Monday, 1 September 2014

Review: Leapband by Leapfrog

I must admit a degree of envy as I strapped the Leapband onto Fifi's wrist. Okay, it's not quite a Samsung Galaxy Gear or an LG Smartwatch but it's a darn sight closer to either than I've managed to date. The Leapband is an activity based smartwatch aimed squarely at kids aged 4-7 from Leapfrog. It has a bright colourful screen, battery life that appears to be as good as some actual adult smartwatches and is easy to operate to boot. It also tells the time, which is nice.

Firing up the Leapband, the first thing that struck me was how easy it was to set up, something that cannot be levelled at most Leapfrog devices. Don't get me wrong, it still uses the woeful Leapfrog Connect, that somehow makes a top end i7 home PC run like a traction engine but once the device is registered, there's little lag or load times, and everything moves quickly enough for a child to not get frustrated at the thing. All to often if a device is aimed at kids it uses old obsolete technology and weighs as much as a brick but the Leapband is svelte and nippy, which is brilliant in my book.

As you can see from the photo, the Leapband is quite chunky, standing out quite prominently on 5 year old Fifi's wrist, and it wouldn't be that easy to fit a cardigan or jumper over it but that sort of misses the point. Whilst you can, via the Connect programme, set up times when the apps can be used, so in theory your child could wear it to school as a normal watch, in reality I doubt this is going to happen much. It's too chunky for younger kids but too kiddy for the older ones who all probably have iPhones anyway.

What it does well is provide some good activities for the kids to do to make exercising on wet and rainy days a bit more like fun and a little less like a chore. It's effectively part of the gameification of stuff- you get virtual rewards and unlock things for exercise achievements in game- and as such it's well worth the £29.99 retailers want for it.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The untrammelled joy of being two and a half

Ned is the third two year old we've owned and he is by far the most excitable. That stands to reason I suppose because the boy was, at the time, an only child and had nobody to bounce off or copy. When Fifi came along, she was a girl and full of fun and excitement. With only 21 months between her and the boy, they are often mistaken for twins and until recently have got on like a house on fire. Ned though. Oh boy. We have a two year old who sees what his older siblings are up to and complains vociferously when he can't do what they're doing- no matter that he's 5 years younger than the boy. Yesterday he was grumpy because we made him eat his ice lolly in the garden so he wouldn't get it on the sofa, when the boy ate his in the playroom. Unfair!

Still, for around 80% of the time (plus or minus ten percent depending on how many times he's been up in the night), Ned is a bundle of excitement and wonder. I spent this evening building a Playmobil Castle with his help. He kept on interrupting to tell me "I is a lucky boy daddy.", which was exceptionally cute.

When Ned plays, he does it full tilt and puts everything into it (much like he does when he tantrums). Of course this does use a lot of energy, hence the regular calls of SNACK, usually about three times an hour....

The picture above is another Lucky Boy moment, when we recently went to our favourite Norfolk pub, the Jolly Sailors, and ordered effectively a huge buffet. When the food came, he stood up on the bench and did a little dance. Because he's gorgeous.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Castle Rising

We decided to make use of our new English Heritage membership the other day with a trip to Castle Rising. The weather was iffy but the trip was brilliant.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Time for a #TheLEGOMovie themed party!!

Quite often when we're going somewhere in the car,the kids burst out randomly with a chorus of "everything is awesome.", they love The LEGO Movie that much.

To celebrate the actual physical release of the LEGO Movie on DVD and Blu Ray, we were asked to take part in a LEGO Party this weekend. If you can do your own, you're in with a chance of winning big- prizes include Benny's SpaceShip- if you tweet a picture of you enjoying yourself at @TheLEGOMovieUK with the hashtag #TheLEGOMovieDVD.

So armed with some masks, bunting, soundtracks and the DVD of The LEGO Movie, we set about having some fun with some friends at our own LEGO Movie party

We've had a heck of a lot of fun, can you guess who is who:

Rather disturbingly we had the sound track album on in the car yesterday and both the older two kids were able to identify where we were in the film by the actual incidental music. Is it possible to wear a DVD out through over use? If it is we are probably in prime position to find out...

Friday, 22 August 2014

Review: Goldieblox construction toys

On Sunday I took Fifi, with the two boys in tow, into London to have a play with the American construction toy that's been creating quite a buzz- Goldieblox. Last year Goldieblox was subject to a very successful Kickstarter campaign as it's founder extolled the virtues of a construction toy that was designed for girls from the ground up.

As Debra Sterlings' Kickstarter videos showed, there is more to making a construction toy that engages girls than simply re-releasing the existing toy in PINK.

So (in case you've not watched the video), in this instance from the ground up means that Goldieblox is designed to engage girls. Debra's research showed her that girls respond much better to a narrative structure in their play, something that doesn't tend to be intrinsically built into construction toys. Consequently, each Goldieblox set has a story-book with it that your kid can work through in tandem with the kit.

The kit itself is defiantly not pink, as though it's making a point of being not pink. The colours are pastel, mostly purples and golds and blues though. Currently there are three different sets to buy, only one of which has a base to anchor less mobile constructions on.

The sets are:

The Spinning machine is the set with the base unit by the way. 

In terms of the mechanics of it, in a sense Goldieblox doesn't do anything new. There are cubic connectors with a hole on each face to slot the connecting rods in. This means there is effectively only the option of connecting stuff at right angles; going forwards it would be nice to see some 45 degree joints added for a bit of variety. The addition of rollers is however a stroke of genius as these can work as winders (with the option to attach a little handle) or as wheels, as the case dictates. This adds a nice bit of variety to the kits and allows the kids to design a lot more things off their own bat.

Fifi made a really simple car and spent quite a lot of time whizzing it all over the floor, much to the consternation of Ned, who seemed to be in the way rather too often.

We worked through the story book on one of the sets- The Dunk Tank- and made ourselves a fully functional dunk tank, which was nice but after we did that we decided to modify the set into a catapult (or more technically, a trebuchet) and set about firing the animal figures at Mrs C

Overall I think that Goldieblox works well as a girls toy that, thanks to the colours, boys won't be too reticent to play with. The story book can be completely disregarded, which suited the boy down to the ground. If I had a criticism, it would be that there could perhaps be a few more bits of actual construction kit in each set- the construction seen in the photo above cannibalised bits from at least two sets- to enable better free play since there is probably a finite amount of replay value in the story book. Obviously this is a matter of economics- Goldieblox was Kickstarted, and volume discount from their manufacturer is probably still something sitting on the horizon. Nevertheless as a way of enthusing girls into building, it's something I would recommend.
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