Educational STEM Toy Reviews: Tin Can Cable Car and Salt Water Engine Car (From Wicked Uncle) 

Tin Can Cable Car review and Salt Water Engine Car review. STEM science and engineering educational toys from Wicked Uncle.

Quite sometime ago we received a Tin Can Cable Car (RRP £14.95) and Salt Water Engine Car (RRP £15.95) as part of our Wicked Uncle review. Now we have had plenty of opportunity to play with these, I would love to share my thoughts with you all!

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Tin Can Cable Car Review

Firstly, the tin can cable car. Here is a quick demo…

This is easy to set up and is fun to play with. Admittedly it is abit of a novelty item that probably won’t have much longevity in terms of holding interest, but that said, we have had it out a few times and she has played with it for several hours. It is pretty durable too; Squiggle had alot of fun attaching her toys to it so they could use it and it held quite an impressive weight! (Note: it is not intended to be used this way!) 

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Overall, it makes quite a cool gift as long as expectations on amount of use aren’t too high. 

Salt Water Engine Car Review

The salt water engine car is great for sparking discussion on natural energy sources. It is also educational in terms of simple mechanics and engineering too. 

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We discovered this kit had far more parts than we might have imagined it and Squiggle personally found it too fiddly to do independently but children with better motor skills and more patience might be able to do so. She enjoyed doing it alongside an adult instead. 

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It didn’t move as fast, or as smoothly, as we hoped but it was on carpet and I suspect we just needed to check connections! However, it was pretty exciting that it went along at all just using salt water! Great learning tool.

This is the salt water car in action…

Thanks to Wicked Uncle for these items to review.

Smartick Method: Online Maths Program – Review and Giveaway

I have to admit I hadn’t heard of Smartick prior to doing this review, but I am glad they got in touch as it is well worth knowing about! In brief summary, Smartick is an online maths program for children ages 4 to 14 years old. It is rather cleverly designed to be based on ability and progress with the child at their own pace, using latest Artificial Intelligence technology. This means it is not restrictive and challenges the individual child to go as far as they are capable.

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As an ex- teacher and home educator, I really like this program. I feel it teaches methods and skills clearly in a simple but effective way. It is quite focused and maximises learning, but it does have visual aids and some basic gaming elements that aim to help keep children engaged and improve concentration levels. I think the way it adapts itself to the individual to personalise their learning is really impressive!

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Each session lasts 15 minutes per day, set for maximum concentration and motivation. This is great as it is just a short, manageable burst of learning and isn’t ‘too much’. Smartick recommends that children do a session at least 5 days a week to truly experience the benefits of the program. This is fine for most children, but I knew we might find that challenging personally because if Squiggle perceives it as a demand, her anxiety goes up and she avoids it. As predicted, this happened very quickly!

We also weren’t able to make best use of the program because it is intended for the child to work on independently. Squiggle was not able to do this though because she felt that she needed me to explain it to her, which then added more time, so her speed and other data were inaccurate. Obviously this affects the function of the AI. I should point out though that this was not a reflection on Smartick; it is very clear and I think the majority of children would have no problem using it independently whatsoever. It was simply down to her anxiety and the high level of support she needs.

However, I totally admit that I knew from the outset that the structured approach might not really suit the nature of Squiggle’s particularly complex SEND needs, but I decided to trial it anyway because I was curious if we could make it work for her, and I was also interested in reviewing it generally for others too. So regarding the above comments, we are a very tough crowd to be fair! And we did find it very beneficial in our own way. Whilst we weren’t able to take full advantage of some of the best features of Smartick, it still motivated and inspired her, and provided an excellent springboard for maths practice off- screen. This is really valuable, and was totally worth it just for that!

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Anyway, I feel that I am digressing a little now as this is probably not relevant to most families! Back to the review…

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Parents receive an email as soon as their child completes the daily lesson with a summary of performance. This is really useful! Plus there is a parent dashboard, so you can log in and see study plans, questions and units that the child has answered, data about performance and other things. Also, there is a team of educators behind the scenes to answer any questions that parents or children have, via phone or email. I found the lady I emailed with was absolutely lovely and very helpful.

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Overall, I do recommend Smartick – it is a great tool for learning maths. If you would like further information, or to subscribe, see their website: www.smartick.com

To be in with a chance to win a 3 month subscription to Smartick, enter my rafflecopter giveaway below!

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Last but not least, there is also a referral program whereby parents can benefit from a £20 discount if they recommend a friend, and the new friend that subscribes will receive 25% off the first subscription they buy. So do feel free to mention me for a discount!

*Disclosure: I was given a free subscription to Smartick for the purpose of review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


Sylvanian Families Cake Shop Review and Giveaway

We love Sylvanian Families; we think they are so cute and collectable (and also have educational value too!) Squiggle has a huge ever- increasing collection and loves looking at the website or browsing the catalogue to see what she can add to her wishlist next! So I think I might have been nearly as excited as she was when we received the fab Sylvanian Families Village Cake Shop to review…

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The cake shop comes with the mum of the Toy Poodle family, who is the shopkeeper, and alot of lovely little accessories to stock up the shop with. There are 90 bits in total, including the figure, shop, till, cake stands, counters, various cakes, boxes, piping, tongs and other cool stuff. Not everything included is pictured in my photos because Squiggle inevitably spreads half of it across the floor within 10 seconds of opening it… but that just makes it all the more realistic – after all, you wouldn’t expect such a delicious cake shop to be fully stocked at all times, would you?!

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Anyway, back to the review….

What I really love about this set – and other Sylvanian Families sets too – is the quality and attention to detail. Squiggle said “I think it’s very cool the way the cake stacks up to make a big cake.” When asked what her favourite part of the set is, she said “Those strawberry filling cakes looked very yummy!” It is also great for fine motor skills, as you will see when you watch the video…

(I just love her giggle too!)

Sylvanian Families Village Cake Shop (rrp £39.99) is available in stores now.

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Sylvanian Families Village Cake Shop Giveaway!

One incredibly lucky reader can win their very own awesome cake shop. To be in with a chance to win this fabulous prize, simply enter via rafflecopter below. Good luck!

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Ends 6th October 2017. Open to UK residents only. Other T&Cs apply.

*Disclosure: We received the village cake shop free of charge for the purpose of review. All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Home Education on a Shoestring 

This post discusses how you can save money on home educating and still provide plenty of home ed opportunities. It is a common misconception that home educating is expensive and unaffordable to most. However, many home educators successfully home educate on a tight budget and there are lots of ways to make home educating affordable. The truth is, home education can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. Plus with the money you would spend on uniform, trips and lunch money, school is not necessarily a cheaper option either!

It is a common misconception that home educating is expensive and unaffordable to many. However, there are actually various ways to cut the costs, and many home educators successfully home educate on a tight budget. Here are my top tips…

Trips and Activities

Join your local home ed facebook group

In many areas, home educators organise trips and activities together as a community, in order to access cheaper group entry charges or school rates. This often also includes educational workshops that wouldn’t otherwise be available to individuals.

Look out for discounts/ offers to local attractions

Find your local community magazine, join an online group that shares local information or sign up to attraction newsletters direct; whichever way suits you personally to stay up-to-date with the latest offers and discounts for local attractions. Some places also do free open days etc… that it is worth taking advantage of too. If you make a point of seeking them out, you’ll be amazed at how much you can actually save!

Research free places to visit

Following on from the previous point, there are lots of free places to visit, and events throughout the year, that offer great educational opportunities. From museums to sporting events, there is plenty to choose from without getting your wallet out.

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Form a co-op, or arrange your own groups/ activities

If you can find a free (or cheap) venue, many home educators lead groups and activities themselves, or with other members of the local community. You can play on each others’ strengths and expertise, plus pool together resources, which can be far more cost effective than paying for classes etc…

Resources at Home

Find freebies

There are lots of free good quality resources on the internet. Also check out freecycle for useful items that someone else no longer needs. Occasionally there is even old equipment from local schools up for grabs, if you know the right people!

Borrow

You can also borrow and swap with other home educators, which makes far more sense than investing in something that is only needed for a short term topic or limited age- range for example. And of course, there are libraries too!

Buy secondhand

There are dedicated home ed selling groups on facebook to find cheap secondhand resources. Charity shops are another place to hunt for bargains; there are some great finds to be had.

Sell the resources you no longer use

Obviously, as well as buying secondhand, it is also useful to sell your resources on if you no longer use them! Or hand them down to someone else who needs them, in a pay it forward type philosophy.

Make the most of subscription discounts

Some educational apps and websites charge an annual subscription fee. However, many offer a discount for home educators so be sure to find out before you sign up.

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Twinkl is great for educational resources

What About Income Though?

It is true that the loss of earnings can be a challenge. It is all very well finding ways to save money on the cost of home educating, but it doesn’t help if you don’t have any money coming in to begin with! (Note: Home educators are not entitled to any additional extra benefits simply because they home educate, and there is no funding specifically for home educators).

However, many home educators do also work. Firstly, it is important to remember that home education does not need to observe school hours and term times so there is flexibility as to how and when a full time education is provided. Secondly, there are various jobs that you can do flexibly working from home, or ways you can juggle home educating with working outside of the home. Here are some ideas…

Home Working

Just a few examples of jobs people do at home while home educating are; tutoring, childminding, workshops/ classes, blogging, making and selling crafts (e.g. etsy store) or other small businesses.

Working While Home Educating

Parents often share responsibility for home educating with each other, other family members or friends. Some use a childminder for part of the week, then focus on home education outside of those hours. Others take advantage of educational groups or childcare schemes that they can send their child to whilst they work. It is also possible to find evening or weekend work too. Bottom line is, there are various options available, much like you would choose at pre-school age.

Do you have any tips on how to finance home education? Or how to home educate on a budget? I would love to hear them!

Exploring Nature Through All Of Our Senses #30DaysWild

Yesterday for 30 Days Wild, I used all of my senses to explore the natural environment around me. Even in a small urban garden, this is a very simple activity that really connects us to the world around us, and helps us to feel balanced and calm at the same time.

Sight

Looking around for natural items, I could see an array of colours. All around there are a variety of flowers, different types of grasses, a few weeks, a tree in our garden with many more in the distance, our growing area, a mass of tiny wildlife hiding in every corner. Such a wealth of things to see.

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Smell

Not just the flowers, but the air in general. Does it smell clean and fresh? Or maybe something is polluting it? Some of the common smells from an urban garden might be things such as freshly cut grass, food, rain, flowers and herbs, smoke, earthy smells etc… Focus on the natural ones. My favourite is when it has just rained!

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Sound

Listen to the sounds around. I could hear alot of other noise; an ice cream van, people talking, lawnmower, some kind of DIY, the bouncing noise of a trampoline… I tried to filter all of these out and tune into natural sounds. If I listened carefully, I could hear four different bird calls.

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Touch

I touched the grass, then took off my shoes and walked barefoot through it. We did this same activity, called Grounding, last year and I wrote about it briefly here.

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Taste

I didn’t taste anything. However, I could have made nettle crisps so that is perhaps inspiration for some other time! I would also love to learn more about foraging in general, since at the moment I don’t feel confident doing it (except for berries)!

#30DaysWild #LivingLifeWild

Nature Printing Pebble Art #30DaysWild

Inspired by The Pinterested Parent, I sat in the garden yesterday afternoon and tried to create some beautiful nature printed pebbles. I say tried, because it turned out to be harder than it looked – or at least for me! 

However, this didn’t bother me in the slightest. Just as I teach Squiggle, it wasn’t about the finished result, it was for the sheer enjoyment of doing it. Plus it is relaxing. I love to be artistic simply for pleasure not gain. Sure, creating something that looks pretty at the end is very satisfying, but if it doesn’t work out, it is no loss. 

I found the painted leaves and grass quite interesting, and photography is my favourite creative outlet, so I decided to compose a couple of photos. However, regardless of how the original idea turned out, this was a really fun creative activity!

Remember this week’s linky is open to share your ‘wild’ adventures too! 

Fun Family Activities To Celebrate Earth Day

​Today is Earth Day. So here are some lovely ways you can celebrate, either today  or any other (because really, everyday should be Earth Day anyway!) 

  • Nature art. There are lots of fun nature art activities that you can do as a family. One that is particularly great for Earth Day is to collect some large pebbles, arrange them in a solid circle, then paint them with a map of the world (I decided to add a peace sign too!)

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  • Make an Earth Pom Pom. Check out this super cute creative activity over on Monkey and Mouse!
  • Sign up to Global Guardian Project to get their monthly digital multi-media resource (learning capsule) full of stunning pictures, useful information, inspirational ideas and activities, and wonderful facts about the amazing world that we live in, and how we can care for it. This month the focus is on Israel. Use my affiliate code LIVINGLIFEOURWAY to get 10% discount off subscriptions. (Usual price $14.99 per month). This discount code can also be used for their new special edition National Parks capsule too.

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  • Go on a nature walk. Use all your senses to explore the natural environment around you. Stop for a few moments, be still and listen. What do you hear? What do you see? What can you smell? Touch the bark of a tree, go barefoot on the grass. Take it all in and connect with our earth.

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    • Make a paper mache globe. This project takes several days but is lots of messy creative fun! Head on over to The Crafty Classroom to for a detailed tutorial.
    • Give the earth a helping hand. Do something that helps protect our environment. Small changes can have a BIG impact. Maybe a 5 minute litter pick in your local park? Find ways to reduce energy consumption in your home? Pledge to say ‘no thanks’ to plastic straws with your drink? Or perhaps buy yourself a reusable cup rather than using disposable coffee shops ones? You could even try to give up single-use plastics completely! The possibilities are endless and remember, every small change helps. Other ideas can be found on my previous Make A Splash blog post.  

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    What are you doing for Earth Day? Tell me in comments, I look forward to reading about it!

    Wicked Uncle Review – Fun Gift Ideas For Kids (STEM Toys)

    Wicked Uncle is a cool website that specialises in awesome gifts for kids. More than that, it is set up to make it easy for anyone to be able to choose a brilliant suitable present – even if they don’t know the child very well. It is also great if you are simply stuck for good ideas and need some inspiration. 

    I was given the opportunity to review their website; they gave me a voucher code and my brief was to choose products with a focus on science and engineering. (Ideal as Squiggle loves STEM toys!) This is the first time I have shopped on their website and I found it super easy to use. I also tried to consider how simple it would be if I was buying for someone I don’t know at all, and I can totally imagine it would be straightforward and take the stress out of it! 

    The website allows you to select gender, specific age and categories (such as outdoors, sensory, engineering, creative and various others). Or you can browse all options within any of these sections. I admit I am not a fan of organising toys by gender but I do understand that some customers might want to ‘play it safe’ and find this function useful. Plus there is a good selection in both the boys and girls sections; the range is not divided up in a way that is too stereotypical thankfully. And of course you can just choose ‘all’ for this instead if you prefer to be gender neutral, like us! 

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    Given I was looking for engineering toys specifically, I selected that category and looked up the appropriate age range (in this case, 8 – 11 years old). I could then search the products by price or popularity. I have to say, there is an excellent selection of items; including some really unique ideas!

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    I spent ages browsing the website and was really impressed. There were lots of items that I wouldn’t have thought of myself and have never spotted them anywhere else before. I also came across lots of great gift ideas for other people while I was browsing, lots of inspiration for future occasions! I eventually decided on the Salt Water Engine Car (£15.95) and Tin Can Cable Car (£14.95) plus I couldn’t resist throwing in the funky Mood Cube (£5.50) too.

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    Ordering is easy, and there are options such as gift wrap and choosing a card (at a small extra cost) should you require it. Once ordered, delivery is quite quick; my parcel arrived within a few days. It also comes with a cute (and funny!) thank you card for the gift, which is a nice little touch.

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    I chose these particular two items because from the descriptions I could tell that they would be fun, educational toys that Squiggle would really enjoy. I also like the eco- friendly nature of them too; I value toys and activities that emphasise the importance of being environmentally conscious.

    I knew Squiggle would find it interesting that the car runs from salt water and this can also lead onto further discussion about clean energy (which is something we have already talked about alot before, but it is still a good reminder!) There were more pieces than I expected, but that’s great as it means the activity actually lasts more than five minutes! It is lovely that we can properly get into it together. 

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    I like the tin can cable car activity because it reinforces the concept of reusing and upcycling. I also knew that Squiggle would let her creative side take over and use this as a zip wire for her smaller toys – as this is something she was already trying to design by herself in the garden anyway! Her previous attempts at improvising were fantastic, but this kit is ideal!

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    In summary, I am very impressed with the website and will definitely be using it to buy gifts again in the future! It is absolutely brilliant for coming up with unique gift ideas. It also comes highly recommended by others too – it is an award winning service infact; rated 99 out of 100, based on many reviews. Well done, Wicked Uncle!

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    *Disclosure: I was given a voucher code so I could shop on Wicked Uncle website for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

    Learning Success System: Review and Giveaway

    The Learning Success System uses various approaches to overcoming learning difficulties, using new findings in neuroscience, as well as tried and tested techniques developed by experts in the field. New exercises are delivered daily via email, and there is also a support forum too.

    The first principle of the Learning Success System is small steps. In Japanese culture, it’s called Kaizen. It comes from the idea that crash learning doesn’t work, at least not long-term; continuous improvement over time is more effective. Therefore the tasks are only brief but to work well, the programme should be carried out regularly, although the exact amount in terms of length of time and frequency are flexible. Tasks can be approached in the way that works best for your child/ family.

    There is a huge wealth of information over on The Learning Success Blog but as a very brief summary, the programme works on the following strategies for better learning: 

    Build up micro-skills

    Trigger neuroplasticity

    Build confidence

    Brain integration

    Build grit

    The exercises focus on developing different skills such as working memory, auditory discrimination, cross- lateral coordination and other skills that help across many areas of learning. The exercises are quick and simple, but also fun and engaging. They are all very much active learning techniques, not passive teaching. (This is a good thing!)

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    The Learning Success System is available at the discounted reader price of $197 for a 12 month subscription, with a 90 day guarantee. You can purchase it here. (This is an affiliate link. This means I get a fee for each person that signs up, this does not cost the buyer anything extra. Thank you for supporting me in this way!) 



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    One lucky reader can win a 12 month subscription to The Learning Success System. Enter via rafflecopter below.

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    Competition closes 1st May 2017. Open worldwide. Other T&Cs apply.

    *Disclosure: Post contains affiliate links. I was given a free subscription for the purpose of this review and giveaway. 

    Easter Bunny’s Garden Adventures by Squiggle

    Ever wondered what goes on whilst you are still asleep in bed? This, apparently…

    Easter Bunny really should jump to it getting those easter eggs delivered…

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    But there is always time for a quick game of tennis with a friend…

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    And badminton too…

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    Oh look! Bunny height basketball…

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    Shhh! He won’t spot me up here…

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    Now for a spot of tag rugby. Doh! So close…

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    Volleyball anyone?

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    And always time for a quick sack race too…

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    Now, must dash! Someone is coming and I got things to do…

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    HAPPY EASTER EVERYONE!!!! 

    Credits: 

    Concept, photography, set design and director ~ Squiggle

    Assistant ~ Andy (daddy)

    Captions ~ Katie (mummy)