Half Term Saviours!
Harassed parents, breathe! We know 36 ways to keep the kids entertained across Bucks & Oxon - from film courses and cookery days to the best theatre and wildlife days out.
Half term’s nearly here already? I only just put away my flippin’ Christmas tree. Muddy to the rescue with 36 half term saviours across Bucks, Oxon and further afield to keep the ankle biters entertained. Anything utterly brilliant and unmissable that I’ve left off? Let me know in the comment box below.
Paint Park, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, 8 Feb – 1 Mar
Who would have thought it was the year of ‘phygital’ painting (a combination of physical and digital, keep up!)? Alison Goodyear’s Paint Park exhibition at MK Gallery’s Project Space involves donning a VR headset, leaving you feeling like you just jumped into a painting à la Mary Poppins. A great one to take your kids to – just make sure you let them have a turn with the headset.
Cornerstone Youth Festival, Cornerstone Arts, Didcot, 16 – 23 Feb
Half term saviour incoming! Cornerstone has a stellar line up of cultural and fun activities for kids to enjoy over the week including Art & Yoga classes (18 Feb) and Beginner’s Latin and Ballroom Dancing (19 Feb) for kids Year 1 to Year 6. Older children (Year 7 to Year 13) can learn to pop’n’lock at Beginner’s Break Dancing (20 Feb) or take a Physical Theatre Workshop where they’ll learn storytelling techniques. There’ll be a show at the end of the session for parents to watch. Also at Cornerstone, comedy musicians Bowjangles are performing their new show Excalibow, suitable for all ages (21 Feb). Full programme here, plus bonus points for a 25% sibling discount on workshops.
Theatre for littlies
At The Stables, Milton Keynes, there’s kids’ fave The Amazing Bubble Man (below) – with 30 years experience under his belt in entertainment, he’s a sure fire winner for capturing the attention of little fidgeters with his rocket-shaped and flying saucer bubbles (21 Feb); if your tot is mad for fairy tales, head over to Banbury-based Mill Arts Centre for a new production of Little Grim Tales, made especially for children with live puppetry and original music (21 Feb).
Also in Oxfordshire there’s The Slightly Annoying Elephant at the Oxford Playhouse, a stage adaptation of David Walliam’s children’s book of the same name (19 – 23 Feb). And then, at The Theatre in Chipping Norton there’s Messy (aren’t they all?) about a young girl who loses the class hamster (19 Feb) and the brilliant Tweedy the clown’s new show The Missing Company of Sherlock Holmes (22 Feb).
We’ve also got Cornerstone Arts, Didcot, on speed dial with this brilliant line up – The Elves and the Shoemakers, featuring these cute felty elves (above) from 16 Feb; Yana and the Yeti, an unusual and touching story about friendship set in the Artic told through music and amazing puppetry (23 Feb, 5+).
And finally, there’s Roald Dahl and the Imagination Speakers, a collaboration with Buckingham Literary Festival. The interactive show, for children 5+, includes performance, games and creative play that takes a journey through Roald Dahl’s literature (23 Feb).
As always Waddesdon, above, is on it for half term with one day family cookery lessons where you and the kids can make lunch in the Manor Restaurant, as well as sweet and savoury treats to take home; plus there’s space-themed orienteering challenges round the grounds with three routes for different ages. The adventure playground and stables cafe and shops are also a big draw. Spend the whole day up here and knacker your kids out good and proper.
Another local National Trust gem, Hughenden Manor, Bucks, has Bat & Robin (geddit?) bird themed activities where kids can become mini detectives and learn more about birdlife found on the vast grounds. Rainy day? There’s also a Hidden Nature Trail inside the manor. From birds to bugs, Cannons Ashby, just over the border in Northants, has a Bugs and Beasties trail (bring wellies); Cliveden, on the Bucks/Berks border has a love themed trail; Grey’s Court is teaching kids how to identify trees on its Budding Ranger Trail with a prize at the end, plus kids can get muddy with den building.
Fledgling tween and teen Tarantinos or Bigelows can finally put their mobiles to good use in Power to Your Mobile, a 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 (17 – 19 Feb, 8 – 14 years old). Or, at the end of half term, there’s a family workshop, Animation Magic. Designed for kids 7 – 12 and their parents, you’ll make a stop motion film à la Wallace and Gromit, with original characters and sets (20 – 21 Feb).
Theatre for older kids
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre is showing The Kite Runner, direct from it’s West End stint. Based on Khaled Hosseini’s international bestselling novel, the story is a haunting tale of childhood friendship in Afghanistan which is on the verge of war (14+).
Or over in Oxford, in historic Blackwell’s bookshop, there’s Bleak House. Where better to watch a classic Charles Dickens mystery than surrounded by over three miles of bookshelves in Blackwell’s imposing Norrington Room? A typically inventive production by Creation Theatre – the live music and five actors playing multiple roles should be enough to transport you away to a world of intrigue – read the Muddy review here (1 Feb – 7 Mar, 12+). And finally, there’s The Gift at the North Wall Theatre, a play exploring the implications of imperialism and cross-racial adoption when a young black girl called Sarah is adopted by Queen Victoria (21 – 22 Feb, 14+).
It might be a slight change of costume from his Iron Man days, but it looks like Robert Downey Jr is still living the high life in his new interpretation of Dr. Doolittle – he lives in a 19th century manor house and embarks on an epic voyage to a mythical island to find a cure for Queen Victoria’s mystery illness (released Feb 7). Also out just in time for half term is gaming giant SEGA’s first foray into live action movies with sci-fi fantasy Sonic the Hedgehog, where the blue hedgehog must prevent the evil Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carey) from stealing his powers to take over the world (related 14 Feb).And finally, for teens, there’s the much anticipated adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma which has been given a bit of a millennial makeover with a fresh-faced cast including Johnny Flynn of Beast fame donning his best side burns to play Mr Knightley and The Miniaturist’s Anya Taylor-Joy (released 14 Feb).
Bletchley Park, nr Milton Keynes
Bletchley was the centre of code breaking in WW2 and always hosts some really interesting activities based on the estate’s heritage. This half term kids can get to grips with machines used for codebreaking, which use a number system called binary, through problem-solving challenges and games like binary bingo and binary dominos (aimed at kids aged 5 – 14). Bletchley is also hosting interactive, family-friendly tours around the site on 21 and 22 Feb.
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 4 – 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). 17 – 21 Feb, 9am – 3pm. £75.
Bored of cooking for your ungrateful kids? How about sending them to one of these cookery classes instead? Budding Chefs at Daylesford Farm, Cotswolds, will tour the 25 acre market garden and harvest some of the ingredients before heading in to the teaching kitchen to whip them up in to some delish dishes. Or for even posher nosh, there’s The Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir which also does a fantastic adult and child session.
Warwick Castle is one of the slickest family entertainment operations around and Feb half term is no exception. This year kids can learn about archery with the UK’s only Medieval Festival of Archery, plus there’ll be a Winter Birds of Prey display (15 – 23 Feb).
Over in Beds you’ll find the UK’s largest zoo, Whipsnade Zoo (the sister outpost of London Zoo) where youngsters can experience first-hand the life of a vet in the Animal Hospital. Budding vets will learn how to examine, x-ray and perform treatments on different animals and practice on soft toys. Activities included in entrance price.
Heading to the Big Smoke? There’s the brilliant Science Museum‘s ongoing cool interactive gallery- Wonderlab, with over 50 exhibitions including hands-on, live experiments at the Chemistry Bar and daily shows. The Space and AI tech exhibitions are also worth seeing.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Oxford Maths Festival, 15 – 16 Feb
Organised by the University of Oxford’s maths department this annual fest started in 2018 to encourage younger children to get into the subject with a variety of free talks, workshops and craft sessions across the numeric weekender. More fun than it sounds.
Yoga and Vegan Festival, O2 Academy Oxford, 16 Feb
This wellbeing festival returns to Oxford for its third year with all-day yoga and meditation sessions along with 50 stalls selling vegan food and ethical products. There’ll also be yoga sessions for kids, with under 14s getting free access to the festival.
Theatre for littlies
At Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, Gray and Jim Field’s best-selling series of picture books is reimagined on stage in Oi Frog & Friends! (3 – 15 Feb). Expect humour, a fun time and loads of rhyme (hey, see what I did there?). At The North Wall, in north Oxford, there’s Chloe and the Colour Catcher (above), a charming story about bravery as a young girl goes on a mission to defeat the Grey Queen by unleashing all seven colours of the rainbow (15 Feb).
Theatre for older kids
An evening of top-notch theatre at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, with the added bonus of a history lesson for your tween (kind of). Six, a re-telling of the history and lives of Henry VIII’s six wives through original pop music, has been nominated for five Olivier Awards and looks absolutely brilliant. If you don’t fancy taking the kids – it’s a dead cert for a girls night out (until 15 Feb, 6+).
Science Oxford Centre
Giant marble runs, thermal cameras, microscopes, magnifiers, circuit challenges and, erm, dinosaur poo – it’s all going on at Science Oxford’s Family Open Day. You’ll find these hands-on exhibitions and more in the Explorations Zone, plus there’ll be a woodland trail around the centre’s ponds and wildlife (15 & 20 Feb). Across the week there’ll be events for all ages including Nursery Rhyme Crimes (for ages 5 – 9) where kids can answer nursery rhymes’ most pressing questions – who stole the Queen of Hearts’ tarts? Was Humpty Dumpty pushed of the wall? – through science techniques (15 Feb). For ages 5 – 7 years there’s an interactive show Inventing Isobel hosted at the Museum of Oxford (17 Feb) and then there’s the Creative Computing Club (ages 9 – 12). Beginners should attend the morning session at 10am and there’ll also be two afternoon sessions, at 12.30pm or 2.30pm, for kids who are brainiacs for code.