Half term saviours
Harassed parents, breathe! The hols are nearly here, but we know exactly to keep the kids entertained - from film courses and cookery days to the best theatre and days out.
Half term’s nearly here already? I only just put away my flippin’ Christmas tree! I have three children off school and a full time job to navigate so this is definitely one feature that I’ll be utilising heavily this month. I’ve focused on the superspecial events across Bucks & Oxon and further afield. Anything utterly brilliant and unmissable that I’ve left off? Let me know in the comment box below!
Power to your mobile, Film Oxford, Oxford, Mon 18 – Wed 20 Feb
Fledgling tween and teen Tarantinos or Bigelows can put their mobiles to good use (instead of that Snapchat malarkey) in this three day workshop where they’ll shoot and edit their own film from their phones. They’ll learn about creating storylines, shot types, editing, sound effects and more.
Blenheim’s purpose built Butterfly House in the Pleasure Gardens reopens just in time for half term on Sat 16, with hundreds of exotic species being released from Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines as well as several zebra finches. There’ll also be loads of critters and in the hatchery to check out before they blossom into beautiful butterflies. Or just over the west Ox border, at the National Trusts’ Hughenden Manor, they’re going on a bug hunt (they’re going to catch a big one!) followed by a workshop on making bug bases to attract wildlife to your garden, Mon 18 – Fri 22.
Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury
As always Waddesdon is on it for half term with one day family cookery lessons where you and the kids can make a delicious lunch in the Manor Restaurant, as well as sweet and savoury treats to take home; plus there’s pirate-themed orienteering challenges round the grounds with a medal for those who succeed. The adventure playground and stables cafe and shops are also a big draw. You can tire them out, feed them up and catch the bus back to your car with a parenting gold star for healthy outdoorsy fun.
Oxford United Football Camp, Oxford
If you have footie mad kids, this week long course at Oxford United will have them cheering in the terraces. Open to boys and girls aged 3 – 14 of all abilities, the qualified coaches will work on technique and new skills and organise mini-matches. Your aspiring Harry Kane might even get to meet an Oxford United player (if they’re available) and every participant goes home with a free ticket to watch a future Oxford match. Mon 18 – Fri 22 Feb, 9am – 3pm. £75.
River & Rowing Museum, Henley
The Henley hotspot has half term boredom covered with loads of great activities for younger children. First off the blocks on Tues 19, a mouse themed craft morning for kids 4-7; on Wed 20 there’s a bird feeder workshop, for 7-11 year olds and on Thurs they can make a mini volcano and learn about Icelandic myths that inspired the museum’s main exhibitor, William Morris. An art workshop inspired by the collection (on loan from the V&A, no less) will also run on Fri.
Rumsey’s Chocolaterie, Thame & Wendover
Sugar rush alert! My kids did this last year and still rave about it. Lucky would-be Willy Wonka’s can make their own chocolate bar and wrapper, with Rumsey’s patient chocolatiers guiding them through the whole process. Not enough chocolate? Your sugar-frenzied kids will get a hot chocolate too. Watch them bounce off the walls for the rest of the day!
The Cat in the Hat, Oxford Playhouse, Tues 19 – Sat 23 Feb
Dr Seuss’ much-loved book The Cat in the Hat gets a live action remake at the Oxford Playhouse, with riotous rhymes, acrobatics and a whole lot of mischief. The play was originally produced by the National Theatre and looks puuuurfect for young families and kids 3+.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Often overlooked for a half-term saviour, but seriously the Ashmolean’s galleries are full of amazing (free) art and artefacts, mummies and weapons, paintings and sculpture. This half term they’re celebrating the Chinese Year of the Pig, great for little ones with piggy stories and crafts. Or why not take your older kids to the Jeff Koons’ exhibition? You’ll have to pay for this one, and it’s controversial and subversive, but his work will blow their minds.
Experience the Country activity day, Milton Keynes, Wed 20 Feb
Segway fun for tweens, indoor activities and a café complete with viewing area to watch them wobble and wizz around. Sessions start at 10am, 11am and 1pm, booking essential.
West End musical theatre course, Milton Keynes Theatre, Mon 18 – Fri 22 Feb
The Leading Edge Arts Project, that runs events across several Muddy counties (and New York for that matter) returns to MK with an empowering new theatre workshop, for kids aged 11-16, exploring the school playground and the importance of being yourself through West End hit Heathers The Musical, and the new Broadway show, Mean Girls the Musical. There’ll be a performance at the end of the week for parents and family.
Queens Park Arts Centre, Aylesbury
This small arts centre, in a less than salubrious spot in Aylesbury, is very much a hidden gem. This half term you can send your kids off for a week of creative workshops from 10am – 3pm with a different activity every day. On Mon they can carve their own marble-run puzzle, Tues they can create their own building, Wed it’s pottery Easter chicks, Thurs they can make a raven complete with rainbow painted perch (wow, that’s random!) and on Fri they can design and sew dream catchers and lavender sachets. Workshops are £20 each and your kids can do as many or as few as they fancy.
Roald Dahl Museum, Great Missenden
Science Oxford is hosting sessions at this charming Great Missenden-based museum on designing and building your own car and your own marble maze. Award-winning children’s poet Neal Zetter is coming in to read his poems. Kids can make a clay badge, design tuck boxes and chocolate wrappers.Plus it’s your kids’ last chance to take a selfie with Donald Trump – the statue, that is. To celebrate the 30th birthday of Matilda, a life-size statue of her standing up to Trump has been in the museum’s courtyard since Oct but will be moving on to pastures new soon.
Activity weekend, Earth Trust, Abingdon, Sat 23 – Sun 24 Feb
Sweeeet! About as lo-fi as it gets for children at this charming outdoor Earth Trust. Over half term kids can go behind the scenes of a functioning farm and meet baby sheep, piggies and goats. There’s also bale climbing, tractor rides, stalls and a children’s farmyard area. The Poem Tree Café will be open for refreshments along with a BBQ serving local grub.
Pirates, Puppets and Victorians, Bucks County Museum
Puppets ahoy! Rattlebox Theatre Company bring pirates, monsters, mermaids and nuns (eh?) to Bucks with its family puppet show, Mon 18 and Tues 19. Kids can also make their own puppets in drop in workshops running until Wed. And if puppets aren’t pulling any strings (sorry) then there’s a new interactive exhibit on Victorians running until Sat 27 April.
Lambing at Mead Open Farm, Leighton Buzzard
Kids can get up close and personal with newborn woolies in the Lamb Nursery, bottle feed the older lambs and try out the Farm’s newly extended indoor play area. Also new is the Grain Store Kitchen Café that serves brunch to dinner, along with your standard farm shop cakes and coffee. You can easily fill a whole day here with pony grooming, bunnies, goats, chickens, indoor and outdoor play, all designed with your kids’ entertainment in mind.
Vets in Action at Whipsnade Zoo, Dunstable
Got a little animal lover on your hands? Youngsters can experience first-hand the life of a vet in the Animal Hospital at the UK’s largest zoo. Budding vets will learn how to examine, x-ray and perform treatments on different animals and practice on soft toys. Activities are included in the entrance price and there’s sooo much to see and do but a word to the wise, wrap up warm as the zoo’s hilltop location can be a bit nippy at this time of year.
Planetarium, Dunstable Downs at the Whipsnade Estate
The Planetarium returns to Dunstable Downs with a larger venue and brand new show about the stars hosted by experts from Dark Sky Wales. Family stargazing events run on Tues 12 and Wed 13 with popcorn, alien hunting and space games (and FYI, there’s a special Valentines night on Thurs 14 with canapés and a complementary glass of tipple). Booking essential.
Warwick Castle, Warwick
The live-action daily shows are back. Witness the Mighty Trebuchet, the Flight of the Eagles, the Bowman Show and the Castle Dungeon plus get lost in the Horrible Histories maze in this beautiful historic castle. There’s a lot to see and do in a day so you might want to splash out and stay the night in one of their luxury suites or in the wooden lodges of the Knights Village. Hmmm, stay in a suite with a four-poster built for royalty or a themed wooden lodge in the grounds? Sadly I know my kids will want to do the latter.
Imagine Children’s Festival, Southbank, London
With over 12 days of activities (50% of them free), this festival offers the best children’s theatre, literature and music so worth popping into town for. Authors such as Jacqueline Wilson, Malorie Blackman and Chris Riddell are coming in to talk about their books, there’s a Peppa Pig concert to introduce little ones to orchestral music, there’s outdoor games, a giant blackboard and sound pit, a screening of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt with a live orchestra, hip-hop workshops and more, more, more. Check out the full programme here.
The Winter’s Tale for Young Audiences, National Theatre, London, Wed 6 – Thurs 21 Feb
This is a great way to introduce primary-age children to Shakespeare – it’s only an hour long! The Winter’s Tale, the story of Perdita, the girl who was once lost but is found, returns to the National Theatre in February 2019 following a sell-out run at the Dorfman Theatre last year. Adapted by Justin Audibert and directed by Ruth Mary Johnson, the show will also be accompanied by interactive family workshops on Mon 18 and Tues 19 Feb.