Mellow Mummy : Taking life as it comes...

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Cool Cardz Scratcheez Review

We don't often struggle for ideas to fill our summer holidays because Lara and Holly are both incredibly crafty. Most days I could plonk them down in the front room with a new craft activity and they would while away hours making hand-made creations. This summer, Lara is very much into making trinkets and gifts for her friends and so the Cool Cardz Scratcheez kit is proving a hit.

The Cool Cardz Scratcheez kit from Flair helps your children make little laminated cards to fill any need that they can dream up - secret membership cards for their own little club, VIP passes for special events, party invites, thank you cards or simply a token of friendship to share with one another.  Lara has even used these Cool Cardz to make laminated gifts for her teachers for the end of term.

This Cool Cardz kit comes with a set of boho-chic themed cards on which you can draw and write whatever message you fancy and adorn it with stickers (there are a few included). Each card also has a laminate wallet. Use the special roller to cover the card with laminate and turn it into a professional looking card that you can share with others.  Lara enjoyed using the laminator once she had worked out how firmly she had to hold it, and how hard to had to pull to get the laminate to stay in place (it's actually very forgiving if you get it wrong you can just about get away with peeling it off and starting again).

But the Scratcheez kit for these Cooll Cardz includes another special touch that can turn your cards into a special message. Use the secret message stickers to cover over your design and allow its recipient to scratch it off to reveal the message - there is a scratching tool included but I think a coin would also work.

Our favourite part of the whole kit is the magical rainbow-coloured scratch-off stickers which appear black until you scratch them off to reveal a rainbow design. We all think they're a rather striking addition to a card.  You can also finish off your card with sparkly boho-chic stickers of sparkly gem stones.

The handy laminator gadget also doubles up as a storage bag - there is space for all the gards and accessories, including the ring-shaped stampers. I can't see Lara using it as a handbag, but its a handy place to keep all the cards whether they are waiting to be made, or ready for handing out to friends and family.  

The Cool Cardz Scratcheez kit costs around £19.99.  It is great to know that you can buy refill packs with more Cool Cardz, laminating pouches, stickers and gems - it means that the kit isn't finished when you finish the first pack of cards - refills cost around £7.99.

If, like me, you have small creative people who can't get enough of making things, then they can join the Cool Create Club for free for creative ideas for the summer holidays at  Other Cool Cardz themed sets include Shopkins, Chic Boutique and Frozen.

Monday, 25 July 2016

BBC micro:bit - Lara's first steps in coding

As a software developer myself, it's fairly natural that I want to get my girls coding as soon as humanly possible - learning to write code opened up an exciting and rewarding career for me, but it also helps me learn about the world, keep up with technology and come up with innovative solutions to every day problems. If I can set my girls up to do the same, I'll be a happy Mummy.  Lara has been learning very basic coding concepts at school this year but I think it will be up to me and Mr. B. to really show her the ropes and that's where the BBC micro:bit comes in.

BBC micro:bit from element14 is a pocket-sized programmable device that can be coded in a matter of seconds - Lara had written her first program for it n less than 5 minutes using one of the selection of free coding suites available on the micro:bit website. The micro:bit can become anything you want it to - a dice, a fitness tracker, a messaging application, a calculator, a music player.. you name it. It has been designed to be a fun and easy-to-use introduction to the world of technology and is packed with features that provide endless possibilities for creativity.

Before I let Lara loose on the micro:bit, I had a bit of a play around on each of the four script editors.  Each script editor comes with a tutorial and some example projects to get you started. As a developer, I found the python script editor to offer me the most freedom to write what I'd consider "traditional" code but I don't think I'd recommend it for an absolute beginner (plus, when you use python, you can't use bluetooth to sync your scripts with your tablet via bluetooth).  I liked the microsoft drag and drop editors but I just knew that as a beginner, Lara would find the Code Kingdom editor the most intuitive - I think she has used something similar before.  The Code Kingdom javascript editor is a drag and drop editor which has pre-programmed methods you can use to exercise all of the features of the micro:bit including sounds, buttons, lights and movement.

Lara and I sat down after school one evening and I showed her the micro:bit and the editor and we talked about all the amazing things she could do with it. I started her off on a very simple application in which she selected a message to display in scrolling letters across the screen. It took her 5 minutes while I showed her around the methods she needed to use. I showed her how to test her script before saving it... something I REALLY like about the Code Kingdoms editor because testing is just as important as writing code and its good to teach that lesson from day one. Once you've saved the script you copy it onto the device (which you connect to your PC using a USB cable, or to your tablet using Bluetooth) and then you're ready to go.

Lara thought it was fabulous that she could write a message for her friends and so we experimented with that for a while before moving on to explore some of the other capabilities of the micro:bit. I taught her how to hook into the button presses so that you can change what's on the screen depending on which button is pressed. Then we played around with the accelerometer inside the micro:bit using one of the tutorials to teach us how to display a random number when the micro:bit is shaken - a bit like a dice roll. You can even respond to actions on the linked device!

Lara is very inspired. She can see that it would be easy to create different things - she has asked me to buy some crocodile clips so that we can connect the micro:bit to headphones and we can program it to play music. There are 20 pins across the bottom that you can connect to (given the right equipment) to perform different interactions. I'm sure we will explore them in time.  And that's the thing - this is the beginning of a journey and the coding experiences we can have on the micro:bit are just limited by experience. There is so much for Lara to learn.

I'm excited about the micro:bit - I've found a real way of inspiring Lara to learn to code!  If you're not a developer like me, then fear not, the BBC micro:bit website is packed full of training and tutorials to help you support your child (or indeed yourself) in their learning.  I'm so keen to get both of my girls started with code and, judging by the responses I got on LinkedIn when I posted this picture of Lara with her first creation, lots of people are keen to see more young, female software developers learning from an early age - they are the future!

The BBC micro:bit is available to buy from a number of outlets but I've seen them at Maplin for about £14.99 including a USB cable and battery power pack from when it is not connected via USB.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Children's Book Review: Hedgehugs by Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson

As part of the Boolino Friends scheme, we are reviewing some gorgeous children's books; if you subscribe to the Boolino emails at you can also receive free weekend and bedtime stories with audio and text online but this week Lara and Holly have been enjoying a new paperback book, Hedgehugs by Lucy Tapper and Steve Wilson.

I first read Hedgehugs tonight because the girls have been pestering me for the last few nights - they first heard it from Daddy at the weekend and they both really enjoyed it so have asked me to read it to them again.  Mr. B. had warned me that the story was very sad, and I had prepared myself for a little bedtime tear or two... but now I've read it, I think he was just being soft!

Hedgehugs is the tail of Horace and Hattie, two hedgehogs who are very good friends, perhaps even in love.  They love doing all sorts of things together but one thing that Horace and Hattie can't do is hug...they are just too spiky. This makes Mr. B. very sad indeed!

We loved the cute hedgehog illustrations throughout the book and Lara particularly noticed that the story tells the tale through each of the seasons of the year with lots of patterns and prints that look like different fabric offcuts.  The text is big and bold and not too complex so older children can enjoy reading the story themselves. You can get a taste of Lucy Tapper's cute illustrative style at

When the story ends, you find out how hedgehogs can hug each other and it brings a smile to everyone's face. I won't ruin the story for you but lets say, the ending really has got my girls thinking about where our mountain of odd socks has come from.

I'd recommend Hedgehugs as a picture story book for children from about 3 years to 8 years.
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