Reviewed by Melody Floyde
As every parent knows getting children ready for going back to school after the long summer holidays or, in our case, starting school for the very first time can be a stressful and expensive time. The shops are full of a vast array of items from uniforms, to shoes, from bags to lunch boxes and in all honesty it can be quite baffling to know what is actually needed and what to choose to buy as there is so much choice.
So being asked to review a number of potential back to school items for this review couldn’t have come at a better time, our 4 year old son has just started in reception class and we have needed to buy everything in readiness for the big day.
While the majority of school trousers available on the high street are made from polyester or similar, EcoOutfitters boys school trousers are made from 100% organic cotton and are not treated with any chemicals meaning that they are great for children, helping to keep them cool and comfortable during the long school day, and are also kind to the environment. We were sent a pair of grey boys’ classic fit trouser to test.
My initial impression is that the material feels soft and good quality. The trousers have an elasticated adjustable waist which is great for my son who, although tall for his age, has a narrow waist so trousers tend to fall down on him and so these stay in place perfectly. There are also belt loops if these are needed and it is easy for him to pull the trousers up and down as there is no fastening to contend with. The trousers have two side pockets which are fairly deep, and the hem and all other seams are very neatly and securely stitched.
The trousers are generously sized, we tried a pair of 4/5 years and these were large on our 4 year old son, who is tall for his age. It says on the label that, as the trousers have not been treated with any chemicals to prevent shrinkage, they will shrink by approximately 5% in length when first washed. Having tried the trousers before and after washing they did shrink slightly but are still a generous fit so plenty of growing room left.
One observation was that the trousers did remind me of a pair of chinos rather than smart school trousers, and they did require more careful ironing compared to the cheaper polyester trousers. The trousers retail at £18.95 to £20.95 (depending on size) which is a lot more than I would usually pay for clothes for my son, but they are good quality and they would definitely be comfortable and cool, especially during the warmer months.
I would rate these 4.5 out of 5, the only negative being that they were difficult to iron. For more information or to buy visit www.ecooutfitters.co.uk.
As children have so many things to take to school with them, they are going to need at least one bag plus a book bag to carry these in.
The book bag from My Sister Mabel is a fantastic handmade book bag which retails for £12. The designer only makes a few (if not one) of each design so the bag is fairly much guaranteed to be unique. Our bag is made from funky bright coloured oilcloth fabric in blue and white stars, with a green and white polka dot flap. The handle is made of red nylon and the bag is lined with lovely soft cream material. There is a strip of Velcro to keep the bag closed and a small red tag attached to the bag with the company name. The finishing is very high quality and looks as though it has been lovingly made, as you would expect from a handmade item.
This bag is an absolutely brilliant alternative to the generic book bags given to children when they start school and will be so easy to spot on my son’s peg. An added bonus is that being made of oilcloth the bag will be waterproof so will keep the books inside dry, and should also be very easy to wipe clean when it starts to look a bit grubby from being carried to and from school every day. I would definitely recommend this book bag and rate it 5 out of 5. For more information or to buy visit www.mysistermabel.bigcartel.com.
The Personalised Spaceboy Rucksack from My 1st Years is a lovely compact rucksack for younger children who would be going to either nursery or reception class. It is made of a navy blue nylon material with a cute space rocket, planets and stars design. There is a zipped main compartment and a smaller zipped compartment on the front. The back is made of padded navy material and the straps are padded and adjustable. There is also a good sized loop for hanging the bag onto a peg.
An added bonus is that the rucksack can be personalised with the child’s first name, which is stitched onto the front of the bag. There is a selection of colours and fonts for this, ours has been done in cream ‘cambria’ and this really stands out well on the bag. This helps to make the bag unique and it will be easy to identify whose bag it is.
The bag is actually a lot smaller than I had anticipated, measuring approximately 28cm x 21cm x 10cm so wouldn’t hold a lot of things, but it is an ideal size for a small child to carry a few bits in and fits our son’s yumbox very well! It was also unclear if the material would be waterproof as it did not appear to have a waterproof backing like other bags I have seen.
The bag retails at £20, which, in my opinion, is rather on the expensive side for this item, however it did arrive in a lovely large pale blue gift box and was wrapped in tissue paper so would make an ideal gift for a child who was starting nursery or school.
I would rate this rucksack 3.5 out of 5. For more information or to buy visit www.my1styears.com.
For older children the Dickies Creston Backpack would make a great school bag. It is a large and roomy rucksack, measuring approximately 43cm x 33cm x 14cm and feels great quality. The bag is classic and understated being plain black apart from small Dickies logos on the front, on one of the straps and on the zips. There is a large main compartment, with a zipped pocket inside for storing valuables. There is also another zipped compartment on the front of the bag and a mesh pouch on the side which would be ideal for holding a water bottle. The straps are padded and adjustable and feel very comfortable when the bag is worn.
The bag is made from polyester with a pvc backing (on the front and sides), which I imagine would keep all the belongings inside dry in the event of the child being caught in a rain shower on the way to or from school or college. This bag is also an absolute bargain retailing at just £12.00.
I would rate this bag 5 out of 5. For more information or to buy visit www.dickiesstore.co.uk.
The Yumbox is a bento style lunchbox designed for children that encourages healthy eating by making it easy to pack a balanced meal, which includes all of the main food groups, in the correct portion sizes for toddlers through to 8 year olds.
We were sent a classic six section Yumbox in ananas yellow, which is ideal for both boys and girls. The yumbox consists of a very sturdy yellow plastic box with a blue clip (measuring approx. 22cm x 15cm x 5cm), and a removable clear plastic tray which is divided into six sections to allow for portions of the main food groups – dairy, protein, fruit, grains, veggies and also a dip. The tray has a circus theme which my son loved and I would imagine this helps to encourage children to eat their lunch so that they can see the pictures underneath each section when they have finished.
The great thing about the Yumbox is that you can pack wet and dry foods in the same box and they don’t mix. This is because of the rubber seal inside the lid, which is divided into sections to correspond to the tray below. I packed a lunch for my son that included carrot sticks, yogurt, apple slices, rice cakes and cheese, which we took for a picnic and I was very impressed that everything had stayed where it should with no mixing or leaking even though the box had been carried in a rucksack for a while before eating.
Another bonus is that the tray can be washed in the dishwasher (top rack) and the outer box just requires a wipe before the next use as it doesn’t get dirty during use.
The only, very small, negative I could find with the Yumbox is that it does seem fairly heavy for a small child to carry but the weight is only because the box is so sturdy and made of such good quality materials. I can testify to this as my son dropped the yumbox onto our hard kitchen floor the first time he opened it and there was no damage!
The Yumbox retails at £24.95, which is expensive for a lunchbox, but in my opinion it is worth the money for a box that will last a long time and encourage my son to eat healthily. I would give the Yumbox 5 out of 5! For more information or to buy visit www.eatwell-uk.co.uk.
Once all the school items have been purchased there is then the arduous task of labelling every single item. This is where Mabels Labels Write Away Labels come in.
These labels are a fantastic idea; they can be used to label items such as lunch boxes and drink bottles (they are not suitable for clothing or fabrics) and are waterproof, microwave and dishwasher safe. They come in packs of 30 with funky designs. Ours were boy’s labels and had pictures such as pirate ships, skateboards and cars which our son loved.
The labels are very cleverly designed and can easily be personalised, using a permanent marker to write the child’s name. Each label has a clear top overlay which, when the label has been written, sticks down and seals the label so that it is waterproof. As far as I can tell this works as I have washed my son’s drinks bottle and lunchbox several times and the labels still look as good as new.
The only negative I found with these labels was that, as the labels are super sticky, you need to make sure that you have the label exactly where you want it before sticking it to the item, as once stuck down it does not budge. I discovered this to my peril and we did end up with a couple of creased labels before I perfected the technique! But this is more user error than a flaw with the product and I would highly recommend these to anyone. I would rate these labels 5 out of 5. For more information visit www.mabelslabels.com.
The Victoria Chart Company ‘My Growing Up Chart’ is a fantastic way to encourage children (4+ years) to model good behaviour. As my son has just started school there are lots of changes he is getting used to and new things he has to do, for example putting his uniform on and making sure he is ready for school in time. The reward chart is a great idea to help him to feel motivated to do these well.
The pack includes a large glossy reward chart (approx. 64cm x 28cm) with eight sections and space to write the child’s name, a dry wipe pen, sticky pads for mounting the chart and a selection of activity and reward stickers. There is also a very detailed guidance leaflet which explains very clearly how to use the chart and gives ideas for the types of behaviour that can be rewarded and setting targets for these.
The activity stickers are illustrated with pictures of characters, some of the activities are standard but there are also blank ones so that children can set their own personal activities to be rewarded for. Everything in the pack feels very good quality. In particular the stickers are very substantial and the whole chart is reusable.
My son was very excited to open up the chart and to stick it up in his bedroom. We looked through the activity stickers together and chose some of the standard activities, for example ‘I dressed myself’ and ‘I enjoyed school’ and we also set some personal goals including ‘I got ready for school quickly’ and ‘I was kind to my brother’. We also decided that when he reached ten stickers for a certain activity then he would get a small reward.
Each night we have been looking at the chart together before bed and sticking the stickers for each activity he has done. The stickers are numbered from 1 – 20 so each time he completes an activity he gets the next numbered sticker, or if he has done it very well he gets a star sticker instead. He has been so excited to complete his reward chart each night and we’ve really noticed a difference in his motivation. We’ve managed to catch the school bus every morning!
The only negatives I have found with this chart is that the pen provided does smudge very easily, so we have had to rewrite his name and activities several times already. And also the chart is American so a lot of the activities do have the American spellings rather than English ones. But overall this is a fantastic product and I would rate it 4.5 out of 5. For more information visit www.vchart.co.uk.
A great, fun, way to encourage children to practice what they have been learning at school is by playing games at home when all the family can get involved together. Orchard Toys is a British company who make a huge range of educational toys and puzzles for young children which are fantastic quality and bright and appealing, with lots of fun pictures and characters. We were sent two games to review:
The Match and Spell game (£7.50) is a first reading and spelling game aimed at children aged 4+. The game comes in a brightly coloured and illustrated cardboard box with a carry handle. Inside the box are 20 double sided word boards (three and four letter words) and 68 letter cards. There is also a detailed instruction leaflet.
The word boards are brightly coloured, with the letters printed very clearly and illustrations for each word too. This enabled our 4 year old son, who cannot yet read, to know what the words that he was trying to make were.
The overall aim of the game is to encourage children to recognise letters and to make words with them, but it is versatile in that there are different ways in which the game can be played depending on the level that the child is at, so the games get more difficult as the child progresses with their reading.
Initially for Game 1 all the letter cards are placed face up in the centre of the table and each player chooses a word card, which is also placed face up with the letters showing. Players then have to find all the matching letter cards to place on their boards in the correct order, and are encouraged to say each letter sound as they place the letter. Once the word has been completed the player reads the word and then chooses another word card to complete. This continues until all word boards have been used.
Our son really enjoyed playing the game and was so proud each time he found a letter and knew what it was, and was very keen to play again (which isn’t always the case with games!). As he gains confidence in recognising letters we will move onto the more difficult games for example playing with blank word cards so he will have to sound out and spell the words himself. There is also the option for memory games.
Another good point is that the game can be either played alone or with up to four players. This is great as our son was very happy to sit down on his own and have a go at making some of the words (although he didn’t have the concentration span to try all 20 in one sitting!)
I loved this game, it is educational but fun at the same time and I would rate it 5 out of 5.
The Slug in a Jug game (£7.50) is another great educational game from Orchard Games. Again the game comes in a compact, brightly coloured and illustrated box and looks very visually appealing. Inside the box are 48 sturdy cards each with a brightly coloured picture and a word on and a detailed instruction leaflet.
This game is aimed at children aged 5-9 and is for 2-4 players. It has three different game options; these are to make silly sentences; find the rhymes or to match rhyming pairs. The overall aim of all the games is basically to find word cards that rhyme to either make sentences using the rhyming words or to pair words that rhyme and to score points for these.
As our son is only 4 and can’t yet read so we decided to play a simplified version of Game 1 which was to collect as many rhyming cards as possible but not make sentences with them. Each player chose one card and the remaining cards were placed face down on the table with each player taking it in turns to turn cards over to find rhyming words, and then keep the cards that rhymed. We were very impressed that our son could recognise which words rhymed and we all really enjoyed playing the game.
It is great that the game is so versatile that we were able to adapt it for our son. This is going to be a great game to play with him as he progresses with his reading and we are really looking forward to trying out the other game options with him.
Again I would rate this game 5 out of 5.
One other point I need to mention is that for all Orchard Toys games there are instructions to download on their website and they also offer a missing piece service, where they will send out any missing pieces if you request them – this is such a fantastic idea as some of the pieces are very small so likely to go missing over time! For more information or to buy educational games visit www.orchardtoys.com.