Author: Kevin O'Hara

30 ways to make Christmas less expensiveWe all want a fantastic Christmas but it can be a very costly time. Here are some tips for helping you save money at Christmas time whilst still having a fantastic family yuletide.

First: think realistically about what you can afford

You have to start with a budget and the first question is not ‘Who do I need to buy presents for?’, it’s actually, ‘How much can I afford to spend on everything?’ Everything includes: presents, food, special outings like seeing a pantomime, wrapping, cards, decorations and postage.

Once you have your budget, you can then begin to work out how much you can afford to spend on the seven things listed above. Only then can you begin to think about who you need to buy presents for and begin to put a limit on what you can afford to spend for each person. However, there are ways to make Christmas less expensive and here they are.

Christmas Presents Savings

Make money when you spend

 

1. Get cash back on your spending

Sites like TopCashBack in the UK and Ebates in the US offer you the chance to get a sizable rebate on your order. They are linked to thousands of online retailers and all you have to do is visit their site and click through to the shop you want to buy from. Doing this allows you to claim cash back on your purchases. You could save substantially if you do this.

 

2. Shop early for Christmas

Prices go up the nearer you get to Christmas and sometimes the demand for things is so high shops run out of stock. Yet some stores are still having sales on right now. This wont be the case by late October and the next sale won’t begin until Boxing Day. Check out these toy stores now.

Smyths Toys MelissaAndDoug.com- Over 2,000 Unique and Exciting Toys for Children of All Ages! Click here! DisneyStore.com ShopMattel.com  Build-a-Bear UK

 

3. Buy refurbished electrical goods

Amazon are a great source for high quality reconditioned electrical goods that come with a guarantee. Tesco have an Outlet Store on eBay and at time of going to press they were selling reconditioned iPad minis with a 12 month guarantee for £30 less than the new one’s from Tesco.com. The Xbox 360 was £30 cheaper on the Tesco Outlet Store but also had a bundle thrown in which the online store didn’t. You can also find equally great bargains at the Ebay Argos Outlet on eBay.

4. Buy used items

Again, you can do this on Amazon, eBay, Craigslist and there are plenty of local Facebook sites around too. This is especially good for things like video games, DVDs, videos and electrical goods. Remember if you buy expensive items on eBay to buy them from a business seller and then you are guaranteed to be able to return them if you do not like them.

5. Buy your stocking fillers at the Poundshop

And your stockings too, (but not their cheap batteries, they don’t last 2 minutes.)

6. Buy good quality batteries in bulk, online with free delivery

You can get 24 Duracell AA batteries on eBay for £7.25 and free delivery – much cheaper than you’ll get at the supermarket and guaranteed to still be working by New Year.

7. Raise cash by selling your old toys on eBay

When your kids grow too old for some of their toys, providing they are in suitable condition, you can sell them on eBay and add some extra funds to your own spending pot. Read the article Christmas Selling on eBay for advice.

8) Save up to 50% by redeeming your supermarket points

At certain times of the year, supermarkets will let you double your money so that £10 in vouchers can be used to buy £20 worth of products. If you have a loyalty card for any store, see if they have such a deal and you could end up paying 50% less if you have enough vouchers saved up.

9) Make your own Christmas presents

There are lots of homemade gifts that can be made for friends and relatives which are easy to produce and a much cheaper alternative to buying.

Saving on Wrapping and Tags

 

10. Make your own wrapping and tags

You can have a fantastic afternoon of fun with the kids making your own gift tags and wrapping paper. Recycle old Christmas cards to make the tags and get the kids painting, drawing or potato printing to create your own paper. A roll of plain white paper or even cheap lining paper from a DIY store could save you money and get the kids into the festive mood.

11. Shop around

Don’t spend a fortune on wrapping – it only gets ripped up and binned at the end of the day. You can get very good deals if you shop around.

12. Search for unused wrapping in the house

You’re bound to have some left over from last year.

Save money on Christmas food

 

13. Share the cooking

If you are having a large Christmas gathering you can suggest that everyone brings something for the meal. It takes a little organizing, but if you make a list of what you need, get people to cook it the night before and bring it over, all you have to do is warm it up and serve it out. This way you often get people offering to do their ‘Christmas specials’ and bring what they are really good at and happy to make.

14. Buy Christmas food online

This is a real potential money saver. At Christmas, we all get tempted by all the glittery things in store that we don’t really need. If you buy online there’s much less impulsive buying.

Two other great advantages to shopping online are that as you spend online it tallies up how much you’ve spent – so if you have set yourself a budget you can take things off or look for cheaper solutions. It’s hard to do this when you are at the checkout. Most people are too embarrassed to take things back once its on the conveyor belt.

Finally, you won’t have to deal with the supermarket stampede at Christmas or wait two hours in the queue and come home with a banging headache wishing there was no such thing as Christmas. If you do go, don’t take the kids, it’ll cost you a whole lot more – you know this!

15. Don’t overstock the Christmas fridge

How big does that Turkey really need to be? When you buy, be realistic about what is actually going to get eaten and what is going to end up in the bin. It’s estimated that up to 40% of food gets thrown away uneaten – this can be worse if we over buy at Christmas. Do you really need such a wide variety of vegetables or so many different meats? Did you actually finish last year’s bottle of sherry or did most of it get poured down the drain? You don’t really like it that much anyway, do you?

16. Buy food early and freeze it

As things get more expensive nearer to Christmas, get the most expensive things now. You are spending the cost by doing this and saving on last minute buys. A joint of meat will last for months in the freezer.

How to save money on Christmas outings

There are lots of things going on around Christmas time and it’s great to go as a family to enjoy them. But it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

17. Go to places where it won’t cost you anything to go

Christmas fairs and carol concerts are just some of the many free festive events you’ll find in your local area. Don’t forget to see all the Christmas things that your child’s school might be putting on too.

18. Take the less expensive option

Paying £25 a head to go see some has-been soap star playing the ugly sister in the town’s main theatre is an expensive night out. (‘Oh no it isn’t’!)  A smaller production at you local arts centre is likely to feel much more festive, be far less expensive and from personal experience, usually a far better production.

If you want the full panto effect, screaming kids, panto dames and corney jokes, then opt for your local amateur dramatic society instead. It’ll be just as much fun as the main panto in town, but won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

19. Look online for a deal

There are plenty of voucher sites out there that will give you money off or family discount. Discount sites like Groupon or Wowcher could save you a small fortune. You can also save by grouping up with other families and getting a group booking discount also.

20. Eat out early

Once the office Christmas party season starts, restaurant prices go up. If you are planning to take your kids out for a meal then look for early bird specials. This way you will save money, still get home fairly early to put them to bed at a reasonable time and won’t have to explain your kids why drunken Pete from IT is belly dancing on the table.

Save money on Christmas decorations

21. Christmas tree choices

The main decoration in any house is the Christmas tree. Fake Christmas trees are not everyone’s cup of tea, but they are worth consideration for a few reasons: they are generally cheaper; you can use them year after year; they don’t litter your house with needles; and you don’t have the hassle of having to take them to be recycled or pay for someone to take them away for you. Granted, they do not give off that seasonal scent or look quite as authentic, though some look real enough.

If you are going for a real Christmas tree, then do shop around, you may find local garden centres do a better deal than the big stores. Do make sure it will fit a) in your car and b) in your house before you buy it.

22. Make your own festive decorations

A brilliant idea for a Sunday at the beginning of December would be to spend the morning in the woods looking for pine cones, holly, ivy, mistletoe and unusual bits of twig or bark. You can then spend the afternoon with the kids transforming them into decorations by painting the cones and twigs and making a Christmas wreath. As darkness sets in, decorate the house with them. There’s also sorts of ideas to help you here

Save money on Christmas cards

 

23. Make your own Christmas cards

Again, you can have hours of fun getting the kids to make your cards for you. Blank cards and envelopes can be bought cheaply at craft and stationery stores. Plenty of sticking and gluing, drawing and painting can be done here.

Another alternative is to print out some pictures off the internet, stick them to the card and sprinkle over with glitter.

24. Shop around for photo Christmas cards

A lot of people tend to get their own designs printed. There are lots of online places where you can upload your own design and have it personalised. Do be aware that the prices they advertise to get you through the door are not always what you will pay at the end. They do not include VAT, postage or other hidden extras. Do shop around.

25. Find cards in Charity shops

Saying that, you can buy some cards very cheaply, and one way to get them exceptionally cheap is to get them from charity stores, particularly when out of season. Before you buy any, make sure to look around the house first for the ones you didn’t use last year.

Save money on Christmas postage

Whether it’s cards or presents, most of us will be putting something into the post box this Christmas. With the cost of postage rising, this can add up, so here are some helpful tips on how to keep the cost down.

26. Use family and friend mail first

My family never posts Christmas cards – we just pass them on in bulk to a relative we know will see them before Christmas. So, cards for my cousins and their children will go to my aunts and uncles to disperse and cards for my aunts and uncles will go to my mum. In return, she gets the cards for me from my aunts and uncles and extended family. Not a penny to the post office. Thanks mum!

27. Post in bulk

If you are posting, follow the same principle: post everything to one person who you know will see the people whose cards you’ve put in with theirs. It’s significantly less expensive than sending individually.

28. Post early

If you are posting abroad, do it early so you can send it more cheaply and if you have gifts to send abroad, consider sending money or a voucher which will cost much less than the price of a package.

29. Look for alternative shipping companies

Parcels can be pricey things to post, especially if they are large or heavy. If this is the case then shop around. As anyone who sells on eBay will tell you, there are a lot of smaller shipping companies who have set up over the last few years who will pick up from your door and deliver for you.

30) Use UShip

UShip is a website where you let tell them what you are delivering and where to and then couriers bid to provide you with the cheapest deal. I’ve used this a few times and you’ll be surprised by the number of bids you get and the prices get lower and lower as more people bid.

If you have any great ideas to share please leave a comment below and let us know

 

All opinions in this article are our own, however, we may be compensated should you make a purchase through the links provided.

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wooden ark toyThere’s something reassuringly luxurious about wooden toys. More substantial than plastic, warmer to the touch and made from natural materials: they last longer and can handle the rough and tumble of child’s play.

One tends to think of wooden toys in a nostalgic way because they remind us of the era when things were made with more care and designed to last. However, there are some very contemporary wooden toys on the market – if you know where to find them.

One of my favourite suppliers is The White Company in London who have some fantastic toys for younger children such as the Noah’s Ark and London Bus, pictured.

Wooden London Bus Toy

 

My daughters adore this wooden kitchen set from the Great Little Trading Company – and I can see why they find it so appealing. Besides being beautifully coloured, it also comes with a range of built-in appliances including a tap and sink, a fridge, an oven with opening door, a washing machine, microwave and storage cupboard. It even has a hob with clicking knobs. It has everything your kids will need to have hours of fun cooking up their own version of Bake Off and Masterchef. Three, two, one … bake!

Wooden Toys GLTC Kitchen

If roleplay is your child’s greatest pleasure, they may also be interested in this fabulous playshop and theatre combo. Exquisitely designed to work as a shop on one side and a puppet theatre on the other, you kids can have hours of fun entertaining themselves and the family and play shops or cafe’s whenever they like.

GLTC even produces a range of equipment to go with it, so you can fully stock your shop and provide the essential till!

wooden toy shop and theatre combo
Ride On Wooden ScooterFor the more active kids, Great Little Trading Co also has some fantastic wooden ride-on toys. I think these funky wooden scooters are very cool.  Their Italian, retro designs are super chic and as for functionality, the imulti-directional castors give fun, free flowing movement in all directions.

You can certainly see why this fab scooter won a Junior Magazine Design Award for Best Toy Design (0-2 years). And being made of wood it’s pretty much going withstand lots of knocks and last long enough for you to get your money back on eBay after your kid’s grown too big for it.

wooden toy farm

GLTC also have traditional wooden gifts such as this great wooden farm, with its own barn, hayloft, cow shed and stables. You can also purchase a wide range of animal accessories and even a tractor. You kids can have hours of fun playing farmer and looking after the animals in the knowledge that these sturdy wooden pieces aren’t going to fall to pieces or break like plastic toys do.

There’s lots more to see at GLTC too. Why not check out their pirate ships, easels, work benches, train sets, activity walkers…. The list goes on.

Eight times winner of Best Children’s Retailer and winner of the Best Independent and Best Online Retailer Awards, GLTC is a British company that provides both great products and great service to its customers – including international delivery and free returns. Why not visit GLTC now.  

Why not check out our post about GLTC’s fab Christmas stockings

 

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Winter activities for families

As the winter months draw in, it can be hard to think of affordable activities that your family can do. Traditional winter events such as ice skating, Santa’s grottos and Christmas markets can be very expensive, and if you are already on a budget then it can seem that festive fun is out of reach for your family. But don’t worry – we have lots of ideas for brilliant budget friendly activities that you can do this winter with your family that work alongside our money saving tips for Christmas. Here are our top 5 favourites for family fun…

Have a festive family movie night

This is the perfect activity for cold, dark winter evenings. What could be better than snuggling up on the sofa with your family for a traditional Christmas movie! A packet of popcorn costs less than £1 and kids will love making the popcorn themselves. It’s great fun when the corn starts to splutter and pop and you can make your own culinary creations by adding syrup, toffee sauce and sprinkles to the popcorn.

Movies are cheap to rent and you can also borrow them from your local library for a minimal cost. Keep an eye on the T.V. guide too, as there are many festive movies on at this time of year, so record any free seasonal films in preparation for your family movie night.

Get wrapped up for a winter walk

Walking is fun, free and great for your health! On a crisp, winter’s day, it’s lovely to get out and blow off the cobwebs with a fun-filled winter walk. So pack some snacks and a flask of hot chocolate and head out on a family adventure. Whether you decide to feed the ducks at the park, collect pinecones in the woods to make Christmas decorations or take an early evening stroll into town to look at the Christmas lights, it’s a wonderful chance to spend time together as a family.

Hold your own Great Christmas Bake Off

winter activities for kids on a budget

The Great British Bake Off has become something of a national institution, so why not host your own ‘at home’ version of this fun foodie competition. Ask your family and friends over to create some festive goodies – gingerbread men, mince pies or snowman biscuits are all easy to make and it’s great to let the children get creative in the kitchen. Once your cakes are baked, then make like Mary Berry and encourage everyone to do a taste test and vote for the overall winner. It’s a fun way to spend an afternoon and a good way to encourage cookery skills too.

Plan a festive treasure hunt

Make use of all those chocolate coins by setting up a festive treasure hunt. Create Christmas themed clues around the house for the children to find and follow which will lead them to a seasonal treasure trove of sweets and chocolate. You can adapt this for older children and teenagers too by sending them around your town with a festive quiz sheet to fill in. It’s great fun and will keep them occupied for hours!

Get Christmassy at a carol concert

When you hear your first Christmas carol on the radio, you know that Christmas is really here. There’s something so cheerful about these merry songs, and going along to a carol service can be a lovely family activity. Local churches and choirs often put on free concerts where you can enjoy the singing along with a mince pie and glass of mulled wine too! It’s affordable and is guaranteed to make you feel festive!

With these great ideas, you’ll never be short of something to do in the winter months. The whole family will be able to have fun and you won’t break the bank either!

Got any other good suggestions for affordable winter activities for the family? Share them in the comments below.

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Fab Kids RoomsHaving been ordered to redecorate one of the kid’s bedrooms. I decided that rather than just slap on some pink paint and buy a matching lampshade, that I ought to do a bit research.

Good job, I did, really because my ideas of what makes a good kids bedroom seem a bit drab compared to what I found looking online.

So as there is some amazing stuff out there, I thought I’d share my favourites with you.

 

Great Little Trading Co.

GLTC is one of the leading British retailers of stylish and tasteful children’s furniture and they have created some outstanding pieces for kids’ bedrooms. They sell everything you need from stunning beds to delicious soft furnishings including bedding, curtains, rugs, bookshelves and storage boxes. I particularly like the Reece bed, pictured below – ideal for smaller bedrooms and great for kids.

gltc-bed

If you have children who love to have their own den, then the Paddington Mid Sleeper, below, is perhaps the ideal bed-den combo. There are designs available for both boys and girls too.

 Bedroom ideas for kids

GLTC’s range of bedroom furniture really gives your kids a classic and stylish looking room with feature pieces of furniture that really stand out from the average as well as performing important functions.

kids bedroom furniture

I personally like their classic white coloured furniture which helps makes your kid’s bedroom bright and clean.

girls bedroom furniture

You can certainly see why Great Little Trading Company is the 2016 Children’s Retailer of the Year. Visit the GLTC site for more information about their fantastic range of kids bedroom furniture.

The White Company Children’s Bedrooms

Girls bed

I’d always associated the White Company with hand washes and scented candles until I discovered their Children’s bedroom furniture.

The piece above is a cross between a bed and a private cabin, complete with windows, shelves and even a pitched roof. Perfect for young girls who want a bed that can also function as the ideal den.

They have some  fabulously classy bedroom accessories, soft furnishings and bedding that would give any kids’ room a cosy feel too. I particularly love this statement rug with the white star, pictured below.

bedroom accessories

Riley PuppyIf you have got a younger one who likes all things cuddly, then check out their bedroom toys too. They have some seriously gorgeous ‘bashful bunnies’ and ‘sheepskin bears’ that would make an excellent pillow pet for your toddler  – and at very reasonable prices too. My favourite is Riley the puppy.

I hope this has give you some inspiration – it certainly gave me lots of ideas.

All opinions in this article are our own, however, we may be compensated should you make a purchase through the links provided.

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For those of you who have kids with a love of riding on things, I’ve put together what I think are 10 of the best ride-on toys for Christmas. Whether it be electric battery-powered toys or good old-fashioned push and pedal powered, ride-ons have always been popular Christmas presents and here I’ve chosen some exceptional models with brilliant designs made from high quality materials. Hope you like them:

Electric Battery Powered Ride Ons

Vintage Mercedes Style Ride On with Parental Remote Control

Best battery powered ride on toyThis is a stunning vintage ride on car with a high attention to detail and lots of fab features that kids will love. It runs on (2 x 6) 12 volt, twin motor, rechargeable battery and has the added feature of a parental remote control which means you can give your kid the ride of their life whist ensuring they don’t go bump into your garden wall at the same time.

It’s made from tough,  durable plastic with a high gloss finish.  Features include: a fast/slow speed switch, mp3 input cable, front working lights, music and horn buttons, digital battery capacity timer, extra spare wheel, safety seat belt. For ages:2+

Kids Ride on Batmobile

Batmobile Ride on Toys

If you have a batman fan at home this could possibly be their ultimate Christmas gift for 2013. Take their role play adventures one gigantic step further by getting them their very own Batmobile.

This 6V Batmobile is built with a tough steel chassis combined with tough bodywork to take all of the bumps and scrapes that your budding crime fighter will get into. Hand crafted in Italy and designed with DC Comics to help create a truly realistic Batman kid’s car, its features include: wing mirrors and official Batman styling, logos and details, flashing lights, authentic music and sounds, forward & reverse gears and foot operated pedal control. It includes 6V battery & charger.  L122.6cm x W62.5cm x H52.7cm

Ferrari F12 Berlinetta Ride on Sports Car

Best electric Ride on Ferrari

If your child is more of a Michael Shoemacher than a batman, then this stunning red Ferrari is one that’s going to make their F1 dreams come true. It will probably also make dad very jealous. This amazing looking electric kids car is a fully licensed Ferrari F12 Berlinetta which, like the Mercedes above, also comes with parental remote controls, making it fun for and safe your child.

The Ferrari is a well constructed ride-on with easy assembly. The body for this model is vacuum formed, then painted with real car paint, to give a superb finish. Your child will feel like they are in a real car, with realistic looking accessories and car body. It also comes with working lights and an MP3 plug-in facility – just connect your iPod or mp3 player! Features include: working lights, a seat belt for additional safety,  2 forward speeds and 1 reverse speed, top speed 4km/h, realistic key ignition start.

 

12V Mini Cooper Ride-On

 Best Electric Ride-on Toys Mini

Always fantastically stylish and fun, the Mini Cooper is a true design classic. This version runs on a 12V +2 motors rechargeable battery and comes with parental remote control, mp3 input, battery capacity indicator, soft leather seat to make your kids feel comfortable, 2 music buttons, play engine start-up sounds and many different music tones ( a volume control for parents!) and flashing colour lights.  It also has remote and pedal function switch. It’s available in 3 colours, red, blue and pink and is made from toughened, durable plastic with a high gloss realistic finish.

 

Audi R8 Spyder Ride On

Best Ride on toys 2013 audi

 

This amazing ride on is a fully licensed kids replica of an Audi R8 Spyder. The 12v sports car is a well constructed ride-on with easy assembly and top quality paintwork. The body for this model is similar to the Mini in that it is also vacuum formed and then painted with real car paint, to give a superb finish. Features include:  genuine looking accessories,  working lights and sounds for a realistic driving experience, a 12v motor to match the 12v battery, seat belt for additional safety. Top speed 7km/h

Pedal and Push Powered Ride-ons

Baghera Speedster Racer Ride-On Car

Baghera Best Ride on Toys 2013

Baghera are a fantastic French company and probably make the best designed cars in France, real ones included – sorry Citroen. These are truly classic kids toys, exceptionally well made with robust materials and real chic retro designs.

The Speedster Racer is an amazing little push powered sports car for young children. Built to last with a padded seat, a good old fashioned metal body and rubber tyres, it also comes with a honking horn, chrome radiator grille and petrol cap. Simple self assembly required on delivery. It’s suitable for indoors or outdoors riding.  57 x 35 x 40 cm. Seat height: 26 cm, Max. rider weight: 30kg

Baghera Speedster Racer Ride-On Car 

Baghera Best Ride on Toys 2013

 

Just like the Racer above, the Chocolate is another beautifully crafted well designed ride on toy. I particularly like it because the headlights make it look like one of those cute cartoon character cars that kids love.  Again, it comes with a padded seat, metal body, rubber tyres,   chrome radiator grille and horn. It’s easy to ride and steer both inside and outside. Slightly larger then the Racer it measures  L 72 cm; W 27 cm; H 37 cm and has a seat height of 26 cm.

Baghera Children’s Metal Ride-On Car

Best ride on toys for kids 2013This is an unusual looking car and I like it for that very purpose – it’s not pretending to be any particular style of existing car, it simply is what it is, a toy to ride on. It’s a simple, but beautifully minimalistic blue metal ride on. Like all Baghera ride ons it’s easy to control and steer and is made from a hard wearing metal body with rubber tyres. It has been designed with space underneath to transport favourite toys. Delivered for self assembly. L: 60cm, W: 32cm, H: 19cm. Seat height: 19 cm, Max. rider weight: 30kg

Baghera Speedster Fire Engine

Best Kid's Ride On Christmas 2013

Playing at being a fire fighter can now be taken one step further with this fab Baghera fire engine. It has a real retro look whilst being made from genuine good old fashioned materials – no cheap plastic here, just wood, metal and rubber put together with craftsmanship and style. Features include padded seat, fire engine bell and a rack at the rear to put on your fire fighting outfit. Dimensions: 37 x 72 cm. Seat height 26 cm

Classic ‘Harry’ Pedal Car

Best Ride on Toys for Kids 2013

 

I was looking to find a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and was very surprised not to find one, however, here is the next best thing, another metal bodied car, this time manufactured by a company called Great Gizmos that produces a wide range of early 20th Century looking vintage toy cars. As you can see, there is a high attention to detail, both with the body work and with features like the wind-up starter at the front, traditional front lights, old-fashioned radiator grille and mock fold up roof at the rear. Truly Scrumptious would have loved this.

Not found what you are looking for? Then try here for lots more ride ons.

All opinions in this review are our own, however, we may be compensated should you make a purchase through the links provided.

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The ‘Twelve Books of Christmas’ list I compiled last year proved to be so popular that I’ve decided to do it again this year, looking at a completely new set of brilliant children’s Christmas books.  To get onto my list, they have to be written by seriously good storytellers, be either a classic Christmas story or a newer book that is likely to stick around and the illustrations must be something I think children will adore and will capture the essence of the season.

Here’s my ‘Twelve Books of Christmas

 

Michael Morpurgo ‘Christmas Stories’

Michael Morpurgo has, over the years, established himself as an eminent author of children’s fiction. His most famous book, of course, is the internationally acclaimed, 1982 novel ‘War Horse’ which has now also become a massive hit on both stage and screen. However, he has written over 100 books in total, ranging from traditional retelling of young children’s stories like ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘Hansel and Gretel’, to gripping teenager page turners like the brilliant ‘Private Peaceful’.

This collection of Christmas stories shows Morpurgo at his very best. It includes the marvelous, ‘The Best Christmas Present in the World’ which on it’s own made it into my 2013 list. Here is an incredible Christmas story, told by a soldier on the front in WW1, which is found many years later in a secret drawer. ‘On Angel’s Wings’ tells of a heavenly visit. Could it be from the Angel Gabriel himself? ‘The Best of Times’ is a tale of a Prince and Princess.  Soon after they marry, joy fades away and a shadow hangs over the royal palace. As Christmas approaches, the Prince, Frederico, has to find a way to warm his new bride’s aching heart. The fourth story, ‘The Goose is Getting Fat’, tells of Gertrude the goose who is getting fatter by the day as Christmas approaches. Can her keeper, little Charlie, save Gertrude from the Christmas dinner table?

In addition to superb storytelling there a brilliant range of illustrators. Each Christmas story  is illustrated by a different artist all of whom are among the  biggest names in children’s books:  Quentin Blake, Michael Foreman, Emma Chichester Clark and Sophie Allsopp.

Buy from Amazon

 

 Enid Blyton Christmas StoriesEnid Blyton ‘Christmas Stories’

Enid Blyton might seem a little old-fashioned these days, but that’s exactly what makes this book perfect for the Christmas list – it’s evocative of that bygone era when you imagine family Christmases were everything they should be and everything they still ought to be.

Originally entitled ‘The Christmas Book’ and published in 1944, the stories follow a family as they prepare for Christmas. What makes this a really interesting read is that each story deals with a different Christmas tradition and as the children in the stories take part in the traditions, they and we learn about the origins of the traditions too.

As we move through the stories we learn about how Christmas began; why Christmas pudding is called plum pudding; how mince pies began; and why we eat turkey.  The inquisitive children in the stories ask all the questions about Christmas that your own children want to know: how did Christmas cards originate? Where do we get mistletoe from? What is a Yule log? Why do we have holly and Ivy?

The family in the story show us that the activities leading up to Christmas can be as exciting as the day itself and that ‘family’ itself is what makes Christmas perfect.

Buy from Amazon

 

Emma Thompson ‘The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit’

Although Emma Thompson is best known as a double Oscar-winning actress, she is also widely respected as a children’s author after taking up the mantle of Beatrix Potter and writing several new Peter Rabbit tales.

The latest in this edition and only published in September 2014 is ‘The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit.’Thompson has gone to great lengths to write in a style that is perfectly in tune with the original Beatrix Potter stories so that this one can fit almost seamlessly into the collection.

It tells the story of Peter Rabbit and his comical little cousin Benjamin Bunny. As Christmas is getting near Peter and Benjamin bump into a turkey called William who tells them that Farmer McGregor is ‘Having him for dinner.’

William, of course, doesn’t fully understand exactly what this means, and its up to the two rabbits to think of a plan to convince William that he’s wrong and find a way to save him.

The book is beautifully illustrated throughout in exactly the style you’d expect from a Peter Rabbit story.

Buy from Amazon

 

James Mayhew – Katie’s London Christmas

James Mayhew is the creator of the much-loved Katie and Ella Bella Ballerina series and many other books, including Koshka’s Tales, Miranda the Explorer and Boy. He’s been writing and illustrating Katie books for over 25 years and this latest version is ideal for young children this Christmas.

In their latest adventure, Katie and Jack are woken up late on Christmas Eve by a loud sneeze. Little do they realise that they are about to embark on the most amazing evening! Soon they are flying high across London, over snow-dusted landmarks, through the star-scattered sky with the one and only Father Christmas, in his sleigh, with his magical reindeer! But can they help Father Christmas to deliver all his presents and be back in time for Christmas morning?

This is a fabulous story with amazing illustrations and an ideal setting for a Christmas story.

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Francesca Simon – Horrid Henry’s Christmas Cracker

You can’t get away from Horrid Henry these days, he’s in book shops, on the TV and  has even made films. In the 20 years since he first came out he has become a bit of a phenomenon. One reason for this has to be his appeal to younger kids who love to read him and getting kids to read has to be a good thing.

Interestingly enough, he appeals to both genders. My two daughters, 6 and 7, both love to read his books and even I occasionally sit in on the cartoons. I even confess to having watched the movie too.

For this reason, I suspect that one book that many children will put on their own Christmas list this year is ‘Horrid Henry’s Christmas Cracker’ and for the reason that they are well written and thoroughly enjoyable stories, I’ve put them on mine too.

As you would expect, things never go to plan when Henry’s involved and in these four funny stories we find every family’s worst Christmas nightmares, as Horrid Henry sabotages the school play, tries to do his Christmas shopping without spending his pocket money, attempts to ambush Father Christmas and endures Christmas dinner with the guests from hell. Kids will love it.

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Donaldson Stick ManJulia Donaldson ‘The Stick Man’

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler are the Lennon and McCartney of the picture book world. Their collaborations are fabulous examples of what children’s books should be. She creates magical stories using fabulouss rhyme and he brings them to life in a way that truly evokes childhood.

‘The Stick Man’ tells the story of a stick-like creature who gets mistaken for a real stick. We see him thrown to a dog, used as a Pooh-stick, put on a sandcastle as a flag pole, and each time he is forced further away from his family tree.

When winter begins and we see him sad and shivering on the snowy pages, we begin to wonder whether he will ever make it back to the safety of family tree. But Santa comes to the rescue and there’s a perfect Christmas ending.

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AA Milne ‘Winnie the Pooh Christmas Stories’

Winnie the Pooh has had somewhat of a revival over the last few years, especially since he made his film debut. This year, however, sees the release of a new book in which some of AA Milne‘s incredible Christmas stories are put together into one fabulous collection. Now we can join Pooh and his entourage of friends building a house in the snow, constructing the perfect snowman and receiving some mysterious Christmas letters. You’ll find kids will love these three stories set in the enchanting Hundred Acre Wood.

As usual, you will find all the stories wonderfully illustrated in the traditional Winnie the Pooh style. Perfect to read to your little ones in front of the Christmas fire.

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Walter de la Mare ‘Snow’

Walter de la Mare was a renowned British poet writing mainly in the first half of the 20th century. This beautifully illustrated book brings to life one of his most evocative poems, ‘Snow’.

As the day draws to a close, a family prepares for Christmas – decorating the tree, hanging stockings by the fire, putting out a plate of mince pies, whilst outside winter rolls in and the world turns to white.

Perfect for a winter and Christmas read for younger children.

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Claire Freedman and Ben Cort ‘Aliens Love Panta Claus’

If you have young children you will no doubt have come across the very funny books ‘Aliens Love Underpants’, ‘Dinosaurs Love Underpants’ and ‘Pirates Love Underpants’. These are tremendous fun for kids as they are full of silly rhymes all dealing with the even sillier subject of underwear being stolen, played with and fought over by pirates, dinosaurs and aliens – the perfect recipe for a good giggle, especially as the books are as humorously illustrated as they are written.

Now it seems Claire Freedman has taken her underwear fetish one step further and created the amazing ‘Aliens Love Panta Claus’. I bought this when it first came out last Christmas for my then 5 year old daughter to add to her collection. She loved it and still does and because of it’s sheer joy it gives my little girl, I’m going to add it to this year’s list – it’s a real winner.

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Susan Cooper ‘The Dark is Rising’

I first read this Susan Cooper story many years ago as a 9 year old and loved it. It’s not a typical Christmas story but it is ideal for older children who want something less traditional that is, at the same time, dark and mysterious.

It’s Christmas-time in the Stanton family house: presents, carol singing, good cheer. But for eleven-year-old Will Stanton something sinister has begun, inching round his subconscious, shouting silent warnings he can’t decipher. Then on Midwinter Day Will wakes up to a different world – silent, covered in snow and ancient forest, a world of another time. A world where evil lurks.

Because Will is not the ordinary boy he always thought he was. He is the last of the Old Ones and the power to vanquish the evil magic of the Dark lies within him.

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Jonathan Emmett ‘The Santa Trap’

This seriously wicked story introduces us to Bradley Bartleby. Bradley is bad, exceedingly bad. He’s greedy and naughty and selfish and spoilt: and Santa Claus knows it!

So, when beastly Bradley empties his Christmas stocking to find nothing but a pair of socks, he does quite the baddest thing he has ever tried to do. He builds a trap, a SANTA TRAP! With guillotines, dynamite and a tiger or two.

This Christmas it looks like Santa doesn’t stand a chance. Or does he?

This is a really fun read for youngsters that has an interesting Tim Burton-esque feel to it. It’s not your usual sweetened Christmas story, but it is a morality tale for all those children on the naughty list. Imaginatively and  brilliantly illustrated by Poly Bernatene, this is an excellent book for younger children.

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Steve Smallman ‘Santa is Coming to …( your town)’

Before I explain how good this book is, I first of all want to talk about the fact that there are hundreds of versions of this book available, each of them personalised to a place near you. For those of us in the UK , USA or Canada, you can get titles such as ‘Santa is coming to Halifax’ and ‘Santa is coming to New Jersey’. If you can’t find your town, you’ll certainly find a version in which Santa travels through your county, state or province.

Last year we bought the ‘Santa is coming to Yorkshire’ version and my daughters loved not just reading about local towns and villages that Santa went to, but seeing illustrations of those places as well.

The plot of the story is good too. It’s Christmas Eve. Santa’s packed up all the presents and set the Santa-nav to your house. So what could possibly go wrong? Discover how Santa dashes from here to there, visiting all the places in between, while you are safely tucked up in bed and fast asleep! Then the snow begins to fall and the Santa-nav stops working. How will Santa get his presents delivered?

Well written and very attractively illustrated, kids will love these, wherever they are from.

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If you are looking for beautiful, high quality, personalised Christmas gifts for babies and young children then we may have just found the perfect place for you. Whether you are looking for clothing and shoes, presents, Christmas decorations, Christmas stockings and sacks or even toys and books, you can get them all from the wonderful My 1st Years shop.


Personalised Christmas Sacks and Stockings

personalised christmas sackMy 1st Years have a good selection of personalised Christmas stocking and sacks, all very reasonable priced. The sack shown measures 55cm by 88cm and is made from strong material printed with the words,’ Presents for a Special Girl with love from Father Christmas.’ It has a love heart at the top onto which the child’s name can be printed.

The printing of the text can be up to 15 characters, which is suitable for most children.

See our review of personalised Christmas sacks and stockings from another supplier.

 

Personalised Toys

bikeWe just love the idea of personalised toys and this fabulous wooden bike is just awesome. It’s painted in bright colours and with natural finish wheels and handlebars and has rubber wheels covering to imitate a real tyre. The bike measures 55cm high and 80cm in length. Your child’s name is beautifully personalised on the sides with space enough for 9 characters. The bike arrives flat-packed for you to assemble before the big day.

A pink version is also available for girls.

Besides the bike, other wooden toys include a rocking horse, a painted guitar a drum, a xylophone and an abacus, all painted in similar colours to the trike. There are also rag dolls, cooking outfits and baking sets for boys and girls, as well as other gorgeous items.

To see our review of wooden toys from another company click here

Ivory Teddy Bear Baby Gifts Personalised Cuddlies

There’s a lovely collection of cuddly toys for sale at My 1st Years which are perfect gifts for babies and younger children. Measuring about 25cm high, these are super soft, wipe clean cuddlies made from polyester, with the name of the child embroidered on the teddy’s clothing.

You can choose from teddy bears, puppy dogs, reindeer, a long-eared rabbit and even an elephant.

 

 


Personalised Christmas Clothing

christmas sleeping suitIf you are looking for super cute Christmas clothing for your baby or toddler, then you have to check out the goodies on offer at My 1st years. We love this Christmas bauble  sleep suit the words “My First Christmas” printed above the baby’s name.Made from 100% lovely, soft cotton with snap fastenings for super easy changing.

Other clothes include: sleep suits, dressing gowns, onesies, pyjamas, shoes, sleeping bags and bibs.

 


Personalised Christmas Booksletters_to_santa_book2-1000

If you are looking for the ideal keepsake which children can treasure for a long time, then a personalised Christmas book is a brilliant option. We really like this ‘Your Letter To Santa’ book, where the name of the child is printed twice on the cover,and on every page in the book. This wonderful hardback book with fantastic water colour illustrations follows your child’s Christmas letter on it’s journey to Santa and then follows the presents on their way to your child.

There is a small range of other personalised books to choose from.

 

 

Personalised Christmas Decorations

Personalised baubleNo Christmas would be complete without beautiful decorations and My 1st Years have a great collection to choose from here, though not all of these are personalised. They include unusual and unique baubles, angels, garlands and various other Christmas trinkets to add that extra sparkle to your festive cheers.   We particularly like the personalised owl advent calendar, made out of fabric.

One personalised gift that really looks good is the glass First Christmas bauble shown in the picture.  Featuring the name of your child and the year of their first Christmas, this is a souvenir they can keep and bring out year after year.

 

My 1st Years don’t just limit themselves to personalised Christmas gifts, they have children’s products for all occasions and everyday use. They are a UK based company, but ship internationally, with free worldwide delivery on orders over £75 GBP. To visit their website and find out more visit My 1st Years

 

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child running outdoors

For many parents, there’s a real fear that our children’s overuse and reliance on technology will have a negative impact on their personal development, health and wellbeing. With such a shift towards unhealthy, sedentary activities, the questions we should be asking are: how important is outdoor play for children and are our kids getting enough of it?

It certainly seems that many children lack enough outdoor play in their daily activities; many often favour staying indoors, playing on the computer, games consoles or other gadgets. Outdoor play, which can encompass a wide range of activities, from team sports, family walks and garden play can often be harder to encourage.

Studies have analysed the importance of technology in children’s development, especially in the technologically advanced world which we live in today.  But just how important is playing outside for children’s happiness, health, and development?

Should you be worried about the lack of outdoor play?

Extensive independent research, commissioned by ESP Play and carried out by Liverpool John Moores University, discovered that even during school PE lessons, children spent 68% of the time being stationary. This obviously raises real concerns for parents. Is PE in our schools sufficiently physical to provide our children with the exercise they need? It looks like we might be overestimating the workout they receive; certainly not the two hours a week we thought they were entitled too.

We also need to ask ourselves, as parents, whether the decrease in outdoor play at home affects our children’s ability to interact and enjoy PE at school. If it does, what are we doing about it?

Why is outdoor play important for your child’s development?

Open air activities often involve team sports, which are beneficial not only for children’s health but also for developing people skills and critical skills such as team-building or supporting friends and team members. Although technology is brilliant for developing skill sets, it often doesn’t help children to support each other or to encourage those who are less confident. Nor does it enable children to recognise differences in people’s skills and how, by combining them, they can create a stronger team.

In response to their research findings, ESP installed multi-skills zones in schools. As a result, physical activity levels among children  increased by 7.5%, suggesting that the zones helped to encourage children to play together and enjoy outdoor play.

Through using multi-skill zones, children build relationships with each other and show an increased enjoyment of open-air physical activities, resulting in an increased desire to play outdoors again. The more they enjoy and repeat this, the more physical activity they do, thus decreasing the risk of childhood obesity and other health problems. It is also likely that the formation of relationships and enjoyment will continue into adult life and enable children to continue to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

How can you increase your child’s outdoor play?

When it comes to playing out of doors, most of us put safety first. We need to consider both the local neighbourhood and the safety of the environment. So, even if we don’t feel happy letting the children ‘play out’ in they way we did when we were children, we can still provide lots of outdoor activities under supervision; whether it’s in the garden, the park, or elsewhere. Indeed, ESP’s research found that the more adults who were supervising, the more physical activity the children undertook. So, meeting up with other families at the park is a great way to reap the enjoyable benefits of the outdoor environment.

If you are looking for specific activities, how about a game of football, cricket, or rounders which all of the family can enjoy? Or why not get involved in a children’s team sport and encourage them at training and match events. Other ideas which may increase outdoor play include walking family pets and cycling on a nature trail which encourage children to enjoy the great outdoors with friends and family.

Outside of the immediate benefits of improved health and personal development, there are several other advantages to outdoor play for children. These include the stimulation received from experiencing nature and an improvement in environmental awareness.

It is easy to see just how important play is for children’s physical and personal development and with what we now know about the state of physical education, it is obvious that more needs to be done to encourage children to play outdoors more often if we are to enhance their health and wellbeing.  If schools and parents work effectively together to offer the required encouragement, children’s outdoor activity levels can only go one way… up!

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bewilderwood

It’s never easy to plan the perfect day out for kids. They always want so many things squeezed into their itinerary and maximum fun from their wonderful outing. For parents, finding an amazing destination that fits the bill can be difficult, especially if you are trying to avoid taking the kids to the same old places. Thankfully, there are a quite a few new destinations now available for kids which offer totally amazing and unexpected experiences. Here are 7 destinations you might want to consider.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

harry potter studio tour

Every kid loves Harry Potter, so getting the chance to experience the magical world of the Harry Potter Studio Tour is a.great way to immerse yourself in the wizarding world and reignite your passion for the movies and books. You kids will have a spectacular time as they experience being on the set of the movies and follow in Harry’s footprints all the way from Privet Drive to Diagon Alley to Hogwarts. Watch as they climb aboard the Knight Bus, visit Hagrid’s hut and make themselves disappear under the invisibility cloak. They can also learn about movie making and experience the green screen.

Surf Snowdonia, Wales

Looking for some active fun? How about spending a day at the world’s first inland surf lagoon? Surf Snowdonia is a wonderful outdoor park that will surely drench you in watery joys. With a whopping 300-metre surf lagoon and head high waves, you can surf to your heart’s content. There’s a lot more than just surfing. The range of other activities includes SUP safaris and kayaking too. And of course, there are no sharks in Snowdonia.

National Space Centre

Whilst everyone has heard of the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral in Florida, now many of us know that we have our own National Space Centre in Leicester. So if astronaut Tim Peake has given your kids an interest in space exploration, this is the ideal place to visit

With six amazing galleries, including a full-size rocket in a launch tower and the UK’s largest domed planetarium this day out will be a real adventure. It has everything: telescopes, space suits, rockets, satellites, meteorites and lots of interactive things for kids to get their hands on.

BeWILDerwood

If you are visiting anywhere near Norfolk, then the award winning BeWilderwood is an amazing day for kids – and big kids. Set in the magical world of the Boggles from the BeWilderwood children’s book series, this is a theme park with a difference – no big rides or rollercoasters, but lots of zip wires, fast slides, den building and obstacles to climb abd navigate through – all designed for kids of different ages – so from 2 years old,to 90 years old, there;s something for everyone. There’s even the chance for younger kids to perform on an outdoor stage in a Bewilderwood themed story (see main image).

King Arthur’s Labytynth

Head back to the time of myths and legends in this underground cavern with a difference, deep in the heart of celtic Wales. Entering through a magical waterfall, mystery, secrets and a strange hooded character are all awaiting in the enchanted King Arthur’s Labyrinth. Here, kids will get a first-hand experience of tales invoking ancient kings, dragons and epic battles. embellished with dramatic sound and lighting effects. And to get there, they have to sail through a giant waterfall.

Belfast Zoological Gardens

A visit to the Belfast Zoo means an opportunity to see over 1,000 animals from 150 varied species. These include Barbary lions, Red kangaroos, Spider monkeys, Moloch gibbons, Rothchild’s giraffes, Asian elephants and Malayan sun bears. There is also a bird park with many exotic bird species to see.  Giraffes and elephants can also be seen.

Legoland Windsor

Legoland Windsor is a perfect outing for children, especially for younger kids who like smaller rides and junior those ready for junior roller coasters. It;s ideal for families and kids aged 3-12. Lego brick sculptures, model cities, animals, water rides, rollercoasters and fire engines, the place has a lot to keep kids hooked and engaged for hours, literally. It’s the second most visited park in the UK, just behind Alton Towers!

Conclusion

In a nutshell, there is ae lots of amazing and unexpected destinations for kids in the UK. With just with a little research, you will find some spectacular places for your family day out.

Author bio

Ian Alam is a digital marketing enthusiast and has written many topics in the related field. He works with Jump In, which is among the best trampoline parks in the UK.”

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How to Stay Fit as a New Dad

Becoming a new dad is an amazing thing. You stop looking after yourself in order to look after the new number one, your kid. Everything changed now, and it is very hard to keep up with your fitness goals and routines. But becoming a father doesn’t mean you have to completely forget about yourself and your health. All you have to do is adapt to your new lifestyle, make some changes, and plan each day so you make the most of it.

Get quality sleep

Sleep is very important for a new dad. After you become a father, sleep is probably going to be something you are deprived of. This will make you a very ineffective person, you will eat more, you won’t think the right way, and it will destroy your hormone levels. Simply telling you to get more sleep isn’t an option, you will have to get up for 3 AM feedings, and to answer your child’s crying calls. It might seem odd, but getting some exercise can actually help you with sleep.

Exercise will increase the quality of sleep and you will feel more energetic throughout the day after you start exercising. As little as 10 minutes a day is enough for some light exercise. Try having a nap whenever possible, and make the room as dark as possible when you sleep. This will also help with your sleep quality.

Stay active

Stay fit as a dad

Life will be a little more than hectic after your baby is born. You probably are already busy at work, and you will be needed at home almost every moment of your spare time. But even in that chaos of being a new dad, you should still be able to squeeze in 30 minutes or an hour for a workout. As little as 30 minutes of working out is still better than sitting home in front of a TV and doing nothing.

Plan out every day, since your life is busier than ever. Consider going to the gym straight after work, it can save you from driving or running around town back and forth. Simply pack some gym clothing for men with you, and hit the gym before going home. You don’t need an awesome workout plan, simply stick to the tried and true methods. Lift some weights, run on a treadmill, skip a rope, do some quick explosive movements like box jumps or burpees.Simply staying active is going to do the trick.

Eat the new dad diet

Just because you’re a new dad doesn’t mean your quality of eating should decline. You need to eat properly so you have enough energy and to keep your immune system firing properly. Great tip for eating good and quality food is to prepare in advance. Simply learn how to make healthy meals that can be stored in the freezer and heated up when it is time to eat. When it comes to snacks, try opting for a healthier option. Go with some fruits, nuts, or vegetables.

Also, try dialing down on alcohol especially beer. Beer belly got its name for a reason. Hops, from which the beer is made, promote estrogen production. This will result in storing fat around your waistline, and the more fat you gain the more estrogen you will have. Alcohol will also prevent your body from using fat storages for energy, which again results in more fat gain.

You have a child to care of now, but the best way to look after your little one is to look after yourself. Use these tips and stay healthy for the days to come, maybe even set an example for your kid.

Peter is a lifestyle a writer for HighStyleLife magazine located in Brisbane, Australia. After graduating from Australian Institute of Creative Design, he worked as a freelance writer for many local newspapers. Besides fashion, he loves reading, cooking exotic meals and traveling around tropical destinations. His future plan is to create a personal blog about life-saving tips.

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