Sunday, December 15, 2013

Help! I've lost my Christmas Mojo!!

Anyone who knows me well, knows how much I love this most wonderful time of the year!

I love the glitter, sparkle and twinkly lights. I love the excuse to decorate every available space with festive trinkets I have collected over the years. I love choosing gifts, making gifts, wrapping gifts. Oh how I LOVE wrapping gifts!  I love walking with Roo around the neighbourhood oooo-ing and aaaah-ing at all the pretty light displays that people have covered the outside of their houses with.  I love the excuse to eat mince pies and cream at any time of the day. I love gingerbread lattes. I love wearing my huge velvet Santa hat on the school run. I love baking festive treats and filling the house with the aroma of oranges and spice.

The decorations came out on 1st December. The tree went up and looked very pretty.  I even made a lovely garland for the banisters using a plain 'fir garland' from Wilkos, some battery operated red berry lights I bought locally and some gorgeous vintage style baubles I picked up in the charity shop for 50p (for the bag of 6! Bargain!!)

I had plans for the other rooms too and I was going to make an early start on wrapping with the aim of getting all wrapped up before Roo finished school for the holidays.  I was ready to go!

Then something happened.

I lost my Christmas mojo.  

A series of very quiet weeks at the shop and the van costing us £300 to get through it's MOT didn't help. Neither did a couple of complete disaster craft fairs and a third cancelled due to lack of interest...
Coming home from school run one day to find water pouring through the kitchen ceiling (luckily NOT affecting the bit I had just decorated) pulled me down a bit further and then this week I was completely knocked for six by a flu-type virus that left me almost unable to move for 36 hours!

Oh and the lights on our beautifully decorated tree blew less than a week after putting it up.

And, no I haven't done ANY wrapping yet!

It's all been a bit of a disaster really...

Roo informed me this morning that there are only 10 sleeps till Christmas

10 sleeps!

I REALLY need to find my Christmas mojo again because, you know, I really don't want to have to wait another 12 months before I can feel good wearing my big, red, velvet Santa hat on the school run...

Friday, December 06, 2013

Christmas dream toys - Vtech Innotab3s review

If you have children you will not have failed to notice that Christmas is very nearly upon us.

Letters to Santa are being written and excited shouts during the ad breaks of 'Mummy, look, this is what I would really really like!' call me from the kitchen while I am trying to make tea...

One thing Roo has been very unsubtly hinting at wanting is the brand new VTech Innotab3s - it's one of this year's Dream Toys here at Argos. He has, and loves, the VTech Kidizoom camera so when we got an opportunity to try out an Innotab3s naturally we jumped at the chance!

excerpt from e-book
"RAWSOME" was his first reaction - I think that's good...

Being quite tech savvy for five, he wasted no time setting up his own profile including a taking a picture of himself with the in-built 2mp camera and was swiftly drawn straight to the pre-loaded ebook which kept him occupied and amused for a good 20 mins - no mean feat for a boy with a butterfly attention span!

Once he had explored the various games and apps for an hour or so it was my turn to investigate and install the 'Learning Lodge' onto my own laptop to monitor his progress and as a portal for downloading other apps from the Vtech website.

The installation went fine BUT the Learning Lodge screen was too big for my net book display and I couldn't work out how to either reduce the display size or scroll down so I had to install it onto the home pc as well - slightly annoying but not the end of the world...
Once the Learning Lodge  was installed I was able to explore the Vtech website and the various apps/games/ebooks available to purchase and download.

I have heard a few mums grumble at the prices of the downloads and I was particularly surprised to see that the physical cartridges that you can buy from shops are also available as direct downloads but seem to be more expensive to purchase that way!  Most of the educational games and ebooks are priced between £2.99 and £4.99 which may seem like a lot (and it certainly would cost a fair bit to fill up the Innotab in one hit!) but with most kids comics costing around £3 these days I don't think they are that over-priced.

just tricky enough to keep 5yo busy

Once you have registered your Innotab3s you are entitled to one free download so I let Roo go through the options and he picked a maths game called 'Escape the Dungeon'. Downloading and installing onto the Innotab3s whilst connected to the pc was pretty simple and straightforward. The first level of the game which involves simple adding and subtracting was easy enough for him to get through so he didn't lose interest.

Innotab art...

Roo has been utterly captivated by the Innotab 3s - he is drawing, taking photographs, playing games, reading, listening to some of his favourite tunes that we easily transferred from the pc, using the calculator app and even marking important dates on the calender.  He loves the pre-loaded Magic Beanstalk game that helps kids learn about time management and responsibility. The TV has been ignored as has the Xbox for most part - that's a result in my book!

The one major difference between the Innotab 3s and it's earlier incarnations is the addition of Wifi technology - this means your child can access the internet via their tablet. There are a number of Vtech approved websites already added (and parents can deny access to any they don't feel are appropriate and easily add others). We have only briefly looked at the internet options - it is very slow to load up and does not run any Flash based games or videos - this means that it is effectively unable to cope with most of Roo's favourite websites such as cbeebies and you are also unable to watch iPlayer or YouTube videos which is mostly what Roo likes to do on line. There are cartoons available to download from the Vtech website (including DANGERMOUSE!!!) but you do have to pay for them obviously.
The Innotab3s can also send and receive messages to pre-approved iPhones or Android phones - as we don't have either (yes really!) I haven't been able to investigate this feature properly

The Good Stuff

The Innotab3s was easy to set up, comes with rechargeable batteries and a selection of pre-loaded games and apps than can be added to easily via the Learning Lodge. Parental controls are easy to set up and monitor.  The tablet is easy to use, and an attractive child friendly design that appeals to younger children and will also withstand a certain amount abuse that it is likely to receive at the hands of your average 5yo! The quality of the games and ebooks we have seen so far is good and the sound quality is excellent.

The Bad Stuff

The web browser was incredibly slow to load and, due to the lack of Flash player, the majority of the things Roo likes to do online were not available to him through the Innotab3s. Which means he will still be hassling me for my net book...  
The library of down loadable apps/cartoons/ebooks is not huge (although it is growing) and neither are they that cheap!
Not being able to use the Learning Lodge on my net book because of display sizes is annoying!

Overall the Innotab3s seemed to live up to all of Roo's expectations. He has been playing with it at any given opportunity and particularly likes that he can take it with him to play with on the go. I am happy with the educational content of the games and the fact that it keeps him occupied and happy so I can get on with making the tea!

The post was produced in association with Argos.

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