Monday, April 27

Duplo Adventures on a Rainy Day

Duplo is a toy which is much loved in our house, a toy which both Emmy and Harry both adore.
We have a few sets already and a few mismatched boxes of oddment's which I purchased from eBay.  What I love about these toys is there are no restrictions on play and your child's imagination is what brings the play to life.
Recently our collection grew a little with the addition of 2 new Duplo sets - a learn to count train and a construction set from House of Fraser.

Harry instantly laid claim to the Duplo train - he had been eyeing this up in the store a few weeks ago so was so happy.
Included in the box are:
A train with 3 carriages
number blocks 1-10
A driver
A dog
Additional bricks to make a bridge
Of course you need to build the train with bricks and you can either follow the picture instructions or the box pictures to aid with this.
This set is aimed at children aged 1.5 years - 5 years.
Of course the pictures are only a guide and the building possibilities are endless.  Harry and I started off by copying the design, he then loved to take it all apart and build towers with the numbers.

We have been using the number blocks to teach Harry number sequences, he knows his numbers but these are helping him to identify them and to match them correctly.
This sets helps to encourage:
  • Fine Motor Skills
  • Shapes & Colours
  • Ideas & Creativity
  • Number & Counting
The Train is priced at £13
Emmy was very happy to lay claim to the construction set and I can't say I blame her and I also had great fun playing with her - girls love cars and destruction/construction after all (which is why I chose this set especially for her).
This set is aimed at ages 2-5 years and includes all the pieces needed to make 2 construction vehicle's as well as a crane.
As with all Duplo sets the possibilities of play are endless.
We've enjoyed pretending to build houses and of course to knock them down again, to dig up the road and moving blocks around in the diggers.
These sets are great fun for younger children - a good introduction smaller Lego sets.
 This sets helps to encourage:
  • Fine Motor Skills
  • Shapes & Colours
  • Ideas & Creativity
This construction set is priced at £15
Disclaimer:  We were sent these sets for the purpose of this post.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.
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Sunday, April 26

How to keep our children safe online - Internet Matters

I know Emmy is only 5 and a half but she is getting to that age where she is beginning to spend a little time online now, she has IT lessons at school and can navigate her way around the school computers quite well now - they use drawing and maths programmes currently and as her school life progresses she will advance with these lessons more and more.
At home she can use my smart phone to play her apps and games, she also has a Leappad and a Kindle Fire HDX - originally mine but reclaimed now by the children.  A few of her school friends are currently into unwrapping videos on YouTube or Playdoh making videos - Emmy is yet to discover YouTube as I let her play on the Kindle in KindleFree time, this means I can restrict internet access, in app purchases and set timers for when she can play and the amount of time she plays for too.  However, it won't be long before she is asking as if her friends do then inevitably they will be talking about it.
I'm not daft, I won't keep her away from the internet - in the day and age we live in it's an essential part of our lives, if it wasn't I wouldn't be typing this now, and you wouldn't be reading it would you?
So the time has come for me to start thinking of the best practices for keeping her safe online - while the majority of what she will see if fine, there may be the occasions where a mistyped word/phase will reveal things she isn't ready to see.  As adults we know that the internet is does contain inappropriate content for children (and adults too) but our children don't and it's our job to help keep them safe.
I've been looking at a site called to help me make sure our devices and computers are child friendly before she starts to explore, after could be too late so doing it now for me is essential.
The site has age guides for Pre-School age (0-5 years), Young Children (6-10 years) and pre-teens (11-13 years) and for each age group you can find helpful resources.
I've been looking at the Pre-School age content and resources to start with as both Emmy and Harry fall into this category, I will then read up on the 6-10 age group ready before Emmy is ready.
I really like the easy to follow checklists for each age group, this is the Pre-School checklist.
I was pleasantly surprised at how many of these I already have in place, I have passwords on the kindle so they can only access their own profiles where they can find the games, apps, books and videos I have added there already for them, however this doesn't allow internet access at all currently so I will need to change some of Emmy's settings. 
I like the idea of setting a child friendly homepage such as CBeebies - I am going to implement this one tomorrow (it's time to admit the kids aren't letting me have my Kindle back so it may as well be 100% child friendly - I will also remove my email account, FB and Twitter accounts as they have no need to access those).
I need to investigate the safe settings for YouTube before I will allow her to start typing in her own searches and Kids-Search is something new to me too.
There are videos to watch which run through these checklists with you making is even easier to follow and click through to the mentioned resources.
The site also shows how different age groups have different issues which could affect them online - for instance the first picture here is for the Pre-Schoolers and the second is for 6-10 year olds:
0-5 year olds
Obviously when children get older the way they use the internet changes; so it moves from just playing games and watching videos to a way to communicate with friends, helping with homework and much more.
It is always advisable to monitor usage, this can be done without invading their privacy - make sure they can only access age appropriate content and remember age restriction's are there to help keep them safe. 
I have found this site useful as things change all the time - when I was Emmy's age we didn't have the use of computers in schools like she does and although we did have a home computer our games were played on a games console with definitely didn't have internet access - a simple keyboard and joystick worked for us.  That makes me sound like a dinosaur doesn't it? but I am only 35 - my childhood computer was a commodore 64 and I loved it, infact my parents still have it in their loft.
I now feel more prepared for when Emmy starts spending time online, is it something you have thought about yet?  What steps do you have in place for ensuring your children's safety?
"This is a collaborative post"
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Saturday, April 25

Design it your way - Have your say and help design a new Baby Changing Bag

As parents we know what works for us, this is best done through experience.
If you are like me then when pregnant you may have gone with a pretty option over a practical one. 
Not having to use a changing bag daily I didn't know what I needed in a bag - and seeing as these often see us through until our children are toddlers and possibly through to the next child it is something which should be given a little more thought.
In my opinion changing bags need separate compartments for various items to save hunting around in the bottom of the bag searching for Nappy cream, wipes etc.
I'm currently working alongside Cooper & Hill to help design a brand new changing bag and not only can I have my say in this, you can too.
We are asking for your opinions in what you think would work best.
As parents you know just as well as I do what you would like to see, the very exiting thing about this project is it will be happening VERY quickly - we need your opinions by Wednesday.  There are a couple of bloggers working on this project, once all the data has been collected, the finalised design will be sent off to be manufactured.
What you see here is an organiser which can be place inside a tote bag.
Which design do YOU like best?  There are 3 photos for each design. 
As a thank you for your help, once this has been manufactured I will be giving you the chance to win one for yourselves!
 To make it easy for you please fill in your design choices in the polls below.

Which bag design do you prefer?

And finally which colour would you like this made in?

Bag colour?

If you prefer a different colour please do let me know which in the comments.
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Thursday, April 23

Cheese and Onion Risotto with Escalope Fingers

With Harry now in Pre-School and Emmy in School by the end of the day they are very tired and very hungry.
I need to make nutritious meals but quick ones too - now I do love my slow cooker and it is perfect for these times but I'm not always that organised and need a back up plan.
Recently Bernard Matthews challenged me to come up with a recipe for the children which incorporated one of their fresh breaded products.
Always up for a challenge this is what I came up with:
Cheese and Onion Risotto with Turkey Escalope Fingers:

1 small Onion (red or white) finely chopped- I chose Red for the added colour
2 tbsp. unsalted Butter
3/4 cup of risotto rice (Arborio rice)
1/2 pint of stock (I used chicken but vegetable would work too)
1/4 cup of grated cheese (parmesan works best - however I used cheddar)
Bernard Matthews Turkey Escalope's
Peas to serve
Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees.  Add the Escalope's to a baking tray and cook in the middle of the oven for around 15 minutes, turning half way through.
In a large pan or wok add the butter using a low heat, once melted add the chopped onions and keep stirring for around 2-3 minutes - Don't let them burn.  Next add the rice and stir so it becomes coated in the butter, stir for a minute before adding the stock.
Turn up the heat to medium until it simmers then reduce again, keep stirring at frequent intervals so the rice doesn't stick.  Keep an eye on the liquid levels - the rice will take around 14 minutes to cook, you can taste it to see if it is done and if it soaks up the liquid too quickly then add a little more water and stir.
Once cooked remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.
Cut the cooked Escalope's into fingers and serve with the risotto and peas - I used a rice press to shape the rice.
The whole cooking and preparation process took just over 20 minutes and was very easy to make - but what did the kids think?
Well we had almost clean plates all around - Emmy ate 2 of her Escalope fingers which is a great thing for her as she doesn't really eat meat due to the texture of it, Harry ate 3 of his and they both ate most of their risotto and all of the peas.
All-in-all I would say this is a hit, and not only that it is cheap and easy/quick to make.
This will be added to our meal plans from now on.
"This is a collaborative post with Bernard Matthews"
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Alternative ways to pay for your supper

With the cost of a meal out rising rapidly many of us definitely think twice before heading into town for a bite to eat.
The average cost of a 3 course meal for 2 people where I live, with a glass of wine is around £50, factor in babysitters too and ouch!  Not the cheapest way to spend an evening and it certainly needs planning into your monthly finances.  When we eat out with the kids we only go for 2 courses (for us) as they don't sit still long enough and to keep down the costs.
With this in mind I've been searching around to bring down the cost of a meal out.
Here are my top 5 suggestions:
  1. Cheat
    M&S, Tesco and Waitrose all do finest style meal deals - Main Meals, a side dish, dessert and a drink for a set price
    Put the kids to bed and lay the dinner table nicely with a tablecloth and candles, turn down the lights and light some candles.
    Make sure the TV is off and turn on the music.
    Voila a home restaurant - ok not the same but much cheaper!
  2. Come dine with me
    I'm not talking about getting a film crew around and searching through each others undies drawers,  unless of course that floats your boat!
    However getting together with a group of friends and each taking turns to cook for each other is a lovely way of not only eating out but catching up with good friends too.
  3. Play for your supper
    A different take on singing for your supper.
    A new idea which happened recently was a pop-up restaurant where you can determine just how much your meal will cost by playing poker for it in the world's first pay-by-poker restaurant. The more you win the less your meal will cost.
    I'm not a great player so doubt mine would cost less but Paul likes to play so hopefully we could save some money and have a little fun in the process.
  4. Eat out during the week or at lunchtimes
    Many restaurants will have a weekday cheap menu or a lunchtime special menu, 2 or 3 courses for a set price.
    By taking advantage of these offers you could save a fair bit,  as long as you don't mind ordering from a set menu.
  5. Exchange reward points for restaurant vouchers
    Tesco clubcard points can be exchanged for restaurant vouchers at a fabulous rate.
    A few months back I exchanged ours for Pizza Express vouchers,  exchanging £2.50 of vouchers gives you £10 credit.
    There are a few dates that you can't use your vouchers in certain establishments such as Christmas week and bank holidays. You can't use these against any drinks you order but it makes for a very cheap meal out.

Do you have any suggestions on lowering the cost of a meal out?

"This is a collaborative post"
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