Friday, 22 July 2016

"Gotta Catch 'Em All!"

I'm not usually one to get caught up in the latest craze so when the boys started talking about Pokemon GO they didn't really sell the whole concept. Mrs M started playing with the boys and I thought 'great this Can be her thing with the boys!'. On Sunday we all went out and while Mrs M and the boys went hunting I lay in the sun with my hat on my face, it was bliss. 

On Monday though it all changed. Mrs M was back at work and Seth at school and I was left with an excited Pokemon fan who wanted to play. After some reading and writing I figured I should take him out hunting, so we headed out looking for Pikachu and his friends.

It didn't take long for my inner geek to come out when Opeie said 'Dad! I can't catch this Zubat!'. From the moment I flicked that first Pokeball I was hooked. I was a big Pokemon fan back in 1999 I even shamefully gave myself a Pokemon name and had it tattooed on the back of my neck (no I'm not adding a picture). We've just got back from an after tea Pokemon hunt and over the past 2 days Opeie and I have walked roughly 15km looking for these adorable little creatures, above everything else it is great exercise.

The reason for the post though was the raised concern of a 5 year old walking around with an expensive phone. We've already had to replace two laptops because of child related accidents and I didn't fancy being without a phone with Mrs M occasionally working away, so while I had a spare hour and the boys were playing with their friends, I turned to my old friend, (LEGO) and built a Pokemon case fit for outdoor Pokemon fuelled adventures.

The boys, as expected loved it and while we've been searching we've had some interest from other Pokemon hunters out and about. As happy as the boys were with the case, Opeie had his own idea and informed me that it needed the word 'GO' on the back in blue. I love the extra little ideas the boys come up with so I was happily oblige.

If you've not played Pokemon GO yet, get it downloaded to your phone. Its very addictive, its great exercise and overall it gets you out with the children, fun, FREE, outdoor family bonding! Perfect for the summer holdiays.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

"The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery."

When I talk about LEGO I instantly turn into a very excited boy. I'm sure it was the same when I was a child but this reintroduction since having children has taken my love of the brick to new extremes. Back when I was a growing up LEGO was a very lonely thing for me, but it got me through an uncertain and dysfunctional family life. These days though it's all about team building and me and the boys have the most amazing creative times. I get to teach them techniques while building and in return they share with me a world of possibilities through their imagination.

Writing for LEGO has been amazing and although building is such a huge thing in our home, being able to visit the attractions is also very exciting for us. It's great to visit LEGO's attractions and see how the professionals build. A few years back Seth won a Star Wars building competition and we were given tickets to visit the LEGOLAND Discovery centre in Manchester. It was a great evening and because Opeie was only very young then and doesn't remember, we were itching to visit again.

We were definitely in need of a change of scenery from all the Home ed fun we have, so we arranged to visit with our friends Emma and Matthew over at Another Last Story. They are also huge LEGO fans and had been wanting to visit too so the trip worked out perfect. When we arrived at the Discovery centre the boys were very excited which is always great to see as a parent. We had missed out on the rides and Factory tour during our last visit so it was interesting for the boys to learn about how LEGO is made and then follow that up with a ride into the main area where they could shoot trolls and medieval bad guys.

Being originally from Birmingham It was great to see the Bullring included in the Miniland section of the centre but what really took me by surprise was seeing the Ironbridge. Being a Shropshire lad now it was really great to see, as Ironbridge will always be a very special place for me and my family. Whenever I see builds like this it always makes me wish that I had more space at home to build larger pieces for the boys but it is great to see what can be achieved by LEGO pros.

As the lights dropped on the Miniland it was lovely to see the scenes light up. Blackpool tower and the surrounding area look truly spectacular.

The most appealing thing for me as a parent is just how interactive the LEGO discovery centre is. It really does make a big difference if the kids can fully emerge themselves in what's going on. The boys loved being able to take their time building a wheeled vehicle and then being able to send it down ramps to jump into big containers of bricks in the LEGO Racers: Build and test section of the attraction. I was probably getting into it a little too much, I do always say though, Surround me in LEGO and I'll get right in on the action.

A month or so ago we got to see the new Nexo Knights 4D movie: The book of creativity at LEGOLAND Windsor while at a Nexo knights event, which was awesome and we got to share that with our friends this time round.  They also had: The LEGO® Movie™ 4D A New Adventure showing too. Both were great fun for the kids and really added to the fun we had while visiting. 

There is so much LEGO to build with and the boys couldn't wait to climb into one of the pits and start building. As expected I sat right alongside the pit getting stuck into some building myself.

The great thing about the LEGOLAND Discovery centre is how much is packed into the space there. It's a scaled down version of LEGOLAND with rides perfect for younger brick enthusiasts. Opeies favourite part was being a LEGO police man and whizzing around the track chasing Matthew in his police car on the LEGO City Forest Pursuit. 

When we visited last time one of the rooms had an amazing Star wars display, this time though the space was occupied by something even better. For me, the Brand new LEGO city builder was my favourite part because it gave me a lot of inspiration for my own builds. Being able to view other peoples builds this close up is a great bit of research for me and the boys

The LEGOLAND Discovery centre sits in the perfect spot for taking a break from a busy shopping day and although the attraction is a much smaller version of its Windsor counterpart there is plenty there to kep the children occupied and building all day.

Monday, 18 July 2016

"No matter what type of animal you are, change starts with you."

Back in March, we asked Opeie what he wanted to do for his 5th birthday and he was desperate to go to the cinema to see Zootopia. Disney do an amazing job of getting the hype out for their new movies and Opeie had seen trailers and posters for what had seemed like months building up to the release date.

On the day of his birthday, we had a family outing to the cinema and as expected the film was AMAZING! I can't ever remember being disappointed by a Disney movie. Our trip to the cinema inevitably kick started Opeie's love of Judy Hopps and all her friends. Opeie is a huge Disney fan and loves the classics but Zootopia had him talking about the movie for weeks. The great thing about the release of a Disney movie is the products that tie in with it, hitting the shops. I remember snapping up as many cars as I could when Seth was going through his Disney Cars phase and as always, it was so much fun playing with him.

the movie had Opeie pining after one prop, the carrot recorder. From the minute we walked out of the cinema Opeie was asking if you could buy them, so when one arrived through the post along with his very own Zootopia PD badge he was super excited and ready to start cleaning up the streets. Opeie's bottle holder on his Micro scooter made an excellent front seat for his talking Judy Hopps and together Zootopia PD's finest were set to change the world.

 Since then the pair have been inseparable and Judy has been on all of our adventures alongside Opeie's trusted sidekick Rose. I love it when a movie has this much of an impact on the day to day fun that we have and Opeie's new job as the latest ZPD hotshot is definitely keeping us all entertained.


Sunday, 17 July 2016

"Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier."

I hate talking about politics, it really does bring out the worst in people but with all the rubbish that has been going on lately like voters getting their knickers in a twist because elections haven't gone their way and the rise of racist propaganda portrayed in the media, there has never been a better time to have a long play/discussion with Opeie about diversity. Opeie asks the usual questions that a 5-year-old would ask while taking in his surroundings. "Why do people have different coloured skin?", "Why has that lady only got one leg", "Daddy why have you got tattoo's and piercings?". The answer is simple, we are all different.

Mrs M came up with a great idea about making a globe out of LEGO, to learn about different countries and nationalities, which would have been awesome. This, however, would have taken weeks to do and while we were talking about the 'people are different' subject I wanted to cover all kinds of people while playing. We decided to make a park for a variety of characters to have fun in and while I quickly knocked up a quick basic park, I asked Opeie if he could make different kinds of people and families. I was just about to type that Opeie had done a great job of being diverse when recently reviewing the LEGO City - Town fun in the park kit, but then I realised that if you bring your child up knowing everyone is different and respecting people for who they are then this way of thinking for them is just the norm.

When Opeie is playing with his Minifigures and roleplaying there is nearly always same sex couples. He has always been taught that people can fall in love with whoever they please, that men fall in love with men and women with women as much as men and women, again this is the norm. So when adding these families into his games he is simply doing what he feels is natural. The one thing that sticks out for me when I am watching Opeie play is just how much 'Love' comes into everything he does. I thought it was really cute when he found a gold LEGO ring and had a lady proposing to her girlfriend.

Opeie informed me that it is okay for nan's to be in love too and rightly so. There is not a single ounce of prejudice in that little cutie.

Last week we all lay on our bed and watched youtube videos of the paralympic wheelchair tennis and we were all mesmerised by it. I was shocked to see the wheelchair being moved so quickly and was genuinely impressed by the skill and power involved in the game.  The videos really had an impact on the boys which was great and got them asking lots of questions. Opeie asked if I could help him build a paralympic tennis player for his park and of course I was more than happy to oblige.

Opeie is a big fan of the Mohican which got us talking about people that choose to stand out from the crowd, altering the way they look with eye-catching hairstyles/colours, tattoo's, piercings and quirky clothing. This is always going to be something the boys understand because of the childhood I had growing up. I wore some crazy things over the years and was covered in piercings and its only been the last few years that I have started to be a little tamer. Because of this Opeie made some great alternative people for his park.

'Love' continued flowing through his creation and a little bit of Mrs M inevitably came out the build in the form of generosity. We had a discussion this week after finding a mobile phone on the floor while out scooting at the beach. Opeie proudly handed the phone into the parks reception and I told him that we should all try and do at least one good deed a day. It is something I have done for a while now and something that hopefully Mrs M and I will instil in the boys. There was no surprise that in Opeie's park a kind lady was giving some money to a homeless man. I asked Opeie why he had made each person the way he had and he told me that this lady was a Man that preferred to be a lady (which stemmed from a conversation we had ahead a few weeks back).

I was so proud of how Opeie approached this play session and it made me realise that Mrs M and I are doing a great job of bringing Opeie up with an open mind in a world that still isn't quite moving in the right direction. I just hope that things are a little less dramatic for the boys when they are adults. whatever happens though they will always have Love!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

"Brass shines as fair to the ignorant as gold to the goldsmiths."

A month ago we were lucky enough to be invited to an event at the Birmingham symphony hall. It turned out to be probably the greatest evening of 2016 so far and had a huge impact on both myself, Mrs M and the boys. We're all huge fans of music in various ways and we've wanted to get the boys interested in an instrument for quite some time. 

When we were given the chance to work with PBone last year I jumped at the chance as it was something so different to anything else we had written about before. The boys loved it from the moment it hit their lips and they had been sporadically watching YouTube videos trying to play those notes better. The show at the symphony hall ignited something in Seth and I think that hearing the songs from James Bond and taking in the awesomeness of the city of Birmingham Symphony orchestra was really inspiring for him. As we walked down the stairs at the symphony hall about to leave (and in an excited voice) he asked if he could please have trombone lessons.

Mrs M being the amazing mom that she is arranged his first lesson that following week, which he loved and this week sees the 5th lesson for him. I always wanted to learn an instrument when I was younger but was never given the chance so being able to do this for the boys is really rewarding. 

While at the show at the symphony hall we got to try the new pBuzz which had just been released. The pBuzz is a really interesting instrument because it is a completely new instrument. As expected I was useless and couldn't get a peep out of it, but the boys, as always, put me to shame and blew a loud long note.  The pBuzz has been created to introduce young children to the world of brass instruments. With its light and easy to hold shape it is the perfect starter instrument for children as young as 3 or 4 . Seth's new trombone lessons have got Opeie wanting to be even more involved in what's going on so he's been playing the pBuzz hoping to keep up with his big brother.

  The pBuzz website offers a free downloadable PDF of starter songs for new players and the lettered/numbered notes along the slide can easily have you playing straight away. With the introduction of instruments into the home, I'm really excited about what's going to come next for our little musicians and I hoping that this new exciting passion of Seth's is something that stays with him.

"A work of art is above all an adventure of the mind."

I can't believe it's taken me this long to get round to writing about the second day of our London trip two weeks ago. Our visit to the Roald Dahl museum mixed with the long drive and followed by a late night had a huge effect on the following day we had planned scooting around London. It didn't however, stop us from getting the Micro Scooters out and heading out to try and make the most of the day we had there. It took a tired Opeie a little longer to fully kick into gear but by the time we had reached the train station to head to our first destination he was back on scooting form.

A friend of ours who we stay with when visiting London works at the Tate and on the evening we arrived she was telling us all about The Tanks, the latest addition to the Tate Modern. I love taking Opeie to art galleries as I find it really interesting to hear what he sees in what he is looking at. Because of its size, The Tate Modern has always been one of our favourite galleries to visit so because our train stopped at Blackfriars we made it our first stop.

The thing that had really stuck out for me when our friend was telling us about the gallery was the viewing level. 10 floors up and with a beautiful view over London, it was the perfect spot for Opeie to sit down and sketch the London Skyline high above the Thames. At first, he was adamant that 'I can't draw that' but as we broke what we could see down into various shapes and concentrated on that, his drawing soon started to come together and he really got into the activity.

Inside the gallery was all kinds of weird and wonderful things which really got Opeie thinking and us both talking about what we could see. I love how a child's mind works, In one piece he spotted what he thought was a potato which then had him seeing all sorts of food in each piece that we saw.

This side of the gallery is definitely more interactive than the original part of the Tate and although Opeie loves that one there was more here for Opeie and he clearly felt a lot more connected to what he was seeing when he was able to walk through and over some of the pieces and even lie down inside one of them too. With homeschooling (especially at this age) anything that gets you thinking, starts conversation and encourages questions is doing your job for you. We chatted the whole way round and it was lovely to hear his excited little voice explaining what was going on around him.

We were walking around for 2 1/2 hours before the inevitable 'Dad I'm hungry'. Opeie knew exactly where he wanted to eat his lunch so we jumped back on the scooters and headed over to the south bank as he wanted to watch the skateboarders. It's handy to know that if you are Scooting around London and are planning on visiting the Tate, they have a free cloakroom where you can leave your scooters while you take in the art.

Sadly that previous late night and long journey had finally caught up with Opeie and that was it for our scooting around London (until next time). We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and playing before heading home to our own beds. I do love visiting London but as Opeie always says "I love going home more".

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