Free and easy courses to improve your employment prospects – social media and digital skills

As this blog has begun as a project for it would be remiss of me not to reference the Fluency site:

Their website is well worth a visit. I know that they are probably loads of courses (and YouTube tutorials) out there teaching social and digital media skills, but this is the first and best I’ve come across so far.  The courses are really simple, easy to use and follow.  You can start with some basics like ‘digital fundamentals’ and move onto more specific courses like ‘CSS’.  You can log out and in, take bits of the course in 10 minute or 10 hour chunks depending on the time you have available – which was really useful for me as a single mummy (at home by myself a lot in the evenings and unable to attend courses due to their cost and the cost/lack of childcare).  I found the step-by-small-step way you learn on this side makes it hard to feel apprehensive, it really breaks the learning down so that all you need to do is focus on one small thing at a time.

Please feel free to list similar useful courses below, and enjoy!

Review: last year’s Christmas toys (1 year old)

There are so many toys out there, aren’t there?  As a first-time mum I spent hours deliberating over which toys to get for my daughter’s first Christmas (AND birthday, because they happen to coincide).  I wanted to get a mix of indoor and outdoor toys, things that were educational in different ways but also fun (most toys then).  Specifically, my aim back then was to try to buy things that had longevity, that she wouldn’t grow out of in a year.  I always like high quality products, from good brands, and would rather buy one decent product than five made of flimsy plastic.  All in all, I think I made some good choices but some definitely got more play time and attention from my little one than others.  If you are buying for your child, or someone else’s child, here’s a run-down of the toys Little A has tried and tested, with the verdict from mummy:

Tip: scroll down to the bottom for a quick list of top recommendations!

Little Tikes My First Slide

Average Price: about £20

By far and above the favourite.  I should highlight that although shops list this as a piece of outdoor play equipment, ours has only been placed outside a few times.  Instead, the slide has been used inside in our living room.  It does fold away, but if my daughter sees it folded to one side she generally demands to have it back out, so it is open and out more often than not.  My daughter plays on and with this slide every day, without fail.  She slide on it, obviously – and as she has grown in confidence she can slide every which way.  We can also slide teddies and dolls down it, and slide balls and other objects down it to see where they land.  We can both squeeze underneath it, drive cars underneath it, hide underneath it (ok well I”m too big for that but she can).  We have a small living room that doubles as our dining room but the slide still doesn’t take up too much space.  I can’t recommend this highly enough.


Little Tikes Rocking Horse (pink/magenta)

Average Price: about £23

Does what it says on the tin, i.e. it rocks.  This doesn’t get anywhere near as much attention as the slide.  However, Little A will do ‘something’ with it at least every other day.  We do ‘row, row your boat’ on it, and sit teddy on it so he can do the same.  More recently, Little A wants mummy to sit on one end and she sits on the other (I’m petite and luckily fit on one end).  Again we have used this as an indoor toy for the most part, but when the sun does shine here in the UK we sometimes put it out on the patio.


Green Tunnel (I think I got this from Tesco, it’s very thin and not the one in the picture which is a slightly plumper IKEA version)

Average Price: about £12

Again this doesn’t receive as much attention as the slide, but that’s probably because it does take up a fair amount of space once it’s ‘out’.  A major benefit of this product is it is very compact when put away and you hardly notice it in a corner, you could even store it e.g. behind a bookcase as it’s virtually flat.  When it is out, it’s a big hit with Little A.  We can both fit through it, play ‘peepo’, take cars through it.  Roll balls through it.  Little A can sit inside with her stuffed animals and plastic bath toys and it becomes a sort of tent.  And it can be put outside in summer.  With the slide and rocker, this makes for a good obstacle course.


LEGO Primo (big box of bricks from Ebay)

Average Price: (I paid about £22)

This stuff is really hard to find, I just happened upon a ‘vintage’ Ebay auction literally a few days before Christmas last year and thought what the hell, I’ll buy it.  With hindsight, it would have been even better to start Little A on this before the age of 1.  After a year (by age 2) we have played with it but she has move onto Duplo and can manipulate that very easily, so the Primo might get put aside soon – so my main advice would be that it doesn’t have as much longevity as some of the other toys.  At age 2 we still build with it sometimes, and it’s great to put in the sandpit and bath – easy to clean and hard to lose the parts.  We have played most with the chunky base board and some rattling animals – ladybirds, chicken, seals – that came in the box.  Even now, Little A will sit and put those on and off the base board in different orders.  We have also played a lot with 2 little men that came in the set – when Little A was younger I used to hide these in different parts of the room and she would be delighted when she found one.  The men now get cups of tea as she moves into role playing at age 2.


LEGO Duplo Number Train

Average Price: about £12

A close second after the slide, highly recommend this one.  Its value outweighs the price tag.  It’s a train, an introduction to Duplo and building.  You can use it to teach numbers and colours.  There’s not a lot I can about it beyond that but I were to get just one indoor product from this list, it would either be this one or the Tree House (below).  This one probably has more longevity (remains to be seen).


Vtech Toot-Toot Tree House

Average Price: about £33

This isn’t something I researched it was a present – a very good present from someone who already had a daughter and knows a thing or two about what works.  Little A has played with this a lot.  Definitely more than the parking tower below.  It has lots of functionality – the slide for the animals, 2 swings (one is a winch), a hidey porch, and a room at the top of the Tree House.  It also doubles as a shape sorter – I didn’t even pick up on this to begin with, with all the Christmas chaos, but my 1-year old daughter suprised me by popping the shapes in the top and side all by herself.  It does only come with one animal, the Panda, so some of the marketing pictures are a bit misleading.  It’s betetr if you have a few different animals – we were given the set below at the same time as the Tree House but there are others (e..g Elephant) available as well.


with – Vtech Toot-Toot Animals (hippo, tiger, monkey)

Average Price: about £23

To go with the Tree House above.  Little A has played with the animals just as much as the Tree House and they come recommended.  One note of caution – they ended up in our wet sand pit at one point and unfortunately 2 of them seem to be broken  now which is disappointing for my daughter who doesn’t understand why the Panda  is turned off (because mummy can’t stand the sound like a jumping record).  So as with all electronic toys, there is only so much toddler testing these can take.  The animals all have their own sequence of songs and make different noises and comments depending on where you place them on the Tree House, all very clever.


Vtech Toot-Toot Parking Tower

Average Price: about £24

Its interesting that this toy has been virtually ignored for most of the year but is suddenly getting more play time as we head towards age 2.  Throughout the year I’ve been grumbling a bit that out of the 2 Vtech sets, Little A has preferred the one someone else gave to her and not the one mummy got.  It ended up at the bottom of the play chest, but one day she leant in and demanded I pull it out, and played with it for ages.  You can park the cars in the top or bottom, send them down the ramp in 2 different directions – one of which is down the slide.  There is a ‘car wash’ under the slide and Little A loves to see the cars come through there.  You can drive the cars in and out and around the tower.  To my mind, this product doesn’t have as much functionality as the Tree House and doesn’t generally keep my little girl’s attention as much – but does have it uses.  It comes with one vehicle, a van.  We combined this with the Emergency Vehicles set – below.  All the Toot-Toot animals, vehicles etc have a fab range of noises and songs (some parents might not like this, I don’t mind them until I accidentally step on one in the evening and it starts singing again).


with – Vtech Toot-Toot Emergency Vehicles

Average Price: about £20

As with the Tree House / Animals, it was definitely a good idea to get some extras with the main Vtech Toot-Toot set.  This Police Car, Fire Engine and Ambulance make the noises you would expect.


Edushape Rollipop Advanced Ball Drop Set

Average Price: about £28 (it seems to be out of stock a lot so far this Christmas)

On note – there is a Starter Set and an Advanced version of this.  I went straight for the Advanced version, which turned out to be perfect for Age 1.

I wasn’t too sure about this one when I ordered it.  It’s a product to precede the older child’s ‘marble run’, only the balls are bigger and due to the angle of the runs, move slowly enough for a very small child to follow them.  In terms of a review, I would say that this doesn’t get a lot of play time – because it’s a one-dimensional toy and has its limitations (and you might not want the bang-bang-bang as the balls drop, on a constant basis).  However, combined with other toys it does make a good present.  Little A squealed with delight from the beginning to see the balls drop down the runs.  We can teach colours using the balls.  crucially, it’s great for hand-eye coordination as the baby/toddler tries to catch drop each ball in the top then catch up with it and block it somewhere further down.  When her friends visit, it’s often the first thing they head for.

One note – when I first received this product in advance of last Christmas, it looked scratched and used.  I highlighted this (to Tesco, as had bought from one of their partners).  The product was immediately exchanged without quibble.  The second was also a little scratched, causing me to wonder whether it’s due to something up with their production line.  In any case, I decided to keep it the second time.


ELC Lift and Look Alphabet / Number Puzzles from Ebay (the ones I have are lower case and without shapes, compared to these in the photo below)

Average Price: (I paid about £3 for both)

Definitely recommend.  You can still buy these new direct from the Early Learning Centre, but I found a good deal while browsing just before Christmas and the 2 puzzles came second hand, in pristine condition.  Little A figured out how to slot in almost all the letters and numbers straight away 9except for some of the harder ones like x and o) which I thought was pretty impressive for a one year old.  She loved the pictures – ‘c’ with a cat picture and so on.  Interestingly, once she got to about 18 months and into toddler-hood, she started getting more frustrated more quickly when she struggled to slot one in and by age 2 they are liable to cause a small tantrum with throwing of pieces, unless she is in the very best of moods.  Often she just gives a vehement ‘no’ when I try to re-introduce them.  probably just the age she is at.  I would still recommend them and have a feeling we will see lots more play time with them in the coming year.

elc alphanumber puzzles

Tomy Quack Along Ducks from Ebay

Average Price: (I paid about £2.50)

Another last-minute bargain buy, second hand and again came in pristine condition.  Little A doesn’t always play with this and found it hard to pull the ducks along until recently – they can quite easily tilt to the side and the string gets caught underneath a front wheel.  They have seen more play time in the last few weeks, she sometimes wheels them out into the hall and back.  The ducks get fed bread from a kitchen set and receive a cup of tea like all her little animals.  Might work better in a larger house as well, if you have one (mine is tiny) – because your child would have further to take the ducks and they might then sustain their interest for longer.


Baby Annabell, My First Baby and Pushchair (the latter from Ebay) – all presents

Average Price: Baby Annabell about £30, My First Baby about £11, Pushchair about £28

Good buys and as Little A nears age 2 these are getting increasing amounts of use.  The baby gets wheeled around, sat down to drink tea, and doubles as a doll highchair.  The pushchair is a sturdy one so good for ‘beginners’ as it doesn’t topple over/sideways easily.  Though it does take up space and probably wouldn’t have been my first choice in a small house.  However, because it is made of strong stuff, the pushchair can easily be taken outside, up and down the garden path, up and down the street with baby in it.  In fact, I suppose you could leave it outside because it’s made of plastic and won’t rust like the ones with metal frames.  Also it washes easily as there is no fabric seat.  So lots of advantages in choosing this product.  The little teddy on the top left has a button that is easy to press and plays a shirt lullaby to baby, which Little A loves.  The two babies get equal attention so far, though the Baby Annabell is obviously more life like.

babyannabellmyfirstollfirstpushchair toy

So, in summary… My top picks from this list based on how much Little A has enjoyed them would be the Little Tikes My First Slide, the LEGO Duplo Number Train and the Vtech Toot-Toot Tree House (though with an extra animal set).  With extra budget I’d probably plump for the Green Slide, Baby Annabell and Pushchair to get best value.  As a parent, the ELC Lift and Look Puzzles and the Rollipop are two of my favourites but aren’t played with all the time by my child.  The Primo would probably come last on my list because a child will grow into Duplo (and Lego) so quickly.

I did get Little A some books as well, but I’ll write a ‘Book Box’ post about those separately.  Please feel free to ask any questions and comment below to help anyone out there making present decisions this Christmas.