Sunday 26 March 2017

Blaze Light & Launch Hyper Loop - A Review

Blaze and the Monster Machines has been a firm favourite in our household for quite some time. It is also one of only a few children's programmes that I actually enjoy too, and I love the fact that it is packed full of educational elements. It is crazy that by the age of three, Riley had a clear understanding of what inertia was and had also starting using the words trajectory and friction when playing with his toy cars and trucks. All of these were words that he had picked up through watching the show.

We were therefore delighted to hear about a new Blaze and the Monster Machines toy range, that was available just before Christmas, and we purchased Riley several of the toys as gifts. Since then, numerous other products have entered the market, and when we were offered the chance to review the new Fisher Price Blaze Light & Launch Hyper Loop, we literally jumped at the chance.

Riley's first impressions when he first saw the box was "Wow, that's amazing". He couldn't wait to get the box open and see what was inside. The front of the box displayed some fabulous Blaze and the Monster Machines graphics, and the visual image of the product gave you a good idea as to what the toy could do. At the top of the box, you could see the Blaze vehicle clearly, which was great, as this enabled you to get a better impression of the size of the product prior to opening. It also looked of great quality, which immediately gave me confidence in the toy, and I knew that it would be something Riley would really enjoy playing with. The box also states that there are 9 different stunts available to do with the set, and just below this, you can find the age recommendation of being suitable for children aged 3+.

The rear of the box, gives you more of an insight into the product and how it works. There is a large image of a child enjoying playing with the product, and it shows several different ways that the panel at the end of the race track can be set up in order to allow Blaze to Crash, Race, or Soar.

To the right hand side, there are some basic three step instructions, supported by pictures, that show you how to use the toy. Step one is to Rev, step two is to release, and step three is to launch.

The bottom rear of the box, also shows you some different Light Riders that can be purchased separately, to allow you to collect and connect your Blaze and the Monster Machines collection.

The top of the box, had pre-warned me of adult assembly being required. I will be honest and say that this can sometimes put me off purchasing a product, as there have been so many occasions where I have purchased something for Riley, only to find that it is in 100 pieces when you open the box, and contains more instructions than a flat pack wardrobe. I needn't have been concerned with this toy though, as on opening the box we found that there were only a few pieces to assemble, and all of it was really straightforward.

You do require a Philips screwdriver to safely connect one part, but this took me literally seconds to do, and wasn't difficult in the slightest, and just involved connecting three screws.

As mentioned previously, Blaze looked a really good quality toy on the top of the box, and once we had removed him from the packaging, we were impressed with both the design and size of the toy. It was an ideal size for Riley to play with when enjoying his other vehicles, as well as using it with the Light & Launch Hyper Loop. It had a nice weight to it, and didn't feel flimsy at all.

Once we were all set up and ready to go, I had a quick read through the instructions again as to how it worked, and showed Riley how to work the lever and the release button. He decided that he wanted to have the panel at the end set ready to launch Blaze, and so we adjusted the yellow towers and blue panel as required.

The first step was to place Blaze into the Hyper Loop and charge it up using the lever in order to activate the Speed Lights. Once it is charged the lights turn on and flash.

Once it is fully charged, you press the release button and the Hyper Loop sends Blaze into a super spin over a 360 degree rotation, which then sends him blazing down the track.

Riley loved using the Hyper Loop to launch Blaze down the track, and quickly got the hang of how to do it. He also really enjoyed moving Blaze up and down the track himself, and creating his own little rescue missions. It wasn't long before he started to build on his imaginative play by introducing some of his other toys to the playset, where his character figures took it in turns to press the release button on the Hyper Loop (with Riley's expert help of course).

The blue panel allows you to adjust the playset to numerous configurations, and can be used as both a ramp to launch Blaze from, or as a flap that Blaze can drive through. The two yellow towers that the panel is attached to, can also be moved into different positions on the track with ease, and Riley was able to do this without any help from me.

We both really liked the product, however the only thing I was slightly disappointed with was the lights. These only stay on for a very short period and are hard to see when the Hyper Loop is spinning. I would have personally preferred it if the lights continued along the side of the track for a better effect, but realise that in turn this would have then possibly prevented the movement of the yellow towers.

Overall, we were really pleased with the Blaze and the Monster Machines Light and Launch Hyper Loop. Riley absolutely loved it, and wants me to purchase the other Light Riders as soon as possible, so that he can re-create some stories from the show. I was happy with the size of the product, as it wasn't too large to be stored away neatly and didn't take up too much space. I also felt that the design and quality of the product was excellent.

The RRP of the product is £29.99, however this is currently available to purchase from Argos for only £24.99 and can be found here: Blaze Hyper Loop Playset

Disclaimer: We were provided with this product on a complimentary basis, for the purpose of providing our honest opinion and thoughts on the product. All opinions and photographs are my own.

My Mother's Day Weekend

My Mother's Day weekend actually began on Friday, when all the children in my son's nursery class invited their mums to a special concert.

The concert began with a beautiful song, followed by some recorded video messages by each of the children, each giving a reason as to why they love their mum. Riley's message was "I love my mummy because she loves me".

After the messages had been played, then each of the children took it in turns to give their mum a little bunch of flowers and a brown envelope which we later found out contained a card, and a little keyring with a picture each child had drawn of their mum inside.

This was a really beautiful idea by the school, and something that my other two children who are now in juniors never did in nursery, so it was a lovely surprise, that was really enjoyed by all the mums.

On Saturday, the weather was gorgeous and so we decided to visit the Cheshire Ice Cream Farm which is about half an hour away from us. We arrived shortly after opening time, to find the car park nearly full already, and we were worried that it was going to be far too busy inside. However, we were pleased to find that there were plenty of play areas and activities available and so it didn't seem too crowded at any point.

If you have never heard of the Cheshire Ice Cream Farm before, then it is basically a fun child-friendly attraction, that has lots off different play areas, with the added benefit of a wide range of ice cream choices available to purchase. They offer so many flavours within a very large and modern ice cream parlour, along with ample seating for all their guests.

Entrance to the attraction is free, however some of the activities do carry a small charge for which you can pay for as you go around. Riley loves to play in sand, and so his first choice was to play in the large sand and water indoor play area with his dad, whilst I supervised Emma and Ben outside on the huge well designed play area.

After this we enjoyed an ice cream together, before having a stroll around the small farm area to see some of the animals. There were also a couple of tractors that the children could sit on and pretend that they were driving.

We then visited the electric quad bike area. This activity allowed children to drive around a race track on an electric quad bike, and only carried a charge of £1 per quad. My children really enjoyed this, as did their dad!

After this my children spotted some full sized diggers, that you can pay a small amount to control and dig. Unfortunately we were unaware that this bit was very popular and needed to be pre-booked and so we didn't get the opportunity to go on here, but it looked great fun. The crazy golf area also looked really popular, but as we were slightly restricted on time, due to Ben having a party in the afternoon, we decided to give this a miss on this occasion.

In addition to all the outdoor activities, there was also a large indoor play area and cafe, so there was easily plenty to do there to enjoy a full day out. It is definitely somewhere we will be returning to in the near future when we have a bit more time to enjoy all the activities on offer.

Mothering Sunday began with my children all bringing me a card each and a little gift. Riley had bought me a teddy bear, Emma had chosen a lovely candle holder, and Ben had bought me a coffee cup. They were all lovely presents, and they had all made great choices. After I had opened all my cards, it was time for an early morning football match, technically it was very early due to the clocks going forward, however this early start was definitely made up for, when my son Ben received Man of the Match.

After a quick trip back home to get changed, we then visited the local pub with my parents, to enjoy a lovely roast dinner together. This was delicious, and we all really enjoyed the food.

Overall, I have had a fantastic Mother's Day, and would love to take the opportunity to wish a very Happy Mother's Day to all the amazing mums around the world xx

Thursday 23 March 2017

Letterbox Lab Science Subscription Box - A Review

A few months ago a group of scientists visited my daughter's school and showed her class some fun experiments which really captured her attention. She developed a love for science there and then, and was keen straight after to show me some scientific experiments at home.

For her birthday last October, I purchased a giant science kit from the local toy shop that featured over 50 experiments. When she opened it however, we were disappointed to find that what the box actually contained was several pieces of equipment, an instruction booklet, and a shopping list of over 40 additional items that needed to be purchased! Had we gone out and bought everything on the list it would have cost over £120 which is ridiculous and needless to say, the box was soon packed away in the cupboard, where it is has remained ever since.

My daughter was understandably disappointed by this, so whilst looking online for some science experiments that we could do at home using products we were already likely to have, I accidentally stumbled across a company called Letterbox Lab. The name of the brand immediately caught my attention, and so I looked a little further into what the company offered. 

Letterbox Lab is a newly launched subscription box service, that can be purchased on a no-commitment monthly basis. It is the creation of Dr Bryan Hatton and Mia Hatton, who both run Hatton Science Communication Ltd, and they have clearly put a lot of thought into both the design and contents of the product. Each box contains full easy to follow instructions, and the experiments are all cleverly linked together as a story.

There are two choices available, the first of which is the Explore Box which is aimed at children aged 6+ and the second one is the Investigate Box which is suitable for children 8+. The boxes fit through most letterboxes making delivery of the product easy, but the best thing about Letterbox Lab is that each box contains everything you need (excluding the kitchen sink of course). This means no more disappointed faces when you don't have a particular item in your kitchen cupboard, no trips to the chemist having to spend more money, and no huge shopping lists! The kits are packed full of science experiments for kids, which not only offer fun, but a learning experience too.

Subscription boxes have seen a rapid increase in their popularity these past couple of years, with new ideas appearing on the market all the time, but this one really appealed to both me and my daughter. It was exactly what I had wanted for Emma, and so the company kindly agreed to send one of their Investigate Boxes out to us, to review prior to the official launch on the 18th April.

We received an email a few days later confirming that our box was on it's way, and sure enough a couple of days later my daughter was delighted to see the beautifully designed box waiting for her with the post on her return home from school. The outside of the box is visually eye catching with an array of scientific images displayed all over the purple background. 

The centre of the box features the large Letterbox Lab logo, and on the rear of the box was some safety advice and information regarding the contents. I thought that this was a good idea to highlight safety points prior to even opening the box, so as a parent you can gain an understanding of what is involved and it also acts as a reminder to keep the contents out of reach of younger children.

On opening the box, we found it laid out nicely with each experiment individually wrapped and enclosed within a paper bag. There were five of these in total. In addition to each experiment, there was also some gloves, scissors, safety goggles, a pencil, measuring cylinder, some paper cut outs, chromatography paper and instructions.

I had a read through the booklet, and was very pleased with its striking, child friendly design, which continued throughout the whole manual. The first two pages are dedicated to safety information, so it is important to have a good read through these first, and make a point of highlighting any necessary points to your child. There is also a useful piece offering advice for the supervising adults and another section offering first aid advice should it be required. I was glad to find that this safety information is right at the beginning of the booklet, as no experiment should be carried out without proper precautions being taken, and so this gave me reassurance as a parent, that the company had considered health and safety very carefully.

Next up in the booklet came the experiments. I thought it would be a good idea to have a read through each one first prior to attempting them, much to my daughters annoyance who simply wanted to get stuck in. However, I have no scientific knowledge at all, and so I wanted to make sure I had some idea of what was involved prior to getting everything set up. 

In addition to this, we both sat down and watched some YouTube videos that had been sent to use via an email link from Letterbox Lab. These videos showed us exactly what to do, and gave us a great understanding of what to expect. 

Each experiment provides a full list of what you will need from the bag, and so this also acts as a check list to make sure you have everything ready before starting. It provides additional questions for your children to answer whilst conducting their tests, and encourages a child to think and develop a good understanding of what they have just experienced. None of the experiments are simply do this and your done, they actually encourage you to test your knowledge further and provide suggestions on how you could also vary the experiment.

The booklet is bright and captures a childs attention, engaging their interest right from the beginning. The text is easy to read and follow, and the handy "messiness guide" located on the top of each page is very useful for supervising adults.

Once I felt confident in what I was doing, Emma began to unpack the first experiment and get everything set up in place. We decided to work our way through the booklet in order and so we began with the Incredible Inks experiment. This involved combining water with salt in the two bottles which were provided. Emma then drew a black line across some chromatography paper about 2cm from the bottom using a felt tip pen. She then placed some of the salt water into a petri dish, before beginning to dip the end of the paper into the water.

As the water began to rise up the paper, the black line began to get larger. As the line increased in size, several other colours also began to appear. My daughter was shocked by this, as you just assume that black ink is exactly that, and we both had no idea that there were hidden invisible inks within it too. After leaving this a short while we were left with 4 different colours on the paper. 

We repeated this experiment a few more times using the different coloured pens which were provided. These others revealed a couple of other colours, but our favourite was definitely the black as the invisible inks became very visible and looked quite striking on the paper.

Although this was only our first experiment from the box, we both really enjoyed it. It had given us something fun to do together, and not only that but we were also BOTH learning not just Emma.

We then tried the next part of the experiment where you place a sweet into the water and watch what happens. The salt water removes all the dye from the sweet, and when you then place another piece of chromatography paper into the water, you can see the dyes begin to move up it.

As I mentioned previously the booklet encourages you to take your science further and so after this experiment it suggested cutting out a shape bigger than the petri dish. We chose to do a triangle. You then draw some patterns on to the paper and placed the paper on top of the dish. We then added a drop of salt water onto the top using a pipette. This then turned the design into what looked like a tie dye print and my daughter was very impressed.

The next experiment we tried was Rainbow Glasses, this involved colouring in one side of the glasses and then sticking some diffraction grating onto the reverse using the items provided. After the first experiment, my son also began to express an interest in joining in and so he decided to attempt this one by himself. Once he had followed the instructions carefully and completed his glasses, he popped them on and looked at the light. Ben was very surprised to see numerous colours despite looking at what seemed like a single colour of white.

We learnt that diffraction grating is a material containing numerous tiny grooves, and these grooves make different coloured light shoot off an different directions. These colours are then all mixed up in white light and travel in the same direction towards your eyes when looking at the light normally however, with the glasses you begin to see the colours as tiny rainbows. This was a learning experience for all of us, as I had never even heard of diffraction grating until this point.

After this we tried the Rainbow Spinners. This involved getting a little bit crafty and using scissors to cut out the cardboard discs provided. Ben then made a small hole in each of the discs and placed the first coloured disc over the top of the spinner. 

Following along with the theme of colours, we found that when the coloured disc spun, it actually created white, which was the opposite of the previous experiment. This really confused us, but we learnt from reading the instructions that this is because the spinner bounced back the coloured light. These coloured lights mixed with the reflective light created white when it was spun. Well you learn something new every day!

Experiment number 4 was the one that we had all been looking forward to, and involved creating a Liquid Rainbow. This had a grading of level 3 for messiness and so we carried out this experiment in the box. We followed the instructions carefully, which involved combining sugar with food colourings in 4 separate bottles. We then added water to each of the bottles using the pipette and placed the lids back on the bottles before shaking them for around 30 seconds. This then gave us 4 different coloured liquids.

We then carefully reopened the bottles, and using the measuring cylinder and the pipette Emma carefully placed the liquids on top of one another. This created a mini rainbow in the cylinder, and we couldn't understand why the different colours weren't mixing together. The booklet helped to explain this though and we discovered that by dissolving something in the liquids we changed the way that they behave. This was fascinating!

Next up, was another one we had both been looking forward to, the Brilliant Breathless Balloon. This one was so much fun, and really easy to do as well. Emma began by putting on her gloves and safety goggles, before pouring half of the bicarbonate of soda into the big bottle. We then half filled the bottle with water and put the lid back on before shaking the bottle for 30 seconds. Emma then poured about half of the citric acid into the balloon, and carefully stretched the balloon over the neck of the bottle.

As she then lifted the balloon up so that the citric acid mixed with the bicarbonate of soda and water, there was a reaction that caused the water to start fizzing and in turn created a gas which then blew up the balloon.

It did make some noise and we stepped back thinking that the balloon was going to explode, but much to our relief it didn't. The great thing about this is that there was enough citric acid and bicarbonate of soda provided to do this experiment twice!

Lastly was Squirmy Worms, this was one that Emma was looking forward to, and Ben seemed keen too and so we decided to do this one altogether. We began by filling half a cup with water and adding the sodium alginate which was provided. We then had to stir it quickly until the powder was dissolved. We then had to leave it to stand for an hour, which Emma claimed was the longest hour ever! Once an hour had passed we filled a bowl with water and poured in the calcium lactate and stirred with another spoon until all this powder had dissolved as well.

We then filled a pipette with some of the sodium alginate solution from the cup and squeezed it into the bowl. We did this several times and initially thought that nothing was happening. Emma then placed her gloved hand into the bowl where she discovered Squirmy Worms! Ewwwwww.

By the time we had completed all of the experiments, both Emma and Ben were hooked and keen to learn even more. I personally enjoyed it far more than I ever expected to, and certainly don't remember science being this much fun when I was at school.

The boxes are due for release on the 18th April, however you can currently pre-order the boxes at a special discounted rate of only £7.68 for an Explore box and £21.26 for the Investigate Box. I believe that these prices offer extremely good value for money, as they have provided us all with a learning experience, equipment and activities to do at home together.

As all of the experiments are individually packaged, we found it easy to put time aside to do an experiment every couple of days, and work at a pace that suited us. There was no need for us to get absolutely everything out and sort out the equipment that was needed for each experiment as this was already done for us. It was simply a case of picking it up when we had the time to do it together which worked great. 

We had initially planned to do an experiment each night over the week, however in the end we completed the box in around 10 days. This took us longer than originally anticipated, because as my son became interested we did some of the experiments twice, such as The Breathless Balloon.

Overall, my family and I cannot recommend this subscription box enough. This isn't only because of the actual product and the fun we have encountered, but also because of the people behind the product. The customer service we have experienced has been second to none, and any emails I have sent with a query or question has been replied to with both enthusiasm and knowledge. 

Dr Bryan Hatton and Mia Hatton clearly have a strong passion for science, and are keen for children to enjoy what Letterbox Lab can offer. Their knowledge and business skills have allowed them to create a fun packed science subscription box, that offers something for the whole family to enjoy and learn from. We have been very impressed with Letterbox Lab and if you would like to find out more then please visit their website or social media which can all be found here:

Website: Letterbox Lab
YouTube Channel: Letterbox Lab
Twitter: @LetterboxLab
Instagram: @LetterboxLab

Disclaimer: We were provided with a complimentary Investigate Box for the purpose of providing honest and impartial feedback. All opinions and photographs are my own.

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Aquabeads Toy Story Character Set - A Review

Our blog has featured several Aquabeads products over the last few months, and yet it always comes as a shock to us, as to just how big the range is. We used to regularly see the main Aquabeads kits advertised, but never realised what a collection of add on products Aquabeads actually have, and the wide variation of characters and themes that they cover.

Our last Aquabeads blog post, featured the Animal Friends refill set which we really enjoyed, however this month, we were sent the fabulous Toy Story Character Set to try out, and Riley was delighted when it arrived in the post.

Toy Story is one of Riley's favourite films, and it is also a film that I could watch again and again too. It was therefore lovely to have the opportunity to get down to some creative fun, completing some of our favourite characters from the show.

The Toy Story Character Set box is medium sized, and so it is not too big to store away, but also not too small as to get lost easily. It features the easily identifiable Buzz Lightyear, Woody, and an alien, in both their Disney Pixar form and how they look like when created with Aquabeads. It is nicely designed and very eyecatching.

The rear of the box provides some brief instructions and a full contents list. The contents included are:
  • 3 x Template Sheets
  • Layout tray
  • Sprayer
  • Solid beads including 18 x red, 51 x light blue, 53 x blue, 112 x light green, 41 x brown, 37 x light brown, 31 x yellow, 11 x orange, 45 x light orange, 54 x purple, 99 x white, 26 x grey, 28 x black.
  • Set of instructions

The great thing about this set is that it comes with a layout tray and a sprayer, which is great if one of your others has gone astray, or if you simply want to build on your collection of Aquabeads tools. It also means that you can use this set without the need for any prior purchase either.

The sets which come with trays are really useful for us, as it means that we now have enough trays for all my children to enjoy it at once, and so they can each have a tray and template sheet without having to wait for someone elses design to dry before they can have a go.

Inside the box, everything was neatly packaged and easy to take out and set up. Riley sat at his little table and took a few minutes to decide which character he wanted to create first. He finally decided to make Woody and so we selected the bead colours that we would need, in order to make it easier for him to find the right beads as and when he needed them.

Having created both large and small designs before, we both decided that we prefer to use the larger templates like these ones. This is because they take more time to do, and so the fun lasts longer, It also makes the designs clearer to see, which is a big help for Riley. This therefore made it the ideal set for him, and he made a start on Woody.

We began by arranging the beads and placing them into our main carry case that came with the original Aquabeads set we purchased. The case is great as it means you can easily transport all the beads and your equipment, and you can then also easily top up the colours when you start to get low too.

Once we had all the colours arranged, Riley began to place beads one by one onto the design. He did get a couple of the brown colours mixed up initially as the hat is made up of both light and dark brown, however we noticed this quite quickly and managed to swap them all round before spraying any water on them.

This design took Riley about half an hour with minimal help, and so he was very proud that he had managed to do the majority of the design by himself. We filled up the water sprayer and he ensured that he sprayed all the beads to make sure they stuck together. We then placed the template board at an angle in the kitchen, on top of some paper towel and by the radiator, and left it for just over an hour.

Once it was dry we removed it from the board and left it for a further half an hour. Upon our return Riley was really pleased with the outcome and quickly added it to his Aquabeads collection.

Overall, we really enjoyed this set, and it is definitely one of our favourites. The templates were the perfect size, and it was great that they were characters that Riley recognised. It came with an ample selection of beads, and the inclusion of the layout tray and the sprayer means that you don't need to have any previous Aquabeads products to be able to enjoy this one.

This product has an RRP of £9.99 which is a really reasonable price for such a lovely set. The size and cost of this set also makes it a lovely gift idea, and I know that some of Riley's friends would definitely enjoy this set too.

If you would like to purchase one of these sets, then they are currently available from Amazon and other good retailers.

Disclaimer: This product was provided to us on a complimentary basis for the purpose of providing and honest review of the product. All opinions and photographs are my own. This review also contains an affiliate link, that means I may receive a small commission should you choose to purchase this item after clicking through. These small commissions help me to maintain this site and are gratefully received.

Friday 17 March 2017

Jakks Nintendo Plush Toys - A Review

Many people have a favourite computer game, whether you are an avid gamer, or just have memories of a game that you used to play as a child. When I was younger, I used to attend a youth club called Friday Club, and despite the wide range of activities that would take place there, it was always the Mario Kart tournaments that were the most popular, and it became my favourite game for many years.

Following the release of the Nintendo Wii back in 2006, my love for Mario Kart was rediscovered, and my children have enjoyed playing Mario Kart together whilst growing up as well as Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Galaxy. They have all become firm family favourites, and so we were also very excited when we learnt all about the new Nintendo Switch which is a console that you can not only play at home, but also on the go. This will therefore be ideal to take away on our many adventures for the kids to play with on their travels.

Whilst learning about the new Nintendo Switch console, we were equally delighted to find out about a new range of Nintendo Plush toys from Jakks Pacific, and Riley was very excited to receive the lovely Yoshi through the post recently.

These plush toys stand at approximately 7 inches tall, and are both super cute and super soft. They are highly detailed and are of great quality.

The high grade materials used to make the product help it to look fabulous, and it will be nice for us to build up our collection with some of the other characters.

It is an official licensed Nintendo product, and in addition to the Yoshi plush pictured, you can also purchase Mario, Luigi, Bob-om, and Goomba. They are recommended for children aged 3+ although I definitely know a fair few adults that would love to purchase one of these for themselves too.

If you follow the blog regularly, you will know that Riley is a huge fan of pretend play, and so Yoshi has already been featured in many of Riley's pretend adventures. These have so far included a trip to the dolls house, where he visited for a sleepover, and also being invited as a guest to a tea party with Riley's other soft toys where he pretended to be a chef and made Yoshi some mushroom soup!

Being only 7 inches tall, also makes him easy to carry around, so Riley has enjoyed being able to take him out places with us too. As you can see from the photos he is very happy with his new friend.

These plush toys are really lovely, and if you would like to start building your own collection, or would just like to purchase your favourite, then they are available for a very reasonable price of £7.99 from Smyths Toys

The collection of Yoshi, Mario, Luigi, Bob-om and Goomba can all be found here: Smyths Toys

*Disclaimer: I received this product on a complimentary basis, for the purpose of providing an honest and impartial review. All views,opinions and photographs are my own.