Tag Archives: reviews

New Sprouts Picnic Set Review

29 Jul

Today, my children have played with the Learning Resources New Sprouts Picnic set. It is a very complete play food set for 2 small people; plastic basket, 2 plates, 2 hamburgers, 2 watermelon wedges, 2 cupcakes and 2 condiment bottles. The manufacturer’s recommended age group is from 2 years old upwards, so it’s safe for toddlers as well as older children.


My kids aren’t really into hamburgers; on first sight, they decided the burger patties were giant cookies! However, for pretend eating, they’re happy to stack the patties in the bun halves. The condiment bottles were much admired for the ketchup and mustard strings – when you tip the bottles upside down, the string slides out; when you turn the bottle back up and hold the string up, the string slides back in. As the bottles aren’t actually labelled, my daughter promptly repurposed them as icing for the “cookies” and cupcakes!

A neat feature of the plates is: they’re divided into thirds, with raised borders. For an older child, this might be an opportune maths lesson – division and fractions. For a younger child, it simply means any play food sits easily and doesn’t fall off as soon as you pick up a plate. (The photos, below, show some Learning Resources play food and some of our own play food pieces.)

learning-resources-07 learning-resources-08

I love how versatile the picnic pieces are. While a child’s imagination knows no limits, it can only be helped by the simple shapes and lack of rigid direction. Kids don’t need play instructions – they know instinctively! It’s also great that there’s 2 of everything. Whether you’re playing with a sibling or a friend, or you’re hosting a teddy bear tea party, the extra serving encourages sharing without squabbles.

The basket itself is ideal for storing the set neatly. Plastic is, of course, easy to clean and durable for both indoor and outdoor play. I think this will have real longevity and is a super cute imaginative play set.

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To keep the picnic role-play fresh, I might add some of my own play food, in due course. (This is a great tip for any toy losing that nouveau sparkle – mix in one new item and the entire thing becomes “new” again e.g. a dress for a doll or a prop for dressing up clothes.) In the meantime, I would definitely recommend the New Sprouts Picnic set for ages 3-7. Younger children must be careful around the condiment bottle strings.

The New Sprouts Picnic set is available on Amazon UK at £18.66 (correct as of July 29, 2014) or direct from Learning Resources at £23.94 (inc VAT).

Free amigurumi play food knitting and crochet pattern designs by FC Knits: Mini Gingerbread Man, Play Food Cherry Cake Slice and Play Food Sandwich.


The Croods Review

9 Dec

The Croods is a 3D computer-animated adventure comedy featuring a plethora of voice talent such as Emma Stone and Nicolas Cage. It’s set in a fictional prehistoric era and focuses on a family of cavemen: father (Grug), mother (Ugga), teen daughter (Eep), middle son (Thunk), toddler daughter (Sandy) and maternal grandmother (Gran). It’s a U rated kid-friendly movie but, as with many children’s films these days, there is an extra layer of complexity for the adults.

The Croods on DVD; released Monday 9 December 2013!

The film starts with Eep’s teenage litany of complaints about their home cave being really boring. To be fair, it is a tad boring spending several days in a dark cave with brief emergences to hunt down food. She’s desperate to hang out in the sunshine and, one night, sneaks out to find the source of some intriguing light. Of course, that turns out to be a cute caveboy, Guy, who gives her a shell ‘phone’ and asks her to call him. Doubly of course, the phone gets confiscated (read: utterly smashed to pieces) and Eep gets grounded. So far, so modern!

Unfortunately for dad, that’s when things go pear-shaped. In line with real prehistory, their world, as they know it, is about to end – ground-shaking, ash-spewing, creature-chasing, chasm-caving end of an era stuff. Fortunately for Eep, her new boyfriend knows the way to ‘Tomorrow’ and a brighter future for all of them.

The film tracks the family’s journey from their home cave to a new safe haven. It charts the highs and lows of typical family interaction, acquiring new pets and the huge changes that Grug makes, adapting from a stone-age ‘me, head of family, nothing I can’t solve with my fists’ mentality to a modern embracing of new ideas and an ‘okay, maybe my daughter’s boyfriend isn’t that bad’ acceptance.

Last Thursday, I watched a preview copy of The Croods on DVD with my two young children. The first few minutes passed a little more slowly for my 4-year-old son than his 6-year-old sister, partly because there’s a very good differential between the dull, bland, cave-life and the exciting, colourful, adventure that follows; it reminded me of the contrast in The Wizard of Oz, between black and white home-life and colourful Oz. The second low point was the large, scary, bear owl chasing the family from their home. (Yes, a ‘bear owl’; the Croodaceous creatures are mostly all inventive hybrids, that suggest prehistoric creatures. One of the exceptions is the macawnivore; it could be a macaw-carnivore hybrid but it’s actually a machairodont and, as we have no idea what their skin would be like, it could easily have been macaw coloured!)

As soon as we got rid of the bear owl (“Yay!”), both kids perked up and really got into the film. My goodness, it was hilarious; both the plot, and the bits where my kids suspiciously asked ‘why are you laughing’. How I sympathised with Grug’s parental frustrations and the recurring mother-in-law jokes! I also really liked the use of shells as phones. (Grug: “Why do [the kids] need their own [phones]?!” He’s definitely my favourite character in the film.) My children really liked the strange Croodaceous creatures – particularly the pets – and the exotic scenery; they loved guessing which real animals were components of the invented ones.

I don’t want to spoil the ending but there was one last, hairy, moment, where my kids were tempted to wail and run away; however, I persuaded them to wait for the happy ending that they craved – and they were duly rewarded within a few minutes. In fact, the ending was my daughter’s favourite setting and she wished there could have been more of that location in the film. When pressed for an opinion, my son seemed a bit obsessed with Belt, Guy’s pet sloth; he said his favourite part was Belt’s catchphrase of doom: “Dun dun daaaahh!” And repeated it many times. Many, many times. Belt may need to meet some tar… By way of parental revenge, I set them both to reviewing the movie as part of our homeschool activities. By way of filial emphasis, my son drew a picture of Belt saying: “Da da daaaahh!” I may have lost that round… But if you’d like to grab a copy of my film review worksheet, just click on the photo below.

Reviews of The Croods by my children!

In conclusion, The Croods are very likeable and watchable on a great many levels; I definitely recommend this as a family film to just about anyone and would rate it at 4.5 out of 5 (with half a point reluctantly knocked off for the bear owl because it caused my kids to shriek right into my ears). I can’t write enough good words about The Croods… so I’ll leave you with a few made up words instead! Look out for the Croodaceous mousephants, turtle doves, bear pears and piranhakeets. It’ll be so worth it, I promise! :)

The Croods was released on DVD and Blueray, today (9 December 2013), and would be an excellent Christmas stocking filler or anytime gift. Some very young kids may find a few scenes mildly scary but that passes quickly and anyone 6 years or older will roll in laughter.

This DVD review article is part of a blog hop, set up by Mumsnet and powered by Linky Tools; click here to view the full list of fabulous ‘The Croods’ reviews. ;)

Quick Knits Small & Pretty Book Review

9 Jul

Quick Knits Small and Pretty by Susan PennyQuick Knits Small & Pretty by Susan Penny is a delightful surprise and a pleasure to review. The original patterns range from egg cosies to fingerless mittens and they all use basic knitting stitches and techniques, making this book ideally suited to new knitters who crave immediate results. Each project photo is full of whimsy and vintage charm. The only obvious shortcoming is that the quick knits are geared towards women and young girls.

The 21 knitting patterns are: Daisy Egg Cosy, Beach Hut Paperweight, Celebration Cake, Flower Brooch, Ballerina Teddy, Rose Headband, Striped Mittens, Jam Tart Slice, Molly Dolly, Red Rose, Phone Cover, Pretty Flowers, Doll’s Hat & Scarf, Rag Doll, Scottie Dog, Envelope Purse, Peach & Chocolate Cupcake, Mug Cosy, Bird Pins, Country Heart and Tooth Fairy Bag.

Quick Knits Evaluation

To test the patterns, I knitted a sample Rag Doll. As I didn’t have any gold yarn, I substituted silver yarn for her hat; otherwise, I followed the instructions and suggested materials. The doll, scarf and hat are all knitted flat and seamed. The increases are simple kfb (knit into front and back loops) and the decreases are all k2tog (knit 2 stitches together). Where you might expect a k2tog tbl (through back loop) instruction (to make the decrease slant to the left), it has been left as a simple k2tog (where the decrease always slants to the right). This is a canny move, as the slant is hidden in the seaming, and keeping the stitches simple makes the pattern more accessible.

knitted rag doll

The doll was very quick to make and, while she doesn’t look identical to the book photo, she looks very sweet. Judging by the book photo, slightly visible stuffing is a deliberate effect; it seems to effectively add to the rustic, vintage appeal. To be honest, I think she looks better without the hat but the removable hat and scarf pieces do increase the play value for a child. I’m very pleased with my finished project. :)

Flicking through the other patterns, I can see all the stitches have been kept simple. Quite often the increases and decreases are left to the reader to choose their favourite version – perhaps use a m1 (make one) instead of a kfb? The only tricky stitch that I can see, which might cause a beginner some concern, is in the Peach & Chocolate Cupcake: “inc every second purl stitch”. I would interpret that as meaning pfb (purl into front and back loops), which I know some knitters find awkward because of the unintuitive way you must hold your needles. However, as the precise method hasn’t been specified, I suppose you could conceivably use any increase stitch.


While I received a free review copy of this book, I would be happy to buy it as a gift – it would go very nicely with some bamboo needles or some pretty and useful embellishments e.g. buttons, ribbons, findings, etc. It would also be a satisfying buy for new or intermediate knitters seeking small projects and fast results. Many of the quick knits would make lovely little gifts, particularly for young girls – although the cute Scottie Dog would make a charming friend for anyone!

Quick Knits Small & Pretty, priced at £7.50 GBP, is available from Amazon, booksellers, knitting shops and direct from the publisher (Cotton Thread Books). I would rate it 4.5/5.