Category Archives: children

Lego Harry Potter 5-7 Years – A Review

My 7 Year old is steadily working her way through the Harry Potter books, so this game has arrived at an opportune moment.   Lego Harry Potter 5-7 years covers  the last 3 books of the series and as my daughter is currently reading the 6th book she was able to explain some of the characters to me (I only ever read to book 4).  We have a Star Wars  Lego game for the Nintendo DS which is a firm favourite so my expectations for this game were high.

My daughter played it alone and with a friend.  They took it in turns to complete and solve different problems, helping each other out along the way.  You can play the game with 2 controllers each player taking the part of a different character.  This feature works really well and stimulates lots of discussion. It also makes me realise how much better children are at these things than me.

It is a very long time since I spent any time playing video games.  This weekend I had a cold and decided to sit for 3 hours and play Harrry Potter 5-7 Years snuggled up in my quilt.  It was compelling and addictive and suitably challenging to keep me engaged.  I could have used my daughters help at some points as I wandered aimlessly in the dark trying to find a tap. We discovered the following day that she had turned the brightness down and it wasn’t supposed to be a night-time game at all!  I managed to complete the first level and played a little of the next level with my daughter the next day. I am suitably hooked.

The animations that tell the story in between each level are compelling and new characters appear as the game unfolds.  Each character has a special skill such as rebuilding blue Lego structures or using an invisibility cloak.

What was my 7 year olds opinion?

It is excellent because some characters can do some things which other characters can’t do and you can perform different spells just by pressing the spell-wheel button.

She has even drawn an image of how the controls work for the XBox 360 version.

The game lived up to my high expectations, my daughter is coming home from school and asking if she can switch it on and I am looking forward to playing it with her and on my own.  Good credit all round.

 

This review is based on the XBox 360 game, it is also available on other consoles.

A preview copy of the game was received for the purpose of the review.  No payment was received  for writing this review.

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Top 5 Books for Children Under 5 as Chosen by my Children

My competition to win 6 Picture Books has prompted some wonderful comments about reading with young children.  Lots of the comments suggested that parents were always keen to find new books to share with their children.  I have already written a post sharing my top books for under 5’s so I thought this time I would ask my children.

  The Elephant and the Bad Baby  by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs.

This was my 7 Year olds favourite book when she was 2.  We read it again and again and the repetitive text almost drove my husband bonkers.  When my middle child was 2 she latched onto it also and it became a firm favourite.  The first part of the book is repetitive and it is easy for the children to learn it by heart and join in with the story, especially the ‘rumpeta,rumpeta rumpeta as they go down the road.  The message behind the story is the importance of saying please and it does this in a charming and humourous manner.  Both my children have loved the page with the baker’s shop, looking at the cakes and deciding which one they like best.  I’m sure it is a book you will find your young children ‘reading’ by themselves before long even if they are unable to read.

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

This was my 3 year olds choice.  Her dad read it to her recently and said ‘What a lovely book, why haven’t I read this one before?’ (his other favourite is The Snail and the Whale  by the same authors).

Written by the authors of the Gruffalo , this rhyming book is about a Stickman who gets himself into situations because he keeps getting mistaken for a stick.  He is desperate to get back to his family and is losing hope when he meets Father Christmas who lends a helping hand.

You Choose by  Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt

This was one of the books from my 7 year olds Bookstart Treasure Chest.  This soon became the one book we read every evening until I became so sick of it and I would plead with her to choose something else.  She is still very fond of it and it is one of the few picture books she refuses to pass down to her younger sister.

Each page asks a question such as if you could have any house what sort of house would you choose?  Then you choose the one you like best from the illustrations.  Nick Sharratt’s illustrations are lovely and it is a great book to stimulate discussion but in our house it was a little over read!

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

This is not strictly for under 5’s, my 7 year old chose it and I’ve allowed it in the list because we first read it together when she was 4. Pippi Longstocking is a very witty and insightful book and you will get a lot out of it as an adult too (in a similar way to Winnie the Pooh).  There are a few books that stand the test of time and this is one of them.  My daughter’s copy has been so well read it is falling apart but when I offered to replace it with a new copy she declined my offer.

Sharing a Shell by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

There is a Charlie and Lola story about a library book that Lola is fixated with and takes home every time she visits.  This was the book that my 7 year old borrowed from the library time and again until finally the library sold it off because it had become too shabby.  We bought it for 30p.

It is a beautiful rhyming story about sharing and friendship and helping others.  We lost our copy a few years back after I used it at work .  My 3 year old found a copy at our doctors surgery, we read it together and I explained that it had been her sister’s favourite.  She loved it too.  When my 7 year old suggested this one she beamed and said’Oh I love that one’ running to her bookcase to get it.  I explained that we didn’t have it anymore.  Writing this has prompted me to buy a replacement copy and I will enjoy reading it to my 2 younger daughters.

Add to the Magic this Hallowe’en with a Talking Pumpkin

When I worked in a nursery we displayed a Hallowe’en Pumpkin in our entrance hall.  It was placed on a table covered with a table-cloth.  Under the table-cloth we put a tape recording of the pumpkin’s voice that we would play when it was lit.  The children would be mesmerised.

I taught a wonderfully imaginative little boy who particularly loved the pumpkin.  He went on to school and told his teacher all about the talking pumpkin, his belief that it really talked was genuine.  Rather than stimulating his natural imagination she told him, ‘ Of course it doesn’t talk , it was just the teachers making the voice’.  I was so sad when I heard this story, talk about shattering a child’s illusions .

TEDx London 2011 The Education Revolution

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I was fortunate to attend TEDx London this weekend. This event was born from issues raised in Sir Ken Robinson’s 2010 TED talk and was designed to raise the question ‘ How can we bring on the Education Revolution?’

What can all those involved ACTUALLY  DO to ensure that the old and irrelevant in education is thrown out and  that we can build a new model of constant reinvention to ensure that  education provides what industry requires and more importantly what   young people need to flourish in today’s world.

I returned from TEDx London, my head buzzing with ideas, questions and things to explore.  Many of the underlying concepts were not new but were reiterated by passionate individuals and illustrated by exciting examples from the world of education. These were some of my highlights:-

The talks were split into 3 sections

  1. What’s Wrong / What’s Happening
  2. What’s Right
  3. What’s Next.

The first session began with a live feed from Sir Ken Robinson.  He discussed his views on the purpose of education

Economic – Education underpins the modern economy and for a modern economy there is a need for creativity and innovation.

 Cultural – Helping to understand each others cultures and relieve the problems of cultural mistrust.

Personal – Education is about individuals, it cannot be mechanistic and should encourage students to become engaged.  For this reason education should be personalised.

Sir Ken Robinson’s vision for change includes

  • Education that is personalised
  • Improvements in the motivation of both students and teachers
  • Education that is customised to the needs of the particular community or individual school
  • Education is about diversity and standardisation offends diversity.
  • Education is about partnership with great institutions and the community.

A number of these points were a common thread throughout the talks.  The importance of recognising children as individuals and encouraging, rather than stifling their talents and interests, came time and again. The need to motivate children and encourage them to think for themselves and the many possibilities that technology offers  also kept reappearing.

I consider myself fortunate to work in Early Education.  Active learning, teaching that stems from children’s interests and strengths and listening to the child’s voice are fairly widespread.  Learning is fun in the early years and it would be unusual to find a pre-school child who grumbled that school was boring. I hope that all education can take lessons from early education at its best.

Adam Roberts an 18 year old human rights campaigner talked about  critical thinking and how his mother’s encouragement to ask questions set him up for life. As young children we instinctively ask questions, but as we grow older children are often discouraged from questioning. This point was made even more strongly in Ewan McIntosh’s talk. Ewan explained the need for children to be problem finders rather than problem solvers.  He showed a group of 7 and 8 year olds who were asked to put on their own TEDx event.  The children were inspired to come up with their own questions, prompted by ‘have you ever wondered?’ The children came up with wonderful philosophical questions and the excitement and animation shown by the children was truly infectious

Another common thread was the potential for  embracing social media and technology in the classroom.  By doing this we are bringing the real world into the classroom rather than viewing education and school as separate to other aspects of life. Dan Roberts  believes strongly in education through technology and demonstrated some of the things his students at Saltash.net Community School are doing.

 

The What’s Right sessions showed a number of inspirational projects including:

History pin – building a history of real people and places using photographs and video footage.

A workshop from Seeper with a school for children on the autistic spectrum, showing how technology can motivate and engage children Dr Matt Whitby  showing how awe-inspiring science can be, through his off the wall science experiments.

 

Tim Exile – a musician who has invented a machine to create spontaneous electronic music using a variety of sounds.

 

The Final session involved speakers who are thinking in a new way and their pleas for like-minded individuals to join them in this journey.

Dougald Hine was inspirational.  He talked about change  with determination and self belief, a firm believer in making things  happen.

Emily Cummings the 24 year old inventor has been named Barclays woman of the year in 2009 and one of the top ten outstanding young people in the world in 2010.  She explained how her passion for designing began when her grandfather taught her to make things in his workshop. Teachers recognised her talent and entered her for competitions, harnessing her enthusiasm and giving her new goals.

Sir Ken Robinson closed the day with a plea to make alternatives a part of the mainstream.  A new vision for education including personalised learning, group activity, the closeness of the community and using and sharing talents.  Many of the case studies from young people at the conference showed that talents were often discovered and utilised outside of school.The community then has an important role to play in educating children The closing lines resonated with me

New technologies will make change possible.

Technology alone doesn’t do much, it’s what we do with it that matters.

There were some wonderful examples of what we do with technology and creative thinking.  I came away with lots of ideas and things that I wanted to share but also a feeling of uncertainty about what I can do to make a difference.  I want to share inspirational ideas and inspire others to try new ways of teaching.  Why?  I believe that we need to be able to use the tools that children are used to at home and that will form a large part of their future rather than sweeping them under the carpet .  Technology will not replace traditional play but will enhance it if we use it creatively. It gives opportunities for awe and wonder, for raising questions, self discovery and creative expression. My endeavour is to show this in practice and inspire others to do the same.

 

Meet Mums Now

Have you ever wondered where would be a good place to take your children to play, eat, spend a day out or meet friends for coffee? Are you a new mum who is finding it difficult to meet other mums?

According to a recent survey a growing number of new mothers feel isolated and find it difficult to meet other mums.   Toddler groups are often very busy and noisy, this is not always the ideal place to meet other parents. I was lucky to find a small friendly NCT group where I made some good friends, but these are not always available. Even with friends I  remember as a new mum trawling my local town looking for venues big enough to accomodate a number of prams and with good baby changing facilities. This new app could be very useful to mums in a similar situation.

Meet Mums Now is a new app available free from app stores which takes the mystery out of choosing kid-friendly venues and offers social networking for mums who want to meet others.

With over 400 locations in London already listed, users can find child-friendly cafes, restaurants, pubs and attractions near them which have been endorsed by other mums. I notice that the app has also recently updated to include venues in and around my local area of Bristol and Bath.

The app not only identifies locations, but also allows registered users to contact other mums who have recommended a local venue. It’s a great way to share information and meet other mums, especially for those without the luxury of a group of NCT friends in the area.

It’s an idea that was born out of necessity when Nik Dewar, the man behind the app was on holiday with his wife and two young children. Searching for an app which would show them child-friendly locations for lunch in an unfamiliar area, they were surprised to see that what they were looking for didn’t exist, and set out to fill the gap in the market.

At the moment, most venues in Meet Mums Now app are in London, but it’s an idea designed to grow as more destinations in the UK are added. Future versions will allow users to add location of their own, but if you know a great kid-friendly locations now you can email meetmumsnow@gmail.comor send your tip off to twitter @meetmumsnow.com.

* this is not a sponsored post

Starting School – A Change in the Relationship

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I was asked if I would write a post about starting school. This isn’t a recent event in our household, my eldest started school 3 years ago. Many of my friends are struggling with the thought of their children going to school, fearing how much they will miss them. I don’t remember feeling any great sense of loss but this was probably due to the impending birth of my 2nd child. My eldest starting school meant that I would be able to spend quality time with the baby and get rest when I needed it. One thing that has struck me however when recalling those times is the way in which our relationship changed once she started school.

When you have a baby and toddler you feel that you know everything about them, you are always with them when they do things and understand all their little signals better than anyone else. You as a parent are also the biggest influence on your child’s life. You decide what they are exposed to, what they do, where they go and how they are disciplined and brought up. I felt very close to my daughter in her pre-school years. I wasn’t a stay at home mum but even on my working days I spent time talking to her about what she had done and planning what we would do together.

I think this has been the biggest change since starting school. I am no longer the only influence on her life and many of the things that happen on a daily basis I never know about. When I ask about her day I get ‘fine’ as a blanket response. Yes, she still talks about some things, but I do feel that there is a lot that I miss out on. Helping out at school sometimes helps, you get to know the other children and the routine and teachers. This has been difficult however since having her younger sisters. Being at school takes up a lot of time, couple that with clubs and playing with friends and sometimes you feel like you barely see them. I try really hard to build in quality time, bedtime stories, talking at mealtimes or sharing a game or piece of music, but it still feels inadequate compared to the early days.

I have had a positive experience with school. My daughter has enjoyed school, been sufficiently challenged, enjoyed new experiences and made good friends. She is growing into a wonderful young lady and becoming independent. On occasions we have time together doing things that the younger ones wouldn’t appreciate or be able to do. I look forward to more of these as she grows older.

Once our children start school we are no longer the be all and end all, but we are still a major influence on their lives. They still love and need us, they still look up to us and want us to share in their achievements and interests. We no longer get to spend so much time doing things with them but that enables us to do more for ourselves and appreciate the times when we can do things together. Starting school is a new chapter, bringing new challenges but it is also a time when child and parent alike can gain a bit of independence and build new interests .

Giving Children a Voice

I read an interesting article today by Lisa Bloom about how to talk to little girls. The main argument was not to focus on how they look but on what they are interested in or thinking about.  This gave me much food for thought.  One of the main things I have wanted for my girls when they grow up is to be confident enough to say what they think, to question things and offer an opinion and to have strong self belief.  I would like them to be confident around other people like their dad rather than holding back like myself.

The article suggests asking girls about their mind – what they like and dislike and why.  I’m not sure that I remember being asked as a child ‘what do you think?’  I was told that I was beautiful, lovely and clever, I spent hours with my nose in a book, but I’m not sure anyone ever asked me to tell them about what I was reading. I’m not great at feeling that what I am thinking is important – I’d like that to be different for my girls.

So we tried it at the lunch table.  Sitting at the table together at mealtimes is another thing that is really important to me. Some of my friends think I’m a bit loopy because I eat at 12 and 5 with the kids everyday. I had such a positive experience at mealtimes with my eldest daughter when she was younger, talking about things, playing games and singing songs that I have kept it sacred for all of us.  It isn’t always calm or idyllic and sometimes can be stressful when each child is placing demands for things but at least we get the opportunity to talk if the need arises.

At the lunch table today I told the girls about what I had been reading and that I didn’t remember being asked what I was thinking or feeling when I was a little girl.  I told them that this is what I had been thinking about and I would go around and they could tell me about something they were thinking about or feeling.  Ok we didn’t quite get into philosophical discussions, but the girls began to tell stories.  We made up a story together about my middle daughter who decided she would like to shrink to go in a toy plane.  My 2 year old suggested that the magic could occur by pressing a special button on her fork. We talked about landing in a drink and thought about which drinks might be pleasant to swim in and others that would not, they chose orange juice amused by the idea that they would be sticky. 

How would you get out of the cup?

I could climb

So now you are all sticky how will you get clean?

With magic

Yes a fairy could come and magic you clean and then you could press the fork again to get bigger.

So we had a story and a peaceful and happy lunchtime. 

 I’m keen to encourage the girls to talk to me about things, I always ask my 7 year old if there is anything on her mind that she would like to talk about.  She rarely does and I respect that.  I hope that if I start to share some of my thoughts with them that they will feel comfortable enough to talk to me if the need arises. I want them to know that what they have to say is important – I’ll let you know if I succeed.