Christmas at the Lower Drayton play Barn

We have had the most wonderful time at the play barn. We love it here anyway with one of the biggest indoor soft play areas and all the usual farm animals to meet and greet but it’s had a festive make over which makes it all the more magical. When we arrived we were greeted by a friendly elf who handed us over our passports and gave us a little bit of orientation – the kids of course wanted to have a run around the soft play before we did anything so we enjoyed our adults complimentary hot drinks tokens from Honey Pots Cafe before starting our adventure.

The adventure began when we took a trip up in the “naughty or nice” lift and were greeted at the top by several elves who enthralled the kids. Stamping their passport for the first time and getting them involved in a conversation about Christmas to suss out if they’d been nice enough to meet Santa – and sure enough the kids were all invited to meet the big guy himself who enjoyed having a chat with them all and was happy to let us snap away lots of pictures. One of the good elf’s captured a family picture for us all too.

After our Santa meet the kids were given free reign to choose their own gifts from Santa’s toy shop and there were lots of different toys to choose from – all surprisingly good quality for a grotto and each managed to find something they loved before we moved on to complete our passport stamps.

Upstairs in the play barn the party rooms have been beautifully transformed in to different workshops – our first was a glitter heaven and each of the children were invited to get crafty with their own wooden decorations. Our elves were on hand to help with every step and fully prepared with all the colours and supplies they needed to achieve their stamp.

The upper soft play pitch has been turned in to a faux snow ball fight zone – with white balls and balloons everywhere this is a lovely zone for a high octane snowball tournament or a sensory moment for little ones to soak up the lights colours and textures. We had a little play and earnt another passport stamp before we checked out my personal favourite room – the gingerbread bakery.

The staging for this room wouldn’t be out of place in one of the garden centres we’ve visited recently, the attention to detail is brilliant and the kids were invited to pop on their aprons and get busy with some sweets and icing to decorate their own gingerbread cookies. Again our elves were very attentive and made sure every child had a lovely experience and a fabulous cookie to take home (or munch on).

My sister and I got a little bit emotional with the kids writing their letters to Santa, it’s the first time they’ve really been able to write their own letters – Arlo asked for robots and bakugans, Lincoln asked for a scooter and Paloma just wrote to say “I love you, from Paloma” – they spent so much time writing neatly before posting letters.

In between all of the activities we managed to head out to see the animals – Arlo asked a very patient elf the name of every single small animal and put her to the test – Rocket the Guinea pig was a firm fave and he decided to name the baby chicks after Santa’s reindeer – and then ran out of names so then we had Rudolph 2, 3, 4, 5…. You get the picture!

Downstairs at Honey Pots we opted for a couple of portions of chips and a toastie meal deal – there was quite a variety of different food options including hot/cold and lots of great looking cakes too. The kids ran around the indoor soft play for a while and then we ventured to the picnic barn with the big slides and the inflatables – we practically had this space to ourselves and spent a good hour running around like loons before the cold defeated us and we went inside.

Ham and cheese toastie meal deal from Honey Potts

Our passport had one final activity left to complete so we went to find out what the story was all about and found a movie screen with hay bales and blankets set up for a viewing of a mischievous elf story featuring many characters we had met throughout the day. It was at this point we realised we hadn’t been outdoors and absolutely needed to find the zip wire and bouncing pillow.

As the sun set we had the outdoor area to ourselves and had one final hurrah with some role play in the fire engines before we said our goodbyes to the elves and the cattle who were turning in for the night. I genuinely can’t recommend this experience highly enough. It was a fabulous day throughout and the team at the farm were working so hard to make sure every child had a magical time. The place has everything you need to capture that Christmas spirit and get you feeling festive.

Xmas at the farm is available to book until Christmas Eve – peak and off peak pricing applies – check out their website here for more information.

Our tickets today were provided for the purposes of review however as always all thought and opinions expressed are our own

ProjeX – toy review

Arlo getting some practice in.

From the moment we unboxed this game we have all been fiercely competing against each other for household champion bragging rights. ProjeX is like one of the retro arcade games and the best thing is you don’t need any screens – just the base, blasters and a blank wall.

ProjeX – inside the box

The box comes with a base, two blasters and three interchangeable cards for different targets plus full instructions on a sheet. The three different card options are targets, aliens and my personal favourite – ducks! The base has a slot to install the cards and two buttons which programme the game play – a simple LED screen flashes in to action when you press power and the base also lights up – and for the best game play the room lights need to be off.

The base whirrs in to action – rotating and moving up and down projecting the chosen targets on to the walls around the home and then it’s simply a case of directing your blaster at your intended target and firing. Each different target has its own unique sounds which have had us in stitches. Everyone in the family has been involved in the game play in one way or another. You can play solo, head to head – blue vs red to see who gets the highest score or you can choose to team up and work together to defeat the ducks and get the highest score possible!

Team work

There’s five different game play options and three different levels to choose from – I’ve been finding the kids (and adults) practicing their skills with a bit of solo practice at every opportunity as we’re planning a family tournament on our next rainy day. I’m really pleased with this toy because it reminds me of nostalgic childhood games and really does involve everyone as it’s so simple to get to grips with. The blasters have target pointers which help – the little red and blue dots track across the wall so you can get an accurate aim.

The pesky ducks!

We have been using this in the front room where we have a nice clear light wall to project on to and can draw the curtains for darkness. We find ProjeX works well lower down, so positioned on the floor or on a coffee table rather than a dining table and so far with hours of game play we’re still on the one set of batteries. (4xAA – not included). Overall I’m very impressed – ProjeX is available in Smyths with a RRP of £49.99 and provides hours of family fun.

ProjeX provided for the purposes of review but as always all views expressed are our own

Laser Pegs toy review

We are such huge fans of construction toys in this house so we jumped at the chance to review a new range and as soon as we received a box containing pieces which light upthe kids wanted to dive right in. We were sent two Laser Pegs construction kits – both of which are “multi models” which means that you can create 4 different build projects with each kit using the same bricks in different combinations. Inside each box is the usual booklet with step by step instructions for one model and then the images on the box show you different forms the kit can take and you can find info on the website to try these out.

I wasn’t sure that a light up brick would be anything other than a gimmick, the packaging has a “try me” button to test the light out but I wondered how this would work within a build and then I quickly realised once we opened the boxes that most of the pieces in the kit are transparent which made complete sense. the instructions themselves were intuitive for Logan to follow immediately with the diagrams being close to scale.

The pieces are split in to different bags inside the box and we like to use party platter type trays (that’s a mum hack for you all to try out) – we pour out the pieces and attempt to keep them in some sort of order – especially for longer building projects if we have to leave them over night but as it happens we became so engrossed with these kits that we managed them in one go. The yellow one was built almost entirely independently by Logan aged 9. He had a little issue with the orientation of some pieces at a difficult stage but for the most part this kept him amused for over an hour and Arlo waited patiently the entire time taking on the role of supervising project manager as he wanted the finished digger to play with.

Arlo’s loves building too but based on the level of difficulty of the instructions I would say that the age rating is spot on at 8+ – there’s hundreds of fiddly pieces in each kit which make for really interesting final builds. We (Logan and I) feel that not only do they make functional vehicles for play but with the lights they make awesome display models for older children too. This is the kind of gift I love for Christmas as it’s one the kids can pull out and enjoy over the holidays to stave off boredom or to use as a bonding experience with other adults.

We did find a couple of pieces to be fiddly during the build, including putting the tyres on to the wheels but it didn’t take anything away from the build experience. We love toys like this which deliver excellent play value, the red racer took us slightly longer to build collaboratively as it had more pieces and steps.

Overall I’m impressed, I did a quick check and found these models and others in the Laser Pegs range available at a variety of retailers from £15 to £30. Logan has gone away to research the other build steps but he didn’t want to dismantle these so I guess they’ll be residing on the mantle piece amongst the Christmas decorations for a while.

Mason Cash – In the Forest boards – giveaway

If anything makes Christmas complete it’s got to be the food. I love preparing all sorts of delicious treats for family and friends as they visit our home and as the “hostess with the mostest” I love to make sure there’s lots of festive details. These wooden boards caught my eye as I browsed through magazines for new bits and pieces for my kitchen and I instantly imagined presenting all sorts on these boards.

The detail on the board

These serving boards from the In the Forest range at Mason Cash are ideal, and I love these because the detail isn’t too festive so it means these boards can be used throughout the year. I like to pop mine up on the kitchen side so that they add a decorative touch even when not in use. I’ve used the round one for cheese and the longer one made the perfect board to place in the centre of my table for condiments.

Both of these boards have also been useful for serving cakes and there will no doubt be plenty more of these to come over the next few weeks. The bamboo boards themselves are 15mm thick and are etched with designs inspired by folk tales from the mid 19th century. I feel they really work well in my traditionally decorated kitchen but would also not look out of place in a hygge or more modern style, especially throughout December. The long board is 450mm x 160 mum and the round board comes in at 320mm in diameter.

The enchanted garden at Webbs of Wychbold – review

Quite possibly the most beautiful festive experience I’ve ever had. It’s impossible to describe just how magical the light trail around the riverside gardens is but I will do my best – my pictures do not do this justice at all. Arlo at age four was enthralled throughout and I was left feeling quite emotional and overwhelmed by the environment, especially when we walked through the woodland path and found a rainbow bridge having recently lost our pet cat.

We usually visit Santa at the grotto Webbs Garden Centres – this event is entirely new and the attention to detail the team have put in to decorating the gardens is truly remarkable, it’s a beautiful place to visit anyway but this is something else. There are the most beautiful light installations throughout, with different themed areas and displays to happen upon, and lights placed in some of the best places to also showcase the beauty of the gardens themselves. Plenty of different spots to pause for festive family photos.

I highly recommend this to families looking for a festive experience. Arlo is four and so found them entire hour we spent in the gardens magical – he recognised the stories behind the gingerbread man and the Jack and the bean stalk displays but his favourite element was the woodland walk with all the different animals. The entire experience took us about an hour.

The theme is based on fairy tales you will instantly recognise with large books throughout featuring popular quotes. The entire garden is filled with Christmas music and sound effects as you walk around I’m not sure if they’re on a loop or there are motion sensors as each display had its own unique sounds. We heard “fe fi fo fum” as we passed the giant and ran across the bridge as we heard a troll.

If you’re familiar with the gardens you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that Santa is near to the hobbit house, in a purpose built hut, and he was lovely and chatty with Arlo, reminding him of course to be good and to leave him a mince pie on the big day. Just before we turned the corner to greet him snow machines were bursting out flakes from their spots hidden in the trees and Arlo gasped in amazement.

The important info:
adults £16 / kids £10 / under twos free off peak (£18/£12 through December) book here

Suitable for prams and wheelchairs throughout as the entire route is on pathways

Open from 4.30pm. And this was just right for us as it began to get dark as we entered.

There are lanterns to purchase at the beginning £3 each or two for £5

A little hot chocolate hut in the middle selling some festive treats like candy canes etc.

There is a pop up marquee at the end with a toasty fire, drinks and snacks to purchase. Arlo had a kids hotdog and chips and I drooled at the red velvet cake.

You greet Santa near the end of the experience, you don’t book, just have a little chat as you pass by his hut and of course take some pictures – his elf gives the little ones a set of stickers and a badge.

There are also the Hygge pods close by to book for a special treat £25 per head for a festive afternoon tea and Prosecco (minimum four people)

Of course the garden centre is open too and worth popping in just to see the displays inside and make some festive purchases. Arlo loves the sing along snowmen right at the entrance. Webbs of Wychbold is the place to visit to invi tree the festive spirit in for 2021.

Morphun – Total Stem – review

I feel as though I am obsessed with construction, I always have been and so it’s little surprise that this is rubbing off on Arlo. We have all sorts of sets, from the ever popular childrens classics such as Lego, to some newer toy kits featuring magnets and we love sitting down and playing with them – from following instructions to build something “properly” to just coming up with something completely new. It was such a great day for me to bring out some of my childhood Lego bricks to play with Arlo.

I’m currently in the midst of my teacher training and constantly looking at ways to encourage children to engage with Design and Technology as a subject and I’m absolutely fascinated with problem solving and “design through making.” It seems obvious when playing to take some building blocks and try to figure out how to make something – if it doesn’t work then you fiddle around until it does. That’s the fun part.

This trial and error process is essential to design and something which designers in industry participate in regularly but already I have seen children in schools take designs and sketches which they don’t think are good enough and try to scrunch them up to put them in the bin. It’s my mission to encourage children to realise that making mistakes is part of the design process and whatever the project is, you can take an initial sketch or model and annotate it – talk about the bits which don’t work and then figure out how to improve it – it’s very rare to get something right the first time and it’s why we produce models. Some of the worlds most inventive designs have been modelled during the preliminary stages using children’s toys.

This brings me on to the Morphun Total Stem kit I was kindly given to share with you. After spotting a brand new kit on display at the Blog on conference I went to last month I was super excited to see a huge box which includes pulleys and gears and all sorts of other bits and bobs to build with. This is a completely new style of construction kit and the huge box I came home with has been so much fun to explore. Inside are numerous different pieces and a full set of instructions including teaching resources and worksheets for building projects for kids aged 5-10.

I of course started to play with Arlo at home. I pulled out some of the simplest worksheets and we began to make a simple vehicle by slotting pieces together. It’s quite tricky to get the hang of at first because the way these pieces fit together is truly unique – but once you figure it out then it’s intuitive and you can build really solid projects. I was really excited to put together a pulley system to help him rotate the pieces of a “digger” to raise the arm. He was engaged with this throughout the build and then played with the toy we made for quite a while. Often when we use build kits the final piece isn’t robust enough for play and so this was a very pleasant surprise. In fact it took us quite a while to deconstruct it when wanted to make something new.

With quite complex parts involved Arlo isn’t quite there when it comes to building his own mechanical designs independently. He’s happy to slide random pieces together and also work with me on projects and ask for advice on which moving parts will work best but I’m hoping that using these from such a young age will give him insight in to the types of systems required for developing skills in robotics and engineering – it sounds almost far fetched but finding fun in problem solving through play with STEM toys at this age really is useful.

To get a different perspective I invited my nephew Logan to play with this set a she’s at the top end of the age range. He pulled out one of the most challenging projects – a helicopter build with pulleys and gears. We sat together initially and I demonstrated how the pieces work before he was able to independently follow the instructions on the worksheet. Being new to the process he made some mistakes with the orientation of pieces and figured out through the build that he had to go back and make adjustments. Instead of getting frustrated with this he was excited when he figured out these issues and I got a sense of achievement through him explaining exactly why something wouldn’t work and how he was correcting himself.

We spent two hours playing – when he finished the project and he finished with a huge helicopter – this used quite a lot of different pieces and we talked about what would happen if we changed gear sizes or if we began rotating the pulley systems a different way. Instead of just explaining the theory behind the process we were able to build and experiment further and I feel that he got a really good understanding of how systems work. The box also had a healthy supply of pieces left for us to continue to build and play.

Seeing how this new resource engages both a four year old and a ten year old (and myself as an adult) for so much time is really refreshing. I see these as a great investment for a home or indeed in a classroom setting. I’ve spotted Morphun kits available to order in the U.K. on Amazon and I feel that the price ranges for the starter kits are comparable with other brands of construction toys and offer great play value considering the longevity potential for use and the educational play value. There are add on kits and I’m also intrigued by the math and literary sets too.

Stickle Bricks review

Focusing on his construction

Arlo is a huge fan of construction, ever since he has been able to place stacking bricks on top of one another he’s been happy – able to flex his creativity and experiment with materials and resources. This had also been noticed at nursery and we constantly got feedback about how well he did with problem solving. I used to look at the nursery app and see pictures of him playing and try and continue the activities at home, but now he’s started school I’ve got no idea what he gets up to most of the time. He tells me in his own way, but I end up having to put things together to figure out what he’s explaining – I’d been scratching my head for weeks when he started telling me about his teachers building bricks.

Adding smaller pieces and using those fine motor skills

We visited every toy shop I could think of and nothing I pointed out was right, in fact I was beginning to think he was taking me on a wild goose chase but then out of the blue the opportunity came to review Stickle Bricks from Hasbro, and memories of playing with these at school myself came flooding back. I had a quick search online and found that they were available in Costco so we took a trip together one rainy weekend and sure enough as soon as he spotted them he was delighted.

Finding the bricks in Costco

We couldn’t get to the checkout fast enough (I insisted on a detour to the bakery section first) and then had to delve in to the box as soon as we got home. This 200+ piece mega set has everything you need to create all sorts of fun. Suitable for 18m plus too which is great, in fact I can’t believe we haven’t got these in our playroom already.

Pigs can fly (apparently)

If you aren’t sure of what I’m talking about these building blocks have their own unique sticky bits which help you build. Unlike other construction toys accuracy isn’t the most important as as long as you have the motor skills to push two pieces together then you can build and they’re pretty stable in terms of construction.

A close up of the bricks and the sticky bits

This set contains many basic pieces for imaginary play and lots of unique bits and bobs such as wheels, farm yard animals and figure heads. The cardboard box with a carry handle for storage has lots of images which help with ideas and there’s a little leaflet inside – Arlo spotted a tractor and an airplane which he wanted to create and then began approaching the parts with his own ideas, eventually deciding on a robot.

Farm yard animals

At age four this kind of toy is perfect for us to play together and also encourages independent play too. Being made from plastic they can be used in sensory and tuff tray activities and have educational value too. We’re currently working on our phonics and counting so I’ve been using the bricks to form letter shapes and also demonstrate addition and subtraction – because Arlo always is so engaged with the construction element of the play it helps to use this to work on other things and he doesn’t the realise he is learning even more.

Our tractor and trailer – and so many bricks left to keep building

Lights down low – cockles and heart candle review

Cockles and Hearts candle tins

Handmade gifts for someone you know or for yourself are simply the best gifts. I’ve said it once and I’ll continue to say it because I love supporting small home grown businesses. Cockles and Heart are based in Devon (one of our favourite places in the world) and each candle is hand poured and individually decorated with herbs and botanicals.

As soon as my package arrived I could smell something beautiful and I noticed that as I unwrapped each candle tin from its tissue that dried petals fell in to my lap – such a beautiful little touch to include. I really appreciate it when such attention to detail is taken, and it makes me feel confident in ordering products to be delivered straight to my friends and family who will enjoy the unboxing experience just as much as if I had wrapped their gifts myself.

The rose petals and herbs come from founder Shona who delights in the home grown.

Anyway… I digress. Inside my parcel I received two of the four options for essential oil candle tins. Admittedly these aren’t fragrances I would have chosen myself by name but I was pleasantly surprised with the starry nights frankincense and bergamot blend in particular. It’s with a burn time of 25 hours plus this is filling my home with the most glorious fragrance which is perfect for this time of year.

All of these candle tins are available in 100ml and 250ml sizes and contain pure essential oils with a perfect blend of U.K. sourced extra virgin beeswax, coconut and rapeseed with a pure cotton / linen wick. The tin is reusable / recyclable and the lid contains clear PET which is recyclable.