Thursday, 29 November 2012

12 Days of Christmas Toy Reviews - Part 2.

Now, if you've been following closely, you'll know that yesterday I posted part one of my toy reviews for Christmas.

Today, guess what? Yep, you guessed it, time for part 2! Yippeeeee!

Two of the main toys we received were rather more 'boy' orientated (not that I'm sexist or anything, but Tamsin is most definitely a 'girlie' girl...!). So we found two willing helpers who jumped at the chance of trying them out for us, and here are their thoughts:

A) The Trash Pack Garbage Truck (retails for around £20, if you can get hold of it - seems to have been v popular for Christmas already!)

  • Dante was very excited to receive the toy and had already seen and heard of Trashies from TV advertising;
  • The box included a rubbish truck and two Trashie characters in their own trash bins;
  • Initially, Dante was unsure how to open the top compartment of the truck - when he finally managed, his reaction was, "Cooooool". He opened and closed the clasp several times after - it was a bit tricky but he didn't get frustrated. The truck opens out into a large area for your Trashie bins and characters to be stored in. From here you can access the driving cab, where characters can be placed to 'ride' in the cab - Dante did this for a little while;
  • Dante loved the 'shooting' feature, whereby you place a Trashie character on the wheelie bin and flip it, to shoot your character at a pile of bins. At first he wanted to see how far he could shoot the 'rubbish creatures'. He found this easy to use and this, I assume this is one of the compelling reasons they would continue to play with it and want to collect more of the Trashies to knock over. One minor, but annoying point was that one of the two trash bins included kept popping open - which means you can't balance another bin on top;
  • Dante also liked the fact that you can place a Trashie in the wheelie bin and then empty the bin into the back of the truck;
  • Dante (and Lola) immediately started talking about buying more bins and creatures (ie, collecting them - and spending Lola's pocket money on them!). They wanted to look on the internet to see how much they cost. We found some packs for £2.97 (for 5 characters) which we thought was reasonable;
  • After a short time, Dante realised that all over the truck, there are several (what I can only describe as) 'knobs' which allow you to attach the Trashie characters to the truck.
Overall it's quite a fun toy and after receiving the extra Trashie characters, it became more fun to use as there were more bins to knock over! 

B) Doctor Who QLA app gear device (again, retails for around £20 but you'll have to be quick!)

The toy is a large blaster gun, which uses the camera from an iPhone or iPod Touch as its viewfinder. You download an app which overlays a game on the camera's view of your real surroundings and you connect a lead from the gun to the camera's headphone socket. The game involves blasting away (using the gun's trigger) at Doctor Who's enemies who appear onscreen, in your real environment, with sound effects, lights and voices.  In a nutshell it's virtual reality Daleks in the kitchen.

You can choose to move through 5 difficulty levels or play each level separately. You meet lots of Doctor Who's famous enemies along the way, including the Daleks, Cybermen, and Weeping Angels. 

It was fairly easy to set up - once we found the app. The website link given in the instructions didn't work so it took a bit of searching. Thankfully the cradle which holds the phone or iPod in position was well-designed and secure! It proved very popular in our house. The only downside for me was giving up my iPhone, resulting in some major negotiation to get it back. So might be best suited to children who have their own iPod Touch!

Feedback from Elliott (8):
"It's a very cool toy. Great that the enemies don't move with the screen, they stay in one place in the room so it feels like they are really there. My favourites were the Weeping Angels as this level was more challenging".

Our final review is of the wonderful ScatterBrainz.

 These are described as seriously sticky deranged darts, and I'd say that was a pretty good description!! 
They are little hand held darts, with a sticky end which looks like brains, and pictures of characters underneath. Ours are things like a vampire, werewolf, axeman and bodybuilder, although I think there may be different ones to collect. Tamsin was thrilled with these, and after a little bit of practise was able to throw them quite well at the target included. This pack retails at around £9.99 and would make a great stocking filler or birthday party gift item.

We were also sent a Ben 10 Lego pack, a Science Rocket and a Bananas in Pyjamas soft toy:

We have passed these on to other friends to be reviewed, so do watch out for more info on those in the following weeks.

The final item which I really can't wait to try with my eldest daughter, as I'm sure she'll love it, is a myStyle Deluxe Charm Bracelets pack (RRP £19.99).

With this you can actually design your own beads with the clay, foil and glitter provided, and after a little bit of baking they are home-made and professional looking! The kit, which is aimed at ages 8+, includes two bracelets and charms, and enough materials for 40 beads. We've just not had enough quiet time around here for this activity lately, so I'm saving it for a special time. Having had a couple of these packs before, I know it is going to be a hit, and I'd definitely recommend it as a Christmas or party gift!

So I hope I've given you some ideas of what's 'cool' out there for Christmas this year - go forth and purchase at your own discretion!!

We were sent the above toys for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
read more "12 Days of Christmas Toy Reviews - Part 2."

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

12 Days of Christmas Toy Reviews - Part 1.

Wow. It was like our Christmas had come early a couple of weeks ago when we were sent some top toys to review - all under the title '12 Days of Christmas'! Actually we got an extra one for good luck - so 13 surprise products, all sent in one big package, for us to have a play with and give feedback on.

I'd have loved to write up 13 individual posts, but time has sadly not allowed for that, so I'm going to cunningly rename my efforts 'The 2 Days Of Christmas' and post today and tomorrow in a couple of big hits!

First one I'm going to rave about (geddit?! see manufacturer's name) is our favourite. The Ravensburger 3D puzzle of Big Ben (random fact: that's just the name of the bell inside!).

Both girls went straight for this - very clear and appealing packaging. Inside there are 216 pieces, and some of these bend very cleverly to form the corner pieces. The pieces are all numbered on the back so it's not as difficult as you might think, and you end up with a very impressive looking tower for the mantelpiece!

I would definitely recommend this as a Christmas present and I know the girls would be delighted with one of the other models to work on next - there's also Tower Bridge, The Eiffel Tower and The Empire State Building in the range. £19.99 RRP but there are offers out there.... available from all good toy retailers.

Next on the list was a Gelarti Activity Kit by Flair. I hadn't heard of these before, but from the packaging and description I could tell that it was something my two girls would love. Gel pens and stickers? What a great combination!

The pack included 8 sticker sheets, 5 coloured gel squeezy pens, a marbling tool, and 2 bag tags and a card for putting the stickers on. The idea is that you squeeze the gel onto the pictures, create 'fun' effects with the tool (a plastic stick with bobble on the end!), leave them to dry overnight and then you have stickers which are your own design and reusable. Tamsin really enjoyed decorating these.
I was worried Sasha may find the pens too difficult to squeeze, but they were fine and she loved mixing the colours. I'd say this is a perfect gift for ages 5-10 - it certainly provided a couple of hours fun for mine! RRP for this set is £14.99 - again available at all good toy stores.

Last product in today's review group was this Mini Cooper Freestyle car.

My first ever car was a Mini (back in 1989, so it wasn't quite as sporty as this one!!). There's a definite nostalgia aspect for me, even though it's now all modern. This model has a pop up top (when you press the bonnet) and a British Bulldog pops up and barks. Love it, but I'd have to be honest and say the girls were expecting it to do a little more than that - it doesn't go of its own accord and isn't even a pull-back model, so I think they found it a little boring after the first few hundred times of popping the bonnet....! Probably a great choice for car or Mini enthusiasts.

Due to the variety of products, some were not really suitable or applicable for my girls, so for these I found new homes. A Schleich Dinosaur and a Giant Hornet Technokit by Interplay were the first to be passed on (the Hornet was aged 9+ so went to a slightly older boy). Lovely items I'm sure, but no place for them in this house. There's also a gorgeous baby toy from HABA which I still need to rehome.....

Watch out for the Day 2 update tomorrow!!

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

read more "12 Days of Christmas Toy Reviews - Part 1."

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Chance to win one of those cute little fruity things for Xmas? Yes please iMums!

Sorry, but I couldn't help it. Chance to win a new ipad mini? Yes please! Click below.....

I'm probably doing this all wrong and will get penalised in the world of blogging, but I wanted to share the chance with everyone who has helped us by reading my blog. 
Thank you and hope you win!!
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Monday, 26 November 2012

HABA Colour Squares Pegging Game Review

A box containing the HABA Colour Squares Pegging Game found its way to our house recently, and we were only too happy to open it up and take a look.

HABA toys are always gorgeous quality items to treasure, and this one is no different. It consists of a chunky board made of beech wood, with 16 round holes in, and 16 'pegs'. These are actually rounded squares on top with the peg bit on the bottom to fit in the holes.

It basically is what it says on the box! A pegging game, aimed at 2-6 year olds. As the pegs each have two diagonal colours on them, a variety of patterns can be made. they are nice and chunky, so easy to get hold of, and no sharp edges. Sasha loved this toy and does go back to it, although I'd say it'd be more suited to the younger end of the age range generally.

Available January 2013 from Do take a look at their great range for Christmas ideas now though - my particular favourite is the soft banana!!

We were sent the above toy for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are our own.
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Saturday, 24 November 2012

Saturday is Caption Day - my first ever!

Apparently, Saturday is Caption Day. 

I have no idea why I've been so blissfully unaware of this until now, but better late than never is my motto of the day (ha! see what I did there?!), here goes:

Just leave me a comment about what Sasha, or Terry, her Turtle (it's a SHE though, remember?!) might be saying.

Now pop on over to the original linky at Mammasaurus to find some more photos ready and waiting for your quick wit......

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Speech and Chatting With Children by I CAN

Sasha's speech is still developing. Her lack of speech clarity is probably the greatest indicator of her autism, and most likely the reason we got a relatively quick diagnosis.

It has developed immensely over the last 3 years despite the distinct lack of Speech Therapy and she can mostly make herself understood now. We are in a 'funny' situation where she needs help with her speech sounds, but 'they' reckon this can only be improved from age 7. The SALT (Speech and Language Therapist) who visits Sasha at school (but from what I can gather just observes, doesn't actually do any work with her), tried to suggest to me that Sasha gets signed off now so I can re-refer when she is 7. Ho ho ho, very funny indeed. I'm sure you can imagine what my reply to that was.

Apart from the sounds issues Sasha also has what I like to call 'an unusual turn of phrase'. More specifically, she uses set phrases which she has picked up from various DVDs, CBeebies or YouTube clips. Phrases such as 'How could you!' (lifted directly from Donald Duck I believe and said with hands on hips to her older sister when she won't do what Sasha wants her to), or 'there's no moment to lose', or 'busy busy busy, you know me mum, always busy, lots to do', or 'hey, what's the big idea?!'. None of these are what you would 'normally' hear coming out of the mouth of a 5 year old whose speech is delayed.....

Anyhow, I was extremely lucky recently to be sent a communication activity pack for testing. The pack was launched by the children's communication charity, I CAN, and was designed in association with Studio Conran and illustrator Owen Davey.

Chatting with Children is a beautiful pack of 30 fun and interactive activity cards. It also contains a top tips activity guide which offers simple and effective ways of enhancing speaking, listening and understanding skills.

There are 4 main areas to work with:
Understanding what is said
Learning and using new words
Speaking in sentences
Talking socially

Each card gives you a game to play and suggests different ways to do it - including ways to make the game more difficult, or easier for a less confident speaker. Shown above is 'Things you like'. Another example of a game is 'How would you feel?', whereby it suggests you look at a favourite book and talk about how the people may be feeling. This can be made simple by giving the child choices 'are they happy, or sad?', or could also be expanded with more complex words such as proud, annoyed, anxious etc. It's great to have this kind of prompt to look at and follow - with such busy lives we all lead nowadays, it's easy to forget how to take time out to cover the basics.

Kate Freeman, I CAN Communication Advisor and experienced paediatric speech and language therapist gives the following Top Tips for Chatting with Children aged 3-5 years old:

Be quiet Take time to talk to each other in a quiet room. Turn off the TV and radio, and shut the door to block out any other background noises. Children have to learn to block out background noises, so they need a quiet environment to focus on the sounds they hear.

Be face-to-face Help young children to see your face – make sure you’re at the same level as them. Sit or crouch opposite them as they play, or sit them on your lap. Sit opposite the child so you’re face-to-face with them. Being face-to-face means that the child can see you and your facial expressions. Also, you can see them and their responses and reactions to the games you play together or the conversations you are having.

Don’t rush – take plenty of time Young children take longer than adults to process what they hear – sometimes up to 12 seconds. They need plenty of time to respond to you.

Be patient Young children can easily lose interest in what you’re doing – this is perfectly normal, especially for 3-year-olds. Don’t worry – just stop the game that you’re playing together and try again another time.

Be prepared for anything Follow the child’s lead and adapt the game or conversation to fit in with what they’re doing. This can help maintain attention on particular games.

Ditch the dummy A dummy gets in the way of attempts to talk during conversations and games. Children of 3 and over don’t need to use a dummy.

Use the language you naturally use at home It’s important that you speak naturally to young children; this helps develop their language skills.

Enjoy it This is a special time together, so have fun playing, chatting and learning about each other.

Chatting with Children, a new activity pack for adults to help develop communication skills in children aged 3-5 is available from I CAN

Any parent with a question or concern about their child's communication can contact the I CAN Help Enquiry Service for a call or email from a speech and language therapist - visit
We were sent the above pack for the purpose of this review, but have not received payment. All the views expressed here are my own.
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Monday, 19 November 2012

Autism and Mainstream Schooling - Yes!

Today I'm going to briefly refer back to an earlier post I did this month: Autism and Mainstream Schooling - Do They Mix?

I was apprehensive about the start of this half term for Sasha. Things had not been going so well for the last couple of weeks before the break; I was having to go into the classroom regularly to retrieve Sasha at the end of each day. That might sound like a good thing, almost as if she's having so much fun she doesn't want to go home, but it's actually the opposite - she's been so overwhelmed by the day or upset by an incident that she can't pull herself together and move on. I was concerned that the 'down' instances might snowball and become impossible in the run up to Christmas.

Well..... (I almost don't want to write this *clutches nearest piece of wood very tightly* but...) 
so far, so good. It's nice to be able to update you in a cheerful way. I had the teacher consultation recently, and it was thankfully a very positive one.

The teacher really warmed the cockles of my heart (overseas visitors may want to google or click here for an explanation of that particular phrase...!) by praising how well Sasha has coped with the transition to Year 1. It's nice to hear an appreciation and understanding of how difficult things are for Sasha. Flexibility is key to working and achieving with Sasha, and right now the school are doing that in a great way. There are times when Sasha just will not join in with the group, and so it is true that she is not necessarily working to the same level as her classmates at all times, but at least she is progressing and attempting some more challenging things.

As I think I've said before, Sasha is actually quite 'bright' in a lot of ways - she has now moved on from teaching herself Spanish to attempting French (not curriculum for Year 1!), she is particularly good with numbers, and her spelling and reading have improved significantly. 

She has come on in leaps and bounds with regards to her understanding of all sort of situations - she can now grasp the concept of what will happen in the future, something we struggled with a lot previously. She still doesn't necessarily understand social rules and boundaries, but she's working on them. Unlike the commonly listed traits of autism, she is sociable and can be empathetic. We are extremely lucky that she is a curious and outgoing kind of girl naturally as this has helped in many situations!

Her main struggle currently appears to be writing. Whilst she can write her own name perfectly (in joined-up/cursive writing as they are taught at our school), she refuses to attempt any other words. Partly because her pencil grip is not so strong, but also, I believe, because she has a fear of failure and won't try in case she gets it wrong. It takes me back to when she was at nursery and would always scribble big black lines over any picture she had drawn. A couple of theories given to us were that either she was depicting the nightfall coming after her picture, or that she wasn't happy with the end result so didn't want it to be seen. Maybe at the age of 3 it was neither and she just loved black scribble, who can say?! She certainly couldn't explain why herself back then. Her use of language has improved measurably too, something which I will be coming onto in my next post. 

Anyhow I digress... I just wanted to update everyone with an answer to my own question - I'd say that 'YES!', autism and mainstream schooling do mix - for us, and for now at least. 
I don't have all the answers, but we're hanging on in there.Smiley

Last week I was also extremely thankful for all our lives after watching our eldest girl, Tamsin, nearly squished on a zebra crossing by school - she was half way across with a friend, when a car overtook, on the wrong side of the road, two stationary cars which had already stopped at the crossing. Smiley The speeding car missed my girl by inches and I think I spent the rest of the day in shock. It strangely made me happier and more determined to live life to the full though - go on, spread the word!
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Monday, 12 November 2012

Mummy 'Me' Time and cakes. A good mix (ho ho).

Oooh, get me. I only went and had a bit of 'me' time yesterday..... lucky old me!

My main passion in life is of course Take That, but my second favourite thing is cakes. Not eating them, funnily enough - I can take or leave a cake, but show me a choccy biccie and I crumble (ho ho).

I like to decorate cakes. Any size or shape will do, though my current preference is for cupcakes. Well yesterday I took a whole day out to visit the Cake International Fair at the NEC in Birmingham with a great friend, and boy what a day we had!

There's too many fantastic photos for me to be able to include them all sadly. I'm going to have to let these pictures speak for themselves, but I will just say that yes, these are ALL edible, even the very special flowers, and yes, that chicken is made of cake and not chicken!!! Not sure I'll be attempting that any time soon...

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Saturday, 10 November 2012

Diary of a 7 year old - all the important things covered.

Tamsin, our 7 year old daughter, was really keen to post something she had written herself on my blog.

I left it really open, and said she could write about anything - so she did. Here's her story of our wonderful half term, which she obviously enjoyed! I've added some photos in for her.....

Monday 3/11/12
it was baking day! I made monsters, witches , mummys and eyeball cakes.

we went to Ashridge. We climbed up a tower and came down it. We then bought a RUDOLPH! yes we did.

HALLOWEEN! I went to my friends party for Halloween.

I got to go to Moshi monsters HQ. Me and Sasha had poppet face paint on our eye brows.

today we went to a friend's house (which has a swimming pool). We then went to 360.

today I went to my friend Daisy's house before we both went to the village hall for fireworks.

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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Autism: How and when to educate others?

Recently I read a brilliant post which points out a lot of the myths surrounding autism. Luckily it also provides the facts. If you're interested, please pop on over to Let's Chat Autism but do come back!

There was one section which interested me greatly:

Myth: Autism spectrum disorders are something to be hidden. Other students should not know about the presence of an ASD in a classmate. If you do not tell the other children, they will not know that something is “wrong” with the student with an ASD.

Fact: Students need to know when their classmates have a developmental disability that is likely to effect interactions and learning. Students as young as five years old are able to identify differences in their peers. When students are not given appropriate information, they are likely to draw the wrong conclusions, based on their very limited experiences. Confidentiality rules must be taken into consideration and parental approval sought to teach peers how to understand and interact successfully with children with ASD.

From the start of our journey, I always knew I wanted to 'tell' people about Sasha. This was driven by a desire to build awareness, and to help others understand. It's only a hidden disability for as long as we try to keep it hidden.

Sasha's speech didn't develop at the same rate as her peers - at this stage she has a great vocabulary, but an unusual turn of phrase, and her sounds are still not totally clear. That makes it obvious that there is something 'different' about her. I'll have to be honest and say that sometimes, when she does say something in public which is not quite right, my heart does sink a little. Simply because I realise how it sets her apart from her classmates and it reminds me of the gap. Most of the time it also makes me smile, because she really is infectious.

Along the way, I've met other mums of children with autism who haven't wanted anyone to know about their child's diagnosis. They have had their own individual reasons for not wanting to 'share', and the reasons could have been anything from the personality of the parent, to the child not being 'very' autistic - i.e. the parents have felt that it is not that noticeable and therefore they don't want to draw attention to the 'difference'. I have explained before that I almost feel a  strange sense of relief that Sasha's speech makes her 'noticeable' - maybe not instantly, but certainly after spending any length of time with her. It must be so much harder when people question a diagnosis even more than they did for us. 'She's fine' or 'she'll grow out of it' were probably two of the most difficult things to hear when Sasha was younger, however well-intentioned.

Over the past 2 years there have been times when I have questioned whether I should have been so open and honest about Sasha's diagnosis. I think there have been times when others have hinted indirectly that it was the wrong thing to do. I still stand by my decision; it's not in my nature to be secretive. Good friends have told me both that they think I'm brave, but also that they believe, like me, that it's the right thing to do.

Being open leads to its own problems though. Now Sasha is 5, and in Year 1, I've been wondering at what point we need to explain to her peers why she is unable to follow instructions in the same way as they do, and why she can 'get away with' not joining in. Her classmates don't know what makes Sasha different, but how can they even begin to understand if we don't tell them? The difficulty is though, if we do tell them, how do we tell Sasha? 

She is still really unaware of her own difficulties, and the consequences of refusing to participate. Some of her classmates are already very aware of Sasha. Luckily they seem to just love her for who she is right now, which is heart-warming of course. If we try to explain autism (!) to her classmates, there's every chance one of them would give her the story at some point in the not-too-distant future. Or maybe even half the story. And she might just understand a quarter of it. See what that might lead to?! Dangerous territory I fear.

Sadly this is the scenario we will face at some point. Explaining to Sasha is probably going to be the most difficult thing to do, ever. How will I know when it's the right time? Will there ever be a right time?

Being bullied is a sad truth for lots of children with autism. For lots of children without, too. I can honestly say I never felt the fear of being a victim of bullying thankfully - bitchiness which happens with girls, yes, but not bullying. That doesn't mean I can't imagine the despair of it. There are bullies everywhere in the world and sadly they do tend to pick on the weaker ones. Of course the children now are too young, but we have to face the fact that it is likely to happen in the future. 

In the meantime I'm obviously keen to pave as smooth a path as possible for Sasha. If we educate more parents and children about autism, then hopefully there will be less bullying and more understanding.
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