Category: Guides and Reviews

Clever Tykes Storybooks

Clever Tykes Storybooks

Clever Tykes Story Books

Enterprise and Education Storybooks and Teaching Resources – Supported by Lloyds Banking Group

The Clever Tykes series of storybooks follow the stories of three children on a journey of discovery and innovation. From taking each child’s passion in the story and subtly showing an entrepreneurial message, these books open up a different world for many children. With each book starring very different characters, there is a broad base to attract every child. Would you be like Walk-it Willow, Change-it Cho or Code it Cody?

Code-it Cody, a young boy with a talent for working with computers begins a quest of creating his own computer game prototype. Cody the main character in the story has hearing aids which are spoken of regularly. I particularly liked this aspect of the book as it seems to have taken years to establish disabled characters into mainstream stories. With Minecraft and Roblox so popular, this story will resonate with many young readers.

Walk-it Willow was the final book B got round to reading. Willow is a big fan of dogs and soon realises that she can make money from her hobby. For anyone who has read any Ken Robinson, they’ll know that choosing your career around something you love is the key to success! As with any business Willow comes up against adversity but in true entrepreneurial style she learns from her mistakes.

If your school has yet to discover The Clever Tykes Resources you can soon change that! If you are a teacher you can access The Clever Tykes books and resources for your school for free. Create an account at portal.clevertykes.com to get started.

 

Eating Out – Lunch at The Oak Tree

Eating Out – Lunch at The Oak Tree

If you’re anything like us eating out is definitely on your top ten list of things to do. But eating out isn’t always that simple when you’re both vegan. For us it usually involves quite a lot of planning. Hunting down websites, poring over allergen menus, and ringing up restaurants to see if there’s anything that you can eat. But imagine a place where not only is there vegan food, there’s an amazing choice of it. Imagine no longer, because it exists and its called The Oak Tree.

Based on the Leigh Road, Leigh on Sea in sunny Essex, this place is an absolute gem. Nestled alongside the eclectic shops that make up this wonderful street, The Oak Tree has a warm and welcoming vibe. With seating inside and out, we chose indoors as I was beginning to melt in the heat that day!

The menu is a breeze to navigate with vegan, vegan options and gluten free choices clearly labelled. Our only dilemma was what to have! I am so used to eating the same meal, over and over again in our usual haunts, so this was quite the challenge. I chose the Roast Vegetable Tart, whilst B chose the burger. Both looked and tasted amazing, with B declaring the burger being the “best he’d ever had”.

Once you’ve sampled your meal, you can tell that this is a place where the vegan food has been carefully created. This has been made by someone who wants you to enjoy the food; the flavours complement each other and offer a truly satisfying experience.  In fact my mouth is watering as I write this!

As soon as we’d finished we were planning our return. The menu has so many choices, we can’t wait to come back and try them all. I’ve got my eye on the Chilli Mac n Cheese, and those gorgeous sounding desserts for my next visit, which I’m certain will be soon!

 

 

 

  • We were kindly treated to lunch by The Oak Tree, but all views are our own

 

A Scottish Adventure – Our Top Ten Places to Visit

A Scottish Adventure – Our Top Ten Places to Visit

I can’t believe it was only last month that we were getting ready to board the Caledonian Sleeper up to Fort William (read about that here) but now we are home and back to normality we’ve had time to time to think about our favourite places to visit all over Scotland and here they are:

  1. Tobermory – If you a get a chance to visit this picture-postcard town when you are in Scotland it’s a must. Instantly recognisable from the children’s show Balamory, watch your kids faces light up as they realise its an actual REAL place. We took the Caledonian ferry from Oban to Mull and drove across this beautiful island for a day. Next time I’m stopping for longer, there is so much more to see here.
  2. John O’Groats – Our household is split on this one! I loved it here, B not so much to say the least. It was pretty blustery, as you’d expect and he was convinced he might blow into the sea. The drive up is amazing, and some of the most amazing views you’re ever going to get here in the UK. If you’re nearby, do it. Definitely one to tick off the list. 
  3. Edinburgh Castle – I could write pages about Edinburgh, but you can’t visit without a trip to the infamous castle. I love how it dominates the skyline and can’t help but think back to how it would have been in years gone by.
  4. Urquhart Castle – Whilst we are on castles, this is one of my favourites. Steeped in history Urquhart is one of Scotland’s most iconic castles. I visited when I was pregnant, and to be able to bring B back here was lovely. He spent ages playing make believe in the ruins of the kitchen offering strangers ice cream – as you do.
  5. Loch Ness – It’s a must on everyone’s list! No trip to Scotland would be complete without a search for Nessie. There are plenty of boat trips to choose from to go on the hunt. I must admit, I shamelessly do this every time I come to Scotland, and have been on several of the boat trips available and each one has been brilliant. I am yet to spot Nessie though. Maybe next time.
  6. The Jacobite Steam Train – This is an absolutely magical steam train journey, considered one of the greatest railway journeys in the world. It does get booked up well in advance so I’d recommend booking before you go. It’s not open all year either, so check here  before you go.
  7. Glenfinnan – Harry Potter fans will be in their element as they spot the famous viaduct from the films. If you’ve been on the train, its great to then see your journey from another perspective. Take a walk around the monument and admire the spectacular views of the loch.
  8. Nevis Range Gondola – Unless you’re a seasoned climber, a trip up Ben Nevis is ill advised, but you can take advantage of the Nevis Range Gondola to experience the mountain heights. Aonach Mor, is the eighth highest mountain in the UK and offers views for miles. The restaurant at the top offers a great range and even has vegan options which pleased us no end.
  9. Glencoe – With some of the most breath taking scenery in Scotland, Glencoe has so much to offer. I first drove through here in a thunderstorm which was exceptionally dramatic and rather scary. This vast sweeping pass has a host of activities. From the beautiful waterfalls and hikes to inner tubing and mountain biking for the more adventurous.
  10. Neptune’s Staircase at Banavie – If you’ve a budding engineer in the family this is the one for you. Neptune’s Staircase is a dramatic eight lock flight at Banavie near Fort William. If you get to catch a boat passing through its amazing to see. We were lucky enough to stay near by and used to watch as the last boats of the day all came through. It’s an amazing feat of engineering and the longest staircase lock in Britain.

I’m now busy compiling my list for what to see on our visit for next year. Watch this space!

The Science Museum – Our Guide to a Great Day Out

The Science Museum – Our Guide to a Great Day Out

The Science Museum in London is one of my very favourite places to be. Ever since my first visit as a child, to the almost monthly visits we make at the moment, it never fails to inspire and amaze me. Sometimes I take for granted just how lucky we are to be able to hop on a train and have this on our doorstep, as it truly is a great day out.

We do on occasion pop in if we are tying a visit in with another, but to truly do it justice the museum really deserves a whole day to itself. I’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve been, but I still find something new to admire on each visit.

With South Kensington Tube being the nearest London Underground station, we tend to always travel by tube. With the underground walkway taking you safely from the station to the museums, I find bouncy excitable children are safer under here than the roads above. This is also handy to deal with the British weather too, lets face it rain is rather part of our infrastructure!

With free entry but a donation welcome, it’s a marvel that all of this history is available to everyone. It’s a good idea to take a look at what’s on before you arrive, so that you can plan your day to please all the family. Some of the simulators for example do have an age and height restriction, so it’s best to forewarn little visitors in advance that they may not be able to ride. Or you can plan your day, avoiding this part of the museum. Which ever works best for you. A map is available to download from the website, a great help if your children like to be involved in planning your trips, or need to know what’s likely to happen on a day out.

On entering the museum be prepared to be wowed by the Energy Hall. Personally I love the history in this part of the museum. It amazes me just how visionary the engineers of the past were. We tend to go through to the Exploring Space hall, where you can find a wealth of space objects. Make sure you look up, some of the most amazing rockets are above your head.

Making the Modern World is another “wow” gallery. We love looking at Stephenson’s Rocket and the cars stacked upon each other. For younger visitors starting to get a little restless, the Pattern Pod in the next part of the museum, gives them the chance to do some hands on investigation.


At this point we usually pop down to the basement to explore the Secret Life of the Home. Be prepared to feel old as items from your childhood are now on show at a museum. For any fans of the Despicable Me films, see if you can find the tiny toilet in the display cabinets. With great interactive displays you can work out how the toilet flush works, and see if you can get the fridge temperature to change.

We’d usually stop for lunch about now. If you’ve brought a picnic you can eat in the Terrace Picnic Area. Personally knowing the Energy Café on level 0 has vegan options, means we usually treat ourselves to lunch in there.

Feeling energised after refuelling we head up to Level 1 to look at the materials displays. I find that materials are a subject that you can start to engage children with at a very young age and continually develop their understanding. Even young babies are enthralled by the touch of different items and can get involved. As they grow, materials can help children broaden their vocabulary with such a huge range of descriptive words associated with them, and introduce them to a variety of educational areas. From the natural world to the periodic table, its a brilliant base to start from.

Up to Level 2 which houses some of my favourite galleries. I love the Clockmakers Museum and Journeys Through Medicine. However at this point, B is usually itching to get to up to Level 3 to visit The Wonderlab which is our absolute favourite part of the museum.

There is an additional charge to enter this part of the museum, but it is worth every penny. If you are frequent visitors, its well worth investing in an annual pass as its likely to become a firm favourite with visitors young and old. With so many hands on experiments and a talented team of Explainers to direct your questions to, its a place of absolute wonder as the name suggests. With 50 “marvels of science” to enjoy, there is something for everyone. With live shows, hands on experiments, and demonstrations for all, you’ll not be disappointed. So many theories I’d learnt at school suddenly made sense after seeing the practical demonstrations from the talented Explainers. Our favourites are the Sip or Spray, the Friction Slides, and the Maths puzzles.


With our brains brimming with new ideas, but our feet feeling the impact of a lot of adventure, its time to get home, safe in the knowledge we’ll be back soon for another visit!

Postcrossing – Postcards From Around the World

Postcrossing – Postcards From Around the World

If you’re anything like me the main thing that comes through your letterbox is junk mail and bills. Which isn’t a great deal of fun for anyone! If you’d like to brighten up your post, and put a smile on someone else’s face too, then you really should try Post Crossing. So what exactly is Post Crossing and how can you get involved? Its a free project and anyone can join in the fun. You send postcards across the world and people send them to you. We’ve received postcards from Russia, Portugal Germany and the USA and have sent out our own across the world.

You never know just when or where the next one is going to arrive from, and it’s great fun when they pop through the door.

The website will track how far your total cards have come and gone too with a handy map feature.

From an educational perspective we’ve discussed what people might like to know about where we live and what we can tell them, through to the wealth of questions B asks when a new postcard lands through our door.

With so much bad news in the world right now, it feels good to do something positive and remember the world is made of people, just like you and me, everywhere in the world.

Celtic Harmony Camp Hertford

Celtic Harmony Camp Hertford

On a fresh but chilly Tuesday morning we were up and out early to get to a day full of activities at the Celtic Harmony Camp near Hertford. With many jumpers and layers (what is it with this years weather?) and a rucksack full of lunch and snacks we headed off round the M25 to our destination. Only an hours drive from Chelmsford, but thousands of years back in time, we were ready for action.

This was our first trip out with a group of home educators from a different area, so I was a little apprehensive about not knowing anyone, but B takes these situations with gusto so I knew we’d be fine. Luckily for us they all turned out to be lovely and we both made new friends – win!


Once we’d parked and headed up the track to the camp it really felt like we were leaving the modern day behind. Greeted by the enthusiastic team of Owain, Angus and Manachar,  we were soon within the settlement walls and ready for action. With an excellent range of activities for different aged children, B was in the Farmer Group aimed for KS2. Our guide Owain led us to the roundhouse for an introduction and we were off! With a blue squiggle of face paint to ensure we looked the part, it was time to get stuck in.


The Farmers itinerary included:

  • Grinding corn on quern stones – the children soon discovered how much effort used to be involved in baking your daily bread.
  • Learning about the herb garden – the children were greatly amused to discover that one herb was mixed with urine to make blue dye!
  • Making jewellery and using dye – with our newfound knowledge on Celtic dyes, we made a bracelet and dyed it purple.
  • Carding and spinning wool – Owain explained the history of spinning a yarn on more way than one! It was fascinating to learn how commonplace terms we use everyday had a root in our history.
  • Weaving cloth on a loom – with the children in teams, they all had great fun using the looms, and weaving cloth.

We finished off with a great story told by Owain in the roundhouse. He had us all enthralled, this man has a great talent for storytelling! It was time to make our way home. This was a truly great day out, and if you ever get the opportunity to visit as a family, home educating group or with a school, I can’t recommend it enough.

Adventures on the Caledonian Sleeper

Adventures on the Caledonian Sleeper

If you ever get a chance to travel on the Caledonian Sleeper Train my advice would be to grab it and leap with joy. It is one of the most amazing things we’ve done as a family and such a fun way to travel. For train enthusiasts like B this was one ticked off his bucket list, and for the rest of the family, it opened our eyes to a new way to travel. No more “are we there yet” and should your children continue to ask that dreaded question, there is WINE! For you, not them obviously.

The train leaves from London Euston in the evening with the Highland route journeying to Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen, and the Lowland route to Glasgow Central or Edinburgh Waverley. We were off to Fort William and having driven the long route a few years back, I was looking forward to being able to relax on the long journey up.

The train is ready to board shortly before departure, so you have time to get yourself acquainted with your surroundings before you’re on the move. For B that meant unpacking all of his hand luggage as if he was moving in! The train cabins are cosy, but there is room enough. With each berth sleeping two people, the rooms have an adjoining door to unlock and make it into a family style abode.

Once everyone was organised, the kids decamped to the top bunks to play games we’d packed for the journey. Top Trumps, colouring in, and the IPad had come along for the ride. Travelling as a group of 7 with great friends made this into the ultimate adventure for all of us. B had company with his 2 oldest and dearest buddies, and the adults had each other too. This was our first foray as a family travelling with friends, and made for the perfect adventure as we usually travel just the three of us.

With all under control in the berths (thanks Dads), it was only right that we should check out the bar area (all in the name of research). Unlike your heads down, reading the newspaper, commuter train, this was the most social train carriage I’ve ever been on. Maybe it was the gin? Either way, it was surreal to sit and drink whilst finding out everyone’s plans for after departure.

Back to the berth and B was tucked up ready for bed. He couldn’t wait to get to sleep (another reason to love this train), to say he’d slept on a bed on the train. I was on top bunk which we all know is the most fun, and I was amazed at how secure I felt up there.

So far, so good. Waking up though is the best. To open your blind in the morning and see the dramatic Scottish landscape whizzing by is amazing. Snow capped mountains, waterfalls and valleys abound. Coffee and juice had been delivered to our room, and we’d packed a picnic breakfast of cereal bars and goodies to tide us over until we departed the train.

Sitting in your PJ’s with a hot coffee watching the world go by…it doesn’t get much better than that.

Educational Apps and Websites

Educational Apps and Websites

Educational apps and websites can be a bit of a minefield to navigate. What works for one family might not strike a chord with another, and you can end up making some costly mistakes if you fork out for one that ends up unused. Fortunately, with the serious dedication and hard work of some experienced home educators there are some excellent discounts available to home educators on some of these websites and apps which may help you on a day to day basis.

When we embarked on our home education journey I already had a huge supply of exercise books from Bond, Collins, Letts, and Schofield and Sims. B liked to do them for fun so we started off with these. We thought that he would be going back into school at some point so we did hover around the curriculum quite a bit. It gave our early days some structure and continuity from school, reinforced what B already knew, and gave him confidence that he would learn just as well at home as he would in school.

At this point, aside from free apps on the phone and tablet I was clueless as to what was available. I knew I didn’t want us to work from exercise books all the time as we’d used these to complement not to educate in their entirety. Our first discovery was Twinkl and we’ve used it consistently from our early days. B had often come home with worksheets from school from the website so it was an easy progression. I love the breadth of what is available on the website. Covering so many subjects at so many levels its been invaluable. We use it a lot for maths, from exercises to print outs plastered all over our kitchen, its not only helped B but its been incredibly useful for aiding me with long division, fraction terminology and all the things buried in the depths of my brain. With a dedicated home education area, there is an absolute wealth of material here.

As we’ve progressed I’d read a lot about the dedicated apps available and knew I wanted to add some into our armoury so to speak. If in doubt of what might be a good fit for your family there are tonnes of discussions on these in the home education groups on social media. Our children are surrounded by technology in a way that has been unprecedented for previous generations. Computer games when I was small really were limited to shoot em ups and in depth fantasy wizarding type scenarios. One such app that combines games and learning is Literacy Planet. Its appeal for us is how much fun it makes each exercise. I’ve been blown away by how much B’s spelling has improved since we’ve started using it, and he is always so keen to get on the app and work. With the facility to add in your own spellings for your child to practice, we’ve been using alongside Schonell’s spelling list to link in with our other literacy work. I’ve also found that B is beginning to identify where his strengths and weaknesses are within his literacy work, and going to exercises which he finds tougher to improve in these areas.

Maths wise we are hooked on Conquer Maths. With the comprehensive videos to help with explanations and the user friendly interface, its a big hit in this house. Like other educational programs available, its worth looking out for a discount in the home education groups. We do follow the curriculum for maths as I find it works well for us. Building maths knowledge in manageable blocks has helped B with his confidence and knowledge. We tend to use tangible aids to reinforce ideas using fraction blocks and cubes where needed. Being able to set specific tasks is really useful within the website and the printable certificates are great if your child enjoys the recognition.

I’m sure over time we’ll add more to our must have list, but for now these are our recommendations. If you’ve any you’d like to share, we’d love to know!

Kinetic Sand Building Set – Building Made Fun

Kinetic Sand Building Set – Building Made Fun

B was beyond excited to receive a box of Kinetic Sand to try out and couldn’t wait to get stuck in. We’ve been looking at buildings as part of our home education journey after B decided he wanted to do a project on them so the timing couldn’t have been better. There are a range of different sets available so you can veer towards whatever your little ones are interested in. The sandcastle set is is great for girls and boys as the colours are neutral, ideal if you’ve more than one child to please.


With everything you need to get started B got on with the job in hand. The sand moulds so well, we had creations in no time. There is enough sand included to create all the plastic moulds that are included which pleased him no end. Sometimes there’s nothing worse when having to choose to build one, you need to destroy your other creations!

One of the first things you notice with the sand is that is has a really pleasing texture. Over the years we’ve played with many modelling toys from moon dough, to sand, through to plasticine and none of them feel as nice as this does on your hands. When sensory issues come into play when choosing toys, this one was a hit for us.

A favourite thing about kinetic sand is just how well you can mould it. B managed to make them all without the familiar despair of a castle collapsing too soon!


With a handy tray to play and store everything in, this is a toy that parents needn’t fear being brought out either!
**We were sent the sand to review, but all opinions are our own **

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark – Unicorn Theatre Production

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark – Unicorn Theatre Production

When it comes to theatres The Unicorn Theatre is fast becoming my favourite. There’s not a single detail that hasn’t been thought through. From the graduating basins in the bathrooms, the fabulous illustrations on the walls, the craft table in the lobby, and the actions inscribed on the floors. You know that this is a place where you are going to have fun.

Last Saturday we were lucky enough to get to see a production of The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark. This was one of those stories that I couldn’t wait to share with B. I had simply adored it when I was a child and we had read the book together a while back. I have to admit I was slightly nervous about seeing a production of a book that held such dear childhood memories to me, but the production is absolutely perfect. With the story taking place centre stage whilst we sat around the edges of the theatre, it was totally immersive theatre. Plop the owl was played to perfection and the mother and other characters portrayed so fluidly I’d say I enjoyed it as much, if not more than the children in the audience! There are some fabulous moments, which we won’t tell you all about as they make such fun surprises.

Here is B’s review of the production (and journey)

Chapter 1 – Transport

We drove to Canary Wharf then got on the tube. We took the tube to London Bridge.

Chapter 2 – The Start

Plop was afraid of the dark. Plop’s mum said “What do you know about the dark Plop?”

“It is black.”

“No, its blue, silver and grey.”

On the wall there were fireworks.

Chapter 3 – The End

At the end Plop went star gazing and looked for Orion. Then he met a cat called Orion. At the end he liked the dark.

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark is on until 21st November. Its such a magical performance, we highly recommend you go and see it. Tickets are available now

Book here

Disclaimer – we received complimentary tickets but all opinions and comments are our own.

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