Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Lottie Dolls Review and Giveaway

We were delighted to be chosen as Ambassadors for Lottie dolls recently. These dolls have won 15 awards so far in the US, UK and Canada, so I was very keen to see why this relative newcomer (launched two years ago) is so special.

Meet Autumn Leaves Lottie. 

Isn't she just adorable?! Well, our 9 year old girl thinks so too; she has been carrying her almost everywhere, and constantly combing her hair. She barely lets our 7 year old girl have a look in with her (hmm, I can see a purchase of a separate Lottie doll being needed soon), and this is from a girl who has previously shown very little interest in playing with any of the existing types of doll figures.

So what's different about her? The size, for a start. Lottie dolls are just 18cm tall, which means she is easy to hold and easy to pack to take out. There are currently no other dolls on the market this size, and yet it makes perfect sense. She has been designed for girls age 3-9 but I'm quite taken with her myself!

The other main difference is that she has been made to have a healthy, childlike body. She's intended to be 'wholesome', with no make-up, jewellery or high heels, so children are able to relate to her and pretend she does the same things she does. There's no need for children to grow older younger, they are fine just as they are, and this doll comes without any forcing recognition of body image issues. There are 12 dolls in total to choose from, ranging from beautiful Spring Celebration Ballet Lottie through to Butterfly Protector Lottie and on to Robot Girl Lottie. They come in beautiful presentation gift boxes too:
Her hair is lovely and soft and doesn't tangle or get frizzy like other dolls' hair does - I think that's why Tamsin likes combing it so much! She is flexible and is also able to stand on her own two feet (see what they did there...) and sit independently without too much fussing. The clothes she wears are everyday type clothes, but they are fabulous quality and with great attention to detail - the tiny buttons on the coat are so cute. All the clothes are easy to get on and off (some with velcro fastenings). Our doll (Autumn Leaves) came with a coat, hat, scarf, long sleeve top (with removable patch on the front), skirt, tights and boots. Tamsin's only wish was that she could have some separate wardrobe/clothes packs for the dolls so she can change her for different role-play scenarios. Luckily, I've just checked the website out and they've already thought of that, so I know what's going on her Christmas list! There are also other accessory sets such as dogs, cats, picnic sets and even a pony. 

I'm so pleased to be able to tell you that we, along with the other Lottie Ambassadors, are offering the chance to win two Lottie dolls and two accessory sets from the existing range. Please see full terms and conditions below the Rafflecopter entry box. This giveaway is running between 14th September and 12th October, and is being moderated by Lottie dolls themselves.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more information on the Lottie dolls, do check out their website www.lottie.com and their Facebook page www.facebook.com/lottiedolls. You could even tweet them @Lottie_dolls to say if you're impressed - we certainly are!

We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.

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Monday, 15 September 2014

{Siblings} in September

OK, so this time I am super-duper late and it's nothing to be proud of. I'm catching up on lots of things after Back To School though, so do bear with me.

Siblings is the chance to capture your children together once a month and see how they are changing over the year. I love this idea so much that I may just carry it on forever!

I'd like to say that this month I managed to take just one photo of the two of them together smiling happily... but I can't. On our way out of the door to school this morning, school photo day (ha! I know what those photographers have coming, times 240, so I'd like to offer them some headache pills right now). Sasha was being slightly hyper and Tamsin grumpy, so no change from usual there.

It's the usual collage from me and actually it makes me smile to see all the photos, good and bad, so I'm making no apology for it this time!

If you'd like to check out all the other gorgeous families linking up, please do pop over to the fab Manneskjur blog this month.

dear beautiful
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Shopkins Small Smart Supermarket Playset - Superfans Review!

If you have children but you haven't yet heard of Shopkins, I am sure you soon will. 
Shopkins were launched over summer in America and are the next craze set to sweep the UK in time for Christmas.

They are small grocery-themed collectible toys aimed at girls, and their appeal is that they are tiny and cute replicas of things you would find on the shelves in supermarkets. I'm almost addicted myself - I mean, just look at that adorable margarine tub! 

There are over 140 different items to collect, from Sweet Treats to Frozen Food, and they come in a variety of Limited Edition, Rare and Ultra Rare (with a special finish).

Both our girls managed to become aware of these products via YouTube clips (and that whole issue is another post in itself), where they watched a very excitable American gal called Cookie Swirl C reviewing them. Now they've become Shopkins superfans themselves.

We have already acquired quite a few of these cute little items and they are all loved and played with constantly. The small starter 2-packs of Shopkins come in blind bags packaged in a cute little shopping basket (not the bags shown in this pic; see below for the baskets).

So it's fair to say I just may have been teleported to the top of the 'Mum Of The Year' list when I was able to announce that we had been chosen to review the Shopkins Small Mart Supermarket Playset.

The Small Mart Playset comes with two of the Shopkins collectibles and is a mini store, with doors that open. It also includes a cash register with a moving conveyor belt, a 'lift' with slide for the toys to play on, two shopping bags and a shopping trolley. Then there are shelves which are perfect for both displaying and storing your Shopkins. 

Small Mart supermarket playset


Our eldest daughter, Tamsin, loved the idea of creating her own review of this product. She would be so pleased if you could do a quick click to watch her clip and maybe even give it a thumbs up or comment?

We're working on losing the fake American accent and how to focus a camera next week! 

The Shopkins range is being distributed by Flair in the UK. At a RRP of £24.99 this Supermarket Playset is definitely aimed at the Christmas gift market, but I think that is a fair price as it will have a longstanding play value. There are other small playsets which will provide hours of entertainment too - I know what my girls are asking for on their Christmas lists this year, and I suspect some more pocket money will be spent on the characters in the meantime!

Family Fever

We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
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Friday, 12 September 2014

#CountryKids Summer holidays round-up

#CountryKids is a linky run by the lovely Fiona at her Coombe Mill Blog, and it's all about making the most of outdoor spaces with children. We, and I'm sure most of the parents in this country, tried our hardest to do this all summer holidays (after all, who wants children stuck in the house for that long?!).

I've been wanting to join in this linky again for quite some time, but there's always so much going on and never enough time to write. We do get out and about on a weekly basis, but we had so much fun outdoors over summer that I definitely wanted to try and log this on my blog for us to look back on. So no apologies for the picture heavy post today!!

First off, a little fishing locally in the river with good friends:

Then a trip to a local park and playground (where Sasha insisted on posing to have her photo taken, which is almost unheard of!):

Next a visit to one of our favourite places - TopGolf and the adventure course:

A very quick but fun visit to Knebworth - due to time limitations we only made it to the grounds of it this time. We loved the amazing fort playground. This was followed by pottery painting (indoors but still fun!):

Next fun in the playground at Hatfield House. I love the (not-so) mini Hatfield House replica for the children to climb on!

Finally, an impromptu (yes, it can sometimes happen given the right conditions - when Sasha is in a good mood...) trip to a local playground where the sisters played happily together.

So there you go. That's only the half of it though - I haven't managed to fit in our trip to my parents at the seaside, or the kite flying, or friends visiting and playing in our garden, or outdoor trips to the big city, or kite flying. We did pretty well over summer don't you think?! 
Why don't you pop over to the Country Kids linky for some more inspiration?
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
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Monday, 8 September 2014

One Direction Swap Watch Review

So here's a present idea that any One Direction fan will love... 
a One Direction Swap Watch!

The box contains over 70 accessories, and the main piece is of course a watch face with a 'cute' picture of One Direction on it. Then there are 5 different colour face trims, 5 different pattern and shape surrounds, 5 watch straps with various pictures and logos on, and plenty of coloured cord and beads to make alternative straps from. I lost count after about 10 different options but I'm sure there are many more than that.

It's aimed at 7+ years, and I'd say this is about right unless you have a particularly crafty or patient younger one. Our 9 year old needed a bit of help to get started, but then I'll have to admit she is a little...lazy (shock, horror). The instructions are fairly basic, but most children should be able to put 2 and 2 together!

After no time at all, Tamsin came up with this as her favourite. The best thing is that it can be gone back to time and time again (ha! excuse the pun!) to make new versions and freshen up every young girl's look!

The packaging may be a little big for the contents, but I still think this is a great value kit - I don't think there are many good watches out there for less than £14.99. Try Flair for stock; I am sure this will be one product to make sure you get hold of in time for Christmas!

We were sent the above product for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
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Thursday, 4 September 2014

School Reward Systems. Are you a fan?

So a question for all you school parents, but first an update on how the first two days of Back To School have gone here for those who were wondering....

Both Sasha and Tamsin bounded into school on Wednesday; 'nervous-cited' but happy to be going back. Sasha was happy to wear her shirt and tie, but switched back to the old favourite summer dress for Day 2. Which is probably a good thing, considering they had PE today and the tie making/button doing up isn't exactly a honed skill just yet.

After school I was told that Sasha had had a great day. She joined in with everything, and sat at the table with her classmates (not something which happened that often at Infants). She was shown the quiet(ish) area in class for her but she didn't feel the need to retreat all day, which is nothing short of a miracle!

She had school dinner with no upset at all, and got several 'pegs up' for good behaviour. As she heard mention of this though, she excitedly said she was nearly at a Golden Ticket... the bit about each day being a fresh start as far as the reward system goes obviously hadn't sunk in.

Sasha told me that her favourite part of the day had been playing outside, but then told me that at lunch play everyone had made her cry and she was very upset because they wouldn't play the game with her rules so she 'had to cancel it all and not play'. Her lack of understanding of give and take still needs some work.

Later on, at bedtime, Sasha asked me 'Mummy, is there a school where children can be a little bit cheeky and a bit silly?'

I'm working on finding it, Sasha.

Day 2 also seemed a relative success; happy to go in, happy as she came out. Sasha informed me it was a good day, apart from PE. PE itself was fun (being animals, apparently), but they played team games and the winning team were to get 'pegs up'. When it wasn't her team who won, she got very upset and cried.

Just hoping that the reward system is not going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back (wrong idiom perhaps?!). I have never been a lover of it if I'm honest. I wonder how many parents (especially SEN parents) feel the same? What are your thoughts?
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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Back To School Nerves

So the summer holidays are coming to an end for us tonight, and I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.

We've had a week away in Tenby, which I wrote about in my post Dear Diary, and a few days up by the seaside visiting my parents (watch out for the photo update on that coming soon!). We've also had several friends over to play and enjoyed some brief trips out locally. I've really appreciated spending so much time with the girls, and of course I'm not going to pretend it's all been easy but I am sad that these times are coming to an end. It's not felt like a long seven weeks, it has actually flown by. That is a definite sign of good times.

Sasha and her classmates were all asked to send a postcard back to their new teacher at the Junior School over the summer holidays, presumably so they could talk in class about the different places that have been visited, or activities taken part in.

I chose to buy ours at the end of the holidays, so we might have a few different points to mention on it. Sasha refused to write on it herself, but was happy to dictate to me what she wanted writing on it. I made suggestions along the lines of where we had been, making sandcastles on the beach, swimming, bouncy trampolines etc, but Sasha was adamant she did not want any of that on her postcard.

She insisted (started to get upset when I tried to avoid it) that I write the following:

"Dear Mrs. X, I'll always be quiet at school and when you need me to do some work I'll try my best".

This is not the first time she's said something like this - right from the start of the holidays she has been informing us that she will be good, and behave like a big girl when she starts Junior School. She has mentioned the 'being quiet' bit particularly; it would seem she has become aware of how important not being noisy is. However I'm not sure this is her biggest issue at school; my understanding is that she withdraws to the back of the class and does her own thing, rather than making noise and disrupting others herself. She has told me in the past that it's the other children who do the 'chitter-chattering' - and I have often wondered if she tells them off for that!

We have discussed how it will be important for her to do the work at Junior School; up until now, at Infants, she has mostly resisted taking part and producing any 'work' as such, unless it was a craft session. Her refusal to write is driven by a fear of not getting it right, and looking back over her records I can see that whilst she wrote a sentence by herself at the start of Year 1, there has been little written since then. As the amount of formal work steps up at Junior School, it will be interesting to see if she can respond to this. She will obviously need some considerable help, it's not going to 'just' happen.
When asked if she is looking forward to Juniors, she has come up with her word for how she is feeling: 'Nervous-cited'. As you can see though, she agreed to try on the uniform today (phew, it fits!) and has gone to bed relatively calmly, with just a quick chat about what will be happening tomorrow.

So the Back To School Nerves..... are mostly mine. And pretty much every other mum's with children starting at our Junior or Infant schools tomorrow I suspect. The children? Ah, I'm sure they'll be fine.

Am linking up with Small Steps Amazing Achievements because seeing her smile, with thumbs up, with her uniform on, is definitely an achievement :) and #PoCoLo because I want to tell the world about it!!

Ethans Escapades
Post Comment Love
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Friday, 29 August 2014

Post Comment Love and Newbie Showcase 29th to 31st August

#PoCoLo Linky now open!

Welcome to the end of August (29th to 31st) and this week's Post Comment Love. I'm delighted to be holding this for Victoria while she takes a little break, as it's always been one of my favourite linkys which I try and join in with often. A few times I've even left comments for the whole 100 or so linkers, so I'm hoping some of you recognise my name! I think reading blogs is as important as writing them and #PoCoLo is a great way to find new ones all in one place. With some children already back at school but others due to go back soon, I'm expecting to see a few school related posts in this week. These will no doubt be split between the 'yay! can't wait for them to go back' and the 'oh I'm going to miss them SO much, sniff'. Which do you fall under?!

In case you've not visited my blog before, I'm Steph, Mum to two girls (see, it does what it says on the tin if anyone else is old enough to remember the Ronseal adverts?!) and I've been blogging for 4 and a half years now. Our youngest girl, now 7, was diagnosed with autism at the age of two and a half, so some of my blog is explaining how life is different learning all about that as we go along. It's always been important to me to not let others forget about our other daughter who is equally special (and not autistic) and so my blog covers general family life and a fair bit of baking and photos too. 
This is my view as I'm writing this - my hometown where I grew up. Now we live further South and I miss the seaside, sniff!

Despite the extra challenges we have persuading our youngest to leave the house (see my post Is getting out easy to do?), we have had some fantastic days out over the summer break (see Lollibop) and a lovely holiday week in Tenby (it's a gorgeous place, look at my beach photos in Dear Diary!). The reason we stayed in the UK this year is that we have now booked our 'holiday of a lifetime' to Florida for next year - please do click on Planning a Walt Disney World Florida holiday to read my recent post about what we had to consider when booking. There's still a lot more for me to research before going though, so if anyone has any great Disney tips or posts about having been yourself, please do leave them for me in the comments!

I'd love it if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and/or Instagram too :)

 photo 3050e876-5d08-44fa-b416-1e09c2490383_zpse12fd438.jpg
If you are a regular linker then it would be great if you spread the #PoCoLo word. However, if you are new then welcome! Post Comment Love is all about sharing posts which you have written this week which just haven’t got the attention they deserve and, with them all in one place, we can help each other share the comment love. This is one of the easiest links EVER. You don’t have a ‘special theme’ to have to write about, the post can be personal, sponsored, a photo, a review, a competition, your own linky, something you’ve linked to a linky….WHATEVER you like – it’s one you’ve already written this week! If you want some publicity and attention, then you are in the right place!

Please make sure you go across and comment on at least two other linkers' posts. Linkys work if everyone supports each other :) then spread the #PoCoLo about this link up on Twitter. The post you link up has to have been written in the last week. The link will go up every Friday at 6.30am and close on Sunday evening at 8pm.

The ‘About Me’ special is still open to join until April 2015 – so if you are new then it is a great place to introduce yourself and it is also a great resource to find out about your fellow bloggers.  Don’t forget our #SoFoLo community on Google + and our #PoCoLo Facebook group where you can come and post your PoCoLo post for some more shares as well as any of your social media accounts of yours that need more followers.

Vicky has a list for the Newbie Showcase running into June 2015. If you would like to be featured then please email her at vickywelton@hotmail.com so she can put you on the rota. Remember, your blog needs to be under a year old to feature from the time of sending your email to her.

So this week we have an extra special Newbie entry......

Business card front 3
Hi everyone, this is Grace and Lucas and we write the blog kidGLloves...well, actually our Mum's write it but we tell them what to say. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, Grace's Mum is from Verily Victoria Vocalises and Lucas' Mum is from Wicked World of Lucas but that is enough about them!

We started our blog on Christmas Eve 2013. THE second best day of the year...first is Christmas Day...apart from our birthdays. We wanted to start a blog because we believe that kids tell the truth much more than the grown-ups do. We have given reviews about stuff - even when Lucas didn't like it - and we have also been on a fantastic break together thanks to Forest Holidays.

It isn't just us who writes the blog either. Ash, Lucas' dog, shares his thoughts too in Dogged Determination. We have also run competitions and stuff and we are still crossing our fingers about entering the MAD Blog Awards Kid Blog of the Year (especially as Vita Coco drinks are Grace's favourite).

One final thing. We have our own linky that we run every Wednesday (back on 10th September as we were having too much fun during the summer!) called 'Mini Creations'. Our Mums take a photo of something that we have created that week and then share it on our blog. That way they have a memory of it but - in Grace's Mum's words - then they can bin it and it won't clutter up the house! Hope to see some of your kid's creations there.

Thank you to the lovely girls' Mum, Steph for looking after Grace's Mum's linky this week - it means she actually gets away from her computer for a while! Have a great weekend everyone. Please find us on Facebook, Twitter, Google + and Pinterest.

Post Comment Love
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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Planning a Walt Disney World Florida holiday for a child with autism

When I was nine, I got to visit Walt Disney World Florida with my parents and two brothers. We had just spent six months living on an oil tanker in The Bahamas... but that's a story for another time.
Stephs Two Girls blog autism
Picture of my beloved Nana wearing the Mickey Ears hat we brought home for her after our Disney Trip
Planning a holiday at Disney Florida is not something you get to do every day. Just as well, as it can be quite time-consuming I found!

It was difficult to know where to begin looking for our holiday for next year, but I decided to start by asking for advice from friends who have visited Florida recently. So much great information came back that I almost felt overwhelmed, and I soon realised that we'd have to start by making decisions to suit ourselves.

First we needed to work out when would be the best time of year to visit. For this, I used the fab website www.mousesavers.com - in fact, I used this website for so much information that it would be my Top Tip for any Disney planning. Another great link to check is undercovertourist.com, where they have lots of advice for planning your first Disney holiday. Their day-by-day map of expected crowd volumes is extremely helpful: crowd calendar

So next we had to consider the choice of staying in resort or in a villa. Art of Animation and the Wilderness Lodge are two Disney properties which came highly recommended to us. Whilst we loved the look of all the Disney resorts, we did see some with a hefty price tag to go with the amazing facilities. There were some reasonable options too though, and other non-Disney resorts such as the Bahama Bay Resort with its four swimming pools, splash park and other facilities. For us though, having a kitchen and making our own meals is one of our top priorities, and so we felt that having our own private villa would be the right choice for this trip. We also felt that our seven year old girl with autism (Sasha) may have struggled with all the noise and stimulation in the resorts, and a villa would be a safe haven for her to escape to.

We turned to Virgin Holidays as we've always had great service from them when flying previously. They have several villa options to suit different budgets, but as Sasha struggles with car-sickness, we felt it was worth a small premium to be as near to Disney as possible.

Although the holiday is now booked, there is still plenty more planning to do over the coming months. I've been reading lots about the new Disney access policy for people with disabilities. It's a long story, but in a nutshell too many people were trying to cheat the system and so Disney have tried to bring in a new system. The jury is still out on whether it a) works or b) is fair, but there seem to be lots of reports coming back of how it has made the Disney experience much more difficult for children with autism.

The old system was a Guest Assistance Card, which let cast members know what issues you were having, and if relevant, you were entitled to go to the front of the queue to avoid the wait. We have used a system like this very effectively at Paulton's Park here in the UK, and it has enabled us to have a lovely family day out rather than one where we end up leaving soon after we arrive.

For Sasha, queuing is a very difficult thing to do. She gets easily overwhelmed by the noise (and smell!) of lots of other people near her, and is just not good at waiting. That goes for most toddlers of course, but Sasha is a 7 year old girl with autism. She is probably just about able to understand now that if she wants to go on a ride, she has to wait for it, but that hasn't increased her ability to actually wait. She is far more likely to decide not to wait, and move on to the next thing, where she would also have to wait, so she would move on... and so it goes on. Not much fun for our elder 9 year old daughter Tamsin if she never gets to go on a ride because Sasha can't stand and wait with us, and actually not much fun for Sasha either if she is never really achieving anything.

The new system is called the Disability Access Service (DAS) and this allows guests with disabilities to receive a return time for attractions based on current wait times - so in effect you don't have to stand in the actual queue, you get to go off and do something else, and then when you return you do get to go to the front. I agree that in theory this sounds fairer, but in reality there's more to it than that. Every time we visit a new park, we will be expected to go to Guest Relations and we'll have to wait there while we explain again why Sasha has this difficulty and forms are filled in, photos taken and computers updated. Not exactly an easy start to our day. If we receive a return time for a ride, then go off and look at something else, then Sasha decides she doesn't want to ride the original ride (yes, that's quite likely), we would have to return to that original ride anyway to get the return time crossed off before we could then go and use the DAS card at another ride.

From my understanding, everyone in the park, disabled or not, now has the option to use FastPass+, which enables you to book a ticket/ride time. There was an old FastPass service which differed slightly, and there's a great comparison and explanation of the new system on this blog here

You can book up to just three rides per day, from 30 days before your visit. However the specific times you can book the rides for are limited, and popular times sell out well in advance (you can book them 60 days in advance if you are staying in a Disney resort), so this will involve a lot of planning if we want to avoid waiting around. Sasha is all about being spontaneous, and in control, but is sadly not yet old enough to plan a day like this for herself. We can never guarantee that Sasha is going to do what we have planned to do at the best of times!

Into all of this, we have to factor in the fact that Tamsin is allowed to use the DAS with Sasha, but of course only for rides that Sasha wants to go on. So as Sasha is not quite as adventurous as Tamsin, and is unlikely to want to go on that many 'bigger' rides, Tamsin must of course queue like everyone else, understandably. This just leaves us with the problem of how to amuse Sasha whilst we let Tamsin enjoy what she wants to, or face the fact that we are going to have a very split holiday.

Someone recently queried why I would want to take our autistic seven year old girl to Disney, a place bound to invoke a total sensory overload with all the big characters and flashing lights and noise. In all honesty, we're not doing this holiday for Sasha, we are doing it for her big sister. Tamsin is a real star and lives with her sister's autism every day, and we feel she deserves a special holiday. She loves roller coasters and water rides - in fact any kind of adrenalin rush. Of course we've had to take Sasha's difficulties into consideration, but we hope that Tamsin will have a fantastic time at Disney - and with a bit of luck Mummy and Daddy will too!

Do please come back to my blog over the coming months as I'll update with what we have managed to plan in advance, and I will of course let you all know how the trip panned out in the end!
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Monday, 25 August 2014

Ideas for a Rainy Day: Have you seen Great Gizmos?

Today is very much a typical British Bank Holiday kind of day. It's moved from a medium drizzle this morning to heavy non-stop rain this afternoon and there's no signs of the heavens letting up just yet.

So what would I recommend for a rainy day? Crafting, of course. I'm not saying it's going to lower your blood pressure or anything (is it just me who sighs inwardly when the tub is tipped again? I mean, they're 9 and 7 now, not toddlers...) but it always gives them great pressure so it's worth a go.

If you are only semi-creative (like me), and are never quite sure what to do with the oodles and stacks of 'bits 'n' pieces' shoved in a cupboard, I'd suggest cheating for a change. The www.greatgizmos.co.uk website is choc full of great activities for the children (adults allowed to take part too) and we've been having fun with quite a few of them over the past few months.

Today has been a mammoth effort with fairy and pet making, and flowerpot painting - such fun! as Miranda's mum would say.

Take a look at the girls' efforts (I abstained, but only because I had to be on standby with the wipes):

The Great Gizmos website is really easy to use; everything is categorised such as 'Make and Create' or 'Magnet' or 'Creative Play'. There are also wooden toys, soft toys and science sets along with musical instruments and lots of lovely other items.

All these products are good value with the majority of craft kits ranging from £8.95 to £11.95. They make great party gifts too, worth bearing in mind for when the term starts again (ssshh, naughty words!). A great way to while away a few hours!

We were sent the above products for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.

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