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

Brantano Kids Shoes for Spring

Buying a new and ultra comfortable pair of running shoes recently reminded me how important it is for footwear to be durable and comfortable. The pain of an uncomfortable pair or the disappointment of shoes that wear out too quickly isn’t worth hanging on to a pair that no longer cut the mustard.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about getting JD some new kids shoes for spring / summer and having a good look around for a pair that will be super comfortable and durable for her needs.

JD isn’t a child who is afraid of running around like mad, getting dirty or running into the sea with a normal pair of shoes on knowing full well she’ll end up with soaking wet feet, as I learned on a recent trip to the Coast!

That said, she likes casual but pretty shoes – her last pair were covered in glittery sparkles but there were hard to get on and I’m not sure they were as comfortable as they might have been on longer walks / outings.

I checked out Brantano kids shoes for Spring online which I found useful because of the ratings and reviews. I found a couple of pairs to talk to Joss about (if she’ll even entertain the idea for more than two minutes!) The shortlist I’ve identified is:

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Skechers Twinkle Toes – Chit Chat Canvas Shoes from www.brantano.co.uk

I like the colours, sparkles, velcro fastening (anything for an easy life!) and the good reviews. I’m a bit biased towards Skechers at the moment anyway as I got such a great pair for running recently.

Skechers Shuffles Critter Buds  from www.brantano.co.uk

Skechers Shuffles Critter Buds from www.brantano.co.uk

Another colourful, sparkly, velcro fastening relaxed style, this time with a cute animal face on the front (very JD!). Good reviews again too and a reasonable price.

Both of the above shoes also light up when you walk. I’m just disappointed my running shoes didn’t come with the same feature!

Osaga Oasby Purple trainers from www.brantano.co.uk

Osaga Oasby Purple trainers from www.brantano.co.uk

As a more economical option that looks comfortable, durable, good for active kids and still looks great, the Osaga Oasby Purple trainers with velcro fastening have made the shortlist too.

Brantano are running a competition at the moment, you could win a family day out worth £500, be lucky!

Whatever you’re looking for there’s a great range of fashionable kids shoes available, what would your little one choose?

Disclosure: collaborative post, all views and choices are my own

 

Why I support #natstatweek #writingmatters each year

I have a confession to make, I have terrible handwriting, always have, and probably always will.

But writing still matters to me.  I think ideas flow more naturally on paper and I like to map out thoughts, linking ideas and colour coding, it’s something the researcher in me loves about working on a big blank sheet of paper!

This year National Stationery Week is running from 25th April to the 1st May, and it’s my third year supporting as a #natstatweek blogger.

I love to get involved as it takes me back to the beginning of every school year, the promise that came from a new pencil case, new colouring pens, and later even the boring stuff, the maths sets and protractors; I always have and always will love shopping for stationery, I know it doesn’t set everyone’s world on fire but I find it utterly joyful!

Over the coming weeks I’ll be reviewing a selection of products from Staedtler and Scheaffer to Maped and NuCo, here’s a sneak peak of what’s to come, and I’d love to hear about your must have products too!

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Cooking with kids: Rusty’s Winter Warmer Granola

Enlist the help of your toddler to make a healthy, tasty and pure Granola that’ll give you something guilt-free to look forward to every morning.

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Ingredients:

I use about 100 grams each of the below nuts / seeds:-

Linseed – great plant source of omega 3 fats, adds a nice crunchy texture to the granola

Walnuts – omega 3 fats, can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, source of antioxidants, good for your brain

Pecans – Great source of vitamin E which is important for healthy skin

Brazil nuts – rich in mono-unsaturated fats, vitamin E

Almonds – good source of magnesium which is good for a healthy heart, potassium, vitamin E

Sunflower seeds – lots of Magnesium, vitamin E, Selenium (may be good for preventing cancers)

Pumpkin seeds – contain Zinc which is great for your immune system, mood, sleep, skin (and more)

Dried, diced papaya and / or pineapple – taste great

One large cooking apple – for binding the granola

Honey – so good for you in so many ways I can’t list them all here and anyway you need it to bind the granola together

Oats – I use quick cook oats as they’re easier to buy in a supermarket but simple rolled oats are a longer lasting energy source

How to

Slice up the large cooking apple into chunks and put in a pan with three or four tablespoons cold water. Put a lid on and give it 5-10 minutes at a low – medium heat. Have a look and give it a mix. Once it’s the texture of apple sauce take it off the heat and put it to one side while you prepare the rest of the granola.

This is where your toddler will love helping. Show her all the nuts you’ve bought for your granola and tell her what they are, what’s good for her about them and encourage her to have a taste (being mindful about allergies and choking – you know your own kids). She won’t like all of them but will hopefully like some. Eating nuts is a great habit to get children into – they’re great for snacking and keep really well. Very healthy in moderation.

Now help your toddler to pour all of the nuts into a big, strong freezer bag. Seal up the bag (be sure to squeeze the air out first) and get a rolling pin. On a large chopping board or tough surface, help your toddler to smash the nuts up with the rolling pin. Keep her fingers out of the way and be sure to make some serious noise. I personally like to make monkey noises as loudly as possible with Joss. It’s a fun way to let off some steam and smile. If the noise is too much for you or someone else at home, you could provide some monkey ear muffs for the duration. I try not to worry about the size of the nut fragments, it’s nice to have a bit of a mixture for texture and crunch.

Get a big mixing bowl and pour in 500 grams oats, the smashed up nuts, seeds and dried papaya / pineapple. Ask your toddler to give it a quick mix to make sure the nuts and seeds are evenly distributed.

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Now take the pan of cooked apple from earlier which should still be warm. Help your toddler to add 2 – 4 tablespoons of honey and mix in. You can use whatever honey you like but I really like using an orange blossom honey for the citrus taste. I add a couple of teaspoons of ground cinnamon too and then ask Joss to mix it up really well, trying to make sure the cinnamon is well combined, get your toddler to have a smell, amazing!

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Ask your toddler to spoon about half of the apple / honey / cinnamon mixture into the bowl of oats, nuts, seeds and fruit and mix it in well with a big spoon. Once she has combined as much as possible, add the rest of the apple sauce mix too and ask her to give that a good stir in. You might need to help out to ensure that everything is well mixed in. The whole mixture should end up quite stodgy and moist. If it doesn’t fit this description you can always add another tablespoon or two of honey to help it stick together.

Preheat your oven to around 140 – 160 celsius and spread the mixture out thinly onto baking trays. The last time we made it, the mixture covered 6 baking trays so we had to cook it in three goes. Put each round of baking trays into the oven for around 10 – 15 minutes, checking regularly and redistributing on the tray if necessary. A little browned is ok, but take care not to burn it. Once done, leave out for a few minutes to cool down and fully dry out. Break up gently and store in an airtight container.

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I eat Rusty’s granola with either coconut milk or natural yogurt and a little honey. You could try adding fresh fruit to it as well. This granola lasts me a month; don’t overdo it – there are a lot of nuts and seeds in this granola so probably 3 or 4 tablespoons is enough for breakfast. What a great treat on those autumn / winter mornings!

Optional: I sometimes add finely chopped, crystallised ginger before baking. Use in moderation but it’s a brilliant winter warmer!

Five Newcastle Gems for Family Days Out

Last weekend I made like a tourist and took J on an open top bus tour of our own fair city. There’s a lot to be said for taking the time to remember what you love about your surroundings, and it was lovely for Joss to take a different view of the toon landmarks that she’s growing to know and love as much as I do. As we made our way, windswept and chilly she shouted out “I’ve been to that Park” and “we go there!”

For the reasonable price of £8 per adult, and with under fives going free, you can hop on and hop off the bus along the hour long route, I highly recommend dressing warmly if you’re going to sit on the top deck, but it’s such an adventure for public transport loving little ones!

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When Travelodge Newcastle asked me about Newcastle’s hidden gems for visitors I thought back to the bus route and the things J paid particular attention to on the way.

Five Newcastle Gems for Family Days Out

I think our favourite places in town are great for visitors and local alike. Whatever the season, whatever the weather Leazes Park is perfect for a walk, wrapping up and crunching through the autumn leaves, and gathering conkers and acorns is one of my favourite things to do in town. There are some fab little eateries up there, including Red Mezze and Bar Loco for great value grazing.

We often have a walk through the park before a visit to our favourite family museum The Hancock (or Great North Museum). If your kids love history, animals or dinosaurs they’ll love the Hancock’s longstanding exhibitions, younger ones will love playing in the Mouse House playroom and we keep going month in month out because their special exhibitions are superb. At the moment there’s a great exhibition, Spineless, about invertebrates featuring new specimens, games, activities and lots of opportunities for dressing up – ladybird selfie anyone?! One of our hidden gems is Mark Toney’s Ice Cream Parlour up by Haymarket Metro, the sundaes are great value and a real old fashioned treat for kids.

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Down Northumberland Street you’ll find two of J’s favourite places to pop in and relax, The Laing Art Gallery and Newcastle City Library – both have little reading nooks and play areas for younger children and with plenty of events and heritage collections at the Library, and great value exhibitions at the Laing there’s always something to browse for all ages. As an aside, if you’re ever in town and stuck for a gift or a card both the Library and the Laing have fantastic local contributions, I’ve been known to do most of my Christmas shopping in the Laing!

Heading straight down to the Quayside (but if it’s lunchtime popping into our favourite cafe, Panis, for a quick pasta lunch!) there’s a lot to be said for taking some time out by the River Tyne.  As an aside if you’re planning on staying in Newcastle the Newcastle Central Travelodge is located at the riverside so a good place to pick up the Hop On Hop Off bus!  We’re usually pretty eager to head over the Gateshead Millenium Bridge to get to the Baltic. J likes to head straight for their children’s activity area where there’s usually a crafty activity set up, I like to browse the exhibitions and often pop back two or three times to see my favourites, this summer Fiona Tan was particularly enjoyed but there’s always something to pique my interest. Heading up onto the viewing platform gives a sublime view of the Tyne Bridge, one of my favourite landmarks, and on a nice day you get a great view of the river towards the Ouseburn.

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Tan exhibition

This completed our bus tour of the toon, we headed back to Central Station and chatted about the things we’d seen on the way home.

Do you have any favourite family haunts in Newcastle? We’d love to hear about your hidden gems!

Disclosure: Post in collaboration with Travelodge

Karcher asks: How long does it take to clean your house?

When Karcher asked me this question I could answer it no problem at all as I have a pretty tight cleaning schedule. I’ve also halved the time it takes to clean our family home since April this year because I’ve followed Marie Kondo‘s advice and more than halved the ‘stuff’ that we own!

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How long is enough?

I spend 8 hours a week on all of our general cleaning and household chores, running a tight ship where various days are earmarked for washing, clothes sorting and bathroom cleaning.

Working from home I generally use 30 minutes of my hour long lunchbreak to tackle some household tasks, washing on, hoovering, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, and prepping a meal for the slowcooker, then when J is in bed I do the quieter jobs, folding and putting away clothes, making lunches for the next day and washing the pots and clearing surfaces. I find weekends are a time I try to protect as family time so less happens on a weekend and on Monday lunchtime I tend to do a bit of catching up but generally I find we have a clean and tidy home that takes a lot less effort than it did when we had double the amount of stuff!

My least favourite task is cleaning the bathroom, but it’s probably the most satisfying to see sparkling white tiles, the task I least mind is washing the dishes as I like to use the time to think, and plan ahead for the rest of the week!

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A monumental task?

Slightly harder to answer was the second question Karcher posed, how long, in hours did I think it would take to clean Mount Rushmore! What? Well my washing pile is fondly known as Mount Washmore so I guess longer than my usual hour spent washing and folding each week?!

The monumental heads of the American presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were created from 1927 to 1941 by the sculptor Gutzon Borglum. They measure around 18 m (60 ft) from crown to chin – I’d guess it must have taken Karcher, who cleaned them first in 2005 200 hours?! I’ve used and loved a Karcher power cleaner but not on anything like this scale!

A spot of fun!

If you’d like to find out for yourself, watch videos of the Karcher team in action, and also challenge yourself about the other various worldwide monuments Karcher has cleaned you can check out their fun quiz and make yourself feel relieved that you have what will then seem like a rather manageable sized home to clean rather than a national treasure! Do let me know how you fared, my geography isn’t as great as I thought, so I won’t be shouting my score from the rooftops!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post all views are my own

A jar of Seaham Seaglass

This summer Joss and I have visited the beach every week, exploring the Northumberland and Tyne and Wear coastlines and we’ve loved it!

When Think Money challenged us to fill a jam jar with our holiday memories for their Jam j-art project I had an idea that it would have a beachy theme, little did I know the treasure that would eventually come to fill our lovely kilner jar as we start to get ready for preschool!

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Our seaside visits took us to Seaham Beach, famed for its treasures – seaglass! Seaham seaglass is pretty special stuff. until almost a century ago there was a glassworks at Seaham and waste glass from the hand blown bottles was tipped into the sea, years on and polished by the sea these marine treasures can be found by keen eyed beachcombers. End of day glass is especially prized, tipped into the sea at the end of the day these pieces are multicoloured and so pretty!

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On our first trip we found a few small pieces which I blogged about at the time, and by the end of the summer we’d become a little bit addicted to the hunt and ended up with some beauties!

These are my favourites:

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Displayed in our kilner jar they’re a reminder of a summer of adventure, and as I’ve lightly oiled some of the more dense pieces to give a gorgeous glow keeping them under a lid keeps them dust free and vibrant!

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A ProjectLife tag with the date tied with some lovely ribbon from a dollypeg makes this a great memento!

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Disclaimer: Think Money provided me with the Kilner jar and a contribution towards project materials, all words and photographs are my own

#LoveNorthEast

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

Women’s Equality Day 2015

Women’s Equality Day marks the date in the United States that women were granted the right to vote – August 26, 1920; commemorating Women’s Equality Day (WED) calls our attention towards women’s continued struggle towards equality, and the stories of women forging a path for others coming up behind them.

I’ve blogged before about the importance of amplifying women’s voices, increasing access to opportunities and highlighting and challenging the inequalities women face in their everyday lives. To this end I want nothing more than for my daughter to dream big, learn to become resilient in the face of setbacks and stand up for her beliefs.

For young women coming up behind a long line of women including Emmeline Pankhurst and Malala Yousafzai there’s no shortage of inspirational stories and I particularly like the This Girl Can campaign for shining a light on women’s strengths. Thinking about these stories made me reflect on my own experiences of overcoming challenges and finding my voice.

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Recently I’ve felt my own resolve tested and have sought out sources of inspiration and hope, reminding myself of the personal resources and energy reserves I have to fall back on.

I’ve been exploring goal setting in my personal as well as working life and looking to the future after a setback has been a huge challenge, but one which comes with some great rewards. There’s a lot to be said for spending a little time doing some soul searching, living in the moment and taking the time to re-evaluate your personal goals and how these fit with the life you currently lead – making dreams a reality is all about breathing life into them and moving forwards towards them.

I’ve found strength in exploring what makes me feel empowered, these are some of the questions I have found really useful to explore:
– What inspires me and makes me feel empowered?
– What holds me back?
– Who are my role models?
– What attributes do I admire in them?
– How do I deal with setbacks?
– How do I look to the future? What are my hopes and dreams?
– How can I make my dreams a reality?
– What I will tell my girl about life’s struggles and setbacks when she looks to me for support to deal with her own?

There’s a quote by Erin Hanson that I love, “There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, What if you fly?” – there’s such promise to be held in a leap of faith! Which women do you admire? Which stories inspire you?

Disclosure: Post in collaboration with TheCircle

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