23 August 2012

The Obligatory Starting School Post

Oh dear. I've just typed the title to this post and the tears have started.

Your child's first day at school is such a massive milestone. For me it will be a double milestone. Both my oldest child AND my youngest child will be starting school next month.

Presley was born in early September 2007 and Cash was born less than a year later, in late August 2008. I will have one child who is the oldest in the year and another who is the youngest in the year. What an interesting social experiment... unless you're a parent - or child - trying to make sense of it all. The dynamics of their relationship are fascinating, but that's not a subject for here right now.

My boys will be directly compared to one another all through their school years. They will be a bit of an oddity. They will be asked if they are twins.

Luckily their Reception class has a double intake so they will be in separate registration groups, although they will be together for free play about 90% of the time. Once they move into Year One they will be mostly split up all day and this will be hard for them, although I believe this will be good for them. They will benefit from time apart to develop friendships of their own.

We also have the advantage that Presley and Cash have spent fifteen hours per week during the last school year in the nursery attached to the primary school. As far as they're concerned they're just moving to a different part of the school and they are looking forward to going. This makes it easier for me waving them off, although the staggered start will be interesting for the first few weeks.

From 1st October both my boys will be full time schoolboys. We'll be in a whirl of book bags and PE kits and lunchboxes and clothes labels (I recommend the sticky clothes labels from Easytoname by the way. They haven't paid me to write about them, I'm just a very satisfied customer).

Obviously I'm looking forward to some time to myself, as well as being able to do some more work. Let's not mention how much sorting out I still have to do around the house, we've still not completely unpacked and we moved into this house over a year ago.

For now I have a couple of spirited pre-schoolers. My babies. My babies who are growing up and into their new school jumpers before my eyes. I'm going to make the most of my last few weeks with them, before I sob at the sight of them in their little uniforms.


Why Being a LEGO Duplo Blogger is Costing Me Money

Don't get me wrong, I love being a LEGO Duplo blogger. It's wonderful. We get to try all the latest Duplo, often before it hits the shops. We have been sent plenty of sets, supplemented by a large tub of basic blocks that I'd bought before we became involved in the blogger panel.

The problem comes when you're sent a set that you know both of your children will adore. This happened recently when we were sent the LEGO Duplo farm set 6141. As you can see from the photograph you get farm buildings, fences and animals as well as a farmer in a tractor. My boys (aged 4 and 3) love anything to do with farms, so I knew they would find it difficult to share this set.

The solution was for me to buy a second set (currently only £14.25 at Amazon). We made the boys work for their Duplo and set up a reward chart with the farms as their rewards. For fifteen days running they both tried everything on their plate at supper time. RESULT. £14.25 saved on wasted food, so, really, it was £14.25 well spent (but that doesn't make for such a snappy title for this post).

As I'd suspected, they both love their farms. They copied the picture on the front of the box and made their farms pretty quickly, then they played imaginatively for ages. They've played with these sets a lot, either building the farm as pictured or using the blocks to make other scenes.

Pretty soon I expect that the pieces will be added to one of our four tubs of Duplo, allowing even bigger robots or trees or parks or houses to be built.

We were also sent a brand new LEGO Duplo range, called Duplo Read & Build. The range has been created with publisher Dorling Kindersley. There are three sets containing a board book and Duplo blocks: Grow Caterpillar Grow, Let's Go Vroom and Busy Farm.

The idea is that you read the story with your child and build the characters as you go from the simple instructions in the book. It's lovely to focus on your child while you both work through the book. Ultimately your children will learn to read the books and play with the animals or vehicles themselves.

My boys loved the Read & Build sets. They enjoyed acting out the stories as they built the models. They took pride in following the instructions. We realised they were learning skills for life-long LEGO building when they were later given some LEGO City sets for their birthdays. Presley and Cash were able to follow the step-by-step instructions to make quite complicated vehicles, all based on the skills learnt playing with Duplo Read & Build.

Duplo Read & Build sets are now available, with a RRP of £9.99. They are perfect gifts for under 5's. 

Disclosure: We were sent the LEGO Duplo Farm and three Duplo Read & Build sets as part of the 2012 LEGO Duplo Blogger programme. 


20 August 2012

My Olympics in Words and Pictures

I'd been looking forward to the London 2012 Olympic Games for years. I was living in Sydney in 2000 and know how much an Olympic Games can make a city sparkle.

London 2012 did not disappoint. From the utterly brilliant Opening Ceremony to the stunning performance from Team GB, we loved every second of it.

We had tickets for the Beach Volleyball at Horse Guards Parade and Athletics at the Stadium in Stratford. We were lucky enough to see Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake in the men's 200m heats.

We shouted ourselves hoarse cheering our Olympians on the television. We cried A LOT. Life was put on hold for 17 special days.

The legacy of London 2012 is to inspire a generation. My children are inspired. They were mesmerised by the diving and the rowing and the dressage, cheering on Team GB, learning about other countries. They now want to try every sport. They roll around the carpet doing 'gymelastics'. Every day they ran and cycled around the garden in their own junior Olympics. We had medal ceremonies. We did the Mobot.

We are looking forward to taking the whole family to the athletics at the Paralympics, being part of something huge, waving our flags. It's not over yet.


New Series of Justin's House 25 August 2012

Last weekend we were invited to watch Justin's House live at Media City, Salford. Part of the BBC's summer in the City season, we were treated to live action from Justin Fletcher and Robert the Robot (and Little Monster too). We also saw a brand new episode from series two of Justin's House. 'Little Monster's Birthday'.

The new 23 episode series starts next Saturday, 25th August 2012. The new series is similar to the first, with the notable omission of Dee Livery. I hope there are plenty of female guests to redress the balance.

My children didn't know what to make of Justin's House when they first saw it last year, there were tears, but they soon came round and squeal with delight every time Justin gets a custard pie in the face.

We loved the songs at the end, Justin sang his hit 'Hands Up' as well as children's classics 'Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes' and 'Jelly on a Plate'.  This is Presley (above) joining in with a game of musical statues.

The only thing we didn't like was the catering. It was geared towards grown-ups. I bought the boys a cupcake each because they were ravenous, but they were fancy cupcakes and my children didn't like the mallow fillings or the nut ganache - they fell apart as you ate them. At £2 a pop this was a huge disappointment all round. Well, obviously the cakes weren't completely wasted (ahem).

Apart from that, we had a wonderful time. Before the show we were able to watch Tom Daley at the Olympics on the big screen.

CBeebies had invited us for a buffet lunch where the producers wanted to know our thoughts on CBeebies programmes. Presley and Cash made a serious dent in the fish cakes and huges slices of pizza. It was lovely to catch up with my Northern blogging friends and make some new friends too.

We also got to meet Robert the Robot and Justin Fletcher. They both engaged with the children and posed for  photographs. When my two went up to Justin he made them roar with laughter by trying and failing to shake their hands. They were over the moon to meet their CBeebies favourites.

Afterwards we enjoyed looking around Media City.

Look out for new content on the Justin's House page of the Cbeebies website, this will be available next weekend to coincide with the launch of the new series.

If you would like to be in the audience for any future recordings of Justin's House I'm afraid tickets are not generally available. The audiences for Justin's House are made up from schools, nurseries and children's organisations in the local Salford area. If you live within a 20km radius of Salford Quays, and represent one of the groups mentioned above, then you can enter the next ticket ballot. The details are here and the FAQ's are here. Also keep an eye on the CBeebies Grown-Ups pages.

EDIT: The ballot is now open (applications will be accepted until 30 September 2012)

If you're disappointed not to fulfil the criteria for Justin's House, Justin (& Friends) is touring next year and tickets are on sale now.

Disclosure: We were guests of CBeebies and were given lunch, that's all.
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