Bigjigs Toys – Arlo’s top ten

I have previously received products free of charge from Bigjigs toys

I have a discount code to share with you all for use on the Bigjigs website – use ARLO10 to save £££ so I thought I would collage a list of our favourites on the website for you to give a little bit of Christmas inspo.

1. City of London train set £49.99

Arlo absolutely adores this set, I find wooden train sets are an essential for all children and this set with its familiar landmarks and the iconic black cab and London bus resonates with Arlo as he remembers his day trips to the Capital City. It has a bridge and a figure of eight track and this works with add on pieces in our collection too.

2. Baby Walker with ABC blocks £59.99

This is an absolute classic for all toddlers. It combines so many activities, from those early first steps, to our colour sorting activities and right through to now with Arlo learning the alphabet. This set of blocks has been reached for so many times and provides hours of play and I also love to create little messages from the blocks too.

3. Animal stacking cubes £28.99

This set is the sturdiest of its kind we have seen, and we have tried three different sets. Each side of the cube has a different theme and you can count, stack high and knock them down. This set really does stand the Arlo test well, he loves that he has to stand on the sofa to complete the tall tower the full set makes.

4. Letter train carriages from £2.49

These are a must have….. not only are they beautiful on display in a nursery but they are also great to help teach little ones their name. The letters disconnect from the carriages and we have used these as a dexterity game and more recently as templates for drawing around.

5. Cutting fruits set £17.99

Finding food toys for the play kitchen is a daunting task as there’s just so many options but you can’t go wrong with a set like this. Arlo loves that he can cut and share the pieces and will serve up “one for Arlo and one for Mummy” of each half. We also play hide and seek around the house with these and he will role play with his animals too. Lots of play value!

6. Jar of lacing beads

These are such a fabulous toy for a rainy day. Arlo will sit and focus on threading beads for a long time. I have just started drawing out patterns on paper for him to copy with the beads. There’s colours and then shapes to identify and so it’s quite a complex challenge for him. We have also used these for colour sorting and in our sensory trays too.

7. My workbench £17.99

I love this little set, it’s got lots of fiddly little bits which keeps Arlo very busy – the nuts and bolts can be used to attach the bits of wood to the side of the tool box. It’s chunky enough for him to grip really well. We’ve been doing a lot of DIY which Arlo likes to mimic and he will fetch this kit to help every time – we also use the hammer in our frozen ice excavation projects, all Arlo’s idea of course!

8. Binoculars £9.99

Arlo will not leave the house without his binoculars when we’re off on a nature walk. These are surprisingly powerful and so I’ve borrowed these a few times to get a closer look at the waterfowl. We take a worksheet out with us and try and find as many different kinds of birds or ducks that we can.

9. Teaching clock

This is something Arlo’s key worker at nursery has suggested. He’s suddenly become very aware of time and routine and loves to look at the clock or watch faces. He recognises the numbers now and so we have begun starting to put them in the right place and talk about “half past” – Arlo has already started to try and delay bed time by ten minutes by moving the hands on this clock which of course isn’t battery powered.

10. Magnetic weather board

This is another one which is great for routine. We have been using ours since last year because the advent calendar had been such a big deal he was disappointed to not have anything in the morning. Now without fail the first thing Arlo does every day is look out of the window, give me his weather report and then adjust it on the board. We love creating themed plays for the seasons and having a little celebration dance for our Fridays too.

I hope this has been a useful top ten for you – let us know if you end up trying some of these out and have new ideas for us to use in our play. Don’t forget to use our code ARLO10 for a discount on the website too.

Big Game Hunters Sandpit

This product was provided to us free of charge for the purposes of a review however all opinions are my own

Arlo loves playing in sand. We returned home from a week’s break at the seaside to our parcel which had been delivered by courier from Big Game Hunters and I had to open it and set it up straight away because Arlo had clutched his bucket and space in the car the whole way home.

We were so lucky to be able to get away on a last minute beach holiday this year but most of our energy has been focused on making home a fun place to be and there’s so many different ideas for play but a sandpit is a must have for the garden. At age three Arlo is becoming independent and had outgrown his smaller sandpits so at an impressive 1.8m x 1.8m this seemed like the solution for us. Check it out this and the huge range of sand pit options from Big Game Hunters here

I used eight 20kg bags of sand to fill it up which sounds like a lot but think of all the play options and castles you can build! We used our bucket and spade at first but quite quickly Arlo decided to fetch his collection of diggers and turn the sand pit in to an imaginary construction site.

One more plus is that being made from wood it looks beautiful and natural in our garden – which was starting to feel like the rainbow plastic of kids toys was taking over and for a more permanent toy feature it blends in extremely well.

It didn’t take us long at all to put up, the sides slotted together in three layers like a 3D jigsaw and it was impossible to go wrong. I was able to do this on my own with Arlo “project managing” – I filmed a stop motion of us whilst I was doing this and you can check it out in our Instagram story highlights. The instructions were easy to follow and it didn’t even take us an hour.

I used a power drill to complete the project – securing four pieces of wood to the corners with some screws which make the perfect bench seats and then attaching the base membrane. This is perhaps the best feature of the sandpit – I like most parents often have to rush in the house for meals, bath, bedtime etc and then I don’t get round to tidying up the garden, so it’s normal for things to be left out in the rain, and the membrane means that water doesn’t collect in the sandpit but simply soaks through so the sand doesn’t get ruined.

The sandpit does also includes a cover – this fits perfectly on to the pit, we stretch it across and balance heavy items on top of the corners to make sure it doesn’t blow away. There’s enough space to leave his toys underneath it and so even now that we’re heading towards autumn, on a clear day we can peel the cover back and get stuck in. Most recently the sandpit has been a dinosaur swamp and an amphitheatre for a reproduction of the lion king with the addition of some other toys.

If you have the space in your garden then we highly recommend this, Arlo is aged three and his cousins aged 4, 6 and 8 have also been happy to join in too and there’s plenty of space. I’m happy to perch on the corners and get stuck in too. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sand between your toes!

Tap on the image below to head to the Big Game Hunters website and find out more

Reading Eggs – App Review

This blog contains a review of an app which I was granted free access to.

Follow this link to get 30 days access free to try it yourself

I have begun to introduce Arlo to limited interactive technology during this lockdown as part of our home schooling activities, because let’s face it we can’t have PVA glue and poster paint out 24/7.

Reading eggs came highly recommended and I have been granted free access to the app for the purposes of this review. I have also been given a link to share to give my followers 30 days free access to try it out for themselves free of charge (click here).

So where do I start….. the sign up process is very simple, just like most apps it requires an email/password which gives you access to a parent dashboard to follow your child’s learning journey. Then you get going with a really simple user interface.

Arlo is almost three and so we have explored between the 2-4 and 3-7 age categories, and have really taken our time to get to know different features within the app.

The junior category for the youngest age takes you through to a menu where you can choose to read a book, participate in activities, watch videos or explore the lands.

Each of these options opens a multitude of different options for you – and the sheer amount of resources available is impressive. The videos are extremely child friendly and include educational content. The books feature common toddler friendly themes such as animals and vehicles – and a simple swipe interaction. The sheer number of titles available is worth the subscription fee, plus there books available in multiple languages.

The shining star in this app however is the activities. With fourteen different options to choose from, each focuses on different topics such as matching, sorting, colours and the alphabet , whilst also providing children with the skills they need to interact with technology.

Each activity has a pathway with clear levels, and once you complete an activity your child gets the chance to participate in sensory rewarding tasks and games such as colouring in and balloon popping, and then in turn you earn an egg, which you tap open to reveal a sticker.

The constant audio and visual feedback from the app when your child completes every single action is extremely rewarding and positive for Arlo, and I noticed that when we were going through the alphabet that alliteration was used to correspond to the letter we were working with – Amazing, Brilliant etc. That’s a subtle touch but shows the attention to detail within the design

Another thing I like about this app is that words are sounded out using phonics. This is something I do not know much about, but it’s the way kids are taught these days and so it’s fabulous to have the app teach me so that I can then work on this with Arlo outside of the app – for example sounding out “cuh” “ah” “tuh” when we see a cat.

Once your child completes a task/level this is logged in the parent menu and so you can track progress easily. After enjoying playing with the junior menus we decided to explore the 3-7 menus together.

The first time we accessed this section I noticed the difference in style but the menu layout and pathways idea was very familiar. Arlo instinctively knew where to press and how to interact with the screen to play the more complex games.

The first thing we encountered was a little pop up “quiz” – this is designed to check your child’s ability to guide you where might be best to start your journey. Please don’t worry this isn’t a test and obviously Arlo being not quite three was guided to start at the very beginning.

We began with lesson one which was all about the letter m. The same kind of interactions, (swipes and taps) as learned in the junior menus are required but this time the letters of the alphabet take centre stage and here the repetition of the phonics is even more apparent.

We have alphabet magnets on our fridge and a couple of days after using the app Arlo decided to point out the letter m to me on his own accord and this shows to me that through using this app to play he is learning not only about the sound of letters but their visual appearance in a way which is helping his memory recall.

There is a lot more to this app, we have only just scraped the surface with its features, because I limit screen time. For people who also do the same I have to say I really appreciate the menu design – activities are taking us about 5-10 minutes to complete before earning a sticker, and returning you a menu rather than automatically sending you to the next activity. This provides a natural pause for you to end the screen time if you wish.

Follow this link to get 30 days access free to try it yourself

The truth about Toothbrushing

This blog features gifted products

I’ve been meaning to write about tooth brushing for a while. Having lots of time to talk about toddler tantrums with other parents it seems that this is often the first and last battle of the day with little ones and as part of an essential hygiene routine it just has to be done so how can we make the experience better?

The truth is that the whole thing starts before the first tooth even makes an appearance. My sister who is a qualified dental nurse gave me the best advice….. the second that babies start showing a need for something to chew on, give them a toothbrush. I found a little one on amazon and incorporated it in to our routine from very early on. So Arlo would sit in the bath and chew a toothbrush from about six months old. He would also watch me brush my teeth every single day morning and night and want to join in.

Eventually his two first teeth made an appearance and we had to start adding in actual toothpaste. This is a big deal to overcome, babies have extremely strong willpower when it comes to new flavours and textures.

So here’s my advice…. when you start weaning and get past the introduction of safe foods – start incorporating herbs and spices in to your plan – and by this I don’t mean give babies super hot curries! A simple addition such as cinnamon to porridge is giving babies access to new flavour sensations – work your way through the herbs and spices in your cupboard.

You can also try incorporating herbs in to activities to increase their sensory perception. Simply smelling fresh herbs is a fabulous way to explore with babies – and then adding mint leaves to ice cubes which they then inevitably put to their mouth is good for building their confidence to try new things, and also get used to the cold sensation too.

By the time Arlo turned one he had lots of teeth and a much more colourful diet and so it was really important for me to make sure we were looking after his teeth properly. I learnt back then that it’s important to change toothbrushes every three months. To be honest Arlo used to throw things around so much I think we must have got through at least ten toothbrushes by this stage! It started to make me think about how many brushes the household was getting through and we attempted the switch to bamboo toothbrushes back then.

I hadn’t been convinced enough by the quality, it was the bristles either being too hard or too soft which out me off and then recently we were offered the chance to try out the truth brush.

For a start they arrived in fully recyclable packaging which is a lovely little touch. The shape of these brushes is unusual too, they’re surprisingly comfortable to hold. They’re also available in kid and adult sizes so Arlo and I have one each. His bristles are different to mine and there’s options to choose which colour and bristle you prefer. He couldn’t wait to get his hands in to the packaging with a cute panda!

The best thing about these however is that they can be ordered on subscription…. so for £4 every three months you don’t need to worry about remembering to replace yours at the right time.

You can order a years supply of Truth Brushes from The Baby Basket now for £22.50

Let’s go fly a kite – product review

This blog features a gifted product – all views and opinions are my own

We were delighted to be offered the opportunity to review the Everfly Extra Large rainbow kite from Big Game Hunters. This is quite literally the biggest kite we have ever attempted with an almost 2 metre wingspan.

It’s super simple to set up – it arrives rolled up in its own bag – and all you have to do is slot two rods at perpendicular angles in to the slots and then attach your line to the flip side.

The line is reeled on to an easy grip handle and really comfortable to hold. It didn’t take us too long to get it up in the air once we caught a breeze.

The beauty of this kite is the tails – once it’s up in the air it looks absolutely beautiful and can fly so high it can be seen for miles!

We had so much fun, it was easy to pull and make the kite dance on the breeze in circles and loops so Arlo thought it was chasing him and he spent hours running up and down the hills in the meadows after it.

And once we were exhausted it was super quick to remove the rods, roll up and pack away…. ready for the next time we have a blustery day!

Osmo: The little Genius Starter Kit – Review

Disclaimer: We received the product featured in this blog free of charge

Introducing kids to technology is a divisive parenting choice. Finding the right screen time for children is such a difficult challenge, and there are many parents out there who understandably want to avoid it as much as possible. I think Play Osmo have developed an innovative new product which addresses the need to introduce children to technology but also encourage imaginative play.

During this lockdown period we have all experienced the benefits of technology, from PE with Joe Wickes to family quizzes over zoom, and the safari park live stream of an animal birth. Trying to keep Arlo amused for any length of time is exhausting and I’ve been looking for activities which keep him occupied for long enough to effectively work from home.

So…. what is Osmo? In a nutshell it’s an interactive accessory for a tablet such as an iPad (a full list of compatible devices is available here).

In the little genius starter kit there is:

  • a base for a device
  • A clip on reflector
  • A play mat
  • A container of 19 costume pieces and a model.
  • A container of 38 silicone shapes

The containers of accessories are compatible with four different apps and you can also purchase add on’s so as your child grows this toy develops with them.

Prior to introducing this to Arlo I removed the contents from the box and installed the four apps compatible with this kit, plus the parent app too. This was a fairly intuitive process. The user interface is simple to navigate, it took about ten minutes to register with my email and become acquainted with the layout. I waited for Arlo before attempting a game walkthrough together.

The containers within the little genius start kit are compatible with two apps each. Arlo is at the younger end of the 3-5 age for this set and rarely gets to see my iPad so I wasn’t quite sure how well he would respond but as soon almost as soon as we opened the “stories” app a friendly bear like monster named Mo appeared on to our screen to introduce himself, and beckoned Arlo to tap the screen to choose from three stories.

We placed our character out on the map carefully in line with the reflector and the same character appeared in front of us on the screen and asked Arlo to choose him an outfit for his adventure. We had spread all the different costume pieces out on the table in front of us and Arlo spent quite a while making his first decision.

Each costume piece is extremely well designed, with what appears at first glance to be a crazy combination of accessories, for example there’s some legs in a boat, hands holding a guitar and a squirrel in pink hair!

Arlo chose an outfit from the puzzle pieces and we slotted them on to our character on the play mat. Almost instantly the character on screen was dressed in the same costume, and he happily bounced along until he met a penguin who was in a predicament and needed us to help him out.

Here’s where the educational bit comes in – instead of directing Arlo to look for the squirrel, guitar or the boat – every encounter on screen created a problem which required solving. We were asked to find a way to wake up a sleeping polar bear – Arlo wasn’t sure at first what to do and so we had a little chat about what would wake you up if you’re sleepy, and he eventually pointed out the costume with the parrot because they’re noisy – I directed him to change his characters costume on the mat which in turn changed his appearance on screen and then the accessories all flashed on the screen and so we could tap the parrot to select it.

Unfortunately this wasn’t the right solution, but the character politely suggested we perhaps try using one or two other objects, so we hunted around to find the costume which featured the suggested items – eventually our on screen bear was woken up with our character playing a gentle guitar tune. The bear revealed a reward and we carried on our way. The story consisted of four or five different problems to solve before coming to a natural conclusion.

No sooner had the story finished, Mo the monster appeared congratulating us on the adventure and offering up three more different story themes – I’ve seen penguins, pirate treasure and space rockets appear amongst other things already. Arlo happily went through seven stories the very first time we used this app.

He wasn’t quite ready to use it independently immediately but his confidence is growing rapidly with every interaction. Each of the four apps utilises the interactive technology in a different way – the use of the silicone shapes within the ABC’s app is fascinating and we have only just scratched the surface.

The parent app allows you to see how much play time you have experienced and within the storied app lets you know how many obstacles have been solved. This ability to track progress and really understand how your child is utilising play time is extremely valuable to me to ensure I am able to stay in control of screen time and make sure we are maximising the opportunity to learn.

I shared a little video walk through of the stories app on my IGTV if you would like to take a look:

Gifted product post “You can either run from it, or learn from it” – Rafiki Toddlers and tech – up until recently I’ve been avoiding too much screen time but I have decided to embrace toddler technology after our experience with this little genius starter kit gifted from @playosmo. Working from home and trying to entertain Arlo non-stop has been exhausting. I’m constantly looking for activities which keep him occupied for longer periods of time and was intrigued to learn about this new award winning concept. I’m in the middle of writing a full blog post about our experience but in a nut shell the accessories provided in this set work alongside a series of educational apps. Quite unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered, the physical aspect of play is the key focus here – in the stories app for example Arlo has to solve problems his character encounters by selecting the right costume pieces and placing them on the play mat and as if by magic…. the character on the screen suddenly changes in to the same costume and uses the accessories within the story. We still have so much to explore within the four apps compatible with this “little genius kit” and this gives me confidence that despite missing out on all this nursery time, he’s going to be ahead of the game with his phonics and letter recognition without even realising he’s learning. The real beauty is that Arlo very quickly picked up the user interface and will play independently exploring the Osmo world with Mo the monster. #osmoathome #osmosocialclub

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beans&sparks book review

This book was gifted for the purposes of the review – all thoughts and opinions are my own.

“Do you think we’ll live in space one day?” The homesick astronaut asked

This beans&sparks book was kindly sent to us to review – and what a delight. First things first you use the website to create an avatar with your child’s likeness. This is a fairly simple process with options for hair, eye and skin colour as well as adding in glasses and freckles in you need them. Then you place your order and a personalised book comes in the post soon after.

This is a subscription service and you receive a different personalised story every month for £14.99. Each month there is a new theme which is structured around the EASY framework – Emotions, Adventure, Science and CreativitY – inspiring conversations and introducing new concepts in a fabulous manner.

The book itself paper back, a lovely size and excellent print quality, with popping colours and beautiful illustrations throughout. The thing I like best however is that Arlo’s name appears on every single page and as well as seeing his avatar and understanding the likeness immediately and being excited that the story is all about him, he can also recognise his name in the text too and has begun to point it out.

This months story had a space theme which fits in with all of the different activities we have been doing at home – and Arlo loved seeing things which are familiar to him throughout the story – including his scooter! We are signed up now to the subscription service and you can join too and get 50% off your first book.

John Adams Play Stuff Review

I was given products free of charge to review on Instagram.

It’s been a challenge trying to get hold of flour to make my own dough during this lockdown – and to be honest once I’ve added in food colouring and other ingredients it all adds up, which is why I was delighted when I was asked to review some “play stuff” which is currently available to order from Amazon.

I love using this kind of toy with Arlo, I think it’s really great to develop manual dexterity and enhance those all important fine motor skills.

We received two sets in the post, each of which comes in really unusual packaging. The box has a small yellow clip which once released drops down the two sides to make a little play surface.

Both kits were designed in the same way, with hidden images within the bright illustrations. The Pizza and pasta set had lots of little peas to find and the picnic set had lots of creepy crawlies.

This helped inspire play – we opened up the picnic set first. The dough and tools are neatly stored away in the middle section. I was pleasantly surprised with how bright each colour was and also with the scent of the dough as it wasn’t over-powering at all.

Both kits contained the same five colours but had their own unique tools and moulds relevant to the theme of the play mat – having the illustrations and themes helped us be more exciting than usual – I’ve never made cheese and salad from dough before!

We spent a while playing with both sets and the texture of the dough itself was firm but extremely malleable. We found that if small pieces touched it was easy to separate the colours, but also when working together some blue and red we were able to make a lovely purple.

Arlo got stuck in and was sitting on a handmade crochet blanket but there was no residue left behind or any colour transfer of the products to his clothing. We played for over an hour and the dough didn’t dry out or change in texture. We really enjoyed these sets.

Arlo was also very happy to help put all the stuff back – choosing the right coloured lids for the dough and then popping them all back in the centre storage space before closing up the sides. I helped him snap the clip back on and he made sure to pick up the set and run to put it away too.

Counting to ten

I purchased these wonderful boards from an Etsy store we represent on Instagram – Mimis Makes – you can use code ARLO10 for a discount.

I love wooden toys and supporting small businesses run by working from home mums. Miranda has helped me to create some wonderful and useful play resources and can paint them all to your preferences. I opted to keep ours blank and we have painted ours together during lockdown which kept us occupied for a little while.

These trays are helping Arlo recognise the numerals and associate them with the value. He can then visualise that (for example) ten is more than four.

I ordered a hundred little coloured felt balls from amazon for this activity as seen in the picture but you can use anything you have lying around the home – buttons or pieces from toys – or maybe even items you find on your nature walks. In fact collecting items for the numbers is half the fun.