Monday, 26 September 2016

Autumn Activities from the Forestry Commission #ColourMeHappy

This Autumn, Forestry Commission England wants to get everyone out and about enjoying their local forest, and to help they have produced a fab free pack of Autumn activities for the home and outdoors. You can get your pack here - Free Autumn Learning Activity Pack - and it is packed with crafts and activities using things that you'll see and find in the forest. 

We were sent some crafty bits and pieces so that we could try out some of the activities ourselves. We started with a canvas tree picture, using colours that we found in nature. Mia collected together as many different colours as she could - green grass and leaves, coloured flower petals, berries, and some dirt mixed with water. Then she used them to paint the canvas. The mud worked best, but the coloured petals also worked really well, and she produced a fantastic background for her art. 

Making a collage using natural materials

Then she painted a tree outline and used white glue to stick down different shapes and sizes of leaf that she found to make the outline of the tree. She was so proud of her finished picture that she took it into school to show her class!

Collage picture for Autumn

Then I tried my hand at making an Autumn themed dream catcher. I found some instructions here - How to Make a Dreamcatcher - and used a small wooden hoop, twine and beads to weave it together. I decorated it with some Autumn leaves that Mia had collected.

Autumn themed dreamcatcher

Finally, Mia and I enjoyed some adult colouring sheets which you can download here - Autumn colouring sheets - a great way to spend some quiet time together.

Adult colouring sheets for Autumn

Have a look at the Autumn Colour Me Happy Map to find your nearest Forestry Commission forest and see what activities they have planned for the season. In many of the forests you will find Woven Woodlands - giant weaving looms like the one below to which visitors are invited to add their own additions and build a colourful natural installation. 

Giant outdoor weaving loom

Don't forget to download your own free activities pack to help you get the most from the forest this Autumn!

We were provided with some crafty bits and pieces to help us complete these projects.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Book review - Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown

Martin Brown is the illustrator of the extremely popular Horrible Histories series of books, and Lesser Spotted Animals is his first foray into writing and illustrating. When Brown was little he loved drawing animals, and in fact he had the initial drawings for this book stashed away for 30 years!


Lesser Spotted Animals is a fantastic book for chidren that are bored with reading about the usual handful of different animals and want to find out about animals that we never get to see. I immediately knew that this book would appeal to Harry, he loves reading non-fiction books and learning fun and quirky facts that he can share with us. I was right, he has hardly put it down!


Each page introduces us to a new animal - the Dagger-Toothed Flower Bat, the Cuban Solenodon and Speke's Pectinator to name a few. Each double spread page contains a gorgeous illustration, information, fun facts and plenty of humour. Some of the animals seem familiar, and others are completely new. There's a little fact box for each one and I loved the way that it's written to appeal to little ones, for example Size - 'as big as a very tall, fat man lying down' or 'bit smaller than a guinea pig but with a long sturdy tail' - it's really easy to visualise! Some of these animals are plentiful but many are endangered, and there is very little known about some of them.

It's a great book that a child can pick up and put down to read in small chunks, great for bedtime, and packed with plenty of useful and fun information.

I received a copy of this book to review. Amazon link is affiliate.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

September - Lately I've been...

I feel as though I've not written anything personal on my blog for a while, so I thought I'd share a few of the things that I've been up to lately! I've been...

Thinking about - The children started a new school in September. Fortunately after a couple of small wobbles they seem to be settling in really well, and are really excited about their topics this term and are making new friends. But I'm always thinking about them when they are at school, wondering what they are doing, and I look forward to hearing all about it at the end of the day.

Worrying about - The new school is close to a town centre a little way away and comes with a few challenges, like lots of traffic on the school run and tight parking spaces. I've found a couple of roads close by though that are just a few minutes walk away and where I can always find easy parking, so hopefully I'll get used to it over time!

Crafting - The Sky Blanket continues to increase rapidly in size, and it is now becoming rather unwieldy. I'm not looking forward to adding the border, it's going to take a very long time! The blanket has a lovely smooth texture and is a nice weight to sit underneath, there are going to be some lovely family snuggles under it (there will be plenty of room for everyone!)

Watching - We don't have a television series on the go at the moment which is very unlike us, and because Ram was watching the Olympics and Paralympics over the last few weeks I've not watched a lot at all. I finished watching Outlander over the summer, I thought the second series as a whole was generally just okay, but the last episode was fantastic, so I'm really interested to see where the story goes.

I have been watching a bit of YouTube at the PC lately though while working on my Sky Blanket, and I recently discovered Cruising the Cut, a fab channel by television journalist who quit his job and bought a narrow boat to go cruising around the UK canal network. It's a little (very unlikely!) dream of mine, sparked by watching the canal boats go by at the bottom of my in-law's garden, and I'm avidly working my way through his videos. I particularly love the boat tours!

Canal boat at the bottom of the garden

Eating - I'm trying to watch what I eat for a little while as my jeans were starting to feel a little too tight. I've cut down all the biscuits that I was eating over the summer holidays, and the other treats that I buy when I'm left alone in a supermarket, but it's slow going. So I've been eating a lot of Ryvita and diet chewy bars, although I do still build in a few treats like the cake I had this morning!

Reading - I seem to have been reading quite a few books lately. I've worked through a lot on my Kindle, both books that I bought in the sales back in January and others that I've found in the free bestseller list. The trouble is that although I can remember the plots, the author and title are less memorable when you aren't picking up a physical paperback! The latest book I re-re-read was The Loving Spirit by Daphne Du Maurier, her first novel and not one of her most popular, but for some reason it's my favourite. I really like it and I've read it over and over. It tells the story of the Coombe family over four generations, beginning in 1830, and I didn't know until just now that it is actually based on real events and places. It's put me in the mood to re-read some of the other favourite physical books on my bookshelf, I might go back to The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, another favourite.

Listening to - I don't listen to music very much, but with a longer school run I've been finding myself in the car quite a lot with the radio on. I really need to get organised and put some Spotify playlists together because I'm always hopping about between channels trying to find something that I can sing along to. A current family favourite to belt out is Shut Up and Dance by Walking the Moon.


Planning - I've been trying to get organised and plan some blog posts for the rest of the year. I've got lots of posts planned out that I'm really looking forward to getting on and writing. I use Trello for my blog organisation and it's great, I have different boards for posts that are published and those in progress, as well as a board for general things To Do that I use to plan my daily tasks and recurring tasks like housework. If you are interested in using Trello for blogging there are lots of articles, but I found this one really helpful (even though actually I've ended up using it completely differently!) - How I use Trello to Organise my Blog (and my Life!)

Looking forward to - My longest friend from school is getting married in a couple of weeks, which I'm very excited about! I'm also looking forward to half-term as we have a few fun things planned, and I'm sure that Christmas will creep up fast!

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Review - Aquabeads 3D Animal Set

As an Aquabeads blogger I was recently set an Aquabeads kit to review -the Aquabeads 3D Animal Set. This set comes with a special 3D layout tray that allows you to make the 3D animals, as well as over 500 beads in a variety of colours and four template sheets. This is a refill pack, so in order to complete it you will also need a flat Aquabeads tray and a sprayer, and a pen for placing the beads is also helpful.

Aquabeads 3D animal set review

The set comes with enough beads to make five different animals - a panda, lion, a bird in a nest, tortoise and a ladybird. The ladybird is made entirely using the 3D template so doesn't have a flat template sheet but there is a picture that you can copy. For the other animals, the template sheet is inserted underneath the transparent flat layout tray meaning that you can easily see where the beads need to be placed.

Mia chose to start with the bird in a nest. The patterns are simple to follow and she managed to place the beads with her fingers, although it was a bit fiddly.

Making 3D animals with Aquabeads

When you've finished placing your beads you need to spray them with water and wait a few hours for the individual pieces to dry, then you can use more water to stick the different parts together. We found that you need to use plenty of water to really saturate the beads to make sure that they stick properly.

Because they need to be left to dry for several hours you can only make one animal at a time as the 3D template will be in use. When fully dry we found that the finished product was very sturdy and held its shape well. Some of the beads in the set are jewel beads which make a nice contrast. I thought that this 3D set made a much nicer finished product than a previous set that we have tried out.

Aquabeads 3D bird


The set does contain only just enough beads to make all the animals with a couple in each colour left over, so you need to make sure that you don't drop any! The children were able to make the separate pieces quite easily, although they did struggle with the ladybird as it needs to be assembled entirely in the 3D layout tray, so I made that one (I'm not sure that I got it quite right though as it was quite difficult to follow the picture!). It was also tricky to remove the beads from the 3D template, and I found that you needed to wash it thoroughly between uses to prevent a build up of stickiness. The beads do take quite a while to dry, so it's best if you can to place them in the sun or over a radiator to speed it up a bit. When fully dry the finished animals are very solid and can be played with without breaking.

Aquabeads 3D animals set

We had a lot of fun with this set, it was nice that the children could both complete a lot of it on their own and they really loved the animals that they made.


Aquabeaders logo

I was sent this product in exchange for a review. Amazon link is affiliate.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The School Reviewer website

School Reviewer is an invaluable online resource, designed to help parents and pupils through their educational journey. Parents can already use the website to access information and stats about over 42,000 schools, nurseries and colleges within the UK, as well as leave reviews of schools to help out other parents, and now the website has been relaunched with even more resources added.

School Reviewer logo

As well as information about a school, including location and contact details, OFSTED reports and academic results, School Reviewer has now been granted the use of information about schools that pupils attended in the previous school year. This allows the website to display representative heat maps in order to infer the catchment area for the school, especially useful if you are moving house and need to find a nearby school.

School Reviewer catchment area heat map

School Reviewer aims to have the largest Tutor Database on one site in the UK. Tutors are able to upload their details free of charge, enabling parents to search for a local tutor that meets their need.

Every educational establishment on the website has a Parents Forum, to ask questions and to share information. Each one also has a Buy/Sell Marketplace where parents can advertise items that they are selling to other parents at the school. It's especially ideal for selling school specific items such as branded uniform or text books, but anything can be uploaded for sale, and the website allows seller and buyer to communicate securely and arrange details of the transaction - and of course the school playground can be used for the exchange of goods, thereby saving on postage fees. Alternatively there is a national platform too if you want to reach a wider audience.

School Reviewer buy/sell website

A key feature of the School Reviewer website is the ability to download question by question videos for GCSE maths which show how to to score a 100% grade. These videos are dowloadable for a minimal fee which is put towards the continued creation of new material. Other tutorial videos are available, but what makes those offered by School Reviewer unique is the question by question walkthrough. For example, for the GSCE Maths paper each walkthrough has its own video, meaning that the information is presented in soundbite portions, perfect for a child to watch whenever they have a spare few minutes.

With the SATS tests generating a lot of interest this year, School Reviewer is offering a free service to help both parents and children working towards the Keystage 2 SATS. School Reviewer will be creating downloadable videos, launching with two bespoke papers with the original papers being published when they are no longer within the national school curriculum.

Finally the site will also launch with two bespoke 11+ papers, again offering a video walkthrough of questions from the papers. Most schools set their own papers, so these bespoke papers will give parents an idea of what to expect, with more papers to be created in the future. There will be a minimal fee for this.

These new features mean that the School Reviewer website is a fantastic resource for parents and children at all stages of their school journey.

This is a sponsored post.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Halloween laminated battery candle covers #bostikbloggers

This month, the theme for the Bostik Bloggers craft box was Halloween, and having seen the lovely Halloween sequins that were included I decided to use them to make some covers for battery powered tea lights to create some spooky Halloween decorations.

Halloween laminated lanterns craft

You need:

A laminator and pouches (or clear sticky contact paper)
A5 foam sheets
Halloween themed sequins
Halloween themed ribbons
Glitter
Bostik Glu Dots
Stapler and tape

Bostik Halloween craft materials


Instructions:

Use the laminator to make a sheet of spooky Halloween plastic for the lantern window. Spread the sequins and glitter out inside the laminating pouch, not too close to the edges, and laminate. If you don't have a laminator you can use two pieces of clear contact paper to sandwich the sequins and glitter together, but it won't be as stiff as laminated plastic so you may need to make the window on your tube smaller.

Laminating sequins and glitter

Use a craft knife to cut a large window in the foam sheet, then cut a piece of the laminated plastic to size to cover the window. Secure it in place with some Bostik Glu Dots at regular intervals around the frame.

Bostik Glu Dots for crafting

Bend the foam sheet around to make a cylinder. Secure it at the top, bottom and middle using a stapler.

Foam sheet Halloween lanterns

Decorate the candle cover with some Halloween themed ribbons, and if you like some more sequins, once again sticking them in place with some Glu Dots to hold them firmly.

Halloween lanterns with laminated sequins

Then place a battery powered candle inside and enjoy!

Halloween lanterns in dark

Please note that these candle covers are intended for use with battery powered candles only, do not use with a real flame.

Halloween lantern craft

The box of craft materials was provided to me free of charge by Bostik as part of the Tots100/Bostik Craft Bloggers Club.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Review - VAX Dual Power Pro Carpet Cleaner

When we moved into our new house about four years ago the first thing that we did was to have the carpets cleaned - the carpets were already several years old, the previous owner had a dog, and with a crawling baby we wanted them to be as clean as they could. At first we were quite precious about our newly cleaned carpets, but over the next few years snacks found their way into the living room, there were inevitable drink spillages, and even though we take off our shoes as we come in there was still tracked in dirt in the entry way. It was high time that they had another good clean, and so the opportunity to review a VAX Dual Power Pro Carpet Cleaner could not be turned down!

VAX Dual Power Pro Carpet Cleaner review

The VAX Dual Pro Carpet Cleaner is a powerful, deep cleaning and quick drying carpet cleaner. The cleaning system agitates and helps to lift deep down embedded dirt, and the carpet cleaner comes with a hose and hand held upholstery attachment as well as the SpinScrub powered hand tool for scrubbing stains and a hard floor squeegee tool. The accessories can be stored in the included handy bag.

VAX Dual Power Pro accessories

The carpet cleaner was easy to assemble. The handle can be easily removed for transport and so you can fit it all back into the box for storage. There are two removable tanks - one at the top for adding water and cleaning fluid and one at the bottom for collecting the dirty water. It has a long power cord and is easily switched on and off with a foot pedal at the base of the machine. There is a second foot pedal to tilt the machine backwards, which activates the brushes underneath for cleaning the carpet.

VAX carpet cleaner review

To set the machine up you need to add the cleaning solution and warm water. The carpet cleaner comes with two small bottles of cleaning solution (250ml each), and I would say that one small bottle is enough to do two medium rooms. It's easy to see where the different liquids need to go, and it was quite straightforward to set the machine up for cleaning.

Adding water and solution to carpet cleaner

When the water and cleaning fluid have been added you first need to set the machine to Wash and move the cleaner slowly forward over a small area of carpet, while depressing the trigger to release the water and cleaning solution. Then bring the cleaner back over the same area, this time without pressing the trigger, to suck up the dirty water. When you have covered the entire area of your floor, repeat the process but this time with the setting changed to Rinse. It's the same procedure when using the attachments, and you can see me using the cleaner in my video at the bottom of this post.

The carpet cleaner and water reservoirs do go down fairly quickly, and to clean one room you probably need to fill them up (and empty the dirty water at the bottom) at least twice, possibly three times. Each time I filled it with 80ml cleaning solution and 2 litres of warm water. The removable tanks for clean and dirty water are very easy to remove and to click back into place.

The machine isn't too noisy, and is quite easy to manoeuvre about. It did produce some gunky lumps of fluff/scummy bits that had to be picked up as I went along, so it's important to vacuum the area first as thoroughly as you can. The dirty water removed from the machine was quite disgusting!

Dirty water from carpet cleaner

It was a bit difficult to take accurate before and after photos due to the change in lighting, but here is my living room carpet. I think you can see that all the small grubby marks have gone.

Carpet cleaning before and after

After cleaning, it took a few hours for the carpet to feel dry enough to walk on, and you'd probably want to leave the carpet to dry overnight before replacing heavy furniture. The flattened pile on the carpet came right up again, and it felt lovely and soft to walk on as well as smelling nice and fresh.

Then I tried out the upholstery attachment on my stairs. The hand accessories are used while the machine is in the upright position, and it's easy to clip the hose to the front of the cleaner and then snap the attachment of choice on to the other end of the hose. It's a similar process to carry out the cleaning, pressing down the trigger in one direction to release the solution and releasing it in the other to suck up the dirty water.

I was really impressed with the difference to my stairs - the carpet cleaner instantly removed many small spots of dirt that I had learned to put up with! The hose only reached safely about two thirds of the way up the stairs - it would have reached longer but I found that the water and cleaner release wasn't effective enough as the hose wasn't straight. Luckily our stairs are curved so we have a larger stair in the corner where I could sit the machine while I finished off at the top.

Cleaning stairs with upholstery attachment

Finally I used the SpinScrub powered hand tool for some stubborn stains. The brushes spin around while you hold the tool, and once again you press the trigger to release the water and cleaner. It didn't remove all the older stains entirely but it did a good job and I'll definitely be using it the next time I need to do some spot cleaning, especially when I can get to stains as soon as they occur.

VAX SpinScrub tool

I found the VAX Power Pro Carpet Cleaner easy to use and I was really pleased with the results. Below you can see a short video of the VAX Dual Power Pro in action, for cleaning a carpet and using the upholstery tool for stairs and the SpinScrub powered hand tool on a particularly grubby patch.


I received the VAX Dual Power Pro Carpet Cleaner in exchange for this review. It is currently available for £199.96 on the Vax website, with a free steam cleaner included in your order.
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