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Monday, 24 February 2014


Some of these species have existed virtually unchanged for millions of years. One was thought to be extinct. All of these have very minimal change from the time of the dinosaurs or beyond, and all are things you can obtain and keep in the UK without spending an absolute fortune.

Dawn Redwood - Metasequoia glyptostroboides.

Thought to be extinct for millions of years, a single specimen was found alive in 1941 in China. Although critically endangered in its natural habitat, these are widely available as seeds or saplings online. This is a large fast growing redwood but is also often cultivated as a bonsai tree. The dawn redwood is the only known deciduous conifer. Grew fron the Cretaceous up until 2mya.

TREE FERN - Dicksonia Antarctica

 A very common plant in the Jurassic, these continued to growin New Zealand and are widely available as seedlings

Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba  - Cretaceous. This tree is thought to have gone extinct in the wild, but been cultivated in Buddhist monasteries, and then as an ornamental tree.

Monkey Puzzle Tree - Araucaria araucana

The closest relative to the trees which flourished in the carboniferous period.

Horsetail Plants

Cretacous - prefer very damp locations, ideal to plant near ponds, but can be grown indoors or out if you keep,


ANTS:

Fossil ant nests have been found from the Jurassic period. The ants of this time spent more time underground, but they aren't too far from modern ants.

Mosquitoes
 OK you probably don't want to keep these as pets - but they have been around from the time of the dinosaurs, as well as their mate malaria - all right we definitely want to keep that living fossil.

Madagascar Hissing Cockroach:
Not completely unchanged but very very close to the creatures that have survived every mass extinction event in the history of the earth - and if anything survives the next one, my bet would be on these things. All the same, not something I really want to keep in the house, but many people do. You can buy one on ebay for about £7 including postage.






Living Fossils

Most children go through a  dinosaur phase, but it has been more than a passing fancy for my oldest, who has wanted to be a palaeontologist since he was 3 years old. So we have the usual collections of rocks and fossils, but sometimes it is nice to see something alive, much as it was millions of years ago. There are some plants and animals that have remained virtually unchanged. Of course none of us can go out a  coelacanth to add to our fish tank, but there are some relics of the dinosaurs age you can keep in your own home.

Fancy three eyed, prehistoric, cannibal pets? Try Triops.

We absolutely love triops. For those of you unfamiliar with these lovely creatures - they are the oldest living animal species on earth. Triops cancriformis has existed virtually unchanged for 200 million years. They have three eyes - hence the name triops and appear to keep growing as long as they live shedding a complete skin every few weeks. These little creatures allow children to own and observe a living fossil, a creature that shared the earth with the dinosaurs, and has survived a number of mass extinction events. There are only two drawbacks to these little beasties in my opinion. The first is that they are short lived. These animals evolved to hatch out in puddles grow and mate quickly ( oh and they can mate and produce young all by themselves - a single animal can impregnate itself and produce young) and then die out leaving the eggs behind for the next rainy season. The second problem is that they are cannibals. No matter how many hatch out - I always end up with one big fat one. I am going to try more substrate and plants next time though in the hopes that some hiding places may increase the survival rate.

In the past - I have bought a number of triops kits. They tend to be fairly expensive for what you get - a packet of eggs - usually this exact same packet eggs stamped Triops USA from Netyfish, a packet of food and a small plastic container completely unsuitable for raising a triops to adulthood. The purchase price for these kits ranges from £9.50 including postage to £21.99 with an average price of around £11. These eggs will cost you £3.00 including postage from Amazon, and if you want the food that will cost you additional £2.00. Postage is automatically combined if you purchase the two items together. It isn't an absolute requirement, but I do prefer to use the prepared triops food when they first hatch, switching to larger foods as they grow. One pack of triops food should be enough to last the average lifespan as the only food.

HOW TO HATCH TRIOPS

Ideally you need 4 litres per triops. The containers sold in kits are usually about 1/2 litre. Obviously this is not going to work. I use a cube type fish tank which works quite well. If growing triops in the summer, you can use a plastic goldfish tank, or any other large clean container that has never had soap in it. Any soap residue will kill these. A large well cleaned glass jar will work, as will a goldfish bowl. Even a big new bucket, although that would not provide ideal viewing opportunities. In the winter however you will need a heater - which means you need a glass tank. This is one area where I take issue with many of the kits which claim these can live at room temperature. The recommended temperature is 22 degrees. I have found these do very well without a heater in the summer months, which are still obviously below these temperature, but these are not going to hatch without daytime temperatures of at least 14 degrees and preferably higher, nor will they survive a single night in autumn to winter unless you leave your radiator on 24/7 or use an aquarium heater or heat lamp. Personally I don't quite understand the recommendation of a heat pad or heat lamp made by many triops enthusiasts. An aquarium heater id the ideal way in which to keep an aquarium heated.

You can use a small aquarium filter once your triops reaches 1/2 " or more in size, but a small air stone would probably be better, and unless you happen to have a large a number of triops that have refrained from eating each other, this really isn't necessary. You may also choose to use any substrate suitable for tropical fish, but again it is not required. If you have access to a bit of pond mud, this may provide additional nutrients, but it will also cloud your water.

Please note - these things are microscopic when they first hatch - it will take awhile before you can see them swimming about.

WATER:

You are meant to use distilled water or rainwater only. I have used rainwater when possible but have also used tap water as long as it is well aged. I simply scoop a bit from my fish tank. Chlorine will kill them though and the drops used for tropical fish don't seem to work for them as other substances in the water that settle with time may pose a problem.

FEEDING:

Your triops favourite food will most likely be his siblings. After he has dispatched all of these he will eat triops food, fish food, blood worms, dried brine shrimp, daphnia, tubifex worms, alagae wafers or anything you could feed tropical fish. They love algae as well. They will also eat - a pinch of dog food, lettuce, spinach, apple, boiled carrot or potato, peas, corn, cress, aquarium plants, even the roots of grass. They will eat cooked meat as well, but this will pollute your water quickly. I have allowed mine a tiny bit of cooked chicken, but remove anything leftover after a couple of hours.

LIFESPAN:

This is the worst thing about these creatures. The lifespan is meant to be two months. I have had one for three and a half and it grew huge, but there really is no way to keep these creatures for years. You may be able to hatch the offspring - this requires completely drying out the substrate, preferably for months and then rehydrating. The eggs can not hatch without a dry spell. They also will not hatch until temperatures are right, laying dormant for many years if necessary before the conditions for hatching are correct. They can survive freezing to almost boiling temperatures while dormant.

EDUCATIONAL:

I do think these creatures are quite educational, but only if you take the time to learn about them. Just watching them swim about isn't highly educational, but if you look them up online, find out how they evolved, how the planet has changed since the first triops appeared and ask why these little things have survived longer than any other animal on the planet - they become highly educational. Our guesses for their survival include: The ability for only one to reproduce, the ability to remain dormant for many years until conditions are right for survival of the hatchlings and the ability to eat virtually anything. I would also recommend " When Dinos Dawned, Mammals Got Munched and Pterosaurs Took Flight - A Cartoon Prehistory of Life in the Triassic". The mention of triops is limited, but this does give an idea of what the world was like in the early Triassic just after the Permian Extinction, which the triops is listed as a survivor of, although to my knowledge the fist fossils date back to just after the event. " When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth: A Cartoon Prehistory of Life Before Dinosaurs " would also be quite useful as this discusses life before the curtain fell on most of the earth's life forms.

RECOMMENDED ?

Yes, but preferably for children over age 4. I would also explain to the child before the triops are hatched that they have a very short lifespan, and will not live for more than a few months. My children are still always disappointed when they die, but always want to try again with a new one. If you are wanting to test a child's commitment to keeping a pet though, this might be just the thing. If the child grows tired of it and will not care for it anymore, you won't have too many months of looking after it yourself, and it is pretty low maintenance. I only wish they could breed a strain with a longer lifespan.

I would certainly recommend this package of eggs over any of the sets going. After all, all you can really use out of the triops sets is the eggs and the food so why pay for a plastic bowl and a fancy box?

Summary: A unique chance to own a pet that shared the earth with dinosaurs.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Educational Board Games

We no longer hit the books on Fridays in our home. Instead we head for the games shelves. I once read ( and have spent forever trying to find the link) that there were the top three family activities to help children succeed academically were :

Books - reading to your children, reading with them, and providing varied material for them to read themselves.

Days Out - The obvious museums and zoos and such, but also simple days out such as parks, the seaside or wooded areas.

Board Games: This one took me by surprise but it makes sense. There are so many skills children can learn from board games. You need to read and follow instructions - at least to get started - we often make our own rules or variations later. Even the simplest games encourage conversation, teach children to take turns, and of course how to cope with both winning and losing. Younger children's games often include matching, colour recognition, counting and fine motor skills. Older children's games are apt to include a few more math's concept like counting money and change,  strategy and more. There are a wealth of board games designed specifically for educational purposes each with their own goal in mind. I'll be trying to include as many of the games we use and enjoy as possible for now - so if my ratings look a bit one sided - it is because I am only including favourites for now. Age recommendations are my own. I consider the children's interest levels, difficulty of problems etc when estimating age, but assume some parental help is available for very young players.

Colours

Candyland by Hasbro
A perfect first board game. Teaches colours, taking turns and a wonderful game for Christmas time.
http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/board-games/hasbro-candyland/1591842/
Ages: recommended 3+ but both of my boys played this from age 2. Still gets used at Christmas time but really best for children under age 6
Players : 2 - 4
Reading Required? No.
Entertainment Value  **** 1/2   Educational Value ****

Maths

What's The Point by Greenboard Games
Teaches, fractions, percentages and decimals
http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/board-games/what-s-the-point/1727202/
Ages Technically 8+, but my five year old enjoys playing this as a team with me.
Players: Technically  2 or more - you could go up to 6, but it would grow tedious with too many players. This could be played alone as well.
Reading Required? No.
Entertainment Value  ** 1/2   Educational Value *****

Sum Swamp  - Learning Resources
Very basic addition and subtraction - fun but only for younger children.
Ages 4 - 6
Players 2 - 4
Reading Required? No.
Entertainment Value  ****   Educational Value ****

Magic Cauldron Maths - Orchard Toys
Simple addition subtraction, a couple of very easy multiplication questions.
Fill a cauldron by collecting cards that equate to the correct number for each spell. Uses heat sensitive cards, but these can be hard to work on a cold day. I resorted to keeping a cup of tea handy and holding the cards against the cup, but children playing alone could use a heated bean bag ( not included).
Ages 4 - 7
Players - 2 + but could be used alone if you really needed to.
Reading Required? No.
Entertainment Value  ****   Educational Value ****

Run, Run, as Fast as you Can!  by Orchard Toys
An all time favourite in our house. Teach simple fractions and counting as well as adding abit of rhyming and literature if you wish. My youngest has played this since age 2, my oldest still enjoys this at age 8, and I'm quite certain I will never outgrow it.
http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/board-games/orchard-toys-run-run-as-fast-as-you-can/1680005/change
Recommended ages 4+ but I would recommend from age 2 with suprevsion if you child has outgrown eating small parts.
Players 2-4
Reading Required? No.
Entertainment Value  *****+   Educational Value *****

SNAKES AND LADDERS

It doesn't really matter which version you choose, we have a lovely set by Galt with animal pictures and a ludo game with different habitats on the back, but any Snakes and Ladders game will work.
When playing the game as you are meant to, children learn to count up to 100 and simple addition.

Adding a few sets of flash cards and some coloured markers creates a whole new game. You can use a ready made set of flashcards or make your own. Just be sure you will have answers that equal up to 100. We use coloured glass pebbles like you would have in a fish tank as markers, but anything will work : Hot Wheels cars ( although they roll about terribly) toy dinosaurs, zoo animals etc...  The object of this game is to get four of your markers in a row, while clocking other players from doing the same. Any time you correctly answer a flash card, you place your marker on that square. If it is already occupied - we allow the child to choose another square, but if you want to make it more cut throat you can bump the player off. Other options would be to draw another card, or just miss the turn. In all honesty this doesn't teach any more than flash cards alone - but it is a lot more fun.

For more variations see my review @

http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/board-games/galt-snakes-ladders-and-ludo-game-set/1730681/

Spelling

Scrabble by Mattel

The ultimate in spelling fun, this also teaches vocabulary, especially if played with a dictionary, and quite a lot of maths adding up scores, especially with triple or double and letter scores. This is an all time family favourite and one every home educating family should have.
Players 2 - 4
Reading Required? Yes
Entertainment Value  *****+   Educational Value *****

Fish N Spell Game
What's In The Box?
  • cloth pond
  • wooden fishing poles with magnets.
  • 80 magnetic fish with letters.
  • cards which have common words in four languages. You can choose to spell them in English, French Italian or Spanish.
  • two cards with eight fish shapes to spell your words on.
The idea of the game is to turn all the fish upside down and see who can find the all the letters to the given word first. It is meant  for only two players, but more can play by sharing the fishing rods and having the older players play without the card. The card is just a bit of paper anyway. I do wish it had been magnetic as it would have kept the letters together better. You are not meant to take turns which can make this  mad race, but we do take turns.

We also often use our own cards, either Kipper's Word Games cards from ORT, or home made cards using words from my son's phonics books. With my oldest we have played using a spelling list as well - so he doesn't get a card to guide him them.

There are a few flaws with this game. The fish stick together easily, the card for making your words is a bit flimsy, and the words on the cards are all easy in English. I don't really feel you can learn a foreign language with this as you wouldn't know the pronunciation, but it would be handy if you were already studying one of the three extra languages. But this still earns five stars because it is so flexible.  You can leave the fish right side up for younger players and use this to teach alphabet recognition  as well as simple spellings. By adding your own cards, you can focus on any subject you wish. You can even try spelling dinosaur names  or latin names of plants - there are enough tiles for most words.

Highly recommended for ages  3 - 10 but be aware that this does contain magnets. These are very weak, but the game is still not recommended for under 3's.

Hangman by Milton Bradley:

This is played very much like the original paper and pencil game. Each player chooses a word and places the letters in a rack at the front of their case. Players take it turns to guess a letter. If it is correct - the letter is placed facing out in the appropriate position in the rack at the top of their case, making this visible to person guessing, If it is incorrect their opponent turns the wheel one click revealing a part of a gallows - or the gallows with part of a body swinging from the hangman's noose ( although the noose itself isn't shown. When a whole body is displayed that player has lost - or in our house died - complete with gasping and choking with hands clutched to throat before collapsing in a very melodramatic death.

As an alternate you can place all the tiles on top of the case to begin with facing the person who has made that word. As their opponent guesses letters correctly - these are turned over, but my son did find it difficult to spell his words in reverse when he was younger.

Traditionally, each player should just make up their own words and must be able to spell any word they will be using. This is the way we play now as my oldest is 8 and can spell a reasonable number of words. When my son was very young ( ages 5 -6) I often gave him a book we were reading at the time and we would each choose a word from the book. This makes this game easy and fun for very young players. I feel this also helped my son learn to read and spell the words he was using in his every day school work as well. As he has grown older we tried using spelling lists for awhile, and it does help him to learn the words, but it also made guessing the words quite easy. Now we just choose whatever words we like - although as an adult I do refrain from using words I know he will not be familiar with - where if I were playing with another adult I would choose the most obscure words possible.

The biggest drawback to the plastic version of the game is that your are limited to only 8 letters. This leaves many dinosaur names out of the game. I also find the cases very hard to open, but my son can open them easily enough so I suspect that is just me. There are plenty of tiles and we have never come across a word that needed more of any letter than we have. 

http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/board-games/hangman/1668082/


Stop back soon I hope to be adding more games daily.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Children's books that build character - chapter books - including dyslexia friendly titles.

I am including regular chapter books along with the smaller dyslexia friendly books published by Barrington Stoke. I have honestly been blown away by the quality of the writing and the number of books with very strong moral values published by Barrington Stoke. In addition to brilliant stories and strong values - Barrington Stoke is hands down the very best publisher for dyslexia friendly books. All the books are printed on thick cream coloured paper, in a specially designed font to make reading easier, with double spacing and frequent paragraph breaks. My own child does not suffer from dyslexia - but these books make reading easier for any young child.

Football Crazy by Tony Bradman and Michael Broad - dyslexia friendly. ****** +
This is a real gem for parents as well as for children. It should be required reading for anyone involved in youth sports. Tis book teaches children the real meaning of sportsmanship - as well as making clear that adults are not always in the right. This book features a group of football loving boys and a coach who will do anything to win - even cheat. Please se my complete review on The Bookbag - and excellent resource for new book reviews, with a good dyslexia friendly section as well.

http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=Football_Crazy_by_Tony_Bradman_and_Michael_Broad

Ninja: First Mission (Ninja Trilogy) by Chris Bradford and Sonia Leong - Dyslexia Friendly *****+
A unique blend of action and adventure with peace and tranquillity. This book has a lot in common with Zen Koans. It teaches a child to persevere and to make defeats into victories.
http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=Ninja:_First_Mission_(Ninja_Trilogy)_by_Chris_Bradford_and_Sonia_Leong

Cherry Green Story Queen by Annie Dalton and Charlie Adler - dyslexia friendly *****+
At first glance I would have expected this book to be a terribly shallow. Talk about a lesson in not judging a book by it's cover, this turned out to be one of the best books with a moral I have ever read. The story is deep, moving and unforgettable. It reminded me very much of the parable of the long spoons.
http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=Cherry_Green_Story_Queen_by_Annie_Dalton_and_Charlie_Adler


 Hagurosan by Darren Shan - dyslexia friendly ****
A very deep moving story for the more philosophical child. The story begins with a young child, living in a small village at the foot of a holy mountain. When he is told to take a small cake as an offering to the spirits of the shrine, he is disappointed as he would rather play with his friends, but he does as he is told. It is a long walk though and he soon grows hungry. Surely the gods will not mind if he has just a tiny nibble at the cake? But one nibble leads to another and by the time Hagurosan arrives at the shrine, he has eaten the whole cake. All children make mistakes, but what Hagurosan has done is a terrible offense in the culture he lives in. He isn't a bad child and confesses his crime to the spirits with great sorrow and fear. The spirits are not totally unkind. They take a liking to this child offering him one wish which he makes very unselfishly - but there are strings attached. He can stay with the spirits as they desire, making his home in the temple, or he can leave but his wish will not be fulfilled. It is a heavy burden for so young a child.
http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=Hagurosan_by_Darren_Shan

Varjak Paw - S.F. Said *****+
I would never have considered this book in a million years if not for the recommendation of a friend. A karate kitty just sounds a bit lame in my opinion, but this book is so much more, exploring the true meaning of karate as a way of life. This book deals wit prejudice, class, gangs and violence, but most of all it is a story of hope and redemption. Please see my complete review @
http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/junior-book/varjak-paw-s-f-said/1707834/
I would strongly suggest the review on dooyoo by Koshka as well.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Children's books that teach values.

Noguchi the Samurai
Wits are the greatest weapon of all and this is one of my very favourite children's books ever written.
Please see my complete review:
http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/junior-book/noguchi-the-samurai-burt-konzak/1549513/

The Empty Pot by Demi
Another of my very favourite books. Teaches honesty, courage, and giving your best effort. A beautiful story in which the emperor decides his successor by giving all the children a seed and seeing who can grow the most beautiful flower. Ping has always been a talented gardener, but his seed never grows. In all humility he presents the emperor with an empty pot, but there is a twist to this story and a wonderful moral.

Little Monkey's Journey: Retold in English and Chinese by Li Jan
Respect for parents, kindness, courage
http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/junior-book/little-monkey-s-journey-li-jian/1703394/

The Water Dragon A Chinese Legend - Jian Li
"Self discovery, kindness, helping others"
http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/junior-book/the-water-dragon-a-chinese-legend-jian-li/1704310/

Jin Jin The Dragon - Grace Chang
"Self discovery, kindness, helping others"
http://www.ciao.co.uk/Jin_Jin_the_Dragon_Grace_Chang__Review_6086970

Jin Jin and Rain Wizard by Grace Chang
How to right a wrong, courage, forgiveness,  and not being wasteful

Leo the Late Bloomer - Robert Kraus
Believing in yourself, giving everyone time to blossom
http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/junior-book/leo-the-late-bloomer-robert-kraus/

Tree of Cranes by Allen Say
Obedience and respect for parents, a mother's love.

The Koi Who Cried Wolf by Katina Lawdis
A beautifully illustrated and unique retelling of the famous tale.

The Snow Dragon by Vivian French
Courage, self sacrifice, love
http://members.dooyoo.co.uk/junior-book/the-snow-dragon-vivian-french/1453388/

The Muffin Muncher by Stephen Cosgrove
Helping others allows others to help you

Trafalgar True (Serendipity) by Stephen Cosgrove
sharing

Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
Zen Koans in an easy to understand format for children. We especially loved a story of Good Luck or bad luck - showing how what looks like a bad luck may work out for the best - or vise versa.

My Bedtime Anytime Story Book by V. Gilbert Beers

This one  was written by a prolific Christian author, and is wonderful for teaching Christian ethics, but does not specifically mention religion. It has wonderful lessons in life for friendship, honesty, forgiveness and more relevant to all children. It has lovely animal cartoon characters and is a wonderful collection of stories which are both fun and educational.

A moral education

 As a home educator, I'm always asking myself - have I covered every subject thoroughly? Have I left anything essential out? But one topic that I think many educators, both schools and homes forget about now is morals. How do I raise an ethical child? How do I teach my children values, ethics and morals? Of course example is probably the most important - and kids can really call you out if your actions fail to match with your words in this. Taking time to explain and discuss issues is also crucial, there are many teaching moments throughout each day, and home education means we are there for most of them. But another wonderful, time honoured, way to teach morals and values is through stories.


This is one of my favourite quotes
One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret,...
greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

I believe children are born basically good. But like all of us they must overcome  selfish urges and grow into good adults. As parents we need to help them feed the good Wolf.

My next post will be some of our favourite books to nourish the good within a child -  or adult.


Saturday, 7 September 2013

One of the best home ed items we have bought this year!

Toys of Wood Oxford Multifunctional Advanced Beads Puzzle & Threading Board

Most people buy back to school clothes, gym kits and stationary. We buy back to school toys. Of course do a lot more than just play, but play is an important part of our curriculum. I believe children retain what they learn better when they are having fun, but something like allows children to use several styles of learning. The manufacturer claims this is suitable for ages 3 -10. I originally scoffed at this idea, feeling 10 would be far too old for this toy, but seeing how much my 8 1/2 year old enjoys it, I've changed my mind.

WHAT'S IN THE BOX:

Wooden tray with a peg board lid. There are two grooves cut into the inside of the tray which can be used to hold the pegboard upright like an easel if desired.
360 wooden mushroom shaped pegs , various colours, small medium and large tops. the bottom of the peg is just under 1/2 centimetre in diameter. The pegs are nearly 1 centimetre tall. The height is the same for all of them , it is just the width of the mushroom part.
6 coloured laces.
5 wooden shapes for threading: cow, teddy bear, butterfly, fish
And instruction booklet showing several designs to make.

OVERALL QUALITY AND MANUFACTURING INFORMATION:

This toy is made in China. The Amazon ad states that it does conform to EC toy safety rules has a ISO 9002 Certificate and conforms to EN71. this doesn't mean much to me so I looked it up. EC toy safety is obvious, but the ISO 9002 certificate is a British standards certificate but now obsolete. EN71 refers to "European and International toy safety standards EN71"*

The overall quality of the toy can only be described as exceptional. The wood has a lovely smooth surface and the lid fits on top perfectly. The lacing figures are simple, they are all one colour, but also have a nice texture and appear very well made. I do suffer from tremors at times in my hands, and unfortunately this box really went flying shortly after purchase. I was delighted that it came out unscathed. The paint is thick and robust and appears unlikely to chip and thank goodness the whole box was put together well enough o withstand some impact, although obviously this is not recommended. My favourite part however, is the pegs. We do have plastic pegs as well, but these are so much nicer. I just the love the feel of real wood and so do the boys.

The instruction booklet is written in both Chines and English , and I'm afraid the translation is not very good. In one instance it reads "Don't keep the toy in the mouth to prevent children devour small parts of the toy". The English is not perfect, or even good, but it does get the point across, and in all honesty it is common sense anyway, You really shouldn't need an instruction book to advise you not to throw this toy at each other or to allow small children to eat the little pieces. The "Warning choking hazard - Small Parts. Not for children under 3 years" is clearly stamps as are a few other references to 3+. The majority of the instructions are illustrations so no text is needed but what I really like about the booklet is that it has the English word under most pictures accompanied by the Chinese symbol. I really like this as my children have had some interest in Chinese writing and I think it is wonderful for them to be exposed to this little taste of another culture.

WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH THIS?

I could write a book on what you can do with this toy. It is great fun simply to make pictures and allow for artistic expression. It is also wonderful to make geometric shapes and explore patterns. You can have fun creating half of a picture and allowing a child to create the other half. You can make pictures only from pegs, or by lacing the wooden shapes onto the board. Or you can use this as a threading board with strings alone, crisscrossing them back and forth to make designs or stitching out letters. The wooden shapes can also be used for tracing, or you can just stitch the threads in and out of the holes. You can play X's and o's with this , or even a simplified version of Go one of Albert Einstein's favourite games.

CHILD DEVELOPMENT:

Fine motor skills: The small mushroom pegs are perfect for encouraging children to develop a pincer grip. The threading and lacing activities help children develop the ability to use the hands asymmetric bilateral integration or the ability to use both hands at once in a different task. Both lacing and using the pegs improves hand / eye coordination.

Literacy: The ability to recognise patterns is a key skill required in emergent literacy. You can start with something as simple as a two colour pattern and allow the child to guess which colour comes next. If your child makes a picture, you can use pegs to spell out the word underneath. The main reason I bought this though is letter recognition. First I make the letter with pegs, then encourage my child to feel the shape of the letter. As he does I say the letter name and sound, and we think of words which begin with it. Next he makes the letter himself. He ends up using all of his senses in this activity, sight, touch, sound and even critical thought as he thinks about where to place the next peg.

Maths: You can discuss small, medium and large as you pick out mushroom pegs. The manufacturer suggests doing simple sums on this, but we didn't find that very interesting. But a child can learn multiplication easily using blocks of pegs. An example would be to find the total for three rows of eight. This is excellent for discovering factors as well as a child discovers how many different patterns he or she can make with a set number of pegs. You can practice simple division with remainder as well, or use pegs to represent number values such as blue for ones, red for tens etc... - or you could just use the pegs to count.

Geometry: This does not make a perfect circle, but it is nice for more angular shapes, and allows children to learn the shapes through touch just as we did with the letters. You can also show how some shapes can combine to make others. You can make wonderful geometric patterns as well.

Multicultural: Try making some of the Chinese characters along with the picture. You might also read a book about Chinese writing. I would recommend Jin Jin The Dragon by Grace Chang and The Pet Dragon by Christoph Niemann.

Art and colour recognition are fairly obvious so I won't go into these.

DOWNSIDES:

I only have two problems with this set. First I wish you would buy more pegs as with only 360 pegs and 550 holes you can not fill the whole board. The second issue is that while the lid fits perfectly, it does not attach, so this can spill easily, and believe me, you do not want 360 pegs rolling about the floor. To solve this, either make sure the pegs are kept in the plastic baggies, or get a pencil case to keep them as I did. A soft pencil cases fits easily in this, along with all the other bits, and I even had room for an extra set of wooden shapes which I bought separately. There are two notches at the top and bottom of this set. I place a rubber band over the whole box, fitting into the notches to hold everything together and it works perfectly.

PRICE AND RECOMMENDED EXTRAS:

This set sells for £13.99 new and delivered from Amazon, fulfilled by Toys of Wood Oxford.

As mentioned, you can not buy additional wooden pegs for this set. However, you can buy plastic ones. They aren't as nice, but they are fairly cheap. Amazon charges £18.49 for five plastic pegboards and 1,000 pegs but I bought the 1,000 pegs alone for roughly £5 on ebay. I have also added a beautiful set of wooden lacing seaside animals from ELC, and as luck would have it, they even fir in the box. Finally I bought of Miniland plastic letters for sewing. These letters can be stitched directly onto the board with the threads, as can the ELC animals. The possibilities are absolutely endless as Amazon has quite a few lacing and threading toys that could easily be added to this.

OUR OPINION:

My sons are ages 5 and 8. Both really enjoy this toy, and I have to admit, I do as well. There are just so many things you can do with this. I think we could have this for years and still find new and different uses for it. Because this toy does have such massive amount of different uses, it never grows boring, you can always find a new game or activity. I love this because it keeps learning fun and really is helping my son with pre reading skills and fine motor coordination. My sons love it simply because it is fun. If dooyoo allowed 1/2 star ratings, I would drop this to 4 1/2 stars because you can not buy replacement parts. We are very careful with small parts, but if you can't be sure these will always be put away properly, this mightn't be a good choice as you will not be able to replace them. I can't bring myself to drop this to 4 stars though as the boys both love it, it has had hours of play already, and it is educational as well.

# How to play a children's version of Go or Goe:
Go is an ancient Chinese games, dating back at least 2,500 years. It is meant to be played on black line, but in this case, we can play it with holes. The idea is simple. Each player gets a colour. You take turns placing pegs. The idea is to surround your opponents pegs. Whenever a group of pegs is surrounded by another colour, with no open space in which to move, they are captured and must be removed. This is actually a highly complicated game using maths and logic, and we do not attempt the correct scoring. For a children's game, we simply count up the number of pegs on the board after a set time and whoever has the most wins. If you wish to play the game in it's true form, you Google "How to Play Go"

*Wikipedia.

This review also appears on dooyoo