Teacher gifts made easy: GroupTogether

 Mum, Sales & Savings  Comments Off on Teacher gifts made easy: GroupTogether
Nov 042016


One look at your family calendar (or your fridge doors) and you know it’s almost December: End of year concerts and performances, invitations and sign-up forms, school camp, family BBQs, work parties and of course your Christmas shopping list, it’s hard to keep track of it all! As much as you try to remember everything you will find there is always something you forgot, like the famous ‘teacher gift’ that tends to sneak up on busy parents.


The clever Aussie mamas behind GroupTogether understand that parents are often short of time, which is why they have created a fabulous online service that takes the hassle out of collecting money for a group gift.

GroupTogether is super simple to use, just set up your group collection online and they will take care of the rest. All contributions are safely made online, making it convenient and easy for every parent to chip in a few bucks. Our lives are so busy that we do not have the time to organise collections and to chase and remind other parents, that’s why GroupTogether does the regular reminding for you saving you any awkwardness or hassle.

grouptogether-cardGroupTogether will then bundle the contributions and transfer all the money to your bank account so you can buy an awesome present that is sure to wow the teacher. Instead of every child spending $10 on yet another mug, box of chocolates or a pot plant, a class of 25 could surprise the teacher with an amazing $250 get-away or shopping spree. You can even print off a card that includes personal messages from all the families who joined in, what a great keepsake!

There is plenty more to love about GroupTogether: Parents can choose to share the love by donating a small percentage of their contribution to charity, there is no paperwork involved making it environment friendly, you can ask all parents to contribute a specific amount (keeping it fair) or allow them to chip in as much or as a little as they can (respecting family budgets), you are never left short changed or out of pocket and, being an online service, GroupTogether is quick and convenient for everyone, including working parents, to use.

Hip tip: Do you want to see for yourself what everyone is talking about? Click this link to try GroupTogether for FREE, just in time to organise the perfect end-of-year gift for your child’s favourite teacher.

Apr 212016


With the school holidays now in full swing the kids are spending hours on end at the kitchen table with markers, crayons, pencils and a huge stack of paper. But they are not the only who enjoy a bit of colour therapy, I am quite loving the relaxation myself too. The art and craft experts at Crayola believe that colouring in is great entertainment for all ages, which is why they have expanded their range with a special collection just for grown-ups:

Crayola Colouring

The Crayola ‘Adult Colouring’ Range is designed specifically for creative adults with premium fine-line markers and pencils in a rainbow of beautiful colours. I am secretly hoping hubby reads this hint and surprises me with a lovely stash for Mother’s Day…

Crayola Coloured PencilsIf you love soft shades and the ability to control the depth of your colour the Crayola Adult Coloring Colored Pencils (RRP $19.99, 50 pack) are your perfect pick. A light touch will give you a lighter colour which you can darken by adding layers or shadows, there is so much room for variety. With 50 different colours per pack the options are endless, seeing all these pretty pencils laid out is a joy for the senses.

Crayola Fine Line Markers ClassicOn the other hand, if you like the solid look of a deep, warm felt tip marker you will certainly enjoy the Crayola Adult Coloring Fine Line Markers (RRP $7.99, 12-pack). Thanks to their fine tip you can pull off thin lines and tiny details with great precision, staying in the lines is easy with this colourful bunch. I have to admit I am usually more a pencil-lover but these vibrant markers really are amazing to work with.

Crayola Fine Line Markers ContemporaryThe fine line markers are available in two different colour ways: the Classic Colors 12-pack is filled with bold, traditional shades and the Contemporary Colors 12-pack contains a slightly softer, modern colour palette. Now if only I had a cleaner and a cook to take care of my household so I could spend a few hours dreaming away above my new colouring book…sounds like bliss to me!

To find out more about Crayola, to browse the range and to locate a stockist near you visit www.crayola.com.au.

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Dec 152015

Exisle Publishing

Christmas Countdown – Day 15

As we get closer to the end of the year many people are busy making New Year resolutions and a big diet overhaul is often on top of the list. Unhealthy habits can sneak in easily so make sure you give your little ones a great start in life with healthy, nutritious meals from the very first spoonful. Not sure where to start? Little Foodie has got every bite covered:

Little Foodie

Little Foodie (RRP $24.99) is a playful and practical cookbook for modern parents who want to look further than simple puree and mash and care about what food their children eat and where it came from.

Lovingly created by mum Michele Olivier, writer of the blog Baby FoodE, and nutritionist Sara Peternell this refreshing cookbook is filled with delicious and nutritious step-by-step recipes using whole foods, herbs, and spices. If the sound of kale and quinoa, pinto beans and coconut milk, organic and farm-to-table gets your tastebuds tingling you are going to love Little Foodie.

With 200+ pages of culinary delights there is plenty of cooking to be done. Starting at little foodies of just 4 months old up to cheeky toddlers, including the transition to the family table, Little Foodie is a kitchen must-have that you’ll grab over and over again. Aside from the recipes the book also offers a valuable insight in the way we cook, the foods we choose and the way they affect us and the planet, a real eyeopener.

Our Harriet is almost three months old so it won’t be long until we can start whipping up some of these lovely recipes, I am excited! With appealing names like ‘Peach + Strawberry + Vanilla Bean’, ‘Rustic Pear + Oat Porridge + Cloves’ and ‘Baby’s First Thai Beef + Broccoli’ you almost wish you could dig into a serve of scrumptious baby food yourself too.

To find out more about Exisle Publishing, to take a closer look at ‘Little Foodie’ and to order a copy online visit www.exislepublishing.com.au.

For your chance to win 1 of 2 copies of Little Foodie (RRP $24.99) enter our giveaway below:

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LeapTV, the new way to learn and play

 Toys, Books & Movies  Comments Off on LeapTV, the new way to learn and play
Nov 292014

If you have been browsing all the latest toy catalogues in preparation for Christmas you have no doubt spotted the exciting new arrival from LeapFrog, an innovative educational video gaming system for children aged 3-8 called LeapTV. I can hear you thinking: ‘Aren’t those kids a bit too young to play video games?’ Normally I would agree with you but on the other hand I am a big LeapFrog fan and have seen firsthand the positive effects their learning games have on my children so I set out to find out more…

There is no denying it, most children (including my own) find video games super interesting, they love the fast paced action on the big screen and the feelings of independence and being in charge that come with holding a controller. The problem is that the majority of games available are simply not suitable for young children, the content is too grown-up, the games are too difficult and while they are enjoyable kids learn very little from them.

LeapTVLeapFrog is on a mission to make video gaming fun, educational, child friendly and child appropriate so it gets the thumbs up from little players and passes the test for caring parents and experienced educators at the same time. Through LeapTV children have access to 70+ LeapFrog educator-approved games and videos that will have children develop important skills like reading, maths, science and creativity while playing. Get ready to jump, dance, point, swing, hop, fly and more with LeapTV.

We have been testing LeapTV for a few weeks with our 3 oldest children (6 year old twins and a 4 year old) and as they are familiar with LeapFrog learning through their LeapPads it didn’t take them long to work out what to do. Setting up LeapTV is very straight forward, it’s quick and effortless and the chunky, ergonomically shaped controller (with wrist strap!) is really simple to use for small hands. Instructions are clear and spoken out loud so even not-yet-readers can play, honestly they could not have made it any simpler.

LeapTV ControllerThere are three ways to play LeapTV and different games call for different ways of play which keeps play varied and interesting. For Classic Control and Pointer Play you need the controller, either with the handles together the traditional way or full length as a pointer, Body Motion is controller free and gives your child all the freedom to move around while burning lots of energy.

Just like other LeapFrog computer games LeapTV requires you to set up user profiles for your children. By doing so their LeapTV experience will be personalised and age appropriate and as your child gets better the games will automatically get trickier so it stays challenging. You can add multiple users and depending on the game you can play with 1-4 players so it’s the perfect shared present for siblings this Christmas.

LeapTV Pointer PlayWe have been playing LeapTV Sports which is likes a sports carnival, there is a fun sport for everyone and I love that the games are short so it’s an ideal way to keep the kids entertained while you cook dinner or a quick play before bed. From bowling to rope climbing and from skate boarding to karate, it was great entertainment for the whole family. All the sports are different so it keeps little brains active eg. bowling requires Pointer Play, skate boarding asks for Classic Control and rope climbing is controlled by Body Motion.

Throughout the games players are practising math, patterns and shapes by eg. skateboarding along the right pattern, balancing the weights in strength training, hitting the base ball through numbered hoops and chopping shapes in karate.

LeapTV Dance & LearnThere are currently 9 LeapTV games available and new titles will be released as the library grows, each game has different learning areas so you can pick the titles that are most beneficial for your child’s development. Featuring popular characters like Pixar Pals, Spiderman and Dora the Explorer the LeapTV software library is going to be a hit all boys and girls. I am hoping to soon try out LeapTV Dance & Learn and LeapTV Sofia the First so we’ll keep you in the loop as we explore the world of LeapTV.

The LeapTV Gaming System (RRP $229) consists of a sleek and stylish LeapTV base station, a LeapTV camera/motion detector and a LeapTV controller, the bonus customisable Pet Play World game is downloadable upon registration. Additional controllers (RRP $39.99) and LeapTV game cartridges (RRP $49.99) are sold separately.

To find out more about LeapFrog, to order online or to locate stockist near you visit www.leapfrog.com.au.

Screentime with Disney Infinity: Lazy Leisure or Valuable Learning?

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Oct 112014

Disney Infinity 2.0

With just over 10 weeks to go until Christmas and the first toy catalogues hitting the letterboxes already many keen kids have already started making their wish lists. If your child is one of them there is a big chance the brand spanking new Disney Infinity 2.0 Starter Pack, which is said to be one of the top gifts for under the tree this year, is proudly parked on the no.1 spot:

Disney Infinity 2.0

Featuring hugely popular Marvel Superheroes characters from The Avengers, Spiderman and Guardians of the Galaxy this new Disney Infinity release has already gained a large fan base around the globe. As we all know technology constantly changes so Disney has taken the best of the original Disney Infinity 1.0 and combined it with a range of other exciting features to create Disney Infinity 2.0 (for compatibility between the two releases click here). With more than 20 new characters, amazing new worlds and missions and of course the never ending possibilities of the Disney Infinity Toy Box Disney Infinity 2.0 really offers play without limits.

Captain-AmericaOn one hand we’ve all heard the warnings about kids and computer games and the effects too much screen time can have on children, at the same time it is getting harder and harder to avoid computer and TV screens completely so it’s all about going with the times and finding the right balance. Obviously I am not an expert in this field but Daniel Donahoo most certainly is and he is happy to share his knowledge with parents, teachers and kids who are keen to get the most out of their screen time.

SpidermanAs an established author, researcher and speaker Daniel knows all about digital technology, learning, games, play and community, he is also a father of four who wants the best for his children. He has years of experience under his belt working across the child and family sector in government, private and research roles and is widely recognised for the development of new ideas and insights, delivery of innovative early childhood programs, policies and research in Australia and overseas.

Daniel is currently working with schools and students to research the role of pop culture and established characters on students’ storytelling capacity and literacy development. Daniel’s exciting new initiative called Infinity Learning explores the use of the Disney Infinity platform as a tool for teaching game design and facilitating game-based learning in schools. I guess we can safely say he knows all the ins and outs of Disney Infinity!

Here are Daniel’s best tips for turning your child’s screen time from lazy leisure into a valuable learning experience:

How can parents support learning through games?

  1. Make time to play games with your children. It is important that you venture into your children’s world and understand what they play and why. The best way to do this is play with them.
  2. Ask your children questions while they play. It only takes 5 minutes to ask your child, “What are you doing now?” while they play a compter game. But, this question means they have to critically think about what they are doing and explain it back to you which offers a short, but deep learning experience.
  3. Buy a diverse range of games. When buying games as gifts, don’t always default to the popular first person shooters. Consider games like Disney Infinity 2.0, Minecraft, Little Big Planet or Portal 2 that offer game environments that promote creativity and problem solving.
  4. Encourage Play Beyond the Screen. Disney Infinity 2.0 makes this easy with physical versions of characters to play with, but once screentime ends you can encourage children to tell stories, make stop motion animations or create a non-digital game based on their favorite console game or Disney character, for example.
  5. Recognise children are always learning. Even older children learn through play. Play and experiences are how we all learn and by parents realizing that the digital games our children play are more than just fun, helps us see how we can build and strengthen learning out of the games our children play.

Screentime Tips for the Home

  1. Not all screens are equal. Watching a TV show is different to playing a computer game where you build your own world. And, watching a nature documentary is different to watching reality television. It is not enough to just limit access to screens, consider how you create “active” screentime where children engage with the screen, rather than “passive” screen time where they are just watching.
  2. Don’t feel guilty. Everything in moderation. Parents are made to feel that using screens as babysitters is a bad thing. However, we need to be aware that sometimes we need the space to make dinner or get something done. That is ok, but we need to make sure we don’t do it all the time. Even kids need some down time to just play a game or watch their show, just don’t do it all weekend.
  3. Share the screen with your child. You don’t have to do it always, but watch a TV show with your child and talk about what you are watching. If you give them your phone, sometimes play a game with them or take turns on your favourite smartphone game. By making screentime a shared experience it is a different and more beneficial one for children.

What can I use Disney Infinity 2.0 for?

  1. Design your own game. You can create any type of game from a platformer to a pinball game or an 3D adventure game full of mazes, traps and enemies. Disney Infinity 2.0 makes it easier than ever to build amazing games.
  2. Learn to code. When making games, you will learn to code. To make games you need to learn logic programming and Disney Infinity 2.0 makes this a very simple process, so rather than wasting time on typing and cutting and pasting text, you are clicking and connecting items to make them do amazing things in your game.
  3. Make your own animated story. You can use the characters you know from your favorite movies to make your own stories and tales. Use the built in cameras that come in the Toy Box to create small movies and scenes where the Avengers rescue Donald Duck or, where Donald Duck rescues the Avengers.
  4. The Toy Box in Disney Infinity 2.0 is an amazing space for exploration and experimentation in a digital world. You can play around and see what toys can be programmed and connected to what other toys to create new and different results.
  5. Create your school project. Ask your teacher if you can do your next school project in Disney Infinity. You could use the real world physics aspects of the Toy Box to demonstrate a physics problem, you could create a game that shows you understand fractions or design a world that helps you explain how different biomes work. There are simply no limits.

To find out more about Disney Infinity, to see what’s new in Disney Infinity 2.0 (RRP $99.95) and to locate a stockist near you visit www.disneyinfinity.com.au.

May 302014

When I fell pregnant with the twins I expected life to get pretty crazy but nothing in the world could have prepared me for those first six months. It was an exhausting, overwhelming and also special time of feeding around the clock, there were many days were I could hardly keep my eyes open and stayed in pyjamas all day long. I vividly remember the sound of two screaming babies waiting for their bottle which could never come fast enough, but as a tired mum you can only go so fast when it’s 2am!

Perfect PrepA few weeks ago I found myself unexpectedly with a tin of formula in my hand again, after months and months of worrying our paediatrician decided miss Sybbie (15 months old) really needed to put on weight so she has been prescribed Neocate to add extra calories to her very limited diet. With several bottles to be made up every day (and night) I figured it was the perfect opportunity to put the new Closer to Nature Perfect Prep™ machine to the test.

Most of you will know Closer to Nature® from its popular baby products: from breastfeeding to bottle feeding products, from soothers to nappy disposal systems, from cups to tableware and much more, they’ve got Australian families covered. Closer to Nature® is all about making a parent’s life easier with practical, innovative products and that’s exactly what the Closer to Nature Perfect Prep™ machine will do for bottle feeding parents.

Perfect Prep machineThe brand new Perfect Prep™ machine has been created with busy, sleep deprived parents (aren’t we all?) in mind. This super clever bottle preparation unit takes the guess work out of making your baby’s bottle. No more fussing with jugs of filtered water, messing around with boiled water that takes ages to cool down and carefully filling each bottle with the right amount, let the Perfect Prep™ do it for you!

Preparing a bottle feed sounds so simple but there is actually quite a bit involved, the Perfect Prep™ machine makes this process easier and combines three of those steps in one clever machine. The Perfect Prep™ machine:

  • Filters tap water to make it clean and safe for your baby
  • Warms the water to the correct feeding temperature in less than 2 minutes
  • Accurately dispenses the exact amount of water needed to make up your baby’s bottle
  • Bonus: Uses an initial ‘hot shot’ of water to kill bacteria that may be present in the formula powder

The three words that came to mind when I first saw the Perfect Prep™ machine were stylish, modern and compact, it was much smaller than I expected it to be (based on the pictures). The neutral white unit is very good looking and it will fit right in on your kitchen bench next to your coffee machine. I’ll be honest and admit that I am not a fan of appliances with lots of buttons, I prefer simple and straight forward so I was relieved to see the Perfect Prep only has one major button (plus three smaller ones that you don’t use that often) and an easy-to-use setting dial. All in all it is a great design for tired mothers, clumsy dads, grandparents and baby sitters.

Closer to Nature Perfect Prep

Before first use a cleaning cycle is required, after this only when the filter is replaced (the filter has a 150L capacity so not very often) or when unused for a while. The process takes just 10 minutes but it is a great way to familiarise yourself with the design and the way the different components go together. To prepare a bottle simply place a clean bottle under the outlet, set the setting dial to the right feed size (120ml-330ml) and press the start button. A small amount of hot water will be dispensed, a solid red light comes on and a double beep sounds.

Perfect Prep Step 1

Time to add your formula and shake the bottle, the hot water will kill bacteria that may have been hiding in the powder. You have two minutes to finish this first part, then it’s time to complete the second and final step. Place the bottle back under the outlet, press the start button again and the remainder of the water will be dispensed. Once finished a double beep will sound and a solid green light comes on, give your bottle a last shake and your baby’s feed is ready and at perfect temperature.

Perfect Prep Step 2

The Perfect Prep™ machine is fitted with lots of handy features e.g. an adjustable bottle platform so your bottle always sits close to the outlet no matter how small/tall your bottle is, a tank empty warning light so you know when it’s time to top up the tank, under the lid of the water tank you’ll find a handy oz vs ml conversion chart (different brands use different measurements) and much more. However what I love most is that you can control the unit with just one button, when you are tired, busy or have a grumpy baby on your arm this is a real sanity saver.

Two small notes: The Perfect Prep™ setting dial has 8 different feed sizes to choose from, starting at 120ml going up to 330ml with 30ml increments. This corresponds with the way the majority of baby formulas are prepared but on rare occasions a different water quantity may be required that cannot be selected on the setting dial. The beep sound is not very quiet which is good for sleepy parents but I do suggest keeping the unit in the kitchen so you don’t accidentally wake up other children while making up your baby’s feed.

At Closer to Nature® they understand that preparing your baby’s bottle isn’t always straight forward, which is why they have created the Perfect Prep™ machine. Specifically designed to make preparing bottles quicker and more accurate this clever device makes a fresh bottle at just the right serving temperature in less than 2 minutes so your baby’s bottle will be perfect every time. The Perfect Prep™ machine is designed to fit most bottle shapes and sizes. You can find the Perfect Prep™ machine (RRP $249.95) at Babies R Us stores across Australia and online at www.babiesrus.com.au.

For all the latest news and special promotions join the conversation on the Closer to Nature Facebook page or follow Closer to Nature on Twitter.

To find out more about Closer to Nature, to browse the range and to locate a stockist near you visit www.closertonaturebaby.com.au.

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Calling in sick

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Feb 242014

As you may know I am originally from The Netherlands and moved here in 2006 to marry my wonderful Aussie husband. Last week marked 7.5 years since I came here, just me with one suitcase ready to start a new life in a new country. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my choice and would do it again in a heartbeat but I have to be honest, it is not easy living so far away from your family.

Opa meeting Olivia for the first time at 5 weeks old

Opa meeting Olivia for the first time at 5 weeks old

I miss them on birthdays and Mother’s Day, at Christmas time and school performances and on many ordinary days where I would love to just see, and spend time with, my parents and siblings (it makes me terribly sad that my children have to grow up without their grandparents around). I also miss them on days like today, I have been feeling under the weather for a few weeks now and I know my mum and dad would immediately come and help me out at home and with the kids if only they had been closer.

Opa and Juliet

Opa and Juliet

Before the children were born I could just hop in bed at the first sign of a cold or fever, leave the housework be for a day or two and rest up until better. Now that I am a mum ‘calling in sick’ is not an option anymore, who would look after the kids, prepare our meals and stay on top of our rather huge laundry pile? There is no time to sit and rest, it’s just a case of some aspirin to beat any fever and provide quick pain relief to help keep me going. Hopefully I’ll be all chirpy again soon but if you don’t hear from me tomorrow you can find me in bed!

Opa with Tommie and Olivia

Opa with Tommie and Olivia

Speaking of sick family members, don’t forget that we have two of the very handy ‘Unravelling the Magic of Discovery’ parenting guides from Nurofen to give away, a very handy book for parents full of useful advice and interesting insights to make life with little ones a bit easier. You can read my original post here or you can take a short cut and enter below.

P.S. Next holiday I will definitely make some more snaps of Oma with her grand children and of course both of them meeting Sybbie for the first time, I can’t believe she’ll be almost 18

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