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Sunday, 27 October 2013

Pup In Space! (Teksta does a Space Jump)

Teksta, the ultra cool interactive puppy which is sure to be on lots of Christmas lists this year, has only gone and done a Space Jump! 

 
Apparently Teksta went up to an altitude of 97,000ft before returning to earth by Parachute.  He endured temperatures as low as -61 Celsius, and the Air pressure was 0.406lbs/sq ft. 

How amazeballs is that?

Teksta is a robotic puppy which needs training - it responds to voice, touch and hand gestures. It can be taught tricks, and even does Gangnam Style (probably better than me). It comes in blue and pink versions and retails for around £59.99 - but stock is flying out, so make sure you get yours in time for Christmas!
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Christmas in July. Yep, you heard right.

So. Back in July (ahem. Where has that time gone?!) I was invited to attend the very popular Christmas in July event. My two favourite things being talked about together - Toys and Christmas, how could I refuse?!

Back when I had a LBC (Life Before Children) I was a stationery and toy buyer for some top retailers, so I always have one eye on what is happening in the industry. I actually attended this event in 2012 too, so I knew what to expect. Great brands, and a preview of what is going to be out there for all our girls and boys at Christmas time.

The most eye-catching product at the event had to be the radio control inflatable Minion from the Despicable Me film:

Sold by Bladeztoyz, this retails for around £39.99, and I can see hours of fun to be had with it. A bit like a Weeble, it always rights itself, and can be used indoors and outdoors. There are also Disney Cars and Planes versions of this product - lots of fun to be had with all of them! Bladextoyz also have fantastic helicopters; the one we have at home is much loved by both Mr C and Sasha. New versions shoot water and bubbles and I definitely see them being very popular.

Top of Tamsin's list for Christmas is a pet. I'm thinking we should get her a TEKSTA puppy.
Not quite as cuddly maybe, but the plus side is that it wouldn't need walking in the rain. These are amazing bits of kit - they respond to voice, touch and your hand gestures. They are wireless, interactive, programmable and apparently they even show emotion! Available from www.character-online.com, they retail at about £59.99. Keep watching for my next post to see what amazing thing they have been up to!

Sasha's favourite characters is Doc McStuffins, and there's a whole host of great products out there under this brand. At the show I saw the Doc McStuffins Time for a Check Up Centre by Flair - Sasha would love one of these but for space reasons Mr C definitely wouldn't, so I guess we'll have to compromise on something else from the range. The Magic-Talkin-Check-Up-Set looks slightly smaller but just as much fun:

Trunki.com were there, with their fabulous range of products - again, bound to put huge smiles on faces this Christmas. My girls loved travelling with their Trunkis which we bought a couple of years ago, and now there's a fantastic tie in with Moshi Monsters. There are Katsuma and Poppet versions which I know they would have adored.

I love the focus on innovation and design which this company has - their latest products are the PaddlePaks, splash-proof backpacks for little ones in funky underwater designs. Check out their BoostApaks and SnooziHedz too!

One of my favourite new products was Skwooshi from Flair (who also do the Trash Pack and plenty of other great products). Skwooshi is a mouldable compound which never dries out, and because it doesn't crumble (know that one, parents?!) it doesn't make a mess - a win-win situation as the children will LOVE playing with it!!
HABA toys were also on show and their products are always top quality and well thought out to give lots of play value. I bet most houses with children have a HABA product in them somewhere - and if they don't, they should! Just look at this fabulous Toy Shop With Yummy Veggies (although personally I'd go for the Pastry Pleasures):

Another gorgeous product I saw was the bedroom art from Illuminated Canvas - well worth a look if you have a bare wall or would like to freshen a room up.

We have been lucky enough to review a couple of products from Ravensburger before now - the 3D Big Ben puzzle and an Aquarelle set - and I'd definitely recommend both of these for Christmas presents. DKL are well worth a look too - Hama beads, which my girls have just started getting into, top quality wooden toys and a huge doll range (I have my eye on the bath one which dries out quickly for Sasha!). Drumond Park have a huge range of family board games, and I reckon there should always be at least one of these under the tree to force Uncles to play with the children share as a happy family activity on Boxing Day. I think we'll go for Catchphrase this year - very retro!

There were so many toys there that both my girls would appreciate - definites under the tree for us are the One Direction Top Trumps from Winning Moves, who have a fantastic range of products on their website (including the brilliant Bananagrams), and the squeezy Neep from Rainbow Designs. No doubt there will be a few more of the above in the pile too!

My personal favourite ranges shown at the event came from Great Gizmos. They have so many craft kits which make perfect birthday and party presents - but great stocking fillers too. Such as the Mosaic craft sets, at different price points, or the Science range (who doesn't want to make a volcano?!), or the Mould and Paint products - Glitter ballerinas, yes please!

Their Nici range of soft toys is totally adorable. I'm putting the Monster keyring on my Christmas list (hint, hint, everybody) ;)


It's fair to say, I do LOVE Christmas - and writing this post has definitely got me into the festive spirit now. Oh come on, it is nearly November...



Disclaimer: I was given a ticket for this Press event for free but all the views given are my own; I wasn't actually asked to write a post about any of this! I'm just hoping I don't get penalised for so many links, but I wanted to give all you parents some ideas of where to start that difficult shop!
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Friday, 25 October 2013

Moshi Monsters and Pudsey, best of friends!

My girls are going to be delighted today when they see the news that Pudsey and Moshi Monsters™ are joining forces and becoming friends!

Pudsey and Moshi Monsters Poppet and Katsuma

Mind Candy, the wonderful company behind the global kids’ phenomenon Moshi Monsters™, has announced that it will be supporting BBC Children in Need this year. 

Pudsey invited Katsuma and Poppet to his BBC HQ to present them with his iconic spotty bandanna. 

The BBC Children in Need Mascot was also seen exploring Moshi HQ and was made available to be bought in game on MoshiMonsters.com, where players can purchase the famous bear with their in-game currency (Rox). Alongside this as part of the partnership, Mind Candy and Vivid Toy Group have created 30,000 limited edition Spotty Moshlings Collectors Tins, with £3 of each sale going direct to the charity fundraiser. 

The BBC Children in Need 2013 Appeal show is on BBC One on Friday 15 November. This is such a worthwhile charity and an event which my children definitely love to get involved in. I do really like to see big brands using their influence to create awareness and help others.


Further information on BBC Children in Need can be found at bbc.co.uk/pudsey  
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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Schooling for high functioning autistic children - what is suitable?

Sigh. I don't know why I do it to myself. I've just wasted a good hour looking at the local property pages, in full knowledge that all Mr C wants is a country garden so he can buy a sit-on lawn mower, and what I'd actually like is for someone to come in and just re-decorate all of our house (apart from the kitchen) in one go so it looks at least presentable. On top of that, I also know that we can't afford to move anyway (have you seen property prices down here lately?!), and even if we could, I don't know where we could move to exactly, because that decision would need to be driven by where the girls could go to school. 

And therein lies the biggest problem. What school can the girls go to? Just recently I've been very aware of other parents doing the rounds of local secondary schools open evenings. We are extremely lucky in this area that there are several good schools and so it's not as if there is a really bad choice. However, everything is different if you have a child with Special Needs. I don't want to pull the old 'woe is me' line or make anybody else feel bad, but it is simple fact that the decision for us is so much more difficult. So difficult in fact, that I really wish someone else would come along and make that decision for me. 

For our eldest it should be a relatively easy decision, as, unless we move, we only have guaranteed entry into one of two schools – one Catholic, one not. 

I'm finding it hard though, to separate the decision for our eldest away from the choice we may have to make for our youngest with autism. For our youngest, there'd be so much to gain from going to the same school as her elder sister – that familiarity, understanding of routines and recognition of the buildings would be a great basis from which to start. However, at this stage, with Sasha only in Year 2, we have no idea if she is going to be able to cope with a mainstream secondary at all, even if it was to be with a 1-1 support (which is not currently in her statement anyway, and you wouldn't believe how difficult it is to get that changed – but that's a whole other story!). 

Sasha has managed admirably in her mainstream infant school so far, and they have been extremely flexible and encouraging with her. The 'SATs' testing for end of Year 2 will be here before we know it though, and I haven't the faintest idea how they are really going to grasp and get down on paper how much Sasha has learnt and how she compares to the other children. We have discussed how Sasha doesn't have a learning disability, but we also agree that her PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) is a barrier to her learning. We're not sure we can define her as high-functioning, but she's definitely not 'low-functioning' (not actually a real phrase). We are currently waiting for a return appointment at Great Ormond Street where they will do more in-depth assessments (they had such a huge influx of referrals that there is now a 6 month waiting list) to help define her areas of strength and weakness.

Numeracy is definitely Sasha's thing (although she's not a genius, let's not get stereotypical here!), and she's had a love of numbers from an early age. Her reading has come on in leaps and bounds, and she reads with good expression (when she wants to, a very common PDA phrase). She very rarely agrees to write, although I have been pleasantly surprised that she has agreed to write her own spelling words for the past three weeks (being able to choose and even copy the words herself has probably helped there to be fair!). Everybody says that not being able to write shouldn't hold you back in this day and age, but I'm not sure how true that actually is. It's not as if she has picked up super fast typing skills to make up for the lack of writing (although she can build a much better Minecraft world than me...). So recording her work remains a big challenge.

Mainstream secondary schools are just so huge (so many pupils) that it would be difficult to see how they could give Sasha the attention she needs. The environment would also prove challenging for her – sensory issues are a common feature of autism. The alternative to mainstream, which several SEN (Special Educational Needs) parents turn to, private education, is likely to be impossible for us – quite apart from the money issue (as mentioned at the beginning of post, ahem), they do tend to expect a certain level of conforming and 'doing as told', neither of which particularly apply to Sasha. 

My preference would definitely be for 'inclusion' for Sasha – for her to be able to attend the same mainstream school as her sister. However, PDA is still relatively unheard of and I don't think many SENCOs, let alone teachers, would fully understand it, and would be willing to make the necessary flexible adjustments to keep Sasha motivated. Even if they were, the huge task of educating her peers and the issue of inevitable bullying would still need to be addressed. 

So my current feeling is that a Free School for high-functioning autistic children, led by the National Autistic Society (NAS), would be the best environment for Sasha to spend her years aged 11-18. Somewhat cocooned maybe, but encouraged and educated by individuals who would really understand and care about her, and enable her to develop her full potential so there could be a chance of good society integration as an adult. 

Am I just dreaming? Well yes, it would seem so. Currently there is no such school in our county, and despite the NAS having opened schools like this already in other counties (for more information see here), our local county council is dead set against it and are refusing to support the idea. Apparently they are insisting that Hertfordshire already has suitable educational places for high functioning ASD children. That is despite the fact that there are not even any autism bases attached to mainstream schools, such as exist in other counties. 

In this county, the choice is either mainstream, MLD/SLD special schools (moderate/severe learning disabilities, neither of which Sasha has) or BESD schools – behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. These BESD schools are predominantly filled with male pupils with challenging (violent) behaviour. NOT the kind of place I'll ever be sending my girl to. 

Home educating is the final option, but for me it would definitely be a last resort. I totally accept the views of parents who choose to home educate, but I think lots of parents sympathise with me when I say I think my children work better for others. I know for sure that there are lots of SEN children being home educated simply because their mainstream setting was a complete disaster, and there was then no other option. Funny how the council does not have to record this fact – and also interesting to know that once out of the education system, the council no longer has to pay financially for any of these children (someone please do correct me if I'm wrong....). Why can't we have an NAS Free School in Herts? Does it all come down to money again? The fact is though, that the council would save money if the Free School was opened, as there would be less parents going to tribunal (a costly legal process) to win a place for their child at an educational setting outside of this county than there currently are.

I cannot begin to tell you how infuriated I am with the short-sighted attitude of our county council. Whether the Free School would prove to be the right choice for my girl or not remains to be seen, but I do believe that all autistic children should have the right to an education where there is a level playing field and they are able to learn without the distractions a huge school brings with it. Even acknowledgment that we need some autism bases, and widespread training of teaching staff would be a small move in the right direction. 

Can you help me? How do we change this situation? What should I do next? What would you do?

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Thursday, 10 October 2013

Back To School with ASD - an overdue update!

I've had a couple of requests lately, and so I've decided it is indeed time for a long overdue update on Sasha's schooling. People do ask regularly how she's getting on, and I'm never quite sure whether they want the full-on honest truth, or whether I should be just telling them that everything is fine.... 

Which of course it is, mostly, but as most other SEN (Special Educational Needs) mums will tell you, if everything is going well in one area, then you have to start to worry about another. Largely in the hope that you don't get winded by the largest curveball ever, but of course you can't prepare for every eventuality. I guess I can die trying though...

So, whilst I am mid-way through a very long and involved post about the latest ponderings over what the future holds as far as schooling goes, I thought I'd share this little clip of Sasha with you which I took at the end of Day 2 of Back To School for Sasha (shame about the unfortunate still frame it seems to have picked!). 

Back then (how quickly have those weeks flown by?!) my biggest concerns were about the gap widening between Sasha and her peers, and the thought that she would end up spending her playtimes alone. How that might happen is totally understandable, given that Sasha just wants everyone to play her games, by her rules, and she's not too good at explaining what those rules are... Six/seven year olds tend to get bored of being shouted at quite quickly, and I can't say I blame them. However thanks to a push from me for a change to her statement, there is supposed to be some intervention for some playtimes at school, and Sasha seems generally happy of late so I can only assume things are working out fine... for now. 

Sasha alludes to the friendship issues at the end of this video, but I'm happy to say for now they seem to be laying low. Not forgotten though sadly - it's an issue which I'm sure will raise it's ugly head again in the next year or two. 

I feel really blessed though that Sasha's classmates seem to be very accepting of her, and some are amazingly understanding - one gorgeous girl came out of the classroom door to offer her help this morning when she saw that she had an extra item to juggle! I truly hope she remains that loved for the rest of her schooldays and can be protected from the bullying.... time will tell. For now, she's having fun and willingly going to school - what more can I ask for?!



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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Center Parcs Family Blogger club #CPFamilyBreaks

I've been working on my post for the Center Parcs Family Blogger club video competition entry for several days now. When I first heard about the competition I knew instantly it was the one thing I HAD to make sure I entered before the end date. Center Parcs are amazing, with so many activities to take part in as a family.

However, every time I sat down to try and pull something together, I was rudely interrupted. By phones, emails, wee breaks and two over-excited girls. Also, we have a million photos on file, and once you start looking at one, it brings all the happy memories back and you keep on looking..... and looking.

Finally though, I managed to create something that I'm modestly happy with (I'm no movie maker, in fact this is the first one I've ever attempted! Now, I'm hooked. Watch out.). Please do click on the little cross when the advert box pops up, else you might miss some important words.

We would love to be part of the Center Parcs Family Blogger Club, and although we would quite happily go to any of their sites (even the other end of the country!), we've picked Elveden because we had to settle for one, and we'd all love to have a go on the new Tropical Cyclone water ride we've seen they have there. Pretty sure most of the other family activities in our clip can be enjoyed there too!

This Is Us. The Curtis Family. Hope you enjoy our little video.




Thanks to Tots100 and Center Parcs for the chance to enter. #CPFamilyBreaks Fingers tightly crossed!
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