Sweet Christmas Gift Ideas

With just two weeks to go till Christmas, it’s time to get the teacher gifts done, the little token presents for colleagues and those final stocking fillers for holiday guests too. While it’s all too easy to grab a couple of boxes of chocolate and give them out, there’s something to be said for personalising, even in the little gifts, so here are a few ‘sweet’ ideas that won’t take very long, but will be unique. Go to your local old fashioned sweet shop, or shop online for retro sweets and feed your sweet tooth.

Crackers

Make your own Christmas crackers by saving up toilet paper rolls, then filling small sandwich bags with a selection of sweets and stuffing them inside. Use fun Christmas paper to wrap the toilet rolls, leaving enough on either side to make it look like a cracker. You can even go professional and include cracker snaps to make sure they ‘bang’. 

Read more: Sweet Christmas Gift Ideas

The New Doll In Town: Project MC2

A few months ago my daughter was browsing Netflix for something to watch when she came across Project MC2, an action miniseries about four teenage girls who use their science know-how to be secret agents and save the day. She was engrossed in it and has watched it a dozen times since, so when I saw there were dolls to match, I was excited to get her one.

Since watching the show, she’s decided that she wants to be both a scientist and an inventor – in her spare time when she’s not being a dancer, that is – and who am I to stand in her way.71JAgxLCgkL._SL1500_

Read more: The New Doll In Town: Project MC2

Christmas Gift: My First Scalextric

One of the gifts under many trees this year will be a My First Scalextric set, a beginners introduction into Scalextrics. I remember playing on a set myself as a child, many many moons ago, but I don’t remember what it was.

We’ve been reviewing the My First Scalextric set, and been  having a lot of fun with it.

Firstly I should say that setting up, I didn’t follow the instructions, so don’t look at my pictures as an example of set up!scalextric

In the box you will find the track pieces to form a figure-of-8 track, two stilt contraptions to hold the raised track up, two controllers and their related cabling, and two cars. There’s a general colour scheme is red and yellow with the track parts in grey.

The track clips into each other, and also fits with other tracks from the Micro Scalextric range, so while you use this as your starter track, you can build on it as your child(ren) get(s) older and more confident.

When setting up, if you’re as newbie to Scalextrics as the child this set is for, it’s useful to follow the instructions, because it should be set up with the arrows all facing in the direction the cars will be going. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration by just doing it the right way from the start.scalextric2

That said, it’s not hard to set up, and is pretty quick. You don’t need batteries either, which is another bonus come Christmas day.

So how does it work? We’re quite happy with it. I’ve read other reviews where people have complained bitterly about the My First Scalextric set, but considering that we don’t have ‘proper’ Scalextric to compare it to, we are quite happy. If you go too fast around the corners you fly off the track (much like driving in real life, then!), so there’s a bit of skill to it too.


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I like that there are grooves in the controllers, so you can stop children from just going full throttle from the get-go, and in so doing prevent the cars flying off the tracks to an untimely demise.

While this is a set for young children, from 3 years of age, it does require some adult supervision. You can’t just leave the kids to it (I know mine would have the cars riding up and down the walls of the house and over the carpets and in the bath, if I left them to it). Instead the little connectors on under the cars need to be kept protected to make sure that they make the right contact on the track.

For fans of Scalextric, My First Scalextric may not be your favourite set, but it is a good starter set, and it’s definitely a good set for younger children if you don’t want to spend a fortune on a beginners kit. And as far as Christmas gifts go, it’ll be great for spending time and having fun together after all the gifts are unwrapped on Christmas morning.

Christmas Gifts: 4 Fantastic Magazines For Children

While children today have so many amazing things that we didn’t even dream possible when we were kids, there was one thing that we had that they don’t: mail. Or ‘snail mail’ as we know it today. While adulthood has dulled the joy of the postman’s ring a little, since most of what he brings me is bills, there’s still a momentary thrill of excitement when I see him (or her) walking up the path. What’s he bringing? Is it for me? Is that a parcel I see peeking out of his over the shoulder bag? So exciting. (Or maybe I should get out more?) But either way, this is a thrill our children don’t really know.

As a child and later as a teenager I had pen pals, and a subscription to a Tinkerbell, and a later a couple of teen magazines and the arrival of the postman was the most wonderful thing.

This year I’ve been working with some magazine publishers and have been thrilled to have magazines arrive every month for  my girls, and have loved passing on that excitement too. Here are five magazines I get for my children. I think they would make wonderful  Christmas presents as they are gifts that bring new and fresh excitement every month (or two, depending). Few Christmas gifts will last through to next Christmas, so you’re looking at value for money too!

Please note these are affiliate links, but we subscribe or subscribed to these magazines. 

Eco Kids Planet Magazine

  • For boys and girls aged 6- 11
  • 11 issues a year
  • Trial offer: 4 issues for £9.90
  • 6 Month Christmas Gift Subscription Offer: £19.90 (choose a Christmas subscription if you’re subscribing to 3 or more magazine.co.uk magazines for £15 savings – November 2015)

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You can read a full review of Eco Kids Planet Magazine here.

This is a lovely magazine for environmentally minded youngsters with an interest in learning about the world. Each issue has a topic – Himalayas, Scotland, India – and deals with different aspects of each area.

Eco Kids Planet also has a current offer on where you can pick up 4 magazines for £9.90, with their direct debit offer.  The magazines are normally £3.50 or subscribe and save up to £6.80, here.

Storybox Magazine

  • For boys and girls aged 3-6
  • 10 issues a year
  • 10 Issue Christmas Gift Subscription Offer: £50 (choose a Christmas subscription if you’re subscribing to 3 or more magazine.co.uk magazines for £15 savings – November 2015)Storybox

Storybox Magazine is very different to the previous one. It’s all about imagination, stories, a little bit of seasonal learning (why do we wear sun block, going back to school) and a few activities. It contains a full story, and plenty of short stories, and provides a few hours of entertainment for young readers. It’s ideally pitched at those learning to read, but also fantastic for reading with smaller children.

You can read a full review of Storybox Magazine here.

Okido Magazine

  • For boys and girls aged 2-8
  • 6 issues a year
  • 12 Month Subscription: £24Okido

Okido Magazine focuses on art and science, and is filled with games, quizzes and features that will keep children  entertained as they learn. Each magazine has a theme, such as space, habitats, or feelings, and has activities, games and science experiments to try at home. With input from artists and even poetry and short stories there’s something for every interest in this subscription, . Each issue of this great kids’ magazine has a different theme, introducing little ones to subjects as diverse as space, habitats, and emotions and feelings.

While there’s great carry over from lovers of Messy on CBeebies, the magazine stands alone too, and doesn’t require knowledge of the TV Show to be enjoyed. Subscribe to Okido here.

Little Cooks Dora the Explorer Collection

  • For boys and girls aged 2-8
  • Fortnightly issues
  • Up to £4.99 per magazine

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We love this magazine and have a huge box full of all the goodies that come with it. While one of the things I love about the top three magazines is that they are their own attraction and don’t come with loads of tat, I love about this one that it comes with cooking and baking equipment as required for the recipes in the book. We’ve had this subscription for over two years, and the baking accessories are still going strong.

Each magazine comes with a variety of recipes to make together, a story to read and a few activities to do.  Little cooks don’t have to be Dora fans, nor do they have to watch the show in order to enjoy this series.  It’s no longer available as a subscription, but you can still buy individual magazines.

Review of Little Cooks Dora the Explorer Collections here

60+ Activity Advent Calendar Ideas

This year we are making a big deal out of Advent. I am totally overcompensating for the fact that there are no cousins, no nieces and nephews, no aunts, no uncles and no grandparents around, and on as tight a budget as possible, I’m trying to make every day of Advent special in one way or another.

In order to do this we are starting each day with a toy advent calendar, a book advent calendar and an activity advent calendar. We try to marry up the book advent with the activity advent, so if the characters in the book make biscuits, we make biscuits. If they decorate their tree, we decorate ours, and so on. Sometimes the link is only a tenuous one, but a link none the less. It’s more about the togetherness than the actual activity really.

To make our activity calendar as fun as possible, I start by making a list of everything that’s happening around us. Friends are having a Christmas party? There’s a community candlelight walk? There’s a community carols by candlelight? The cathedral in town has a Christingle ceremony? Christmas market? Santa cruises? All these things go on my list and in the calendar. That way I can pre-buy tickets to make December a little less costly. I can also look through the Christmas books and see which stories would marry up with what’s happening in the area, then I number those books with the date of the activity – A ‘Jack Frost’ matinee show at the theatre on 10 December would mean I label the Jack Frost book Number 10.

It’s a fair bit of work and planning and it’s a good idea to have backups like craft activities in case weather, sickness or just not feeling like it change the plans.

Advent Calendar

  • Act out the nativity story with a nativity scene
  • Attend “Carols by Candlelight”
  • Attend a Christmas concert
  • Attend a Christmas parade (or watch on TV/YouTube)
  • Attend a Christmas market

Book Advent Calendar

  • Attend Christmas Eve Mass at a beautiful cathedral
  • Build a snowman together
  • Bundle up and go on a sleigh ride
  • Buy bargain events and activities on websites like Wowcher, Groupon, Living Social, and Little Bird
  • Buy easy and ready made craft kits – for example Lidl and various Pound shops have small Christmas craft kits, and Baker Ross too
  • Clean out your toy boxes and donate good quality items to a charity shop
  • Colour a Christmas picture or make a Christmas craft
  • Create Christmas messages and videos using Portable North Pole – one for the day you post a letter to Santa, one for a few days before Christmas, one for Christmas eve… loads to choose from
  • Cut or pick up a Christmas tree
  • Deck the halls with boughs of holly
  • Decorate a gingerbread house
  • Decorate a wreath together
  • Decorate the tree
  • Donate tinned food to a food bank
  • Dress up for dinner one night
  • Drive around to look at the Christmas lights
  • Fill a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child or similar shoe box appeal
  • Go ice skating

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  • Go sledding
  • Go to a Christingle church service
  • Go to a tree-lighting ceremony
  • Hang some mistletoe and give out kisses
  • Have a candle lit bubble bath and pretend it’s snow!
  • Have a Christmas party
  • Have a snowball fight
  • Have hot chocolate with candy canes
  • Invite a few friends over for a cookie decorating party
  • Make (or draw inside) thank you cards that are ready to be filled out after Christmas
  • Make a magic elf door
  • Make a snow scene with fake snow and ice crystals
  • Make a family bed by the Christmas tree
  • Make a handmade Christmas ornament for someone else in the family
  • Make a paper garland to hang on the tree, over a door, or in the kids bedroom
  • Make a photo album of your year and look through it together
  • Make a silly Christmas message to send out on Christmas day
  • Make Christmas cookies
  • Make Christmas trees out of ice cream cones, green frosting, and sprinkles
  • Make eggnog
  • Make gingerbread cookies

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  • Make glitter snow globes out of baby food jars
  • Make hot apple cider
  • Make paper crowns and talk about the wise men and the gifts they brought Jesus
  • Make paper snowflakes to hang from the ceiling
  • Make play dough snowmen
  • Make sand angels
  • Make snow angel biscuits
  • Make sugar crystals on a stick
  • Make thumbprint snowmen
  • Make reindeer food
  • Participate in a local toy drive
  • Read the Christmas story in the Bible
  • Roast chestnuts
  • Roast marshmallows inside over a flame
  • Subscribe to Weekend Box (Code for free box: Luschka690) or Toucan Box (Code for free box: A1014) for the winter months. First box is free if you use those links and codes
  • Visit a local farm or donkey sanctuary and talk about Mary and Joseph in the stable
  • Visit Santa for photos
  • Visit NORAD to track Santa
  • Visit a Santa Grotto
  • Watch the Nutcracker Ballet
  • Write (or colour on) Christmas cards
  • Write letters to Santa

 

Lalaloopsy Jewellery Maker Toy Review

Ameli loves Lalaloopsy, so when I was asked if we’d like to be Lalaloopsy ambassadors for the year, I thought with her birthday coming up it would be a great way of spoiling her a little, without having to cost me much! Just after her birthday we received our first Lalaloopsy toy for review: the Lalaloopsy Jewellery Maker (or Jewelery Maker if you’re in the US!)Lalaloopsy Jewellery MakerThe Lalaloopsy Jewellery Maker is part of the Tinies series, meaning it comes with three small Lalaloopsy characters and one golden ‘limited edition’ one.  The Jewellery Maker is also a 2-in-1 toy, as it is a Jewellery Maker, but also a Ferris Wheel toy.

As a toy it has little tea cups with lids that the Tinies can sit in as they go on the ride, which can lead to lovely imaginative play as the children describe the ‘view’ over the ‘landscape’ from the ferris wheel. It’s also a good safety talk introduction as we discovered when one of the Tinies plunged to an untimely death when the lid hadn’t been closed, and received a spin from a ‘helpful’ little sister. (You’ll be pleased to know she was resurrected by a kiss and a cuddle).

As a Jewellery Maker, there are pros and cons to this product. I think if used in conjunction with regular manual threading of beads, it’s just a bit of fun. I wouldn’t let it be the only means of threading beads for my girls though as there’s a lot of developmental value in terms of both dexterity and hand eye coordination that happens when children try to string beads.

That said though, the jewellery maker is fun as it allows children to thread the provided plastic ‘string’ and feed beads into the receptacle, which then shakes and vibrates the beads onto the ‘needle’ feeding it onto the string. In this way kids can create a pattern and make their own jewellery.

There are enough beads for about two full necklaces, and about the same in string, but you can add any beads that have at least a 2mm hole, and you can use any safe string too, so it can be a gift that keeps on producing.

I would have liked a closing container for the beads so that they don’t end up filling up every nook and cranny of my house, but I imagine most crafty people will have something they can use.

Battery life on the Lalaloopsy Jewellery Maker seems to be pretty decent, since it only powers a little spindle, really, and it long outlives the beads. It’s unfortunate that the ferris wheel itself doesn’t actually turn when the button is pushed, but I guess when you’re threading jewellery is no time to be distracted by fun on the fairground.


I was sent this toy for free as part of the Lalaloopsy Ambassador Programme. Views and opinions are my own (or that of one or both of my daughters!)

Faber Castell Pencils Review

Faber Castell don’t know this, but they have a lot to answer for in my life.  When I was a child growing up in South Africa, Faber Castell were considered expensive pencils. They weren’t your back to school variety, they belonged to artists. What I loved most about them were the tins, which had a beautiful castle snow scene on them – the stuff of dreams. My childhood memories may be mildly skewed, but if memory serves, the tins they came in used to be adorned with images of Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, and my flights of fancy about that castle may have a lot to do with my love of travel!

But back to Faber Castell.

We were sent two sets of Faber Castell pencils for review, the Faber-Castell Colour GRIP Pencil Case Gift Set and the Jumbo GRIP Colour & Painting Set, and it has taken us forever to get the review written, largely because I won’t let the kids use them when we’re not sitting down somewhere together. I guess my old feelings of Faber Castell being real pencils are still with me, and I don’t want the kids sharpening them because they like to see the sharpener fill up with shavings, or using them as drum sticks, or – my biggest irritation with pencils – dropping them, causing the lead inside to break into a million pieces.

So I’ve been a little protective over these pencils, and I’m not even sorry.

The thing is, they are really lovely!

Each pencil has place for a name to be written on the pencil! which is perfect if you’re using them in group settings or sending them off to school, since they won’t get lost as easily. Each pencil also has little studs on it so it’s perfect for holding without having to grip too hard. I love that about them.

They are almost squarish in shape, but fit perfectly in a normal round pencil sharpener, and they sharpen easily, without getting stuck or pulling chunks out the wood – though I suspect that may be down to the pencil sharpener too.Faber Castell

I’ve sat colouring with these pencils – with the children, of course – and they are soft, with bright, rich colours. You don’t have to press hard to get good coverage (is that the right word? I’m not too up on my arty lingo!), and in fact pressing hard isn’t good as I think the lead is quite soft, so these are perfect for my six year old, but my three year old needs a bit of guidance – she’s just out of the fist-hold phase of penmanship, so she’s getting there. (Faber Castell also do a range of crayons which she has been using effectively.)

colouringThe Jumbo GRIP Colour & Painting Set makes a wonderful gift set for a budding creative. The set comes with 18 colouring pencils, which you can use to colour as per usual, but then it also comes with a paint brush and watercup. Use these to brush over the coloured areas to turn your colouring to water colour paintings! It’s a little bit magic and the kids really love it! For the image I was working on, with small intricate bits, I didn’t really think it added anything to the picture as it just made the colours go over the lines – probably more down to my painting skills than the materials. painting

This set comes in a tin box in two layers, with a carry handle and a clasp so it can all be secured and hidden away kept safe and tidy when not in use. This set has an RRP of £24.95.

The Faber-Castell Jumbo Grip Gift Set comes in a soft metal zipped case with a clear front, and included are 16 vibrant shades, a GRIP 2001 graphite pencil and a sharpener. This set is slightly cheaper at £19.50, and is also a fantastic present for adult or child who loves to draw or colour.

As with most things, the proof is in the pudding, and in this case, the pudding is colouring. Whether that’s a kids colouring book or an adult mandala, these produce beautiful results.

You may ask why you would spend so much money on pencils when you could pick up a cheaper pencil elsewhere.

I always think that if you’re using good materials, you’re more inclined to care more about the end result. I thought I was alone in my thinking, but I found this post by Project Based Homeschooling which said exactly what I felt:

Giving children high-quality materials sends a message. It’s not enough to say, “I think your work is important.” If I give my children cheap paper and paint, what can they produce? Muddy-colored paintings that dry and flake off cheap, thin paper that tears easily. My words are saying “Your work is important” but the materials are saying “Your work is not important.”

She goes on to say: It’s true that you can’t just hand children a pile of expensive paper and a basket of high-quality markers and walk away without a backward glance. You need to convey your respect for the materials and show children how to use them properly and put them away so they’ll be good for next time.

So, see, I’m not such a mean mama! By keeping these pencils specially for special projects that we can do together, I’m teaching them a valuable lesson! (I should mention that they do have a container of random pencils and pens, crayons and chalks that they have free an unfettered access to.)

PBHS summarises that:

• High-quality materials convey to children that their work is important.

• High-quality materials inspire children to work more slowly and carefully.

• Children’s important work deserves high-quality materials.

So we use these two sets of Faber Castell pencils for making cards, decorating our letters, doing our projects, and spending time together creating our masterpieces.

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Mulled Wine And Russian Tea Gifts

With all that’s been going on here, I have not had much time to be or feel Christmassy, or get far in the whole Christmas gift making endevour. One of the things I have managed to do, however, was prepare mulled wine spices and the tea-total version, Russian Tea spices, for our December food swap.

Spices

It made quite nice gift parcels, and even if you just make a batch for yourself, it fills the house with a beautiful aroma and makes a most delicious wine or tea. The tea is a wonderful alternative to mulled wine if you can’t drink or want an alcohol free alternative. It’s worth making, totally.