No screens after 6pm #screenfree

We have a rule in the Mad House that there are no electronics after 6pm.  For us this means no Ipads, video games, phones and computers for the boys after 6pm.  I have read that the LCD  screens can affect the production of melatonin by up to 22% and therefore, make it much harder to get to sleep. This has been a long term rule at our house and we encourage the boys to read real books, play board games, chat, do jigsaw puzzles and crafts after six pm until bed time or even play outside (which is their current favorite activity). At the moment the boys go to bed around 8pm and come inside around 7pm as there is a one year old living next door. We do allow some TV, especially if there is documentary we have recorded and we often do this, so we can sit as a family and watch it together. Now the boys are seven and eight we are transitioning from junior jigsaw puzzles to family ones as we have been struggling to find age appropriate ones that provide a challenge.  So Orchard Toys sent a couple of their talk along 150 piece puzzles and they have been great fun for the boys to do together.  The one below is Dinosaur Discovery and is 150 pieces.  It is perfect for the boys to do on their own and within a timescale that stops them getting board.  We were also sent Where is the wood too.  I would say that these puzzles are perfect for up to age seven, they have good sized pieces and are very well made.  Plus they come with ideas for discussions based on the puzzles, so are great for family time.  Plus at less than £10 each they are perfectly priced as birthday gifts. jigsaw We are also moving on to reading chapter books as a family and doing lots of puzzle books.  Maxi particularly likes sudoku and crosswords, whist Mini really loves drawing. I also have to say that it is good for us as a family to mindfully turn off the screens and play together.  We have scramble battles, play bananagrams and still love dino dice.  Boggle is one of my favorites at the moment too. Dobble We are also trying to reduce our dependance on screens for those I am boarded moments whilst waiting for food to be served or waiting in queses with small games and have recently been sent Dobble from Esdevium Games, which is a card game and the perfect size for keeping in my bag.  It is a card game, which is based on the concept of snap and needs, speed, good observation and super fast reflexes.  You can play up to five different mini games from the one tin of 55 cards (which are circular) and is a great game for all ages and is currently less than £10. What are your favorite screen free pastimes?  
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Cut the rope Toys review

My boys are both fans of cut the rope and were delighted to receive some goodies and toys from the brand from Vivid Toys. cut-the-ropetalking-om-nomproduct27251_d5c4230cd547dba0d462f9e37e72cdb3 (1) They received a plush cut the rope OmNom that makes the cut the rope noise, which Mini really loved.  As it is a circle the boys took to throwing it at each other and it wasn't long before Alvin decided that this must be his new toy.  This is around £9.99 and has been a big hit with any of the many children that come through my house. We were also sent a joke book (RRP £4.99).  My boys who are now seven and eight really love and understand jokes.  This book has been well thumbed and has 64 pages of age appropriate jokes.  It is a super book for any reluctant reader and prepare yourself to be inundated with jokes. cut the rope We were sent a comic, which is a monthly publication and is £3.99.  I find childrens comics quite pricey, but this did have a lot of content and was also filled with puzzles posters, experiments and also things to make and do, so Maxi enjoyed it and as always the boys love the freebies that you get on the front of childrens comics and magazines. This edition came with a small book and pen and some cut the rope stickers. We were also sent a doodle book, which I actually nabbed to put in the boys summer activity packs for the car.  This is £5.99 and is filled with activities including dot to dots and mazes (which are Maxi's favorite). 9
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10 Last minute rainy day activities

The british weather is notoriously fickle and typically it will pour with rain when you have a sunny day activity planned, so it pays to have some last minute rainy day activities that you can do with things you have in the house.  We have a large crafty stash so often turn to that, but I appreciate this isn't the case for everyone.  So I have put together 10 rainy day activities that need minimal or no planning at all and are perfect for unexpected rainy days. rainyday activities
  1. Learn how to bubble write
  2. Colouring in
  3. Write a book report
  4. Try some decoupage
  5. Write a letter to a penpal
  6. Make fingerprint art
  7. plan and cook a meal
  8. Make a masking tape race track or town
  9. Make your own play dough
  10. Make paper flowers
Looking for more ideas, then Cass at Frugal Family has some more great rainy day ideas on her blog.
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Free summer printables from Pen and Paint Blog

Pen and Paint is Lindsay Hopkins and I  first discovered her fab artwork on Instagram.  We now have four of her prints around our house and we love them  Everytime I look at them they make me smile and people always comment on them. pen and paint blog bucket list Lindsay also has a brilliant blog and every now and then she offers free printables on it and I just had to share the summer ones with you.  I have printed out the bucket list one for my boys to colour in and fill in, but Lindsay also have one that is pre coloured in. pen and paint summer Both my boys had the Spring version of the seasonal print in their rooms.  I love the fact that you can make children aware of such fantastic art and they love it and have been waiting for the summer one.
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#Freerangesummer doesn’t mean that I ignore my children………..

Nor does it mean that I let them be bored or fail to plan activities for us as a family.  I am not a parent that see's boredom as a virtue, in fact I have a bored jar for times like that! No a #freeRange Summer means that I am trying to give my children some freedom to play out.  That I am trying to establish some boundaries for them to stick too and to reduce their reliance on screens.  In today's increasingly technological world they are increasingly looking at picking up a piece of technology to escape their boredom. climbing fountains   I am trying as a parent to learn how to balance technology in my parenting, as really my boys are the first generation of children to have this access to tablets, PC's, Video Games, Mobile Phones etc.  I do not want to exclude it totally, but I do need to find the right balance for us as a family.   I am still aware that there might be health risks from exposure these devices. However, more and more they are coming home from school and showing me apps that they have used in a classroom situation, the most recent one Mini has been using to create cartoon strips.  So I realise that I can not exclude them using an Ipad, but I can regulate that use and make it as safe as I can.  I was recently sent a Pong Ipad case to review, which are designed to reduces exposure to radiation by up to 78%.  As a parent this is very important to me.  Safe to say I can not stop the boys using an Ipad (well I can, but I am not going to)!, but I can make using it as safe as possible. We have some very strict rules when it comes to screens.  None other than TV after 6pm.  The Xbox has parental control with a time limit on and I am really strict with regards to the type of games that they can play or apps that I download for them. My summer is going to be filled with weeks away with my children, with organised activities and visiting parks (where I hope to leave them to play while a read a book)!  The days are going to be spent with them playing cricket with friends and spending time in the midday heat making comics on the ipad.  What I am looking for is a balance that suits us as a family. I am not advocated leaving your children to get bored, what I am advocating is allowing them some freedom where appropriate.   I think that it is OK to let children climb trees and role down grassy banks at castles if it is safe. Whatever you do this summer, just make sure you have fun.
The Mad House
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Tefal Optigrill – A Review

optigril review Did you know that I was vegetarian for 14 years?  I only started eating meal again when I was pregnant with Mini and I craved steak.  I guess due to the fact that I was anemic.  Even now I am more inclined to go with a vegetarian option rather than the meat one and as a family we eat a lot of vegetables and vegetarian food. However, we do all like a nice steak.  Me and Mini are partial to a medium fillet, whilst the other two love a well done rump, sirloin or rib eye.  However we only eat this a couple of times a year as they are price prohibitive for a family of four. But with school finishing for the holidays yesterday we decided to have a celebration and had steak, new potatoes and broccoli from the garden. optigrill As I am a Tefal Innovator, I was sent the brand new Tefal Optigrill to test.  This is a revolutionary new grill that can detect how thick your meat is and tells you when it is cooked to rare, medium or well done. steak We like:
  1. It does what is says it will - We had three different cuts of meat all cooked to different specifications and it was delicious.
  2. It takes the guesswork out of cooking - I love that it has an audible beep as well as a visual identification when your meat gets to a certain specification
  3. The cooking plates are removable and dishwasher safe.  _ no mess, no stress and no burning your fingers cleaning it.
  4. Large drip pan - We tried burgers on the Tefal Optigrill today and they were either fatty, but the drip tray more than coped and it fits snuggly to the machine
  5. It is versatile with settings for fish, sausages, burgers, bacon, chicken and a manual setting for vegetables.  My mushroom today was divine
We weren't keen:
  1. At £130 is isn't a cheep bit of kit, however, I have had three of the competitors grills in over two years.  So if this lasts then it will be much better value for money than its competitor
  2. It has a large footprint.  I know that this is something we will use regularly, so didn't want to put it in a cupboard, but it takes up two thirds of the top of my microwave where it now lives!
Overview: The Optigrill has such a familiar look and feel to me.  My mum had a tefal grill with removable interchangeable hot plates for over 30 years.  She used it a lot and I am hoping that I get just as much use out of this as she did.  The grill plate is a great size and could easily cook six burgers on it and is perfect for a family of four.  I am looking forward to trying out tuna steaks on it and fish next week. Don't just take  my word for it, see what my fellow panelists think of the Optigrill

The Tefal Innovation Panelists

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Teacher Appreciation Gifts 2013 – personalised note books

Each year since the boys started school we have made something for the boys teachers and Teaching Assistants to say thank you for all the hard work they put in to teaching them.  I do not spend a lo, but we do put a lot of thought and effort in to what we make.

personalised note books

This year we decided on personalised notebooks.

note book collage

The notebooks were from the pound shop and the stamps we already have, but you can pick up similar from ebay, just search for 70 piece Alphabet/Number/Symbol Stamping Kit, they are about £10 and brilliant for all sorts of things.

We used washi tape or stick on stamps to hide the smudge marks!

We also bought the two main teachers a brill stamp set from Skull and Cross Buns on Etsy.

teacher stamps



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I am going to moan about schools and term time holidays

As from September our primary school will no longer be authorising term time holidays.  Now come November we are taking the boys out of school to go and a nearly three week trip of a lifetime to Orlando with my Brother, Sister in Law and niece. police - Copy This holiday has been booked since just after my Mum died and we have been looking forward to the trip for a long time.  My Brother and family are self employed and that is why we are travelling at this particular time of the year and I am aware that it could have an impact on my seven and eight year olds school work, but............ For the last two weeks they have not really done any significant learning at school, in fact for this week they have watched more DVD's at school that they have at home in about a year.  I am not going to justify me taking them out of school by saying they will learn as much with me as at school, however, I will say that it should be my choice as a parent to make this decision. We are sensible enough to make our own decision and I am disappointed that this is being taken away from me.  There has been a lot of noise made about the Lunch box issues this week, but no one has shouted about the fact that the law has changed and that from September Headteacher will not be able to grant time off for holidays. Currently  headteachers are allowed to grant leave of absence for the purpose of a family holiday during term time in “special circumstances” of up to ten school days leave per year.  Headteachers can also grant extended leave for more than ten school days in exceptional circumstances.  However, Amendments to the 2006 regulations remove references to family holiday and extended leave as well as the statutory threshold of ten school days come into force in September.  The details of the amendments can be found on the Department of Education website here. Not only are the government taking this out of our hands, but also out of the hands of the school.    Yet another example of the government invading my home and my choices. I wonder if this applies to private schools too? or maybe that would be a bit like a bear pooing in its own backyard.
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Are you in London today?

If you are make sure you keep an eye out for the Post-It Super Sticky notes Taxi.  I have some images of it below, where it has already been spotted: taxi   It will also be at other landmarks today including:
  • Oxford Circus
  • Piccadilly Circus
  • Trafalgar Square
  • Buckingham Palace t Houses of Parliament
  • Houses of Parliament
  • Big Ben
  • Covent Garden
  • Canary Wharf
  • London Bridge
  • Tower of London
  • The Gherkin
  • Tate Modern
  • St Paul’s Cathedral
Whilst out on the road the cab will also stop during the tour to invite members of the public to pull a Super Sticky Note off, revealing one of six prizes winners throughout the day. One lucky Facebook  fan will even walk away with a fantastic family holiday worth £1000! 3.
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The Ultimate No Spend or Low Spend Bored Jar list

In addition to our fabulous summer bucket list and activity list, we have a Bored Jar that I made last summer and that Cass has updated using lolly sticks.  So here is our ultimate bored jar list, over 110 ideas to keep the children occupied and busy this summer. 600 Bored jar list
  1. Let’s play - Read a book
  2. Go on your DS for 30 minutes
  3. Research the Romans on the computer
  4. Let’s cook – Biscuits
  5. Let’s cook – make pizza
  6. Tidy your room
  7. Pick a flower and paint a picture of it
  8. Go swimming
  9. Call on a friend
  10. Do the washing up
  11. Make music
  12. Go to the library
  13. Make rocky road or fridge cake
  14. Hopscotch
  15. Make an obstacle course
  16. Groom the dog
  17. Colour in a book
  18. Clean your bedroom
  19. Learn how to skip
  20. Help pair socks
  21. Draw round your brother
  22. Write 5 things you love about each member of your family
  23. Play with Lego
  24. Do a jigsaw
  25. Paint rocks
  26. Scoot round the block
  27. Make fingerprint animals
  28. Feed the ducks
  29. Put up the play tent
  30. Play with the toy cars
  31. No electronics for the rest of the Day
  32. Make cards
  33. Have a bath
  34. Write a story starting with "David had to find out where Rocky had gone....................."
  35. Draw a map of our house
  36. Find out how many bones are in the human body
  37. Have a shower
  38. Draw a robot and label all his parts
  39. Pretend you are a knight
  40. Sort the laundry
  41. Make paper aeroplanes
  42. Have a tea party with your friends
  43. Empty the dishwasher
  44. Jump up and down 20 times
  45. Let’s cook – cupcakes
  46. Let’s cook – you choose
  47. Put on a DVD
  48. Go out on your Bike
  49. Get the paint out
  50. Go to a park
  51. Water the plants
  52. Make homemade bubbles
  53. Have an ice-cream
  54. Make hot chocolate
  55. Vacuum the stairs
  56. Craft with Mum
  57. Set the table
  58. 1 chore of Mums choice
  59. Draw a comic
  60. Play with Playmobil
  61. 30 minutes on the Wii
  62. Make Jelly 
  63. Feed the ducks
  64. Make a bird feeder
  65. Build a den
  66. Science time
  67. Draw a picture of our house from the outside
  68. Time for a Science Experiment
  69. Make a rain water collector
  70. Climb a tree
  71. Make wooden spoon people
  72. Spend 30 minutes on Moshi Monsters
  73. Let’s cook – muffins
  74. Make’/fly a kite
  75. Let’s cook – Make popcorn
  76. Go out on your Scooter
  77. Board game
  78. Roll down a hill
  79. Go to the beach
  80. Sort out your shoes
  81. Borrow the camera
  82. Find five toys to give away
  83. Go for a walk
  84. Sweep the ground floor
  85. Do some stitching
  86. 30 mins with Mum
  87. Wash the car
  88. Football match upstairs
  89. 30 Minutes on the Xbox
  90. Go to a Museum
  91. Make a volcano
  92. Plan dinner, write a menu, help cook and serve
  93. Have a race
  94. Wash the pots
  95. Plan a bean in a jar
  96. Make finger puppets
  97. Find shapes, animals and objects in clouds
  98. Write a poem
  99. Watch Phineas and Ferb
  100. Pretend you are a cowboy
  101. Make a family tree
  102. Empty the dishwasher
  103. Make a treasure map
  104. Make a paper plate monster mask
  105. Pretend you are a pirate
  106. Learn how to use the washing machine
  107. Go to soft play
  108. Steam mop the bathrooms
  109. Steam mop the kitchen
  110. Make a paper boat
  111. Take dog for a walk
  112. Write to your penpal
  113. Make a card
  114. Prepare dinner
The Mad House
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