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Review: Raising Children – the Primary Years

19 Sep

Liat Hughes Joshi

Can any parent fail to be drawn to a book subtitled ‘Everything Parents Need to Know’? With the pressure to be perfect, the promise of ultimate knowledge packed neatly into 240 pages is even more appealing than a child-free weekend lie-in.

Liat Hughes Joshi’s book addresses the key challenges that parents of primary school children face, from playground friendships and behaviour to homework and pocket money. It provides practical, common-sense advice and avoids, unlike some parenting ‘manuals’, the temptation to preach. As the author says: “Sometimes there’s more than one approach to an issue … as all families are different”.

The author, a journalist and mother, is assisted in the book by two child psychologists. There is enough formal psychology to be interesting but not so much as to scare away parents looking for quick, accessible tips they can use every day. The trickier issues it covers, for example bullying, make for unsettling reading but, as any parent with crayons and paper supplies in their bag knows, forewarned is forearmed.

Hughes Joshi’s realism and humour throughout the book are a godsend for any parent bashing their head against a brick wall. She acknowledges, for example,  that kids would rather be “boiling their own head” than do homework. She also utilises the expertise of those at the coal face – real-life parents. Over 400 were surveyed, the results of which are included in the book as invaluable ‘Parent Panel’ tips. Few things make a parent feel better than knowing others have been through the same and survived.

If you’re looking for reassurance that what your kids are “up to (probably) is normal and that you (probably) aren’t rubbish parents who are getting it all wrong” then you’ll find it here. Set down the medicinal wine bottle and pick up this book.

Raising Children: the Primary Years: Everything Parents Need to Know – from Homework and Horrid Habits to Screentime and Sleepovers by Liat Hughes Joshi, Pearson Life, paperback, RRP £10.99 (Kindle, £5.66).

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Review: John Lewis outdoor LED lighting

11 Sep

My garden wouldn’t get within a mile of Chelsea. It is a plain square of grass with a few flowering weeds, some rotten apples (currently) and the usual detritus that accompanies children (trampoline, slide, residential complexes built for ants from sticks, grass and probably cat poo). Imagine my green-fingered delight then when I was asked to review some of John Lewis’ latest outdoor LED lighting. Goodbye wasteland, hello fairy dell!

The traditional lantern

Outdoor lighting

Arrrr! Holding this lantern aloft I have been a scary pirate and a fisherman so with the kids it’s safe to say it’s popular. This battery operated lantern has 21 LED lights (non-replaceable – I guess they last a long time) and mimics the style of a good old-fashioned lantern that you might see aboard ship (ahoy there). It’s not smooth and slick by any means – bits move, twist and go up and down (intentionally) as if it were a 50-year-old lantern that had been dragged into the 21st century and pimped with LEDs. That is, it looks authentic. This does lead me to wonder how long it will stay looking good – here you need to trust John Lewis’ tradition of quality.

Although the LEDs are on an adjustable dimmer switch, you couldn’t eat your ship biscuits and drink grog by the light of this lantern. It’s not enormously bright, but, as decorative rather than functional lighting should do, it casts an acceptably bright glow with no danger of turning your garden into a landing strip. (Believe me, I have neighbours who have to turn away 747s …)

The rattan line lights

Rattan lights

To me, ‘rattan’ evokes images of basket weave bathroom furniture, the cracks in the weave dusted with old talcum powder. Fortunately, these rattan line lights are far more appealing than that. Think glamping in a yurt; think secret garden; think … well, in my case, think ‘these are a darned sight better than our faded butterfly lights that have endured several winters and wet summers and have now seen better days’.

It took a couple of days in the garden to get these 10 solar powered LED light ‘balls’ up to their full strength, but once they were I was pleasantly surprised by how attractive they are. As with the lantern, they are not exceedingly bright but, really, you don’t expect more from decorative lights. They have a pretty glow and an equally pretty shadow. I was slightly concerned that the rattan balls would become rattan pulp after a couple of days in the garden but they seem to have survived the last few days of wind and rain in tip top condition.

I did wonder though what to actually ‘do’ with these lights. Whilst the total length of the lights (including the wire leading to the solar box) is 10.7ft, the length of the lights themselves is only 4ft. This isn’t quite long enough to make a real feature of them (for example, wound along a decking area or draped in a tree). John Lewis – I like these lovely lights very much but I would have preferred them to be longer. More balls please!

These products were sent to me free-of-charge and I was asked for nothing other than an objective review. The products are not currently available on the John Lewis website but keep your eyes peeled for them in the outdoor lighting section!

Review: Walkers Mighty Lights

27 Aug

Crisps Walkers

As we head towards the start of the new school term, parents’ minds turn to thoughts of new shoes, pencil cases and lunchboxes. Well, actually, not lunchboxes if like me you’ve opted for school meals and recoil in horror at the advance thought and preparation a packed lunch requires. How do those parents brave enough to choose the packed lunch option make it less of a daily hell? How do they ensure variety, a modicum of healthiness and, of course, happy kids? Well, Walkers might be here to help with their new line of crisps: Mighty Lights.

Mighty Lights are ridged crisps that contain 30% less fat than standard crisps. That probably makes you feel a little happier putting them in your kids’ lunchboxes. But wait for it, they’re also suitable for vegetarians and contain no artificial colours, preservatives or MSG. Crisps will never be perfect (what is?) but with Mighty Lights you might sleep a little more soundly. Mighty flavours include Cheese & Onion, Lightly Salted and Roast Chicken – a broad enough selection to satisfy even the pickiest of kids. (Although perhaps not the pickiest of mothers – where’s the Salt & Vinegar?)

After a recent traumatic experience leading a hungry toddler through a checkout I am a firm advocate of wrapping anything that might appeal to children in plain white packaging. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Mighty Lights packaging isn’t directed specifically at kids. It’s a lower fat crisp suitable for kids’ lunchboxes (it ticks the slightly healthier option box) but that doesn’t stop adults wanting to get their hands on them. For this reason I’ve split my review in two and roped in Big Kids (aka my lovely colleagues at work, always game for snacks) and Little Kids (aka my 4-year-old and 2-year-old) to give their verdicts.

The Big Kids

Walkers crisps

Like seagulls following a fishing boat, I had barely laid the packets out before the Big Kids swooped. Between crunches (obviously not of the abdominal kind) and wiping crumbs from their keyboards, this is what the Big Kids said:

“Plenty in the packet, flavour not too strong, lovely and light! Would definitely buy.”

“I’ve got the roast chicken flavour – I’m pleasantly surprised (I always think that low-fat crisps are going to be a bit tasteless, but these have a nice flavour). They’re not as greasy as full fat ones (my fingers aren’t covered in grease and flavouring, which is good) but they seem a lot thinner than ‘normal’ crisps, so are possibly a bit less satisfying to eat …”

“It’s a bit of a surprise how small they are, but I liked the fun element in this and it helped remind me not to scoff them so quickly.”

“Nicer than expected but not really low-calorie.”

The Big Kids are the sensible guys. They know that crisps, regardless of whether they’re lower in fat than the average crisp, are never going to be the new fruit. That aside, they score the Mighty Lights high on both flavor and low-fat appeal. And I’d not even bribed them with wine and photocopying favours.

The Little Kids

Walkers crisps

Forget sensible with the Little Kids. These are the reviewers who speak with their stomachs rather than their brains:

4yo: I think it’s very nice and they do taste a bit like roast beef … [mummy interjects] … roast chicken, whatever it is. But they do taste quite nice.

2yo: [Do you like the crisps?] Yes. [Are they yummy?] Yes. [Are they yummy yummy …] In my tummy!

I asked my toddler whether I could have one of his crisps and, as he swiped them away, was told “no, they are too yucky”. The fact that he was driven to lie to avoid sharing is testimony to the impact Mighty Lights clearly had on him. Let’s gloss over in what way it pays testimony to my parenting.

Happy packed lunching!

This is a sponsored post for Walkers and I received the snack products pictured as well as compensation for writing this review. However, all opinions are my own (or my guinea pigs!) and I was under no obligation to write a positive review.

Review: Radical Reward Charts

11 Aug

Reward chart

Parents are constantly given tips on how to ensure their children’s good behaviour. Family, friends, magazines, experts, Gina et al, they all add their twopence worth, asked for or not. Should we over praise, under praise (tiger mom, grrr!), bribe, deprive, reward, or even get down on the floor and tantrum with the best of ’em – it seems that the parent’s toolbox is endless. However there is one approach which seems to be universally lauded: the reward chart.

I am a latecomer to reward charts. We once had a scrap of paper and some stickers – it seemed to do the job for there aren’t many children who can resist a sticker – but that was our first and last reward chart experience. There was some excitement then when I got the chance to review Radical Reward Charts, described on their website as ‘A Parent’s Best Friend’. My 4-year-old is seriously testing boundaries (and my patience) at the moment. Her 2-year-old brother has recently found his voice and with it the defiance of a teenager. Dare I hope the charts could work miracles? Here is the baseline we started at:

Me: Shall we put the reward charts up?

4yo: Yes, because my behaviour is getting a bit bad. I’ll do nothing all day to make sure I don’t do anything bad. I’ll just walk in circles round and round my room.

Errr ... think you need to be putting that a bit lower down.

Errr … think you need to be putting that a bit lower down.

Unlike my scraps of paper, the Radical Reward Charts are beautifully illustrated and lovely to look at and – should you ever find your kids too angelic for their own good and racing through the charts (I can only dream) – they are reusable. My 4-year-old daughter chose the Reedy River design and my 2-year-old boy was lured by the caterpillar and frog on Grungy Garden. Most exciting of all for them were the personalised markers: laminated photos of their own mini-selves. A cracking idea to make climbing the chart just that little bit more fun.

The charts arrived with instructions. That there are any rules governing reward charting is new to me, but it turns out I’d got it horribly wrong with my only other attempt. Apparently you should “not put your child DOWN the chart if they misbehave”. Ah. But it had such a wonderful (dramatic) effect previously! I’m abiding by the rules this time; however I have been using the threat that there will be no more moving UP the chart if you don’t get off of your brother’s head.

I really ought to have read the instructions before agreeing what is to be the ultimate reward when the 20th notch is reached by my daughter. “It’s often a good idea to let them choose the reward” – CHECK – for example “small novelty items, sweets” – ERRRR. It’s a symptom of (a) society, (b) the power of advertising and/or (c) my weak parenting skills that against my best judgment I agreed to a pair of Lelli Kelly shoes. I know, I know, vile things – what was I thinking? (I tell you what I’m thinking now (between kicking myself): EBAY.)

Children's behaviour

Think how easy it would be to manage a pocket-sized child!

So, are the charts working? With the 2-year-old I have no idea. He doesn’t quite yet get the idea of incentives. Obviously he’s rewarded but I couldn’t say that the prospect of moving up the chart makes him think twice about how he behaves. My 4-year-old, however, gets it and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see an increase in spontaneous good behaviour. I knew there would be a danger that every good deed could be deemed worthy of a trip up the reward chart. According to the accompanying instructions, rewards are most effective if “given for something completely unexpected”. This seems to work and has so far generated further unexpected good behaviour. Progress up the chart to date has been for eating courgettes at nursery, playing nicely with visitors’ children and tidying up the dinner table.

The Radical Rewards Charts may not be an entirely new concept but for a newbie like me they provide an attractive alternative to other charts I’ve seen. At £14 a chart (including P&P and a personalised mini figure) they’re not cheap and for this I expect quality. I feel I got this with the Radical Reward Charts, plus as they’re reusable they are value for money to boot.

We’re making slow progress up the charts but we’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, we’re some time away from having to line the pockets of a certain shoe brand. That’s almost incentive enough for me to encourage bad behaviour!

Thank you to Amanda at Radical Reward Charts who sent me these products free-of-charge and asked for nothing other than an objective review.

Review: Horrible Science – Blood, Bones & Body Bits

14 Jul

Horrible science

My 4-year-old is at an age where she finds bodily functions and their associated sights, sounds and smells hilarious. Completely normal and, coming from a family where being proffered a finger to pull is perfectly acceptable, I’ve done nothing to discourage it. When the opportunity to review Galt Toys’ Horrible Science: Blood, Bones & Body Bits kit came up I knew she would be rubbing her hands together in gruesome glee.

Blood, Bones & Body Bits is a collection of science experiments – “Horribly fantastic bodily experiments!” – in a box. Aimed at children 5 years and up, I knew it would mean a lot of participation on my part. But this is a good thing. Not only could I try to control the mess (in true over-bearing parent style), it also meant that it was going to be an educational experience for me.

The ‘Lab Notebook’ accompanying the kit is excellent. It is informative, clear, funny and, best of all, I could make my 4-year-old believe I knew what I was talking about. I’m no scientist (I was afraid of Bunsen burners at school) but reading out the booklet – simplifying it in places if necessary – made me sound like Mrs Einstein. The ‘Horrible Science’ style of the booklet would be a great read for older children. Unfortunately, much of the humour was lost on my daughter but it certainly made it more digestible (excuse the bodily pun) for me.

Helpfully, the instructions alert you to which of the experiments are most messy. If you’ve not got lots of time I recommend you tackle some of the quicker, less messy experiments like the ‘Bottom-Burp Machine’ or ‘Gruesome Guts’. This kit isn’t for the mess averse. If you deploy your best control-freakery it will still beat you. Take the ‘Bulging Bag of Brains’ experiment: I guffawed when I read the warning that “spilled brains can be very difficult to clear up”. How hard can it be not to drop a bag of porridge on the floor? Ask the 4-year-old who decided that she just didn’t want to hold the bag any more …

Science experiment

Brains – runnier than I expected.

To avoid disappointment, check which of the experiments need leaving overnight before you promise instant ‘Rubber Bones’ or ‘Amazing Real-Size Brain’. And before you start an experiment it’s a must to check you have all the necessaries. The kit provides most of the equipment you need and anything extra can generally be found around the house (vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and such like). But do check. Turns out rolled porridge oats aren’t as effective as instant oats when you’re trying to recreate grey matter. Who would’ve thought? Ahem.

Not every experiment worked for us. Trying to squeeze beads through a lubricated plastic tube to demonstrate the digestive process was more a lesson in constipation – not quite the intended result but educational nonetheless! There was some trial and error on mummy’s part trying to make the balloon function as a ‘Bottom-Burp Machine’ but my daughter won’t forget the effect of adding “just a little bit more” vinegar to bicarbonate of soda. Boom! A good lesson in how experiments are not about always getting it right first time – with science mistakes can lead to discoveries.

Science experiment

Squeezing out a poo. Or not, in this case.

Did we learn anything from Blood, Bones & Body Bits? Absolutely. My daughter may not remember all the intricacies of biology that the kit makes a good stab at teaching but she has learnt how fun science can be. For me, I had the opportunity to ‘teach’ science with all the props and knowledge provided in one convenient box – something I couldn’t have done by myself. Easy mummy brownie points and lots of laughs along the way. Bring on the quantum physics …

Thank you to the lovely people at Galt Toys who sent this product to me free of charge and expected nothing in return other than an objective review. Horrible Science: Blood, Bones & Body Bits retails at around £15.99.

Review: Walkers Hoops and Crosses

8 May

crisp snacks

My kids like eating crisps but, in my well-meaning motherly way, I’d rather they didn’t. They think happy thoughts; I think tooth decay and the obesity epidemic. Yet I’m a firm believer in not denying food stuffs that err on the naughtier side as long as it’s in moderation and stops my kids from developing a forbidden fruit complex. It was with excitement and some trepidation then that I let a new crisp product through my door and into the mouths of my kids.

Walkers Hoops and Crosses are a new baked corn snack aimed at children but also at parents like me who are keen to have their guilt allayed by the promise of wholegrains (a wholesome 56% in the case of Hoops and Crosses). Apparently some kids don’t get enough wholegrain – unlike my offspring who are able to consume their own body weight in Cheerios. If you’re less than 4 foot tall and easily seduced by something in a shiny packet then it might as well be a snack that gives a nod to the dark side of healthy. Hoops and Crosses are free from artificial colours and preservatives and are only 85 calories a bag – tick, tick, tick.

Walkers Hoops and Crosses

Monkey not always included. 😦

My 4-year-old and 2-year-old didn’t need much persuasion to give Hoops and Crosses a go, particularly as they’re shaped like … hoops and crosses. (Novelty factor – tick!) We got our grubby mitts on the Roast Beef flavour and, once we’d discussed that not every packet comes with a toy monkey (thanks Walkers!), the packet was almost evenly divided between brother and sister. Sister was full of praise: “yummy”, “they taste like carrots” (errrr …) and “no, NO, they’re mine!” Her brother doesn’t say much yet but I assume his silence was evidence of both happiness and a rather full mouth.

Walkers Hoops and Crosses

You can even eat them out of shoes.

After wrestling the packet from the children, I also tried a few. I couldn’t taste roast beef, although I rarely can in a non-meat format. I wouldn’t buy Hoops and Crosses to eat myself but I can see why my kids enjoyed them.  They are also pleasantly free of the voluminous (and luminous) crumb dust that other well-known children’s snacks emit – the death knell of many a white t-shirt. I’m not overly convinced though by the flavours that Walkers have chosen: roast beef, prawn cocktail and salt and vinegar. I would have preferred the blander classics like cheese and ready salted. After all, kids relish bland, as evidenced by the roaring trade in those tasteless little ricecakes.

Would I buy Hoops and Crosses again? Yes. I’m not sure they will replace our beloved Pom-Bears (another product that proves that kids like shapes as much as, if not more than, taste) but Hoops and Crosses will be an appealing alternative. If my kids will on occasion insist on turning their noses up at fruit in favour of crisps then I say “hooray” for a snack that will force a little element of something good into them.  And who am I to argue with this face?

Eating crisps 

This is a sponsored post for Walkers crisps and I received the products pictured as well as compensation for writing this review. However, all opinions are my own and I was under no obligation to write a positive review.

Review: Babasac baby sleeping bag

2 Feb

BBabasac baby sleeping bag

Sleep. Every parent’s favourite topic. My two have always slept somewhere between well and okayish on the dream scale. Ever since they were big enough, they’ve both been buttoned and zipped into sleeping bags with the aim of avoiding the problem of waking up with chilly protruding toes. The bags have lasted for two kids (pat on the back for thrifty mum, pity the boy who sleeps in his sister’s pink sleeping bag) and have served us so well that I’ve never bothered trying new ones. But then came the Babasac baby sleeping bag.

What struck me about the Babasac that led me to risk disturbing my 22-month-old’s pretty sound sleep? For starters, the Babasac is designed by Mama Designs Ltd who are behind (not literally!) the fabulous Mamascarf. When I was looking for a discreet breastfeeding cover, the Mamascarf revolutionised my experience of getting my boobs out in public. Not to undersell the design, but it’s amazing what a simple piece of material can do. Enough of my boobs though and back to the Babasac. To be honest, I wondered how different baby sleeping bags could be. Bag. Zip. Poppers. Obligatory cute animal. Job done.

For me, the exciting new thing about the Babasac is that it is multi-tog. Why take at least four sleeping bags a year to get your child through the first 3 years of their life when you can take half that number? The Babasac can be used either as a lightweight 1 tog bag, or, with its inner panels zipped in, a 2.5 tog vessel of cosiness. I was skeptical that this could be done securely but the neatly covered zips and industrial strength Velcro mean the panels aren’t going to budge. You can’t whip the panels in and out at speed but, quite frankly, if I could I wouldn’t be impressed. At first glance, the price of the bag may make you feel a little light-headed, ranging from £37.99 (0-6 months) to £39.99 (18-36 months), but if you consider that you’re getting two bags for the price of one then it’s a bit of a bargain. (Please don’t put the price up though Mama Designs!)

That’s the clever internal stuff and the price tag but the proof is of course in the wearing. When I first put my toddler into the bag I was a bit surprised to see that the shoulder fixings didn’t have two fittings like most other sleeping bags do. However, my disappointment was offset by discovering the gently elasticated neckline. This design actually seems more comfortable than other bags where the tightest shoulder fitting can seem a bit too snug and the looser fitting leaves a gaping neckline. Another plus point of the Babasac is that the zip around the outside extends beyond the foot end and up the other side by a few inches. My boy’s a wriggler so has an impressive ability to undo the zip with his feet and wail until they’re popped back in again. He hasn’t managed this yet with the Babasac. Nor has he unpopped himself and taken off his pyjamas like a mini-naturist, but time will tell!

The Babasac fabric designs are, if I’m not too old and square to use the word, groovy. Pink hearts, navy stars or green apples – a pleasant change from teddies and zebras and cheeky monkeys. I washed the bag before I used it (for the record it washed up nicely, laundry fans) but was a bit worried that it felt rather stiff. Once it was on though the thickness felt less uncomfortable and more like luxury. My boy was no doubt wondering what cheap rubbish he’s been dressed in for the last two years! The only slight hesitation I have is around the length of the bag. My son is a big lad for 22 months – he’s happy now in the 18-36 month sizing but I can’t see an awful lot of room left if he is to use it until he is 3 years old. A minor point for me as I’ll have moved him into a bed with conventional bedding well before then but something to consider if you have a BLT (Big Long Toddler).

The ultimate test of whether the babe digs the bag (and therefore whether the parents do) is how well they sleep in it. If there’s a sentence that sums up and recommends the Babasac then it’s this: Not a peep from the monitor.

Sleep well!

Thank you to Keira at Mama Designs Ltd who sent this product to me and expected nothing in return other than an objective review. Follow Mama Designs Ltd on Twitter: @MamaDesignsLtd. You can also visit their Facebook page.

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