her family and friends, and also with Em of Snowing Indoors and her children, who lost their husband and father suddenly today. 
Love and strength to you all xx

Friday 20 July 2018

Refract:18 Launch at Waterside, Sale - including Long Shot by PanGottic review.

Refract is the annual Summer arts festival at Waterside in Sale. Featuring events, performances and music that challenges you to think differently, this is a huge programme which starts 19th July and runs for 9 days until the finale on Saturday 28th - music from the very popular The Magic Numbers.

We were invited along to the launch at Waterside in Sale, which includes a performance of Long Shot by PanGottic. The festival offers something for all ages, and Long Shot is suitable for age 7+.

We were promised "a catapultastic evening of clowning, contraptions, comedy and courage, as one man’s belief in the near impossible is put to the test" and I think that sums it up perfectly.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Hexbug Robot Wars Arena review (age 8+)

The Hexbug Robot Wars Arena is a small scale replica of the real arena, with a large printed floor, barriers and screens and remote controlled robots made in the image of some of the most famous and popular robots from the TV show. It's really quite exciting.

Robot Wars used to be a really big deal in our house. For many years we sat and watched every episode, we even went to see it live and have a collection of remote controlled 2ft high models in the loft somewhere. We're also quite keen on Hexbugs and have played a little with the Battlebots. A Hexbug Robot Wars Arena has to be a great thing.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Ad - Review | Weird Things Humans Search For game review for Big Potato Games (Age 14+)

Weird Things Humans Search For is our second review for Big Potato Games. Suitable for 3 or more players and recommended for around age 14+, you can play as individuals, but this really comes into its own as a team game for teenagers or older and makes an ideal party game.

A game about 'Weird Things Humans Search For' instantly has the potential to be hilarious, and we weren't disappointed. There are plenty of giggles and genuine belly laughs as players attempt to guess the most popular ending to an internet search phrase. A sort of modern day equivalent of  Blankety Blank meets Family Fortunes.

Everything you need is in the box, including pencils and paper, so you can play immediately. There's no set up, play centres on the Question Cards and the rules are simple. Each round choose 1 player to be 'The Search Master', who reads out the question and knows the true answers. We simply took it in turns.

Monday 16 July 2018

The Price Of Magic by Gavin Neale Young Fiction Review for Matador (Age 9+)

The Price Of Magic is the second book from Gavin Neale and features reliable old-fashioned good versus evil, with swords and kings and children who have been dropped into a world entirely unlike their usual reality.

This is fantasy in the style of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe mixed with The Lord Of The Rings and given a dash of later years Harry Potter. Dwarves, elves, fairies and magic come together with a very special young hero, and save the world.

Sunday 15 July 2018

July Smiles... 47 Months...

Get a load of this weather! It's caused havoc on the moors around where we are, but the extended sunshine has been such an amazing breath of fresh air and it really feels we've 'had a Summer' before the kids are even off school.

The sun has had everyone outside topping up the vitamin D and the memories. We spent an awesome weekend at Timber Festival, we've had water fights, marshmallow roasting and all have so many freckles you could almost mistake it for a tan.

You guys have been out in the sunshine too - and as I went through finding photos I'd missed this morning, I had to laugh at the number of people who were delighted by the sun a month ago, and hoping we had 'a few more days like this'... Your wish was granted.

I ask you to show us your smiles and this month you did yourselves proud. Loads of family photos this month, and I am embarrassed to say that I don't believe we have any photos with all of us in, so there's a challenge for me for next month.

Anyone can join in with the smiles, just tag any smile, grin, chuckle or chortle on Instagram using the hashtag #TBCSmiles. I share 9 of the biggest and brightest each month, today's final bunch was chosen by my 20 year old - may as well keep him busy while he's home from uni for Summer.

These gorgeous smiles were shared by the following Instagrammers:

We had our own smiles too - the weather really helps!

We also saw the two youngest of our 'big kids' finish college and we couldn't be prouder of what they have both achieved already. They'll be spending the next month waiting for exam results. My best wishes to everyone waiting for results to find out where their life will take them next.

For one of our young people, a place at uni is unconditional, and this was their final piece of exhibition work. A truly beautiful tribute to their sister...

If you don't know why we collect our smiles, you can find out here. Each smile is a reason and a reminder of why it's always worth carrying on....

Saturday 14 July 2018

Wannabees Role Play Packs Review (age 5-11ish)

Wannabees spotted that pretend play was missing a special something that could really encourage children to practise more skills and learn to read and write while they play. They created a range of 'I Want To Be...' packs full of printed sheets which support role play for children aged around 5-11.

Currently available in ‘I Want to be a Teacher’, ‘I Want to be a Doctor’ and ‘I Want to be a CafĂ© Owner’, each pack is bundled up into a really handy ring binder with around 45 mainly tear-out pages. The pages include forms, stickers and certificates, appointment cards, registers and even eye tests or weather charts, allowing children to act out all of those fun tasks that somehow aren't so fun when you are an adult.

We've been sent two of the packs for my 8 and 9 year old boys to play with. They chose 'I Want to be a Teacher’ and ‘I Want to be a Doctor’. One of them actually does want to be a Doctor (or an entomologist), so he was particularly excited.

Thursday 12 July 2018

Summer Holiday Stuff for Families in the Manchester and North West Area!

Below is a list with loads of fabulous workshops, performances, plays, craft activities, museums, fundays and all of that other stuff which creates Summer holiday memories your children can take with them forever. I'm based in Manchester and so are most of the listings below, but the whole NorthWest UK is covered. Events are suitable for families with children - some for younger audiences and some which even your teenagers won't mind joining in with...

If you have anything suitable you wish me to add, send an email with a short write up including a photo, plus date, time, location, cost and a little about it to

In as close to date order as is sensible:

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Ad | Timber!!!!!!! Festival - Derbyshire Family Festival Review

Timber is a new festival that instantly sounded right up our street, and excitingly we were invited to review by Wild Rumpus. Set in Derbyshire (in gorgeous woodland in the National Forest) and aiming to be a carbon neutral big sibling to Just So Festival, with plenty to entertain the adults as well as the school aged children. It was brilliant. Everything that we hoped for and more, plus sunshine for once!!!

This is a photo-heavy post because there really was so much to experience at Timber Festival - it was great before we even left the camping field (aside from losing our van keys for 4 hours, but that's another story). Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Our festival began with sunshine, wildlife, cherries, lovely neighbours and a gift of roast chicken... and a space in accessible camping because neither I nor my partner are capable of transporting our tent and belongings. We are working on the boys and they did a superb job of helping to get the tent up and down! Modern tents are really easy to use and can be excellent prices, try somewhere like Globo Surf for advice if you are new to camping.

Gravity Touch Wireless Charging Base Review for [Fuse] Chicken

[Fuse] Chicken are a really innovative company who design products that look good and really last. They make accessories for phone, tablet and computer users, and we've been sent one of their new premium Aluminum, Leather and Bamboo wireless phone chargers - the Gravity Touch.

[Fuse Chicken] care about looks. They are modern and forward thinking, and the Gravity is available in sustainable bamboo or leather with high strength aluminum. I've gone with bamboo and it is a really attractive item to have either on the desk or bedroom table. Subtle and understated, yet classic and very smart. It's pretty much exactly what I want from a phone charger.

Thursday 5 July 2018

The Boy Who Imagined... And Found He Could Draw Young Fiction Review

The Boy Who Imagined... And Found He Could Draw by Ann and Fred Onymouse is a very quirky book for readers aged around 7+, but older children will take away much more from reading it. I can't decide if this is the most truthful piece of social commentary I've read in years, or a children's book which is just a bit weird? It's impossible to tell.

The book revolves around a young boy called Vapi, or Van Gogh Pablo Picasso Salvador Dali if you want to give him his full name. Clearly his parents are artistic types and have high hopes for Vapi. He doesn't feel he can draw and avoids it as much as he can. Vapi is a sensitive boy and is pulled out of school by his parents to be home-schooled for a while, but that doesn't really go to plan and he returns to school.

Vapi's school is quite bizarre. The teaching staff are harsh and unwilling to stand up to bullies within the school or protect Vapi, who soon learns to keep his comments flattering and his head down.

Wednesday 4 July 2018

FReNeTiC Family Game Review - from the makers of Accentuate (age 8+)

The people behind popular board game Accentuate have a new game release which brings together English and science and a bit of maths in a quite unique and different way. FReNeTIC is a word game based on the Periodic Table. Two or more players create words using the letters which represent elements and then score depending on the atomic number... and there's a copy for one of my readers too!

In the box are the board itself, pencils and notepads, an egg timer, instructions and the playing tiles, which are stored in a drawstring cloth bag. This is a plastic free box and the only thing to discard is the outer plastic wrapping.

Monday 2 July 2018

Ant World from Interplay (age 5+) - The review that didn't go as expected.

Interplay have an awesome range of children's My Living World sets created in conjunction with Nick Baker, the Really Wild Show presenter and naturalist. The sets help children get up close and personal with nature, supporting science and building STEM skills, as well as teaching about caring for living creatures. We've been given Ant World to review.

There is a backstory as I actually requested this review for my 9 year old. He came home from school one day, incredibly excited about the idea that people can keep ants as pets and see into their usually hidden world. I'd previously been offered this set, so I went back to Interplay and asked if we could still review.