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Cambridge University’s Pen Pals At Home Series

Kingston started Reception last month (was more traumatic for me than him) and one of his first pieces of homework was copying letters. We started with simple things like O and L but have since moved on to C, Q and the like.

Imagine my glee when I was asked to review the new series of handwriting books from Cambridge University – Pen Pals at Home.

The series is aimed at children aged 3-5 years old and is the leading brand in UK primary schools for handwriting. What’s different is that this is the first time Cambridge University have published books for parents to use at home with their children. This series also comes with a free app, bringing the letters and patterns to life.

The books teach early handwriting skills such as patterns and print letter formation, with added digital watermarking technology which adds a little bit of magic – the children can see and hear the patterns and letters come to life on the page. It also includes practical support for parents throughout.

We were sent ‘Getting Ready for Handwriting’ which I think it more suited to children aged 3 (Kingston is 4) as it is preparing them with mark making as opposed to actually forming letters. I gave to it my sister in law (a head teacher) who said it was very good for smaller children (nursery age) who need to learn to move from scribbles to legible writing.


Our favourite was definitely ‘Forming Letters’ – we spend a few minutes every day learning to write a new letter and once we’ve finished the book, as it’s wipe clean, we will simply start again to supplement what he is learning at school and to help him work on neatness. At only £4.99 each they are an invaluable resource for the last year of nursery and reception and they can be used again or again or handed down to younger siblings/relatives.


Pen Pals at Home: Getting Ready for Handwriting (Pen Pals for Handwriting) – £4.99

Pen Pals at Home: Forming Letters (Pen Pals for Handwriting) – £4.99

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How To Make Sure You Get That Extra Hour In Bed When The Clocks Go Back

Research conducted for CBeebies’ show In the Night Garden and In The Night Garden magazine shows that nearly a third of children have their delicate sleep patterns disrupted when the clocks go back. Mark your calendars, it’s Sunday October 26 at 2 am.

In the Night Garden Clock change campaign

You want, no need, that extra hour in bed but to your kids it’s just another morning. What can you do now to make sure you reap the benefits of that extra hour?

In the Night Garden has teamed up with Mandy Gurney, Founder of Millpond Children’s Sleep Clinic to provide tips on adjusting young children’s body clocks and establishing an effective, happy and stress-free bedtime routine:

1: Move your child’s body clock
In the two weeks before the clocks change delay the start of your child’s bedtime routine, putting them to bed 15 minutes later than usual. After three or four nights of the new time, shift bedtime again by another 15 minutes and continue repeating this process until the bedtime has moved an hour later. Don’t worry if your child still wakes at the same time in the morning, by slowly shifting their body clock you will find the morning will soon catch up. Nap, meal and milk times all need to be adjusted in the same way too.

2: Be melatonin savvy
Light has an enormous influence on our body clocks and on the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, so get children outside in the afternoon light for some outdoors play to keep them up a bit later at bedtime.

3: Relaxation time
Wind down with relaxing activities in the half hour before the start of your bedtime routine. Many children love to watch In the Night Garden so now is an ideal time to soothe them with the programme, or new web app. It’s important to time their screen time carefully and turn off all TVs, tablets and computers an hour before they go to sleep. Recent research has shown that bright light from screens can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin.

4: Get your routine right
About 30 to 40 minutes before your child goes to bed, carry out the same steps every night – make this routine your bedtime ritual. Having a regular routine means your child’s body will start to prepare for sleep as soon as you start this process. This is especially important when you are making adjustments to their bedtime to help with the clock change.

Warm bath
Give children a warm, relaxing bath lasting no longer than 10 minutes. But this should not be playtime as this could over stimulate your tired child. Washing hands and cleaning teeth can be done in the bathroom before you all go straight into the bedroom. Do not go back into the living area, as you will lose the focus and magic of the routine.

Dim the lights in the bedroom ready for your return from the bath, as this will help with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Dress for bed
Have all your little ones’ night clothes ready for your return from the bathroom so they can quickly get dressed and climb into bed.

Story time
Read one or two stories or sing a gentle lullaby. Have a cuddle and kiss goodnight and tuck them in with their favourite soft toy so they are warm and cosy.

Time alone
Now that they’re drowsy, leave the bedroom so that they learn to fall asleep independently. Your child should be asleep about 15 minutes later.

5: When can I get up?
Young children have no idea when they can get up and play, a simple low watt bulb light, plugged into a timer switch in their room will help them to know it’s morning. Set the light to come on 15 minutes later than usual, explaining they must stay in bed until the light comes on, even if it means you have to stay in the room with them initially. If your child stays in bed offer them plenty of praise. As bedtime moves back, shift the timer switch later. Don’t be tempted to move any quicker as your child may struggle to wait and it won’t work.

6: Good start
Delay your child’s morning milk and breakfast by 15 minutes every few days, so they don’t wake early expecting food. Avoid the temptation of giving your child a feed if they wake too early, in the hope that will get them back to sleep; you are more likely to just set up bad habits for the future.

The In The Night Garden website app with Time for Bed section and Mandy’s Tips for coping with the clock change and the In the Night Garden reward chart PDF can be found in the What’s New section at or on

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The Usborne Official Spy Handbook

I love a book that encourages kids to be creative and The Usborne Official Spy Handbook is just that. No sitting passively letting the story watch over you. With this book you dive in to the story.

The book contains everything a wannabe spy needs to know – secret codes, dead drops, disguises, tracking, shadowing, sending messages, decoding signals, observation skills and more.

usborne spy handbook

My daughter and I had a lot of fun working through this book, sending messages to each other and trying to play tricks on the other members of the family.

Whether your kids are into spying or not, I recommend this book as a way to have fun together. While teaching your kids how to be sneaky!

The Usborne Official Spy Handbook – £6.99

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Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Sunday morning we were up bright and early to attend the screening of the new Disney movie – Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Long title, I know.

The story starts with the kind of day we can all relate with and things just go from bad to worse.

alexander the terrible movie

I let the kids be the critics (age 4 and 8) and I think the film is better suited to kids older than 4. Kingston didn’t engage with it and some of the humour went above his head but he loved all the scenes with the animals and when anything gross happened. I won’t spoil it by telling you what.

My daughter however (age 8) was much more into it, laughing and jumping at the slightly more perilous (I wouldn’t say scary) moments. She really enjoyed it and already says she’d like to see it again. I don’t get how five minutes after watching something you can say you’d watch it again but what do I know, I’m not 8!

Steve Carrell was funny enough (as usual) and you can relate with the main protagonist and his family as they struggle through the worse 24 hours of their lives. It wouldn’t be Disney if there wasn’t a silver lining to their cloud but it isn’t schmaltzy and saccharine and even us old parents in attendance laughed along. Especially when the Australian cowboys tunred up!

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Rated PG.
The film is out (in the UK) on October 24, just in time for the half term holidays!

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The Dettol Baby Blanket Donation

Dettol Antibacterial Laundry Cleanser has teamed up with UK children’s medical research charity, Sparks, to donate baby blankets to underprivileged children in the UK and abroad.

‘Dettol’s Baby Blanket Donation’ aims to promote the dangers of bacteria on blankets and highlight the shortage of baby blankets available to infants born to disadvantaged families.
Every minute of every day, approximately 50 babies are born into poverty and will experience conditions lacking basic essentials including hygienically clean blankets. Poor hygiene conditions can contribute to illnesses such as diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration.

Laboratory tests commissioned by Dettol – on washed blankets donated by volunteer mums – show that baby ‘blankies’ carry a variety of bacteria even after a 40°C wash with a third of the washed blankets harbouring coliforms – a group of bacteria linked to faeces.

Dettol are encouraging mums to “keep the memories, not the bacteria” by donating a blanket via Freepost and sharing their special recollections and photographs of their babies’ blanket on social media. Once collected, the baby blankets will be hygienically washed with Dettol Anti-bacterial Laundry Cleanser before being re-distributed by Dettol to families in need. Dettol Anti-bacterial Laundry Cleanser has also pledged to donate £1 to Sparks for every blanket collected to raise much needed funds for UK families with children who are affected by serious illness or disability.

Celebrity mum of two, Rachel Stevens donated the first blanket and is calling out to mums across the UK to share their memories and donate blankets to needy children. She said: “The Dettol Baby Blanket Donation really resonated with me as a mum. I remember bringing my girls home for the first time in theirs and what a special time that was. Many babies across the world will never get the chance to experience the comfort of a warm, clean blanket. That’s the reason why I’m supporting the campaign, asking mums to donate blankets to those in need so that those babies don’t miss out.”

Celebrity Mum Rachel Stevens

Celebrity Mum Rachel Stevens

For details on how to donate please visit

Blankets can be donated via Freepost (no stamp required) to:

Dettol Baby Blanket Donation
The Hay Loft
Balcombe Place Stables
RH17 6AZ

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