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  • Press Image from Little Gift Theatre show for children a man standing in front of lots of suitcases

    Theatre Review: Little Gift – M6 Theatre at Birmingham REP

    This is a press review of the 11.30am performance of Little Gift at The Birmingham REP on 23 February 2019.

    If you read my February children’s theatre post, you’ll know I was particularly excited about seeing Little Gift, the latest touring production from M6 Theatre, performed by Guy Hargreaves, someone I’d had the privilege of working with many years ago through the National Youth Theatre. Sometimes, I can get an idea in my head of what a theatre production might be like before I go (rightly or wrongly), and it can often set me up for a fall – anticipating the show to be one thing, when the reality is quite different. Not this time. read more

    Aged 2+, Culture, Days Out, Parenting, Reviews
    / February 24, 2019
  • Image by Matt Austin

    Theatre Review: Kite – The Wrong Crowd at Warwick Arts Centre

    When I heard about The Wrong Crowd‘s production Kite, I loved the idea of a theatre show for children without words. Some of my favourite productions I’ve seen aimed at younger audiences have had little language – so I know the idea works well. Sadly, Pickle and I weren’t able to attend this particular run at Warwick Arts Centre, but my two foster brothers and my Dad were. They joined a varied audience ranging upwards from about four years old on Monday 18 February, and I caught up with them afterwards to hear all about it.

    My foster brothers are aged twelve and ten, and it sounds like they were completely won over by the performance. In typical pre-teen grumpiness, the youngest wasn’t sure what to expect and trudged into the Arts Centre determined that he wasn’t going to like it… but when I spoke to him about it afterwards, you’d have never have guessed he had any kind of reservations! read more

    Culture, Days Out, Parenting, Reviews
    / February 19, 2019
  • Children’s Theatre in the Midlands – February 2019

    We’re lucky to have a wealth of cultural venues surrounding us here in the West Midlands. Whether you are looking to stay as close to home as possible, or are willing to travel a little further, you can almost guarantee there will be something to suit all ages, tastes and budgets.

    I’ve had a look at some of my favourite venues to pick out the top theatre shows for children and families this February. The school half terms are always rich with cultural offerings, and this year is no different. read more

    Culture, Days Out, Parenting
    / February 1, 2019
  • Little Angel Theatre's Sleepyhead - Dada attempting to put Baby to sleep

    Theatre Review: Sleepyhead – Little Angel Theatre at mac birmingham

    I’m sure I’ve written before about the special place in my heart reserved for mac (Midlands Arts Centre). It was where I worked my first arts job after graduating, and I spent a very happy year there – even if the commute killed off two cars (the stop/start traffic through Kings Heath is not kind on old knackered bangers). They have some of the best family programming in the region, and it’s always a delight to visit the arts centre as a family.

    This week, we bundled up warm and braved the traffic to watch one of mac’s two children’s Christmas offering’s this season: Little Angel Theatre’s Sleepyhead. After loving Little Angel Theatre’s Me last year, I knew we’d be in for a treat and I wasn’t wrong. Sleepyhead follows the night-time antics of Baby, who successfully brushes off all of Dada’s attempts to get them to sleep and has a magical midnight adventure instead.

    Mix in some magic, a pinch of circus and a large dollop of silliness and you have the recipe for a little adventure with a lot of laughs!

    Little Angel Theatre’s productions are masterclasses of puppeteering, with each little detail carefully contributing to gorgeously realistic movement: a perfect example is the small up-and-down movement of Baby, curled up hiding on the carpet, the talented performer quite literally breathing life into the performance. It’s these details that create characters everyone in the audience could relate to – the parents laughing along at the baby’s antics and seeing themselves reflected in the playful bumblings of Dada. I’m sure I speak on behalf of most parents whose children struggle to get to sleep that seeing Dada try all his tricks (magical or not!) raised a chuckle or two of recognition. As different as all our parenting styles are, there are some things that I’m sure we all do from time to time… and falling asleep whilst putting our children to sleep must be one of those parenting levellers, a real rite of passage.

    This playful production kept Pickle captivated throughout (without me having to resort to snacks to keep him sat still – which says a lot). I hope I always remember how lovely it was to snuggle up to each other whilst sat on the front row. It was beautiful to hear him properly giggling at the action, finding such joy in the slapstick humour. It’s been quite a few months since his last theatre visit, and his speech has come on such a long way during that time. I absolutely loved chatting to him about the show afterwards – he loved reminding me that the Baby did a big poo (!!!), and he babbled away telling Little Pickle’s Dad all about how the Baby wanted cake and thought carrots were ‘yak’ once we got home.

    The production is aimed at 2-5 year olds, and our audience certainly had children from both ends of that range – with giggles and squeals of delight coming from them all! We had a lovely school group in our performance which really added to an excited and energetic atmosphere which I’m sure also helped contribute towards the merriment. I’d wholeheartedly recommend Sleepyhead, and strongly encourage you to book tickets if you’re looking for a special pre-Christmas family treat.

    Sleepyhead runs at mac Birmingham until Sun 2 December 2018, with two performances a day (one in the morning, and one in the afternoon to help you choose whichever best fits in with naptime!). There is also a relaxed performance on Friday 30 November 2018, with BSL interpretation. Tickets cost from £9.50, and in my opinion, are worth every single penny. For more information and to book tickets, take a look at the mac Birmingham website.

    Disclaimer: we were invited to this production of Sleepyhead for press review purposes. All opinions and views remain my own.

    Culture, Reviews
    / November 23, 2018
  • The camping field at Timber Festival with the glamping pods in the background

    Timber Festival 2018: our first family festival

    I’ve found my new spiritual home. And it’s Timber Festival. Nestled in the National Forest on the edge of Derbyshire and Leicestershire, last weekend was it’s inaugural event and we felt very lucky to have experienced it. I kept saying all weekend: in years to come, we’ll be really proud to say we were at the very first Timber Festival. And I know it won’t be our last visit.

    The Ethos

    When I first read the email about Timber Festival, I knew straight away that it would be right up our street.

    An extraordinary new camping festival exploring the transformative impact of forests. Celebrating woodland culture in all its forms, join us for an intoxicating experience where music, art, philosophy and sustainability weave together into an unforgettable, exhilarating weekend.

    I’m always preaching about the restorative powers of spending time outside, and this ethos was so well championed throughout the festival. I was particularly impressed with Timber Festival’s commitment to sustainability, and it really made me rethink some of my own recycling and environmentally friendly habits. I was acutely aware of just how much plastic we’d brought with us – from the plastic wrapper around our apples to our disposable water bottles, and it’s really made me reaffirm and re-evaluate my approach. It was brilliant to see so many drinking water taps around the site, much needed and appreciated in the heat, the bars operated using reusable cups (we didn’t return ours as we wanted to keep them as souvenirs and reuse at home!) and there was a definite emphasis on the use of public transport.

    The Atmosphere

    I’ve been trying to boil it down to a simple sentence that explains what it is I loved so much about Timber. But I’m finding it hard to surmise the atmosphere cohesively, and in a way that doesn’t sound contradictory.

    You see… it was calm, but energetic. It was quiet, but riotously musical. It was magical yet grounded. The weekend filled me with a sense of wonder, whilst encouraging me to wander.  It was welcoming, friendly and encouraging. It was both gentle and full-on. It was just our cup of tea.

    We enjoyed trying our hand at woodwork (LPD made the most impressive rounders bat!), making a green man mask from oak leaves and watching nature inspired performances (particularly The Lost Words: Seek Find Speak during which Pickle incredibly said bluebell!). The mix of activities on offer really appealed to us and nothing felt out of place or incongruous. It all just pieced nicely together.

    The Campsite

    I was really pleased with the camping field. It was a little on a hill, so most tents were pitched on a slight angle, but there was plenty of room and we had no trouble finding somewhere big enough to fit our rather large Kampa Paloma 5 Air tent. The walk from the car park to the camping field was fairly hilly, and a bit of a struggle in the heat whilst trying to keep a spirited toddler in check but hiring a Rainbow Barrow for £5 definitely made it easier!

    The one thing that has prevented me from attending festivals in the past has been the thought of long queues for dodgy portaloos and the lack of showers, but the facilities at Timber Festival were plentiful, clean and well looked after. I only had to queue once for the toilet (and that’s because I chose to favour the posh cabin loos) and the showers were so good I had two on Sunday!

    The campsite was really family friendly – there wasn’t any rowdy behaviour and I didn’t hear any late night shenanigans. We could still hear some of the music wafting over from the forest which was quite nice (loud enough to be heard but not loud enough to prevent little ones getting to sleep!) and it helped us feel like we weren’t missing out too much by being back at the tent with Pickle.

    The Music

    The downsides of running around after a toddler all weekend meant we barely had chance just to sit and enjoy a whole music set, but we rather enjoyed listening to the music in an atmospheric way. That said, a band called Stables were playing whilst we sat and had an ice cream and both LPD and I really liked them: an alt-Folk duo from London. We caught them on the main Nightingale Stage and then managed to see them play again later the same day on the glorious Eyrie stage, a stage nestled in the forest Canopy with a lovely charming yet ethereal feel to it. I’ve been listening to them a lot on Spotify ever since!

    We also heard some really cool music sounding out around the trees from a quirky sounding band called Perhaps Contraption. A high-energy brass band with a difference! Quirky, almost cartoonish and definitely unique.

    Both bands will also be playing at Just So Festival.

    The Food

    Most of the food trucks and outlets were in the Field Notes section of the festival, and it’s where we spent a lot of our time – either sitting in the little pockets of shade around the edge of the field or grabbing a drink in the bar tent. Although it was a little bit set apart from the main festival, there was also the loveliest crepe food stand by the campsite too – Cosy Rosie’s. We bought a savoury pancake from there one evening for Pickle, but I wish we’d have had time to go back for a sweet one too.

    Very rarely for us, we consciously made the decision not to take our own meals with us for this festival. I’m usually a big advocate of bringing food from home and cooking for yourself whilst camping, but with the heat of the weather a threat to keeping any fresh food chilled and the thought of having to lug our rather heavy double camping stove and kitchen unit from the car, I decided treating ourselves to some of the food on offer was a wise move.

    And it really was. There was a brilliant array on offer, covering all sorts of dietary requirements and tastes. We went for flatbreads on Saturday night from The Allotment (I had a sweet potato fritter filling and LPD had steak, obviously). We also bought Pickle a Kids Meal with halloumi bites but he was in such a wild mood and ended up chucking all of his food and most of ours on the floor. Cheers, kid. What we managed to eat though was delicious, and we followed it up Sunday night with a cheeky non-Slimming World friendly burger.

    And we had more than our fair share of ice creams to help cool off in the heat!

    For Children

    Although Timber Festival is a family-friendly festival, there weren’t many events especially scheduled for really little ones – that’s more the remit of the Just So Festival, which is also run by Wild Rumpus. That didn’t really matter though, as Pickle was in his element just running around the open spaces (particularly up and down the big hill in front of the Nightingale Stage) and playing in the dirt and wood chips.

    We did get ourselves up and out early on Sunday morning to take part in a Bhangra Tots session – which was absolutely brilliant! Pickle loves to have a boogie at home so we thought he’d really enjoy taking part but he was a little bemused by it all, preferring to sit and eat an apple and watch us adults go for it instead. I can’t remember the name of the man who instructed us, but he was wonderful! The best way to start the day, for sure.

    It was also a shame that Pickle wasn’t really the right age for the Hammer and Chisel play area too – which I LOVED the idea of. Children were encouraged to build their own playground, hammering with real nails and mallets to make seesaws, bridges and floors. Allowing children to be so hands on, creative and responsible is really beneficial, and I loved walking past and seeing the play area change and grow over the course of the weekend. Give Pickle a few years, and he’ll be having a whale of a time in there. Although, I might need to rein in any helicopter parent tendencies I have!

    Our Favourite Bits

    If I could have spent all day and night around the campfire listening to Ian Douglas tell stories, I would have done. What an enthralling, engaging and witty storyteller he is. I’m not surprised that his timeslots around the campfire were always well attended. Sadly, Pickle is still a bit too young to sit and listen but we sat when we could at the back whilst he occupied himself with sticks and twigs and playing with handfuls of dirt.

    We also heard the tail end of a fun story told by Mike Payton, and I loved hearing the audience’s suggestions on which household item they’d kills frogs with. I’d have said spatula.

    I also loved the Bewonderment Machine. A little cycle-powered woodland inspired merry-go-round for two to six year olds, helping to inspire love and kindness for animals and wildlife. Pickle and I sat together, hitching a ride on a family of badgers, and he loved pretending to feed them with the bark and giving them a little stroke and tickle behind their ears before the ride began.

    The board games tent was right up our street too! We spotted some of our favourites in there: Catan and Ticket to Ride but we used Pickle’s naptime as the perfect chance to try a new game: Patchwork. Apparently, it’s been rating as the most challenging two player board game on the market and (once you get past the slightly twee subject of trying to make the biggest patchwork quilt with lots of buttons), I can see why. It’s quite a cleverly disguised strategy game that I’d definitely play again.

    By far, Pickle’s favourite attraction was the Museum of the Moon. A huge seven metre in diameter installation of the Moon rigged in the trees and held in place with guy ropes. Moon is one of the few words Pickle can say, so he was so excited to see it and pointed with delight every time we went to visit. I couldn’t decide what it was he liked more – the moon itself, or the feeling of getting lots of attention whilst he stood underneath and everyone gathered around. He particularly enjoyed copying whatever poses other people did whilst stood in front or underneath the Moon, which did make me giggle.

    What We Learned

    It was definitely a learning curve going to our first festival. I don’t think it would be that much of a shock to the system if you were visiting without children, but as we all know, going anywhere with little people requires a lot more additional planning and preparation. Here’s what we’re glad we’ve now learned for next time:

    • Don’t take anything more than you absolutely need – you’ll resent carrying anything from the car to the tent that you don’t end up using.
    • Wild Rumpus, the company behind Timber Festival, also run the very successful Just So Festival which has even more activities and fun for little ones. I hadn’t heard of this festival before, but we heard so many other families recommend it that it’s now firmly planted on my ‘must-visit’ list, whether that’s a sneaky last minute booking for this year, or waiting until next year. I think Pickle is going to love it!
    • We want a festival trolley. One that we can wheel Pickle round in, and snuggle him into for naptimes and in the evenings. I’ve been googling reviews and different types ever since we returned. I’ve convinced myself that we need one. And that it’ll be a very worthwhile investment.
    • Triple check your camping pitch before you leave. Somehow, we managed to lose LPD’s phone between packing up the tent and arriving back at home. I’m fairly sure it’s lying forlorn in the camping field.

    Would We Go Again?

    Absolutely. In fact, I can’t wait. I’ve already signed up to the Timber Festival eNews to make sure we’re the first to hear about next year’s dates and ticket booking, and I’d definitely recommend doing the same to anyone who is contemplating their first festival experience to do the same. It was a perfect, gentle introduction to festival-going, and a wonderfully safe environment for families. You can find out more information over on the Timber Festival website.

    Disclaimer: we were invited to attend Timber Festival for the purposes of reviewing it. All content, opinions and views remain my own and are, as always, 100% honest.

    Don’t Just Take My Word For It

    If you’d like to read more Timber Festival, here’s a list of some of the other reviews I’ve seen:

    Aged 2+, Camping, Countryside, Culture, Days Out, Lifestyle, Reviews, UK Travel
    / July 12, 2018
  • The colours of the Sea Life Centre in Birmingham

    Taking a Toddler to the National Sea Life Centre, Birmingham

    I don’t take advantage of living on the outskirts of Birmingham half as much as I should. Every time I venture into the city, I’m amazed at what it has to offer and try to remind myself to take the short train ride more often. The city centre has so much for families, and this weekend we braved the school-holiday crowds and ventured down to the National Sea Life Centre.

    I’ve been meaning to take Pickle to the Sea Life Centre for ages, and as I’d offered to take my foster brothers out for the day, it seemed the perfect place to entertain adults, two older children (not yet teenagers!) and a toddler. That feels like no mean feat – I can’t think of many places that would be appropriate for such a wide age range. I had quite high hopes for this day out and I think the reality managed to even exceed my expectations. Despite a few stressy moments where I thought I’d completely lost LPD and Pickle, we had a really brilliant day.

    We managed to time our visit perfectly so that Pickle fell asleep on the train, and had a much needed nap in his carrier on the walk from New Street station to Brindley Place – waking up just in time to take in the full Sea Life Centre experience. It was a little confusing outside to know which queue to get into, but the staff were really helpful and pointed us in the right direction, despite my British instincts to just get in the queue and hope for the best.

    Before we knew it, our adventure had begun. Starting with a real favourite: the penguins.

    I particularly enjoyed the different angles we could watch the penguins from – with a viewing window showing them above ground, one window allowing a split view of above and under water, and a totally under water window too. You can see on the last penguin photo that the penguin has a coloured tag on its flipper. Each penguin’s tag is coloured differently to help identify each penguin. This one, I think, is called Monty!

    I was really impressed that there were some hands-on sections of the Sea Life Centre, Pickle was even allowed to touch a starfish! Although, I almost had a mini heart attack when he tried to pick it up out of the water. I had visions of him chucking it onto the floor (which is what he usually does with everything!). Luckily, the staff were quick to react and no starfish were harmed during our visit. Phew.

    There were so many of these little tunnels that were perfectly sized for exploring toddlers. Pickle loved getting so close to the fish, and hearing how often he would gasp or say ‘Wow’ as a fish swam past him was just brilliant – I really didn’t expect to get that kind of reaction from him. It was more than I could have hoped for! He was absolutely mesmerised.

    I mean, look at those colours. So beautiful! The whole coral section was particularly vibrant and exciting. I almost didn’t spot the starfish in these tanks as I was so distracted by the purples, blues and pinks.

    Whilst some of the tanks required holding Pickle up to see the fish, he really loved the ones where he could stand and look in. One of my foster brothers was particularly good at pointing things out to Pickle, showing him where to look and kneeling down with him.

    Although it’s the first time Pickle has seen fish like this before, his first cinema experience was watching Finding Dory. I like to think maybe that has sparked a love for sea life creatures (!!!), although that might be a bit of a stretch. It did mean I was super excited when we spotted the clown fish and some blue tang fish too.

    I thought it was particularly good that there was a tunnel for the children to see all the clown fish close up – some good planning from the Sea Life team! I’m glad both LPD and I were there though so that one of us could be at either end of this particular tunnel – it’s quite a dark section of the Centre, and as it was quite busy, it would have been very easy for Pickle to have run out the other side and made it difficult for me to find him again. It was my first real experience of having multiple children to keep track off on a day out, and the only parts of the day I felt a little stressed during were the moments I didn’t have eyes on all three of them at the same time.

    Being able to see the sea life from a multitude of different angles and perspectives definitely helped keep the interest of all three children. Not only does it mean there’s a greater scope for observing creatures in different ways and noting different behaviours from an educational viewpoint, it also ensures lots of variety to help keep children engaged when attention spans are waning.

    It’s difficult to judge how much Pickle comprehends as his language isn’t very well developed yet, but I hope he made the connection that we were able to see the same fish from above, and below the water.

    We were warned ahead of our trip that it would be very busy during the holidays, and they weren’t wrong! We tried to time our visit nearer the end of the day in the hope of missing ‘the rush’, but it was still fairly congested. For the most part, this didn’t bother me and we were still able to take in as much of the Centre as we wanted at our own pace without it impacting on us too much.

    The only real negative about the business came around the 4D cinema experience section. We’d stopped just before in one of the classrooms for a bit of a refreshment break and I was hoping we could all enjoy the 4D cinema experience afterwards. However, the queue for the next showing was already full, and we were advised the next possible screening we could see would be in twenty minutes’ time. That’s a LONG time for an energetic toddler to stand waiting in a queue, so we decided it was best to give it a miss on this occasion, and so we bypassed it and headed straight for the new exhibit: Jelly Invaders.

    I found the jelly fish section really interesting – I had no idea there was so many types of jelly fish! And I didn’t know jellyfish out-date dinosaurs. Every day is a school day. Sadly, I couldn’t take in as much as I’d have liked in this section as just as we entered, out came a whole screening full of other visitors from the 4D Experience and it was really busy! With Pickle starting to get a bit frustrated and a few little tantrums, we quickly decided to move on… only to be met with a lot of congestion heading into the big viewing tunnel.

    This was the only section where we really felt the squeeze of how busy it was. I think up until the cinema bit, the crowds had been well managed and the free-flow ensured everyone was nicely spaced out… but having large numbers of guests streaming out of the cinema at the same time disrupted that flow but I can’t see any other way around that. If I’d have known, it would have perhaps made more sense to backtrack our steps a little bit, and continue to the Jelly Invaders section mid-way through a cinema showing, as I’m sure it would have been much quieter then.

    For me, the large viewing tunnel at the end was one of the big highlights. Although Pickle had enjoyed lots of tunnels as part of his visit, this was the first and only one for us adults. It was incredible to see the fish swimming above (and below – there’s a section where the floor is see-through too!), and it was particularly exciting when the huge ray swam overhead. I didn’t get many photos of this bit as, to be honest, I just wanted to live in the moment a little bit. I enjoyed pointing, wow-ing and gasping at the sights all around us and it was during this section that I first heard Pickle say ‘fish’. Which is a pretty big deal!

    Overall, we had an absolutely brilliant time – and I’d definitely recommend a visit whether your little ones are babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, primary age or beyond. There really is something for everyone. I’ve just spotted on their website that you can even have a sleepover there – and get cosy in your sleeping bag in the Ocean tunnel! HOW COOL IS THAT?! Definitely an experience to remember. Forget sleeping under the stars, I want to sleep under the rays! If you’re planning a visit, it’s best to book your tickets in advance to guarantee entry.

    Disclaimer: we were invited to visit the Sea Life Centre to celebrate the launch of the new Jelly Invaders exhibit. All opinions and views remain my own, and as always, are 100% honest.

     

    18-24 Months, Culture, Days Out, Parenting, Reviews
    / April 8, 2018