Reviewed by Emma Stubbs
We are now nearly halfway through November so time to start thinking about Christmas gifts. So, this year I have been trying out products involving feeding, sleeping and education and all would make perfect gifts for young children.
DoddleBags Discovery Box
Before you read this review, I just want to note that I am going to be raving so much about these bags in this review that you may think I’m on commission or that I know the company owners personally. I swear I do not have any ulterior motive – they are just that good.
DoddleBags are reusable clear plastic pouches that are suitable for an incredible range of products – their original and most popular function is for purees when weaning babies and toddlers, but their versatility far exceeds this. I received the Discovery Box from DoddleBags, which is available on their website for £25. This contains a 10 DoddleBag pack, a 10 DoddleSpoon pack, a 10 DoddleBrush pack, and 10 extra stickers.
My daughter is obsessed with the ready-made baby food pouches you can buy from the supermarket. She is three and way beyond baby stage, but who am I to stop her, especially when they contain all healthy ingredients? Well, the fact is they’re pretty darn expensive, and when I have all the ingredients at home to make the exact same puree, it’s a bit silly, and so I was keen to try DoodleBags for this purpose. The bags fit up to 100ml and zip all the way up one side, making them very easy to fill. They then have a nozzle with a brightly coloured cap just like your usual baby food pouches, and you can add a bright sticker which makes them visually appealing for youngsters (and adults!). The best thing about DoddleBags is that they are reusable and dishwasher safe, and they are very easy to clean, so a pack should last you a very long time. They’re also freezer safe, so ideal for making a batch of puree and then grabbing one out of the freezer for later in the day. When I was weaning, I would do make an ice cube tray of puree and pop a few into a little tub or a zip lock bag, but then I’d forget a spoon, or the tub wouldn’t seal properly, and the bags were just messy. DoddleBags deal with all these problems, and the DoodleSpoon set includes 2 screw-on baby spoons so you can feed your little one straight from the pouch. Seriously, it’s like they’ve thought of everything.
Obviously, you don’t have to just use DoddleBags for food for children, their potential is vast, sauces, marinades, dips, smoothies, soups… the list is endless. I now don’t feel like my packed lunch for work has to be confined to a sandwich and a packet of crisps.
The versatility doesn’t stop at food. The DoddleBrush pack has ten DoddleBags with four brush attachments, so children can paint or glue, and you don’t have to clean out and waste a bowl of leftover paint every time, plus there’s nowhere near as much mess. I have to say, my little girl would always choose the traditional way of painting, but these are ideal for when she wants to paint and we don’t have much time to clean up after.
We recently went abroad on holiday and I wish I’d had these DoddleBags two months ago, because decanting all my toiletries through the tops of little bottles was not fun. At the end of the holiday I just ended up with suncream and other lotions at the bottom of the bottles that I just ended up binning. DoddleBags are labelled with measurements so you and airport security are sure they are 100ml; you can pour your lotions and potions in easily through the wide opening; you can squeeze every last bit out; and they will soon be selling flip-top lids, so you can open things such as shower gels with one hand. Foreign holidays sorted.
There’s also nozzle attachments available for decorating and icing biscuits (because the DoddleBags clearly just aren’t versatile enough!).
I would love to receive the Doddlebox discovery box as a gift, and especially would have done when my little girl was about to start weaning. I want to buy these for all my parent friends for Christmas. If I didn’t want to spend £25 on one person, I might be tempted to buy the discovery box and then split it to give the three different packs to three different people. The packaging and branding definitely make it gift-friendly. Not only are DoddleBags fantastic from a practical perspective, the design of the packaging and the advertising is spot-on. I feel that a massive credit should go to the branding and marketing team for developing something that is current, and dare I say it trendy, whilst still being accessible.
You’re probably thinking I’m going a bit OTT over what are essentially some plastic pouches, but if you try them yourself, I think you’ll be joining me in my adoration!
DoddleBags are available through the website www.doddlebags.com or via Amazon, Lakeland, and other stockists.
Mannequin Snugglesac Sleeping Bag
I have to admit it took me a long time to discover baby sleeping bags. Okay, it was 5 months, but those 5 months felt like an eternity. Overnight, my little darling would thrash around in her Moses basket unfolding the burrito swaddle I thought I had perfected. If I didn’t swaddle her, was she too hot or too cold? After finding baby sleeping bags, night-time’s suddenly got a LOT easier. They had different tog ratings so worrying about temperature was one less thing I had to worry about. Plus, they were just so simple! Granted, my milk guzzler still woke every 2 hours to feed, but she seemed more settled in general, and I remember with fondness zipping her up for the night. Fast forward three years and I am asked to review a child’s sleeping bag from Snuggle Sac. YES PLEASE!
I was sent the 180cm Mannequin sleeping bag (RRP: £50), which is suitable from age 3 to a height of 4ft 9”. The sleeping bag comes well packaged in a cardboard and plastic zipped box. As soon as my daughter saw it was pink, she immediately wanted to open it (what can I say, I’ve tried to steer her away from gender stereotypes, but I am struggling!). Her next response was “wow, it’s a princess dress to sleep in!” Safe to say it was an immediate hit.
The design is great – a bright pink mannequin dress that makes it look like it is being worn when you climb inside. The fleece material on the outside is super soft, and has a 100% cotton inner with wadding to make it 5.2 tog. It really is incredibly inviting – I have to say I was a bit jealous.
We tried it out for the first time overnight at home. My daughter was so excited to get into the “soft and cosy bed”, and this made bedtime very easy. As the weather has changed recently (that awkward time of the year where you’re torn between putting another jumper on or resentfully putting the heating on), I’ve found she has been waking up around 4am when the temperature has dropped and her arms/legs/entire body have broken free of the duvet in the night. However, with the Snuggle Sac, she slept soundly right the way through – hoorah!
Our second trial was at the caravan. This is where the Snuggle Sac really came into its own. It comes with a zippable tote bag to carry, so you don’t have to worry about it getting dirty. There is also a built-in pillow holder, so that you can bring your own pillow to slot in but still enjoy the cosy material that keeps warm through the night.
My daughter definitely preferred the Snuggle Sac to her normal sleeping bag, and again, slept through the night. As she didn’t want to get out the next morning, she did manage to get cereal all over it, but this wasn’t a problem as the Snuggle Sac is machine washable and tumble drier friendly.
I would definitely recommend the Snuggle Sac, and it would be a great gift for any child who has trouble sleeping or for children who love sleepovers, camping and caravanning. Now I just need to get an adult one!
Deluxe Gift-Boxed Workbook
My three-year old is just learning to write her name and is taking great interest in letters, so I was thrilled to be chosen to review a personalised workbook from Write My Name.
After choosing the colour of the first page, a photo of my daughter, and whether I wanted manuscript (printed letters) or cursive (developing into joined up handwriting), I received the Deluxe Gift-Boxed Workbook in the post.
You can purchase the workbook on its own for £24.99 (currently on sale at £16.49 plus p&p), or for the price of £39.99 (currently on sale at £29.99 plus p&p), the workbook comes with a dry-wipe pen (which is essential), personalised certificate, stickers and a gift box. I have to admit, the increase in price does seem very expensive for the extra items, and I would expect the pen to be included in the cost of the workbook since you can’t use the book without it! The gift box is a plain purple box, and although it does make the workbook feel like more of a premium product, I would have liked to have seen a ribbon and tissue paper to match the ‘deluxe’ title (this has since been updated to include tissue paper and also a small pack of sweets). I would say the extra items should only add £5 to the normal workbook price to make it a more cost-viable option for a Christmas gift.
My daughter was really excited to see her face and name on the front of the book, and couldn’t wait to open it. There are 18 different exercises on the wipe-clean pages, which become more challenging as your child progresses. The main focus is helping your child to write their name, and there are numerous exercises of differing difficulty, with letters either bold or dotted for tracing or missing. The book is a hardback binder, so can be laid flat to write on easily – it does feel very good quality, and I loved how my daughter’s photo was also at the top of each page. At the start, there is a page of straight, curvy and zigzag lines to trace, and a page of shapes. The first ‘name’ page is entitled ‘large beginners practice’, and has four copies of your child’s name. I do think the names could be even bigger, as at a beginner’s stage my daughter found it difficult to write so small. Having said that, I appreciate it may not be possible to fit longer names on the page if they were a bigger font.
There are numbers and arrows on each letter to show your child what order to perform the lines in their letters, and also three horizontal lines for positioning. I think these make the exercises overly complicated and so many lines make the letters hard to read and trace, especially later in the book where there are pages for every letter of the alphabet and numbers 0-9. It might be better to have one example with the numbering at the top as a guide, then further examples without to minimise any unnecessary lines. Also, the numbers instructed my daughter to write an upper-case M by drawing the two vertical lines first and matching them up with a V in the middle, which seemed odd to me!
The Write My Name workbook has the potential to be fantastic – the concept, colourful design and quality binder are brilliant, but it does have a few pitfalls at the moment that would make me reluctant to buy it as a gift for someone else (that said it has been updated since reviewing).
Cheeky Chompers Neckerchew Dribble Bib
Teething babies are not fun, and I’m sure teething is not fun for them either.
When teething takes hold, some babies like to chew everything in sight, but chewing things that have inevitably been on the floor at some point, or been in another child’s hands isn’t very hygienic. There is also the drool. Oh, the copious amounts of drool!
Cheeky Chompers have designed the Neckerchew – a chewable dribble bib that means mummy’s hairbrush, the remote control and the dog’s bone are safe from being given the gummy attack. The main design feature is a textured rubber triangle sewn to the bottom of the bib that babies can chomp on. There are numerous designs available, from £11.99 – I was sent a red bib with a white star pattern that my 7 month old nephew was more than happy to try out.
The dribble bib is reversible, so there is the option for plain red, and there are two size options for the poppers. I should say that the poppers are decent quality too, unlike some I have seen. The bib was very absorbent and didn’t stay wet when it had been subject to dribble-a-plenty. My nephew also looked really cute in it, and it complimented a lot of outfits easily.
It took a while for him to realise he could chew on the bottom of the bib, but once he started, he definitely seemed to appreciate the feel of the bumpy rubber on his gums. It was great that he could have something on hand to gnaw on that he wouldn’t drop.
The Neckerchew has been awarded a multitude of awards and was also featured on Dragon’s Den – I can see why. I would definitely recommend it and give it as a gift to my friends and family with babies.
PLYT and NumBugz Maths Games
I was delighted when PLYT sent me two of their maths games to try out. I work as a private maths tutor with students from years 5 to 11, and also work in a secondary school with small groups of year 7 students who are below the expected standard in maths. In addition to this (no pun intended), my 3-year-old has just starting to explore numbers. Putting all these together gave me a wide range of judges to trial and critique the games over the course of a week.
Numbugz (RRP: £17.49) was the first game I looked at. In fact, Numbugz is the name given to the set of 125 small hexagonal ‘bugz’ pieces that have coloured bugs on one side and numbers from 1-12 on the reverse.
The packaging and design is really great – the pieces come in a quality drawstring bag that will stand the test of time in my laptop bag. The colours of the instruction book are really bright and enticing – I was definitely excited to open the game and get to playing.
When teaching, I always end up printing off lots of numbers between 1 and 10 to play games with, and even if I laminate them they soon become dog-eared and tatty. The Numbugz pieces are so versatile, and the fact that they are hexagonal is great as they link together too. By using these bugs and the 30 second timer provided, a huge number of different games and activities can be played. PLYT have come up with 7 different games, and the instructions and videos are available on their website. The main game suggested by PLYT is Colonyz, which is essentially Scrabble with numbers, and the instructions for this are given as part of the game. I have to admit, the instructions were slightly confusing, but as soon as I watched the video online, I understood how to play. The game can be differentiated for different abilities, so even the whole family can play. For the lowest ability players, you can simply link together numbers that have a difference of 1, but higher ability players have the chance to set up equations too.
One of my year 6 tutees needed to look at sequences, and Numbugz formed the backbone of our lesson. I used the bugz in a starter activity where my students had to form sequences that went up in 3s, or down in 2s. We then played Rumbugz, which is based on the card game Rummy, and involves making a set of 4 sequences. There were a few minor issues we found that weren’t answered in the instructions, so we had to adjust and add to the rules a little bit, but my student really enjoyed the lesson and asked to play it again the next week.
My three-year-old also loves creating piles of the same colour or number, or playing pairs with the game pieces. As she gets older, it will be great for her to play with sequencing the numbers.
The second game I trialled was PLYT (RRP: £24.67), which was more suited to my year 7 students who needed practise with their times tables. PLYT is your typical board game where you move around the board with the aim to get to the finish first. It is meant to resemble a pyramid where the centre of the board is the ‘top’. There are various spaces where you pick up a card to either move yourself or your opponent up or back, or up or down a level, which make the game more exciting. But the main selling point is how incredibly versatile it is. The game comes with lots of red 12-sided dice, and a black 12-sided dice, with the black dice deciding how many spaces you move, and the reds used alongside to make up calculations. These calculations can be simple (just adding two dice), or can be made more difficult for each player depending on their abilities. As an example, my two year 7 students were at different stages in the learning of their times tables, so the game allowed one of them to only do the 7 times table, and the other to use any up to 12×12. If playing with more advanced players, there are options to multiply 4 dice. What would make the game even better is if there were more colours of dice, which would allow more ‘function’ calculations such as ‘blue dice plus yellow dice multiplied by red dice.’
My school intervention sessions are usually game-dominated, as I’ve found students learn best this way, and they get through a lot of essential examples without realising it. I find I make the games from pen and paper, or print something off, and the students do always enjoy it. However, there is something more enjoyable about a physical box and a proper board, which meant my students seemed to like it more. Admittedly, one student nearly threw the board out of the window from frustration and joked that he didn’t like this stupid game, but I’m pretty sure this was purely down to the fact he was losing! The lessons where I’ve played PLYT have been really fun, and my groups also found it hilarious coming up with phrases that ‘PLYT’ might stand for (head to the website to find out the real answer, which incredibly is not anything to do with poo).
I asked my students to give me one thing they liked about the game, and one thing they would do to improve it. The comments were all very similar – most said that it was a great game for maths in a school setting and that it was helpful for learning their times tables, but they wouldn’t play it at home as a family. To be honest, the board and cards could very easily be used alongside trivia questions or other challenges to form your own maths or non-maths versions. Improvements were mainly on the design – they liked the pyramid idea but felt that the PLYT logo and cards could look more ‘fun’. I found that I agreed with their comments – the concept of the game is great. I especially liked how the games can be differentiated to suit different abilities, without being too obvious. My only improvement going forward would be the design – it does feel quite dated in some ways, but I would assume it would be very difficult and time-consuming to change the logo. However, if this was changed, I would be more tempted to buy it as a gift.
I will definitely be using both the PLYT game and the Numbugz games for a long time to come. As a Christmas gift for children, I would go with the Numbugz purely from a design point of view.
What’s Good To Do will be reviewing lots of Christmas Gift Ideas this year, and you can read them all here and get some gift inspiration.