Whatever the question, chocolate is the answer

You might know that I’m a little bit of a chocoholic – and that’s because it runs in the bloodstream. My mum (in the pic above) is a chocolatier and so we get lots of chocolatey treats all year round, and especially at Easter. There’s just something about Easter Egg chocolate that fills me with delight. As soon as mini eggs appear in the shops (which is pretty much Boxing Day) I have to buy a pack and munch the whole lot. Then I have a spare pack for baking – and my mini egg cheesecake is unrivalled.

There’s just something about that crispy shell of a mini egg, or maybe it’s because they’re not always available and it’s a clever marketing ploy.

I’m not fussy about chocolate

I don’t often eat white chocolate on its own as I find it incredibly sweet and it has a very creamy texture to me but I do like to include it in recipes, if anything adding it to my recipes helps my cheesecake hold its texture. I also love colouring it and using it to make cake decorations and contrasting it with milk or dark chocolate to give a different appearance.

I think there’s a time and a place for all chocolate – no matter what the question, chocolate is always the answer! I’ve always loved that scene in the movie Chocolat where the shop owner played by Juliette Binoche spins a Mayan wheel – and chooses the perfect chocolate for each client based on the visions that they see.

Well you know me, I have a creative and somewhat restless mind which changes with the wind. I can’t even decide wether I prefer white, dark or milk chocolate. I think I’d see a new picture every time I was asked to look at the wheel. I must say that every time I’ve been away on holiday I’ve found myself craving dairy milk because chocolate abroad just doesn’t taste the same, and it’s usually the first thing I buy for myself on the route home from the air port.

I don’t know the exact science but there’s something about the sugar/milk/chocolate ratio which is unique to British chocolate and it makes it different. I forget all about the educational aspects of visiting Cadbury World as soon as I discover the samples – they give you a pot of liquid chocolate to dive in to.

Now I can happily indulge with a large bar all to myself whilst watching a movie, but I couldn’t finish a small pot of it melted down, although Arlo didn’t have any trouble. Maybe it’s the comfort of having something familiar which I’ve grown up with which makes milk chocolate the type of bar I most commonly reach for – Can nostalgia make chocolate more comforting I wonder?

I’ll never forget visiting Paris for the first time and experiencing the chocolatiers in the bustling capital city. Did you know there are more chocolate shops in Paris than any other city in the world? I found myself taking my time choosing one of two rich treats from the huge variety available in every shop I passed by. I felt really grown up at the time and I chose darker pieces just because it seemed like that was the done thing, even though when I was younger I wasn’t much of a fan. I think this is when I discovered that I was in fact a dark chocolate lover. I have to say when I’m choosing from a selection of chocolate I am often drawn to the darker pieces now.

They seem to have a shine which is just unrivalled. I couldn’t demolish a whole bar of dark chocolate, just a small piece or two is rich enough for me. Whenever I have a new box of chocolates I reach for the leaflet and have to read the details for every single chocolate in the box before making my mind up, whereas everyone else in the family seems to pick one at random and try their luck – one thing I can’t stand in chocolate is anything coffee flavoured or fruit flavoured. I’d be gutted if I bit into a strawberry cream – I can give or take coconut and cherry but that’s the extent of it. I like to know what I’m about to dive in to.

I think darker chocolate has a greater depth of flavour and when I’m baking I usually use dark chocolate in cake mixes. Our (not so secret) family recipe for chocolate cakes actually involves melting some dark chocolate with water and adding this in to the mix. I also love using dark chocolate to make a ganache.

You don’t get the same texture when you try to do this with milk or white chocolate – in fact adding water is a big No-no. Again I don’t know why but there’s a lot of science behind what goes in to forming the textures of chocolate – Baking Quality Analyser creates machinery which looks at chocolate at a cellular level to affirm qualities in aerated chocolate.

There’s got to be a definitive ranking for the most popular chocolate bars out there, but I’m not brand loyal at all. There’s just so much variety out there it’s impossible to stick to one single option. There’s something so wonderful these days about all of the different toppings and fillings people are experimenting with. I’m a fan of honeycomb and of butterscotch pieces and caramel, and I even think there’s a difference in taste between a Flake and a Wispa even though they’re technically both made from Cadbury’s they just feel different to eat – and that’s without mentioning a twirl.

I don’t know how they do it, or what would make my perfect chocolate bar – in fact I think I’d like to see a bar which was like a little selection box all fused together so that I could snap off each piece, bit by bit as the mood suited. I wonder if that kind of bar has ever existed? One things for sure I’d keep it in the fridge as I like my bars to be cold and to snap – that a whole other debate for discussion.

The kitchen in the house that chaos built

The kitchen has taken me a long time to get right. What I thought I wanted was in fact totally wrong for this space and the available light. Nine months after I first began testing paint samples on the wall I finally have a space I’m happy with.

When the big flooring project was taking place last autumn I have to admit that even though I had a visualisation, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to a finished stage and I couldn’t even bear to unbox my crockery collections and think about adding finishing touches. I’ve always loved retro chequerboard floors and so I wasn’t willing to compromise on this at all. When I found my tiles on sale for £4 a pack I bought them and all the materials turning my kitchen in to a building site for a couple of weeks

There was nothing wrong with the kitchen I had in the first place, I always think these rooms should be functional more than stylish but at the same time the kitchen is the hub of our home and especially this last year I have spent so much time at home baking to while away the hours and now I’m looking forwards to hosting friends and family with my new found culinary skills. I started off last year thinking that I wanted to have the exact same kitchen as Monica from Friends. A warm and friendly space full of all sorts of random things.

I painted the cupboards blue with a matching cream accent and I loved it over the summer – but during winter this colour just made the space feel smaller. The blue paint seemed to absorb all of the colour. You can see I already began testing out samples on the little drawers as I hadn’t made my mind up. I did however love that the sage green matched my collection of Beryl Ware. Another dream was to have a wooden worktop but as I’m on a shoe string budget I opted for DC fix before committing to such a big change and I’m so pleased with the effect of the vinyl that I am currently saving up to replace the entire kitchen and get real wood to complete the look.

I finally settled on sage green for the cupboards and then used these adhesive stickers to give my kitchen tiles a makeover. I’ve done a complete U turn from my original plan but this works in the space. The food I cook most often has inspired this more Mediterranean vibe, and all of the bits I started unpacking just seem to match – my copper saucepans which I bought from a flea market and my collection of Le Creuset I’ve been hoarding for years. It’s been a light and airy space all through winter and now that the spring sunshine has begun to stream through it is such a bright space to be in.

The final piece of furniture to complete the kitchen was found in a skip of all places. A perfectly sized drop leaf table with barley twist legs. I’ve sanded down the top leaving the exposed natural wood and painted the legs to compliment the kitchen cupboards. The opposite end of my kitchen is “my happy place” – I’ve used all the different sample pots of colours on my chairs because I couldn’t make my mind up and some how it just works.

Like most kitchens in family homes – finishing touches are fresh flowers and children’s art work. It’s not perfect but it’s my new favourite place in the house that chaos built.

How to optimise your Home Storage

More people are renting storage containers now than ever before.  There’s a problem with letting go of things or downsize in living to find something affordable that has many people aching for more room.  Instead of building a shed on your property, or looking at St. Albert real estate, here are the top ways to optimize your home storage.

Take Care of Clutter

It would help if you always took when handling clutter to go through it and see what you need to keep and get rid of.  You can do this room by room or based on what areas are the most cluttered.  Go through each item, decide if it’s something you need to use within the next year or if it’s something that means a lot to you.  If neither is true, then the next decision is to donate, sell, or throw away the items you don’t want.

Be firm with yourself, and don’t keep things on the off chance that you might use them ten years from now, or just because it was a gift from someone despite you not liking it.  Instead, be honest and think about if you’d rather have it or the lack of clutter.

Organize Room By Room

Although it may be tempting to try and shove everything you don’t need into one storage area, this is a mistake that can leave you with more things than you need.  Instead, organize room by room and keep things stored in areas where they’d be of use.

For example, if you have a ton of extra blankets, instead of shoving them into a space in your home office, use a vacuum sealer to take excess air and store them in each bedroom.

This ensures that you always know where everything is, and also that once you fill that space, you’ll know you can’t buy more for it.  You can also use this method to be able to take organizing slowly and pace it out.

Consider Vertical Storage

Your storage doesn’t have to be closeted, under beds, or in your attic: eventually, you’ll run out of space, and you’ll also lose track of where you’ve put your belongings.  Instead of losing things, organize so that you can spot something when you need them.

If you need to store things for a craft room, consider setting up a pegboard and hanging your belongings so that you can spot them as you need them.  This plan can also work in spaces like your garage!  Hanging up bicycles and tools, setting items in places where you can reach them, and planning it out can even be aesthetically pleasing.  Although it’s no high-art, you can design your storage to look like the decor.

Every home is different, and you should consider what setup is best for your living situation.  If you find that you’re entirely out of space, it might be that you’ve outgrown your current home!  It’s not cheap to buy a new house, but it’s a sign you should start saving up for one.

The Botanical Gardens

Now that spring has finally made an appearance there’s an abundance of colour bursting in to life at the Botanical Gardens. We have been visiting the gardens since the 1980’s when I was a little girl so trips to the gardens are always nostalgic for me. There’s some areas of the gardens which remain unchanged and every time we visit we find a new corner to explore. This is a great place for us to visit with grandma now that we are allowed to meet up outdoors.

The peacocks greeted us as soon as we arrived. After checking in at reception we took a sideways route straight to the corner of the gardens as the glass houses remain closed due to social distancing requirements, but on a bright spring morning we were happy to remain outdoors, and we began to walk along the footpath to the left towards the bird houses.

An array of feathered friends could be heard chirruping from across the lawn as Arlo was delighted to make the acquaintance of a Macaw and a cockatoo, running around the bird houses several times and calling us to show us new birds he spotted each time.

The peacock seemed to follow us around and stood proud admiring the topiary bush of himself from the aviary and then appearing suddenly in flower beds as we wandered around.

We followed the paths around the circumference of the gardens, through a woodland walk and down to the school gardens which appears have just been replanted with vegetables. The butterfly house area right down the bottom was closed off but we did see freshly prepared beds ready for planting and so I expect this area will be in full bloom come summer time.

The “secret pool” at the bottom of the woodland walk and fern trail was a hub of activity for some blackbirds and Arlo enjoyed bug hunting amongst the roots of some of the more established trees, and this was the only area we encountered mud – most of the gardens are easy to explore with footpaths suitable for prams and strollers. There are some alternative little side paths to explore so it’s worth little ones wearing wellies.

We paused along the way for elevensies under a blossom tree. Throughout the gardens you can find peaceful rest stops like these benches but in busier areas such as the play area and main lawn seating areas are closed off for now to aid social distancing, it’s worth bringing along a picnic blanket for lunch on the lawns if you’re planning an all day visit.

We arrived early at about 10am and so we had the place to ourselves when we first arrived, lots of space for Arlo to enjoy being Arlo, we noticed pretty quickly that visitors arrived in droves and by the time we left the car park was full, but there’s plenty of space outdoors to explore.

We picked up a scavenger hunt trail from reception on our arrival and so Arlo was kept busy looking for different textures and nature finds throughout the gardens.

My absolute favourite spot is the pond which is abundant with fish, the magnolias scent was glorious and filled the air and we spent a while spotting goldfish and just enjoying the tranquility of this space. It’s hard to believe that you’re a stones throw from the city centre here.

The play area is another of our favourite areas, some of the spaces are sectioned off and Arlo was a little disappointed to not be able to play in the sand pit or on the big slides but I promised him we would roll down the grass lawns together so he didn’t remain downcast for long. We wandered up past the historical gardens and the fountain to find a brand new alpine rock area before heading to the promenade at the top of the lawns.

We had hot chocolates from the cafe hatch at the top of the gardens which is open for takeaways and then decided to do another circuit of the gardens taking a different route entirely, and chancing upon new spring blooms from different views. The gardens are well established here and there’s a huge variety of beautiful plants for garden fanatics to enjoy and so it’s ideal to visit with the grandparents.

We can’t wait to revisit in the summer when rainbows of flowers fill the space and hopefully live music will be able to go ahead, as planned. The restoration work on the bandstand has finally completed on and it’s looking absolutely beautiful at the moment. You must book online for visits to the gardens. Adults entry tickets are £6.00 and under 5’s are free. There is also a £2 charge for parking.

Cycling at Kingsbury Water Park

We had a wonderful afternoon at Kingsbury Water Park, we opted to hire bicycles to make sure we could see as much of the space as possible – and with fifteen different lakes and 600 acres to explore we will most certainly be coming back again.

The best bit about Kingsbury for Arlo was the play park area, and this is why we visited in the first place, as we had been visiting Middleton Hall just around the corner for the Easter trail. Kingsbury has one of the best play areas in the Midlands with multiple climbing frames to suit all ages – Arlo got a great chance to run around and whilst watching him from a safe distance I noticed Big Franks Cycle hire was open and so I went to enquire about hiring bikes on the spur of the moment.

You can hire bikes after filling in a short form and providing your driving licence as ID, there’s no need to book, but of course they are very busy and you might have to wait for a bike to become available – they have a range of different options, this three wheeled contraption with a seat and a safety buckle for Arlo was the machine of his dreams. He sat and enjoyed the high life taking in the views and munching on his snacks whilst I pedalled around the lakes.

There’s three different cycling routes you can take, the staff at the cycle hire were happy to give us advice and so we opted for route three, (the longest one) despite it being many years since I’ve ridden on a bike we were assured it would take us about an hour and this was spot on, even though we paused a few times an route to feed the ducks. The trails themselves were easy to cycle with surfaces paths throughout, all wide enough to pass walking families safely.

Whilst concentrating on cycling I couldn’t take many pictures along the way but the views were glorious even for an overcast day. We encountered people fishing and horse riding and we also passed alongside the Echills wood railway which is having some renovation work done whilst closed (due to distancing restrictions). I’ve promised Arlo we will come back and ride the train as soon as we can. Following the train route we found another fabulous adventure play park to explore at the end of a cycle trail and paused here for ice cream from the van and to meet some geese and moor hens.

It’s £4.50 to park at Kingsbury for the full day, the cafe is open at the moment for takeaway food and the toilet facilities are also open and you can purchase a day fishing permit from the visitor centre. Check out the Facebook page for the most up to date visitor information.

The bicycle I chose was £14 to hire for an hour. There are various different bicycles at different prices to hire for varying lengths of time.

Exploring Middleton Hall

This beautiful Manor House and it’s grounds is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the Midlands, it’s just around the corner from Kingsbury water park, and makes for a delightful couple of hours outdoors. The hall is currently closed due to covid restrictions but with spring in bloom there’s plenty to explore within the grounds. On our visit this week we were delighted to be able to complete the Easter egg trail.

With nine eggs to find Arlo was ready to explore the grounds. The beautiful lake which you are greeted with as you enter the drive way is a sight to behold and the backdrop to the gardens. Before we set off I paused to grab hot chocolates from the cafe which is offering. Takeaway service.

We started our egg hunting on the nature trail, following a path alongside the lake and were greeted with our first egg very quickly. Giant and brightly coloured they are easy to spot from a distance. Each egg had clues which we had to solve to find letters which were then unscrambled to receive a treat at the end of the trail. With a little bit of help from Mummy Arlo was able to spot the clues – I noticed that families were enjoying solving the clues together, with older children participating. Some of the puzzles had us adults scratching our heads!

Along the nature trail we also spotted lots of fairy doors and ladybugs hidden in the trees, Middleton Hall is going to be hosting a fairy trail soon if you don’t have time to head out this Easter – this gives us an excuse to return again another day. Once we were satisfied we’d found all the eggs along the nature trail (HINT – it’s worth heading right to the bottom of the trail) we retraced our steps back to the lawn, pausing to explore the bug hotels for inhabitants along the way.

The lakeside path took us through a beautiful orchard next, which was ablaze with daffodils. We wandered through the trees and found some more eggs and clues to tick off our list and pausing to take in the views across the lake and feed the ducks too. Arlo loves being outdoors and exploring, and he was absolutely thrilled to find a door to a “secret garden” not far from this spot.

The walled garden is on the verge of bursting in to colour, it’s fascinating to visit places like this several times a year to see how things grow and change and appreciate the effort which goes in to maintaining such a beautiful space. On one side of the garden there’s rows upon rows of flower beds and we found another egg and clue hidden in a corner. Arlo’s has been planting flowers at home and so he’s very interested in plants, flowers and all of the colours at the moment.

On the adjacent side of the walled space there’s a wonderful herb garden. We took our time here as the clue had us hunting around in the flower beds and whilst we were there we set about smelling the leaves of some of the more unusual herbs growing and having a little bit of a sensory experience too.

Once we solved this clue we had eight letters and were almost sure of the answer but had one last egg to find to complete the task and so Arlo ran off, hot on the trail because he’d spotted this one on the way in and then he proudly took his clue card across to the yard claim his prize, and he also got a sticker because he found a golden egg on his travels.

Middleton Hall is open from Wednesdays to Sundays to visit, adults tickets are £7 and under fives are free. Visits must be pre-booked online and the Easter trail is running up to the 11th April. Click the image below to head to the website.

You can also purchase plants and once restrictive lift visit the courtyard which has an array of small businesses hosted in the stables and a lovely new coffee shop too.

Home is where the heart (and office) is.

The last twelve months has been a time of upheavals for everyone.

We’ve all had time to reassess our priorities and for many of us it’s not likely that we’ll be going “back to normal” once lockdown finally ends. Working from home made me really value my living space and I decided back last spring when I realised that the lockdown wasn’t going to last just a few weeks that I was going to renovate my entire home. Hence the “house that chaos built” project commenced in to being.

Pre lockdown I didn’t spend too much time at home at all. I was out working full time Monday to Friday, driving up and down the country commuting for business meant that I wouldn’t even be at home for breakfast and to see the sun come. I would end up socialising with friends in restaurants when I had time, and then the weekends were always dedicated to having adventures with Arlo.

Suddenly I began to reassess our space and decide to make some changes. One of the first things I did was to swap all of the bedrooms around. As fun as it seemed to be able to work from my sofa, it didn’t help with productivity and I found it hard to switch off in the evenings. Then I also made sure to turn my living spaces in to relaxing environments for both myself and Arlo to enjoy.

I wanted to make sure that as I was working from home that I allocated the space accordingly and so I turned the spare bedroom in to a home office for myself. This was important, I needed to have a specific space so that work didn’t encroach on my home life. A place for the laptop to remain and a space which I could shut the door on and forget about to enjoy some down time in the evenings.

For many the lines became blurred and the work life balance was out of kilter, people balancing childcare were squeezing in emails between meals and the bedtime routine and I felt permanently attached to my tech. I found myself checking work emails in bed and flicking through sales reports instead of watching a movie. When I realised that many companies were doing away with their offices permanently I knew I was doing the right thing by allocating a home office room. If anything, I needed to have a better background for when I used zoom.

I also wanted to change my kitchen and reception rooms – reconsidering my living space entirely. I was so used to a lifestyle full of social gatherings which revolved around meeting friends for meals in restaurants that transitioning to being at home all of the time was a major change. I decided to make the most of lockdown and plunged myself in to learning new recipes and spent a lot more time in the kitchen than what I was used to, and so of course this space ended up having a makeover as a priority. I found my love for DIY during lockdown and there’s not a single space in my home which hasn’t been changed in one way or another.

I was lucky enough to have the space I needed and so I’ve been choosing new paint colours and repurposing furniture. Some friends have used the last year to make some enormous changes to their homes. Adding an extra room through a loft or garage conversion has been the approach taken for some to increase the living space. For this type of major change theres obviously huge costs involved and so it’s useful to be able to use a remortgage calculator to help look at the figures and work out affordability to make these projects spring in to life.

Now we know that working from home isn’t going to disappear I’m glad I made changes to my home, and feel lucky enough to have had a spare bedroom. My home is a place I’m happy to spend most of my time in. I’m looking forward to entertaining friends from home and of summer evenings with barbecues and watching my son play in the garden as the sun sets. In fact the joy I have experienced from renovations has inspired and motivated me to look at a career changes for myself.

For many friends the need to have separate working/living environments and a more comfortable living space has been the driving force for a decision to relocate.

For so long the decisions about home location have been based upon the commute and distance to transport links. Now that working from home is a viable solution for the majority of the working week, friends have been able to look for larger family homes – happy with being further away from the office, commuting only for a couple of days a week in exchange for an extra bedroom, a larger garden and a larger space for dining and entertaining away from the main commuter belt suburbs. Being able to work from home has provided many people the opportunity to find larger family homes outside of the often over priced popular commuter areas.

To buy or not to buy is the main question.

With so much uncertainty the property market has been interesting and making huge decisions about relocating when the job market is also unstable has been a real challenge. Renting for many seems like a simpler option with less commitment when there’s so much upheaval. There’s so many things to factor in to choosing a home.

“When the chancellor announced the changes to stamp duty thresholds it spurred many people in to making life changing decisions.

Assessing affordability is the main concern for anyone planning to relocate and it’s difficult to know where to begin when it comes to making such important decisions especially now when you have to factor in unanticipated personal circumstances, especially if you’re a first time buyer and used to paying rent.

Home is most certainly where the heart is, but it’s also where the office is and where pretty much everything else is for the foreseeable future so it’s now more than ever important to make the right choices and It’s great to have a wealth of information accessible via online resources to help make important decisions.

Home learning with Play Osmo

The school holidays are about to commence, another few weeks at home, after only being back for a few weeks seems almost crazy! We’ve covered every messy play idea imaginable and it’s fabulous that parks and tourist attractions are starting to open up. Like most families we all still need a bit of down time at home, wether that’s a calm hour every day as part of your routine or just for those days when you just need the kids to sit still so you can get a meal prepped, or rainy days when the kids have exhausted their imaginations, and want something fun to do Play Osmo is the solution.

I wrote about our experience with the Osmo Little Genius starter kit in May last year and have been regularly using four different apps with Arlo (aged 3) ever since. I had so much interest as soon as I shared a picture on our Instagram page and one of the most commonly asked questions is about the longevity of the system.

If you are new to Osmo, it’s a relatively unique concept. The idea is that children use physical game pieces to play with, and these connect via some technical wizardry to your devices and create an interactive game platform. I created a walk through video to demonstrate exactly how one of the games work.

When we were asked to take a look at two more game add ons I jumped at the chance. Logan is aged 8 and in year four. He’s extremely diligent for his age, over lockdown he has missed school. Constantly finding things for an inquisitive young mind is a challenge but watching Arlo with the Osmo system intrigued him.

Logan has been trying to figure out how the device reads the play pieces, and also likes to try and predict the game play. The pizza Co game was perfect for him – pitched as suitable for ages 5-12.

You can use the Osmo Parent app to create profiles for different children and installing the apps on different devices is a straightforward process. Logan uses a Fire Tablet and so he also has his own base now, whereas Arlo uses my iPad. There are no discernible differences with the game play between the different devices which makes things simple for a parent.

The Pizza Co game set comes with two trays of play pieces and a pizza base. One tray contains a variety of pizza toppings and the other has a collection of money in different denominations. These all fit neatly inside the Osmo containers which neatly stack for storage which is another neat little design nuance which is so carefully considered.

Turning the pizza game on for the first time you are introduced to a character who owns a pizza shop and basically tells you he’s going to go on a holiday and leave you to run the place. The game play is more complex and challenging than the ones we have experienced before, it’s fairly intuitive to follow and so would be suitable even for children who have never experienced Osmo before.

You begin with some easy challenges, replicating pizza designs on the screen which customers request – adding 3 mushroom play pieces to the pizza base and then sliding it to the right to put it in the oven. The device picks up the reflection of the play pieces and the movement and you see your cooked pizza appear before a customer. If you get it right they are happy, and if you get it wrong then…. they’re not!

Once they have finished their pizza you get notifications and are asked to collect their payment and organise their change. This is done by flipping the play mat over, and then children have to do the maths. When we first started playing, the game play was fairly simple to get used to the process, but we found it got increasingly more complex.

The game introduced different customers and so Logan had to quickly respond to different orders and instead of being a straightforward request we had customers who shared their likes and dislikes so Logan had to think and invent his own recipes, working out a balance between olives and tomatoes. The game also added in customers with different levels of patience, and VIP’s to take care of.

The settings within the app allow you to adjust the difficulty and Logan chose himself to increase this because the maths was “too easy” – here I found that you could select the complexity of the maths – from basic round numbers to allowing more complex sums with notes and coins required.

As the game play progressed I also noticed that it got increasingly more complex and Logan was really impressed with this, I feel the app responds to the abilities of the child and introduces more challenging problems at a great pace to keep them motivated. There are different levels to complete within this game too. It organises challenges based on paying rent for the day and so you not only have to add up your takings but also consider the delivery charges for stock.

Logan really was fascinated by this game, and I’m impressed with the sheer amount of ways learning objectives have been incorporated. One thing which really surprised us with this game was just how nicely Logan played with Lincoln. Lincoln is aged 5 and has just finished his first year of school in reception. Lincoln also has his leg in a plaster cast at the moment (he’s a particularly energetic child).

Logan recognised that Lincoln could help him with the pizza game and so invited him to join him, teaching him how to follow the instructions and apply toppings so that he could focus on sorting out the change and completing customer orders more quickly. These two boys never sit still for long, and rarely together.

Lincoln was delighted when I revealed we also had a second game to try out, and this one was for him to lead the way. The packaging for the detective agency is lovely, and slightly different to the other games. There’s a selection of different play boards to use and a magnifying glass, all stored in a neat little file.

The only way I can explain this game is to compare it to Where’s Wally – but on a much more interactive level. Each play board is a map of a different location. The game begins in the fictional Osmo Town, and gently eases you in to a fictional plot line.

The concept is that you are a detective and the first game sends you on a search for a thief, who conveniently leaves clues as you chase him around the town. Lincoln had to look intently at the game board to find the clues – and then slide the map along the table in front of the tablet and hold the magnifying glass over the answer to the clue.

This sounds really complex but it’s really easy to pick up and the first few levels teach you the game play, and how to utilise hints if you are stuck. The positive feedback within the Osmo world is fabulous and having constant praise for completing tasks creates a positive learning experience and for Lincoln who loves role play this game was perfect.

Of course Logan was also interested in this game and we were able to flick between child profiles with ease to adjust the difficulty settings. As the game progresses it asks you to utilise different maps to follow your international criminals – and very quickly we were pouring over a map of Rio de Janeiro.

The app pointed out different “real” geographical features based in the city we were exploring giving a fabulous insight in to geography and history which really interested the boys as this mirrored some of the activities they had covered in school and they were delighted to share their knowledge.

As we became confident in chasing clues, they quickly got harder. It went from looking for a specific character or building, to looking for “five food items” – and then I also noticed that we had a timer and countdown clock to find the items on the board too.

The problem solving aspect of the game is probably the best thing about play Osmo, children are given all the tools and resources they need but have to actually think and use a variety of different skills to progress within the game and again, just like all of the other games it uses technology to track your child’s progress and adjust the game play settings to adapt as your child becomes more proficient.

We have been playing with our new games for two weeks now, and still have only just scraped the surface – I love that the kids feel happy that they have had their tech time and have actually been engaging in interactive play rather than absorbed in watching videos on YouTube. We can complete a “level” within 15-20 minutes in most of the Osmo games so there’s an easy way to organise tablet time and create intervals for play for families who like to limit screen time too.

There’s something for everyone within the collection, learning through play like this is great because kids don’t even realise they’re picking up new skills. Watching Logan actually adjust difficulty settings himself to make maths challenges harder was wonderful and finding something which helps Lincoln sit still for longer than five minutes is a win. Take a look at the full range over on Amazon

The products were provided by Osmo for the purposes of a social media campaign, all views and opinions expressed are my own.

Exploring mini beasts – A Tuff Tray invitation for pre schoolers

Like most three year olds Arlo is absolutely obsessed with bugs and so now that spring is blooming the garden is full of them and they are a great natural resource to explore. We have been moving around the pots and digging up the borders for the last few weeks and so have found quite a few creatures in the garden. This afternoon I set up a tray and lots of resources for him to explore. We spent all evening in the garden – the lighter evenings are fabulous for fun now the clocks have gone forwards.

You will need:

  • Tuff tray (eBay)
  • Mini beast insert (Tiger Moon)
  • Bug hunting kit (B&M)
  • Soil
  • Scraps of paper
  • Mini beasts hunt (Twinkl resources)
  • Toy creatures (various)

I began with this tuff tray insert from Tiger Moon, a wipeable mat which rolls away nicely when not in use and then I added a bug catching tool kit, which was from one of the high street bargain shops for £3. The mat itself has bugs hidden in the picture so I covered this with soil – this I itself would be enough providing tools to scrape and reveal, but I like to go wild and hoped we’d find some real bugs in the garden.

I wasn’t sure if we would actually find outdoors because sometimes you just aren’t that lucky when you’re looking – I have quite a few little creatures in the toy stash and so I quickly hid these in the compost piles and added handfuls of crimped paper on the tray too for an added texture. This made it immediately obvious what the focus of the activity was – Arlo spotted the tray from the window and almost tripped up because he couldn’t get out of the back door fast enough – he dove straight in with his hands exclaiming every time he found something.

As we are close to Easter I also decided to hide some bugs hidden in eggs around the garden. This is a great alternative to hunting for chocolate at this time of year and a way to re-use the plastic eggs – I keep them handy all year round so Arlo knows exactly what to do. I tried to hide them in places where we might happen upon real bugs and we were not disappointed. As soon as he spotted the first egg which wasn’t too far from the tray he went zooming off around the garden, running back to the tray every time he found one to show me and match it up.

Our tiger moon insert had some lovely enlarged bug pictures so I planned it to match a toy to every single one and these were great to to point out the features of each bug, and at just the right time a woodlouse decided to grace us with his presence and make acquaintances with his portrait.

I also printed off a twinkl resources tick sheet and attached that to a clip board and also propped up one of his favourite bug books and so with each new bug we identified it counting the legs and looking at the body parts and colours and I read out some facts. I like to add books to our activities so that we can bring them indoors after the play activity and pull them out as a refresher because once we have done something like this it becomes a hot topic and Arlo likes to pull out books from the shelf himself to explore when he’s got an idea too.

We spent quite a bit of time matching and counting out our toy bugs, sorting them from largest to smallest and by colour before the woodlouse appeared and we decided to go looking for some real creatures – Arlo didn’t have to look far, he lifted up a patch of astroturf and was delighted to find all sorts underneath. Worms, slugs and even a centipede were all bought back to the tray gently to inspect.

The highlight of Arlo’s afternoon was however finding a ladybird, which stuck around to play with us for quite a while, even inspecting our new bug house which has now been given a prominent spot in the garden. We also have a nice little collection of snail shells which Arlo wants to keep as treasures.

We can’t wait for a bug filled summer – Next week we’re going to plant the seeds of all sorts of flowers and plants we’ve had some very interesting conversations today about how important it is to look after bugs and creatures, I don’t know where he gets half of his information from but he’s beginning to grasp an understanding of ecosystems now.

You never know quite where a tuff tray set up is going to end up, but it’s always an enjoyable experience to create an invitation to play with so many open ended avenues for little minds to explore. It’s not just about making a mess, it’s about inspiring conversations and introducing new concepts.

The mini beats tuff tray insert is currently on offer for £12 at Tiger Moon. Click the logo to head to the website.

Tiger Moon Kindly provided the mini beast tuff tray insert for review however all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.