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.


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!

Clever Tykes Storybooks: Inspiring Stories For Children 

Clever Tykes are wonderfully inspirational storybooks for children ages 6-9. They are the creation of husband and wife team Ben and Jodie Cook, who were recently listed in Forbes 30 under 30, for social entrepreneurs across Europe. The initiative is sponsored by Lloyds Banking Group, which has allowed these education storybooks and teaching resources to be available to UK primary schools completely free. There is a portal available where schools can sign up and access everything they need to teach enterprise education for key stage 2.

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The Clever Tykes stories are centred around entrepreneurship. The characters are fantastic positive role-models and the storylines also promote other important traits such as problem-solving, resiliance, positivity, persistence, innovation and playing to strengths or following a passion. The founders aim is to “help you inspire and empower your children to be the most creative and proactive young people they can be.”
 

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As an ex-teacher and now home educator, I think these books are absolutely brilliant! Everything about them resonates strongly with me, and I wholeheartedly agree with the founders’ values and thoughts behind these stories. As I read their website, I found myself constantly nodding along and thinking to myself ‘yes, this is so my thinking too!’ 

They want to “adopt a grass roots approach to inspiring innovative behaviour.” They go on to state: “As a society, we must demonstrate to young people that a challenging and rewarding career can be as an entrepreneur in a private venture, social enterprise or charity. We need to promote the right role models for our children to emulate.” Yes! This. 100% agree.

The books are very well written and provide awesome role-models who children can relate to, and encourage thinking outside the box and creativity. They genuinely empower children! They also cover a range of subjects; an excellent teaching resource in so many ways. 

My favourite story is Change-it Cho. I have fallen in love with this story to be honest! I love her demonstration of persistence, even in the face of adversity. It reminded me so much of the phrase ‘Nevertheless, she persisted’. It shows children how to stand up for what is right and not give up, or take no for an answer – in a good way, of course! It teaches children the traits that are necessary to thrive in today’s world. 

I can see these books have the potential to really help create a young generation of go-getters and change-makers! I seriously cannot recommend these stories enough. Parents and educators – check them out! 

*Disclosure: I was sent these books free in exchange for this review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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. 

100 Days of Home Ed #LoveHomeEd – Day 20 (Squiggle’s List of Maths Resources/ Activities) 

Today for #100daysofhomeed  Squiggle has written a list of 10 maths activities/ resources we use at home. Of course this is not an exhaustive list but it does give some good examples…

  • Pop to the shops 🏦

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  • 3d shapes 🔺
  • Valontines day math 💗💚💐🌹💌 (Note: She is referring to themed subject resources from Twinkl website) 
  • Fraction fourmula game (sp: formula) 

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  • Shape snap 🌟🌟🌟🌟⬜🔶🔴🔺
  • Make  3d shapes ⬜⬛⬜
  • Sports bar graph 🎾⚽🏀🏉(or) Eny tipe of talliey chart or graph⚽🎾🐈🐶🐰🐯🐆🐧😹😻😽 (sp: any type of tally chart)
  • Four fraction snap (Note: Function not fraction!) 

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  • Shut the box 📦📦📦📦📦
  • Scails (sp: scales. ie to teach weights, comparison, measurements etc…)


Here are links to purchase some of the activities Squiggle has mentioned:(Please note these are Amazon affiliate links. This means I get a small amount of money if you make a purchase via my site. This does not cost you anything. Thank you for the support!)

Pop To The Shops (Orchard Toys) £8 approx. Aimed at ages 5- 9. Teaches about handling money, coins etc…

Geometric Solids (Learning Resources) £13 approx. 3D shapes. Aimed at ages 8+

Fraction Formula (Learning Resources) £26 approx. Aimed at ages 8+

Shape Snap (Orchard Toys) £6 approx. Aimed at ages 3-6 but we still enjoy it!

Four Function Snap £5 approx. Teaches addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. Including practising mental arithmetic. Aimed at ages 7+ 

Shut the Box £4.50 approx. See my previous review here for more details.

We often use Twinkl for our printed resources. This is where we sourced several of the activities mentioned, including our themed maths printed-off worksheets/ activities (such as the Valentines Day ones Squiggle listed), nets to make our own 3D shapes and various tally charts/ graphs etc…


The Curiosity Box Review, Giveaway & Discount Code (STEM Science Educational Activities)

When The Curiosity Box tweeted that they were looking for bloggers to review one of their science boxes, we jumped at the chance! As home educators, we are always on the look out for new educational activities, and this one is perfect for us. It is a fun and fascinating science box aimed at 7-11 year olds that can either be purchased as a one-off or via subscription. There are also two size options; nano or mega. Prices for the larger box start at £18 based on one year subscription paid upfront, or £25 per box on a no-commitment basis. The smaller box is £9.95. (Costs include postage and packaging). Gift vouchers are available too, so it would also make a nice Christmas present!

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The Curiosity Box – Mega Box – Electricity Theme

I received a mega box to review, which includes everything needed to complete three separate science activities. Each box has a different theme, for example this box is described as ‘Putting the POW! in Power’ and is all about exploring electricity. It came well packaged and clearly labelled with simple, easy to follow instructions. I really like the tone of the writing; everything is well explained and engaging without being patronising. It also includes some very interesting and inspirational information cards about the history of science and women scientists. 

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Contents of Sparky Sculptures Activity

The three activities are varied and each one teaches the concept using a playful, hands-on approach. Scientific explanations are provided and I feel the information is pitched at a level to make it a truly educational experience for children within the targeted age range. They last a varying amount of time, depending on the activity itself, how quickly the child works and how much discussion occurs. We personally spent a couple of hours in total doing two of the activities. We had a lovely time together, with lots of laughter and of course plenty of learning too!

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Squiggle learning about static electricity

One example of the electricity activities the box contains is exploring circuits. The idea of this activity is simple but effective; design a creature with light-up eyes by creating a circuit using copper foil tape and two LED bulbs.

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Circuits Activity

Squiggle really enjoyed following the instructions to make the circuit and only needed a minimal amount of help to work out what to do. (Obviously all children have different needs so the amount of support required would depend on the child). 

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She decided she would rather make the circuit before designing her character. She spent quite sometime carefully making her circuit.

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Initially the light bulbs didn’t light up. Not to be disheartened, we used our knowledge of circuits to test each of the components separately. We used some of the resources from one of the other activities to do this, but I realised afterwards we didn’t need to and had actually made it more complicated than necessary; all part of the learning process though! However, it was useful that the boxes are generous with the resources that they provide anyway. 

After checking the battery pack, bulbs and leads, it was evident that the issue was with the copper foil tape. More specifically, it was on the corner joints that the circuits stopped working. Testing it all out deepened her learning experience and investigation skills, and became part of the fun. Plus it was a good reminder that the learning is in the doing, not just in the results (as it quite rightly says in the guide too, a valuable point!) But it was most satisfying to figure it out and get it working nonetheless! 

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We really enjoyed The Curiosity Box and would definitely love to use them again in future. I think we would particularly enjoy The Cool Crystals Box and The Super Seeds Box personally! On that note, I am hosting a giveaway for one very lucky reader to win a Nano Crystals Box! To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize, simply enter via the rafflecopter widget below. (T&Cs apply).

Last but not least, my readers can enjoy 10% discount on orders using the code LIVECURIOUS10. Visit their website www.curiosity-box.com to shop or subscribe.

You can also follow them on social media for more ideas and inspiration too!

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The Curiosity Box – Social Media/ Contact Details

Disclosure: I was sent The Curiosity Box free in order to provide an honest review, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own. 

Competition: Win a GeoSafari MicroPro Microscope Set

Do you have a budding scientist in the house? Would they love to get their hands on a GeoSafari MicroPro Microscope Set? Be in with a chance to win by entering my rafflecopter prize draw.

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GeoSafari MicroPro Microscope Set comes complete with everything you need to study professional specimen slides, or you can create your own! With 50x to 600x magnification, this microscope set is a great educational resource, ideal for learning at home. Please note that the microscope requires 2 AA batteries that are not included in the prize. The manufacturer suggests that this set is suitable for ages 8 years old and over.

Edited 28th November Congratulations to Ray who won this brilliant prize! Thank you for all the lovely comments, I wish I had one for everyone!!!

If you want to purchase your own GeoSafari MicroPro Microscope Set, you can do so using my Amazon UK affiliate link below.

Remember you can also subscribe to my blog via email to make sure you don’t miss any future giveaways!

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Enter your email to receive notification of new posts. Please note this is optional and NOT part of the competition. Actual entry into the giveaway is ONLY via rafflecopter above.

Terms & Conditions of Prize Giveaway:

• All information detailing how to enter the giveaway forms part of these terms and conditions.

• This prize sweepstake begins at midnight on 20th November 2016 and closes at 11.59pm on 27th November 2016.

• Enter via Rafflecopter widget embedded in this blog post. This is the only way to enter into the sweepstake.

• One prize winner will be drawn at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries received when competition ends.

• The winner will be contacted using details provided within 48hrs of the competition closing. If the winner does not respond within 5 days the prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be drawn.

• The winner will receive one GeoSafari MicroPro Microscope Set. The prize will be posted within 10 days of receiving the address. Please bare in mind delivery times may vary, especially over the Christmas period.

• Prize is strictly non-transferable and cash alternative will be offered.

• Open to UK residents only.

• This promotion, and the prize offered, is organised by Living Life Our Way and is not affiliated with Amazon UK, GeoSafari, Facebook or twitter. They are in no way responsible or accountable for this giveaway.

• Living Life Our Way may vary or amend the promotion if absolutely needed, for reasons beyond their control. The entrant agrees to absolve any liability to the Promoter in such circumstances.

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GOOD LUCK!

Review: Snap Circuits (STEM Educational Toy)

Squiggle received a Snap Circuits set for her 8th Birthday back in May from a kind family member. There are lots of different kits available, but the particular one she has is this one…

Snap circuits are designed for children aged 8 plus and are a great educational resource to help to teach STEM science. The lights set comes with 55 parts to do over 175 different projects. There is also a detailed instruction booklet that has clear diagrams and useful explanations.

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Squiggle and I really like this set. Some of the projects are quite similar but there is enough variation to keep her interested. We have used it together quite a few times since she got it and there are still plenty more projects left to do. Depending on how much discussion there is over it, how long it takes to read and follow the instructions, and how many times it is used, each project could last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours!

Whilst we have always chosen to do this activity together, it is probably suitable for most children to do independently. Some children may find the instructions difficult for some of the more complex projects, depending on age and ability, but the instructions are very child friendly with clear visual diagrams. The parts have codes on that match the pictures so this is also very helpful. Occasionally some parts can be a tiny bit tricky to snap into place at first, mainly if a child has any fine motor difficulties. But the design makes it as easy for children to do by themselves as possible, and the parts are very sturdy and well made.

Overall, it is a really good quality product with great educational value. It feels to us like a good investment and it certainly made a lovely present! We would recommend.

I also noticed that there is an eco set now available too. I have not used this one so am not able to comment but I would certainly love to add it to Squiggle’s collection! Green living is a keen interest in our family so this would be a great way to teach about alternative, clean energy sources.

If you are looking for an alternative to Snap Circuits for any reason, Cambridge Brainbox Electronics is another similar kit that I have heard other home educators recommend, but we have not tried it personally. There is a car and boat themed set for transport enthusiasts aged 8 plus…

There is also a set for older children too, Cambridge Brainbox Explorer 2. This kit is aimed for children aged 11 plus.

What other educational STEM resources have you found? We would love to hear from you!

This post contains affiliate links.