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Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Storytelling Fun #WorldBookDay

What's better than reading a story? Well how about playing with one? Sharing stories in a variety of creative and imaginative ways can really help children with their early literacy skills and speech development. So to celebrate this year's World Book Day, here are just a few of our favourite ideas for storytelling fun.

1. Story Stones
There are lots of different versions of story stones about - just take a look on Pinterest!  There are beautifully decorated ceramic pebbles and even stones that have been decorated using magazine pictures. If you create the stones yourself they can be as versatile or as specific you wish.  Our own very basic stones were created from pebbles we collected in the garden. We then decorated these using acrylic paint before sealing them with varnish. They are great for playing with in a group or alone. We usually put them in a basket, take them out in turn and as we do, we each add a little to the story.

If you don't fancy making your own story stones, stunning sets can be purchased from The Story Spoon Company. (This is not an affliate link!)

2. Story Cubes
Similar to story stones, story cubes can be used to get your creative storytelling juices flowing. We have been playing with the Rory's Story Cubes for a few months now. As The Mini Reviewers are still very young, they just interpret the pictures how they wish and we have found the best way to play is to create stories together. The sets of Rory's Story Cubes can be purchased from Amazon (affliate links below) but if you fancy making your own then check out this great post from Red Ted Art.

3. Storytelling Baskets
Storytelling baskets are such a fantastic way to play with stories. We recently had fun with this little basket of goodies to help us retell the traditional tale of The Three Little Pigs. As well as a set of finger puppets, the basket contained shredded paper for straw, lollipop sticks for the wood and Duplo blocks for the bricks. We had fun building the three houses as we shared the story together.

Story baskets are again very versatile and can be adapted to suit any age. Here is a very simple story basket created for the youngest Mini Reviewer.

4. Take to the stage (well sort of!)
Why not grab a puppet or a mask and practice your best voices before acting out your favourite story? We find costumes, masks and props really do help to bring books to life. All three Mini Reviewers love getting into character so we've had lots of storytelling adventures including: hosting a "The Tiger Who Came to Tea" tea party; making a shoe box theatre; taking a trip around London; and exploring some twisted tales with puppets.

5. Finally - Get arty!
Not everyone's cup of tea, but grabbing your craft supplies and getting messy can be a great and fun way of exploring stories together. We have been taking part with some of the #KidArtLit challenges on Instagram where we have chosen a book and accompanying craft activity to fit a particular theme. Below are a few of our photos (1. Penguins 2. Diversity 3. Snow 4. Chinese New Year). Do take a look at the #KidArtLit community on Instagram as some of the choices are so inspiring!

So have a Happy World Book Day and we hope you all enjoy some storytelling fun! 
Please do share any storytelling activities with us, we'd love to hear from you. 

And if you are wondering, we thought we'd leave the World Book Day costume inspiration to the experts, as we are still trying to finish off this little creation... argh!

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Thursday, 16 February 2017

Spotting Mr Panda at Edinburgh Zoo - Our Top Tips!

Those of you who follow us on social media will almost certainly know that as well as books, we love a good competition. In the past we have been fairly lucky winning all sorts of things from family days out and weekend breaks to books and toys and even a children's birthday party. In fact I could easily dedicate an entire post to the joy of comping and perhaps one day I will!

Anyway thanks to one of our comping successes towards the end of last year we took a trip to Edinburgh Zoo. Now did you know that Edinburgh Zoo is the only place in the UK where you can see Giant Pandas? Well we did and that is why we really, REALLY wanted to visit.

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You see the Mini Reviewers have a bit of a thing about pandas. It all started because they LOVE the Mr Panda picture books by Steve Antony and, if I'm honest so do I! If you haven't come across these books already, I cannot recommend them enough. I'll explain why these books are so fantastic later on but first let's get back to our panda spotting adventure.

We spent almost an entire day at Edinburgh Zoo, which is pretty easy to do as it is a big park and there is plenty to see. But before our visit I didn't realise that a panda sighting is not always guaranteed. Apparently pandas sleep a lot and we happened to catch Mr P on a very sleepy day. It was only on our third (and slightly desperate) trip to the panda enclosure that our patience was finally rewarded with a sighting. Mini Reviewer, Theo, was absolutely delighted and he was also totally convinced that it was the "real" Mr Panda!

So now that we are "expert" panda spotters I thought I'd share our top tips for visiting Edinburgh Zoo just in case you ever fancy seeing a panda in the UK:

1. Take the bus. We hopped on the bus from the centre of Edinburgh. There is a stop right opposite the zoo. It was a short and stress free journey and was a lot cheaper than a taxi!
2. Book your panda viewing ticket in advance. It does not cost any extra but without an allocated time slot you will not be able to see the pandas. Also be prepared to return to the panda viewing area throughout the day.
3. Make the most of the scheduled talks. We only listened to one talk and it was fantastic. I really wished we had timed our route around the zoo better to catch a few of the others.
4. Wear comfortable shoes and plan your route. The zoo is large and very hilly! The signage was also quite poor so we covered far more ground than was necessary. It was extremely hard going with three young children especially when they got tired.
5. Read the Mr Panda books before you go (obviously)!

So what is so great about the Mr Panda stories? 
Well the trio of stories are perfect to remind little ones about the importance of good manners and patience. They are full of humour and the illustrations are fantastic. In the original story Please Mr Panda, Mr Panda has a tray of doughnuts. He offers them to all of his friends but it is only when the enthusiastic lemur says "please" that Mr Panda parts with his tasty treats. In the second book I'll Wait, Mr Panda, Mr Panda is baking a surprise. Only one of his friends, a little penguin, is patient enough to wait to find out what the surprise will be. Will his patience be rewarded? Of course it will.

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In the latest book Thank you, Mr Panda, the endearing, if somewhat grumpy, little chap is back and has chosen presents for all of his special friends. He even goes to great lengths to deliver some of them. Unfortunately most of his friends do not appreciate his unusual gifts and he has to remind them "It's the thought that counts!" This book is just as funny and possibly even more  imaginative than the first two stories. It again teaches little ones the importance of being polite.

I am sure that Mr Panda will remain one of our firm family favourites as the Mini Reviewers grow up. In fact Mr Panda is so well regarded in our house that I find myself regularly asking the Mini Reviewers to think of him when they forget to say please or thank you! So when it comes to parenting advice and setting good examples, move over Supernanny because Mr Panda's in town!

We're always of the look out for new books to read and review. If you have any suggestions, please do get in touch!

Disclaimer: We did not pay for entry to Edinburgh Zoo and we received a copy of Thank You, Mr Panda from Hodder Children's Books for the purpose of review. However all opinions are, as always, our own.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Parragon's Perfect Books for Preschoolers #StartLittleLearnBig

Over the past week we have been trying out the Start Little LEARN BIG range from Parragon Books. These colourful board and activity books are aimed at preschoolers age 3-5 and are designed to make learning fun. As Mini Reviewer, Theo, is very nearly three and has just started preschool, we were delighted to be able to take a look at some of the range. 

The first book in our box was I CAN SHARE, a sturdy board book which introduces little ones to over 150 everyday words. It teaches children about playing and sharing in the context of a preschool setting. The brightly coloured pictures are packed with lots of interesting things to spot and talk about. It really kept Theo engaged and prompted him to talk about his own experiences of preschool. He told me how he should "play nicely" and share with all his friends. Let's just hope he remembers to put that into practice when he's there!

The second book we received is COLOURS, a great lift-the-flap board book and, with several flaps on each page, there is loads for little fingers to explore. I thought this may be a bit straightforward for Theo but as well as introducing basic colours such as blue, red, yellow and green, the book also includes purple, orange, pink, gold and silver. My favourite thing about this book is that the images used are of the world around us so it gave us plenty to talk about when looking at this book together.

Finally we received a copy of NUMBERS I KNOW, a wipe clean board book to help preschoolers start writing numbers up to 20. The book is full of colourful pictures and there are numbers to trace as well as things to count. The little pen neatly attaches to the book and there is a carry handle so you can easily take the book on your travels. Theo LOVES this book, perhaps because it has dinosaurs in it, or maybe just because he is allowed to write in it! After only a short time he is starting to understand how to write over the dots to form the numbers. The fact that it can be wiped clean, means it will be used over and over again and, for us, it will the most useful book as Theo gets older.

This fantastic range of colourful books really do make learning fun. I have been very impressed with the quality of the books and also the variety of content. We think they are the perfect choice for preschoolers but, if you still need convincing, just take a closer look at how Theo got on... Oh, and if you are wondering, yes, he is roaring like a dinosaur!

Disclaimer: Thank you to Parragon Books for sending us these books for the purpose of review. Our views are, as always, our own.

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Sunday, 5 February 2017

Screen Time Success - KidloLand Review and Giveaway

Screen time for preschoolers always seems to be a bit of a taboo subject. One of those topics that you dread to raise on any parenting forum for fear of the backlash! Now before I had the Mini Reviewers I was totally against screen time for little ones. Then I had my second child and I quickly realised that the tablet was going to be essential if I ever wanted to get anything done!

I confess that I usually resort to YouTube when I need 5 minutes to load the washing machine, put the shopping away or jump in the shower! So when we were approached by KidloLand to review their app I thought it was a great opportunity to try something different.

Photo Credit: KidloLand
If you haven't already come across KidloLand, it is an app specifically designed for under 5s and offers over 1000 stories, songs and educational activities and games. Once downloaded, these activities are all available offline. The subscriptions range from £4.99 for 1 month to £39.99 for 12 months. There is also a 7 day free trial option currently available. The good news is, if you would like to try the app for yourself, we are giving away three 3 month subscriptions!

Our thoughts...
Initially, I confess, I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content! The educational games seem to cover everything you could possibly think of including colours, shapes and numbers. However, as the app is fairly user friendly and there are lots of different categories, it is relatively easy to find exactly what you are looking for.

We have now spent several weeks trying out the app and getting to grips with the different activities, so we thought it was time to share our favourite features with you:

Theo (2) has learnt to do the dot-to-dot activity by himself. He can now trace from one number to the next to complete a picture. This is really helping with his counting and number recognition. 

There is a whole section of the app devoted to tracing letters (upper and lowercase), numbers and shapes. This has been particularly helpful for Izzie (5) who is left handed as it helps correct her letter formation.

Jigsaw puzzles
Theo loves "proper" jigsaws so I wasn't surprised when the puzzles on the app quickly became his go to activities. He seems to get huge satisfaction completing these colourful pictures!

Seasonal Content
One of the best things about the app is that the content is regularly updated. During the Christmas holidays, the seasonal songs, stories and games were a fantastic boredom buster!
Izzie and Theo decorating Christmas trees
As you can see the app has been very popular with the Mini Reviewers. Even Poppy (1) has enjoyed some of the nursery rhymes. The interactive activities have proven to be very engaging and, most importantly, it allows me to get the dinner cooked!

We would love to hear your thoughts on screen time and, if you would like to give KidloLand a go, why not enter our competition below?

Buy it here:

*Disclaimer: We received a 12 month subscription in exchange for this review. All opinions are as always our own.

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