Learning a new language with Snowflake Books

Snowflake Books’ stories are drawn from ancient Chinese fairytales, they are translations, carefully researched and traditionally illustrated with texts in English and Mandarin, with Pinyin to help pronounciation and selected books even have a CD to listen along.

I was drawn to their books because J’s aunt lives in Shanghai and J and I are both very interested in Chinese traditions and festivals. I thought it would be nice for us to read something together that we could both learn from.  Although the stories are recommended from 5 years plus, J is an adventurous girl and a lover of fantasy stories so we found the books were a good fit for where she is at with her learning, and as she grows she will pick up more of the Mandarin too.

We read The Dragon Princess and the Five Flower Horse. The Dragon Princess, written and illustrated by Jin Jie Ye is a story I am familiar with, but the illustrations really bring it to life! FullSizeRender3

It’s a magical fable, a love story about the dragon princess who lives a wretched life with her husband, she is saved by a kindly stranger who takes a message to her father the dragon king, and the kindly stranger is well rewarded for his bravery and kind act and is reunited with the princess at the end of the tale.

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The Five Flower Horse by Xue Lin and Jian Zhi Qiu is a story about following your heart and your dreams, it’s about a warhorse who loves to dance, if only life were that simple, he must practice and hone his skills to prove himself as a dancer in the face of his disapproving family; he is such a great dancer that the birds and the butterflies come to see him and he is chosen as the emperors best dancing horse.

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Both stories are a delight to read and are beautifully illustrated in vibrant watercolours and with great expression.  The text is just the right size to keep an early reader’s interest; I loved the colour coded words highlighted for practice on each page, with pinyin below, it makes for really easy reading and visualisation.

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J is delighted with these stories and even more delighted to know the word for ‘horse’ in Mandarin (mǎ)!  I wholeheartedly recommend Snowflake Books to inquisitive readers and parents who are interested to share their love of other cultures with their little ones.

Please note, these books were sent to us for review purposes, all views are my own

Big issues: Save Syria’s Children #savesyriaschildren

In the Syrian conflicts fifth year civil war continues to devastate children’s lives, living in fear, being denied an education, hospitals destroyed and fleeing war. Refugee resettlement isn’t a new issue, this hasn’t somehow just reached fever pitch, the scenes in Calais and Hungary are simply the tip of the iceberg and the world can no longer avert its gaze.

Humanitarian Disaster

People didn’t expect and many didn’t like the picture of three year old Aylan Kurdi appearing on their newsfeeds, Aylan’s tiny body was washed up on a beach in Turkey, this beautiful little boy the same age as my daughter, sadly his photograph is the one thing that has made people pay attention and so I won’t apologise for sharing it. These are real people, real children, fleeing, it could have been my daughter, your son.

There are millions more children just like Aylan who need help; the refugee crisis isn’t going to go away and I feel we have a moral obligation to join together and act accordingly. This is the worst humanitarian disaster of our time – The U.N. estimates that 7.6 million people are internally displaced. When you also consider refugees, more than half of the Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they still remain in the country or have escaped across the borders. As we have seen, the risks of the journey to the border can be as high as the risks of staying, imagine weighing this up for your children, what choice do you have, what chance do they have?

Do something

The groundswell of grassroots campaigning and organising that I have been following has heartened me (North East Solidarity with Calais Refugees for local readers but there are lots of other local groups springing up nationally), people organising collections of goods and clothing, tents and shelters, encouraging donations and organising protests, ordinary people who want to stand together and say yes, we see you, we hear you, we stand by you. People asked what real difference can we as individuals make, we can speak with one voice and say refugees are welcome, we can raise awareness and we can give our money, time and resources. When I was contacted by a group of bloggers who suggested we get together as use our blogs as a collective voice I thought this was another way I could be involved.  I love how the blogging community gets behind a cause and each other and feel privileged to be part of this.

It could have been me

I am using my blog post to say ‘it could have been me’ and am making a donation to Save the Children as well as getting involved in local community activities.

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You can make a donation by TEXTING 70008 and the word SYRIA to donate £5 (see T&Cs) or you can make a web donation

There’s lots that you could do from the comfort of your own home.

Please don’t turn a blind eye.

Do Something to help.

Anything.

Whatever you decide, don’t choose apathy

#savesyriaschildren

Tutorfair – helping kids succeed

When I was doing my GCSEs I had a really hard time with Maths, given I now work with statistics and adore data this probably seems crazy but I really found it hard to follow the GCSE syllabus and consequently spent many an unhappy hour crying over my textbook knowing I would face an overly strict teacher the next day. It was the pits, I dreaded the lessons, maths coursework had me a wreck and I felt very anxious about my grades.

My saving grace early in year 10 was a Maths tutor my parents found via an ex-teacher, Jo was brilliant, she came to my parents home once a week and spent an hour building my confidence, more than that I started to see a path through the haze of numbers and algebra slowly didn’t feel like Spanish to me. Jo encouraged me to lighten up a bit, she was someone I looked up to, and unlike my teacher who didn’t have the time to show me the basics that I had picked up wrongly she started afresh and it started to ‘click’. Some of this work took place in the summer holidays where I had the mental space from school to concentrate on key skills.

My parents and I would say that this tutoring was worth every penny, I couldn’t have continued on the same path without it and although my parents weren’t rich they saw how the tutoring increased my confidence and I think this made the expense worthwhile.

Tutorfair is a website that makes tutoring accessible for all. It’s easy to use, you search by putting in your postcode and subject, and voila, it picks the best tutor near you. Fifteen years ago we were lucky to find Jo, so I think anything that opens up the possibilities and makes tutoring more accessible has to be a good thing!

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View everything from qualifications to videos of tutors, so you can get a better idea of what they are like and make the right choice for your child. Online payment makes booking easy, and if you’re not totally satisfied with your tutor after your first lesson, Tutorfair will give you your money back.

The big difference between Tutorfair and other traditional tutoring agencies is that Tutorfair gives something back – for every student who pays, Tutorfair gives free tutoring to a child can’t (the ‘fair’ bit).

Tutorfair’s Mark Maclaine really nicely illustrates the experience I had from tutoring and I would seek the same for J if she needed it. Mark talks about Comfort, Stretch and Panic Zones. In the ‘comfort’ zone, the learners are highly familiar with the situation. This includes everything they already know and tasks they can do almost without thinking. Students are comfortable here, feeling like they are in full control. But they are not learning. At the other end of the scale, in the ‘panic’ zone the situation is highly stressful or can seem dangerous to the learner. In this zone there is often a perception that the skill required for success is so far out of reach that it’s not even worth trying. Students in this zone can be overwhelmed, feeling like they have no control, and may ‘shut down’ entirely.

This was where I was when I really needed some support with my Maths. The trick to growth is to be somewhere in the middle, where the student is slightly uncomfortable but still learning. Mark hits the nail on the head when he says “a child who feels shame may find it hard to approach the teacher, but if your students are comfortable approaching you with concerns you can solve problems early on. The same thing goes for a parent. Opening up this dialogue with children helps them feel comfortable about coming to you if they ever feel overwhelmed in the future.”

With some careful support I succeeded in reaching the ideal zone for me, I was stretched and learning, but the panic lessened and I went on to improve from a predicted D grade to a B grade in my GCSEs, and I now know that there are many strands to Math, I love stats and I haven’t looked at algebra since!

Disclaimer: post in collaboration with Tutorfair

Wide Eyed Books: Nature’s Day

Wide Eyed Editions publish non-fiction books for children. Nature’s Day is the first Wide Eyed book I’ve seen, but it won’t be the last, it’s perfect for curious little minds and I was blown away by the attention to detail; from cover to cover it’s packed with facts and brilliantly detailed illustrations – some new creatures to learn (look at the gorgeous heron!) and lots of well known ones to shout out too!  J is just 3 but she has been enjoying a longer storytime for a while now, so introducing non-fiction books adds interest and opportunities to dip into learning too.

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Regular readers will know we are a family of nature lovers, Nature’s Day takes us not only through the seasons in the country, but in our homes and streets too, it really brings the great outdoors to life, and talks about bringing outdoors in too.  Spring is a firm favourite in this house, I love the speckled egg!

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There’s so much to look at and talk about on each page, J has always loved poring over books that give the opportunity to spot small details, so shouting out the characters on the cover was a fun start to the book!  The chickens were a firm favourite, so expressive!

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The cursive writing gives a nice touch, I think it makes this stand out as being a bit different, whilst this may be difficult for young readers it’s lovely for a book to be shared with a grown up; the hardback book and paper quality would make this a really special gift for a small nature lover!

Disclosure: I received this book from Wide Eyed Books for review purposes, all views are my own

Guest post: Gecko Clothing Kickstarter

A strong advocate of the ‘No to Gender Stereotypes in children’s clothes and toys’ movement, and pro-organic I was really interested to read about Gecko Clothing’s kickstarter, hopefully getting gender neutral clothing manufacturing off the ground in a BIG ON STYLE way!  With five days left to run I encourage you to get behind Gecko Clothing’s plans and offer your support; to give you some more background this guest post is brought to you by Gecko Clothing, check them out now!

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We are Gecko Clothing

We: are a husband and wife team endlessly aided by our 15 year old daughter, all-be-it begrudgingly these days, 5 year old son who’s enthusiasm for EVERYTHING more than makes up for the teens lack thereof and our smallest member, a toddling almost 2 year old. Think Von Trappes, but a lot less singing and organisation.

Gecko Clothing is what we do. Gecko Clothing is based on 4 founding principles. We create clothes that are:

1. Of funky & colourful unisex design;
2. That are ethical and eco-friendly;
3. Practical and hardwearing;
4. That don’t cost the earth.

Because we believe that EVERYONE regardless of age and gender deserve clothes that are:

1. Bright and colourful, that allow them to express themselves and stand out.
2. Fit for their purpose, whether than be soft fabrics perfect for crawling, or robust attire for exploring.
3. We believe that no person, animal, or our planet should suffer to bring us fashion.
4. Lastly we hope to continually strive to bring our prices down through the economies of scale

No more pink is for girls, boys must be tough and girls can’t play with dinosaurs and trains!

Our clothes will always be unisex because we are very passionate about campaigning to remove the gender labels in children’s products as they just perpetuate outdated stereotypes. We simply think all kids things should be unisex then girls and boys will be free without the reproach of society to like what they will. No more pink is for girls, boys must be tough and girls can’t play with dinosaurs and trains!

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We use organic cotton grown within a 40km radius of the factory that makes the fabric and the garments so the CO2 footprint is low. They are GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) registered which means EVERYTHING they do, right down to the printing dyes, cleaning procedures and packaging, has to be eco-friendly. They also buy the cotton through Fairtrade cooperatives supporting farmers with a premium price for their product.

We are a profit driven business which has put people off sharing our campaign. Our actions have a positive effect on society. The 2 things don’t have to be at odds. We don’t require donations to do our good. By manufacturing sustainably and supporting Fairtrade cooperatives all people involved in our process get paid fairly and treated fairly. So in effect, the more successful we become, the more people we can help without ever asking for a donation.

Kickstarter Campaign

Right now we have a Kickstarter campaign live to raise £13,000 by the 24th of June so we can manufacture 500 units of our nature inspired dungarees and 500 of our trousers of space and science (250 of each design). We have 5 days to meet our goal. If we fail we don’t get the money and nothing will be deducted from backers for their support.  Please check us out and support in any way you can, we have some pretty awesome rewards you can grab from cool temporary tattoos and badges to our unique dungarees and trousers (which are run to ages 7-8, cut roomier for cloth bottoms up to age 2-3)

 

Good luck Gecko Clothing, love from Ang! x

Disclaimer: I read about Gecko Clothing via my personal networks and love the idea, this guest post is to raise awareness of something I’m interested in, it is not a sponsored post

Things I want to remember that my toddler has said

I haven’t blogged any of J’s new words or little quips for a while but I have been keeping up to date with a list of them. We’ve had such gems as “Mammy I think you talk too much” and “Mammy went to the doctor and her arm hurt and the doctor did her blood fresh air!”

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One of my favourite recent anecdotes happened one morning in a public toilet, having previously had concerned staff banging on the door after Joss pulled the red emergency cord in the loos at the local museum whilst I was mid flow, at least she’s learned not to do it again – this week we heard “this wee is not an emergency so I not pull that doctor string Mammy” – phew, I think she’s sort of got it!

There are also the sweet heartwarming moments walking back from our childminder’s house “I will cuddle you mammy, tuck your head in so the wind doesn’t frost you” and “my Daddy is ‘tending to be my baby bird in a baby bird nest and you know it is spring when there is a baby bird”

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There’s also the downright frustrating “Joss you must listen to Daddy/Mammy when we are talking to you… ok, you need to stop and look and listen…what do we need you to do?” “Erm, you need me to…erm…to….you need me to….to….eat my dinner” – no, that’s not quite right!

A recent fave our both Daddy and I was J waking in the night a bit upset because she was “chasing a feather and it flew away” – sweet dreams for a little one and she easily settled back off to chase that feather again

And finally, role play has started, she either asks us to talk to her as her cuddly toys with voices or she’ll say “Dad, bear wants to ask” – we’ll say “what does bear want to ask you?” and she invariably responds by yelling “CAN YOU ASK BEAR!” and getting really angry with us, we’re still working out a response to this one!

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Do you keep a record of things your little ones have said? I’d love to hear some anecdotes!

Thomas & Friends – Trouble on the Tracks and the Complete Series 16 on DVD

Thomas & Friends fans are on track for a bumper treat with the release of the Complete Series 16 DVD and Trouble on the Tracks! We were lucky to get a sneak peak of both ahead of their release date – lucky Joss!

In Trouble on the Tracks the troublesome trucks delight in causing problems for Thomas, as Annie, Clarabel and Toad encounter unexpected high-speed adventures.

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Oily Diesel gives Paxton a fright, while Salty’s spooky story has the engines running scared. James runs into trouble with some slip coaches and Percy ends up frightened and alone in an old mine, there’s plot twists and turns aplenty in this 70 minute feature length adventure!

Joss loves brake van Toad with his good manners, he’s a real gent, so seeing him in this feature length film was a real treat! – out on 20th April

Then Thomas and his friends return in Series 16; all 20 episodes on DVD together for the first time ever with around 200 minutes of fun! Sodor is filled with the sound of music when a famous composer visits the island. Thomas becomes a scarecrow for the day, Percy falls foul of one of Salty’s tall tales and Charlie combines his love for snow and jokes.

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The engines welcome Stafford to Sodor, celebrate The Fat Controller’s birthday and, when a photographer visits the island, Thomas aims to appear in as many photos as possible!

Joss’ favourite episode is Welcome Stafford; when Spencer is given the special job of taking new electric shunting engine Stafford around the Island of Sodor, but he refuses to listen to warning about Stafford’s battery – exciting stuff for a three year old! – out on 25th May

Disclaimer: We were sent both DVDs for review purposes all views are my own

Midwinter snowdrops

Ah the snowdrops are here, spring is coming, look lively!

Today J and I took a ‘snowdrop walk'; a see what we can spot walk, and it was lovely, crisp, bright and lots to find.

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Midwinter snowdrops

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A lucky find, a bat box that had come down in the woods and my nipper was quick to investigate!

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In a comedy of errors we returned home to tidy the yarden and discovered these growing in one of our own pots right under our noses; I have no recollection of planting them and they’re a bit sad looking, but snowdrops none the less!

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We’ve some tidying up to do, but I’m pleased to see our summer garland is still standing!

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It’s at the faded Ibiza chic stage!

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And the bamboo continues to do its thing much to my amazement after I feared I’d killed it off earlier last year!

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And finally, some cut snowdrops brought back from J’s Grandmother’s house for me, gorgeous!

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How Does Your Garden Grow
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The Weekend Box Club and Try It Free code!

Fancy something crafty for the weekend? We’ve been reviewing The Weekend Box club this week!

The lowdown on the Weekend Box Club

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In November (2014) Weekend Box won ‘Start-Up of the Year’ at the Start-Up Loan Competition in London, the Weekend Box activity packs are designed to fit through your letter box fortnightly and contain four activities to keep little ones aged 3 – 8 busy over the weekend.

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Each box has something foodie, something to upcycle, something to make and something sensory too. Sectioned into handy activity packs with a ‘how to card’ and stickers and certificate on completion the pack is so handy for getting some quick and engaging play off the ground!

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I love that the packs are designed to encourage discussion of healthy eating, recycling/green living and something sensory too, it’s a really well rounded selection!

Each box has:
Something to Cook
Something to Make
Something to Explore
and Something Green

The Theme

The theme of our box was The Aztecs, although Joss is still a little too young to get the deal behind the theme we looked at some cool Aztec prints online in preparation for getting started! When the box arrived I was really impressed with the thought put into the design, how exciting for little ones to receive their own post in a beautifully printed box full of things to make and do.

The Activities

We had a whale of a time with our four activities. We made hot chocolate together and this was a bit of a special moment as J had her first ever hot chocolate and boy did that go down well! We talked about how it was a treat and the spice mix included in the pack smelled so good that it was a sensory activity in itself!

The crafty bits were brilliant, we loved making an Aztec parrot and as J has just learned to get to grips with little scissors making a coaster from foam was fun and resulted in a sweet little gift for daddy to take to work too! Although not the mosaic design that the pack suggested this demonstrates that the materials included can let kids do their own thing too! Finally we both enjoyed making the Aztec prints from string and this is something we’ll definitely do again to make wrapping paper on a larger scale!

What we think

I think this is a brilliant idea and perfect for a rainy weekend or to dip into on a slower day, I’ve just recommended it to a friend who is stuck at home with a tot with chicken pox too! The age range, 3 -8 shouldn’t put anyone with a younger toddler or older one off as the activities are really engaging at both ends of the spectrum (my little lady is almost 3). J and I were delighted with the contents, I loved the powder paint, ingenious stuff, and the resulting makes are brilliant and now taking pride of place in our craft gallery!

Try it for Free!

The lovely people at the Weekend Box Club have given me a promo code for you guys to get your first Weekend Box for free. Boxes can be redeemed from www.weekendboxclub.com with the code ANG236 (new customers only please and just one free box is allowed per household) – I’d love you to share your makes with us!

Chinese New Year Toddler Paper Fish Kite

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Newcastle’s Chinatown lies in the historic heart of Newcastle in Grainger Town and we use the Chinese supermarket down there a couple of times a month.  I’ve always loved Chinese New Year, the street parade and fire crackers, and last year J visited with her Daddy and loved it too, coming home with fortune cookies and a paper dragon and a big smile on her face.

This year we’ve made some lanterns but I’ve seen lots of tutorials about those, we decided to make a paper kite this week and I’ve shared some step by step instructions below, with lots of room for artistic license.  For J this activity was about a new skill, paper scrunching and sticking, so she made the scrunched paper cuff whilst I assembled the main body of the fish.

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Chinese New Year Toddler Paper Fish Kite – step by step

You need:

An empty toilet roll

Three sheets of tissue paper in different colours

Plain white paper

Glue

String/thread

Scissors

How to (tots)

Set them away with a sheet of paper and scraps of tissue paper and show them how to scrunch and stick the tissue down to make a cuff to decorate the fish.  Adding glitter is always popular with toddlers!  When finished attach the cuff to the fish with tape

How to (grown ups/older children):

Take a large sheet of tissue paper and place the toilet roll inner at the top left of the sheet, then roll the inner to cover it in tissue paper, secure with glue or tape, this forms the mouth of the fish, at the other end make a tail by cutting a deep v.

Decorate the body of the fish by wrapping with strips of different coloured tissue paper and tape/glue in place.

Cut fins from tissue and attach them to your fish

Cut and attach circle shapes for the eyes

Cut long strips of tissue to form the tail pieces and attach inside the tail with glue

Finish by carefully punching two holes in the top of the fish (in the toilet roll inner) to attach a string to ‘fly’ your kite!