Advent calendars

I’m not a big fan of chocolate Advent calendars. I’m not sure why. Perhaps last year’s error of leaving my (then) three-year-old unsupervised on the first day of Advent with a Frozen calendar served as a warning. By the time I came back in the room, every single door had been opened and there were figures and bits of card strewn everywhere.

If it had been chocolate, there would have been none left. That’s for sure.

Anyway, it led to me having a look at other kinds of Advent calendars and there are some lovely ones.

A little late for this year. Or ridiculously early for 2018, here are some that caught my eye. Most of them have the advantage of being at least partly re-usable.

LEGO

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Lego City Advent Calendar

There are quite a few Lego Advent calendars, including one that enables your child to build a Christmas scene. There’s also a Lego Friends version and a StarWars one.

PLAYMOBIL

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One of the Playmobil Advent Calendar

This Playmobil advent calendar is rather fab. They have a few different versions too.

PAW PATROL

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Paw Patrol Advent Calendar

Tiny pups and other models. Okay-ish. But doesn’t really say magical Christmas to me.

All of these are available from Argos and I’m sure many other places.

CRAYOLA

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Crayola activity Advent calendar

I was quite tempted by this one with art materials in as we are heavily into colouring at the moment.

MY LITTLE PONY

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My Little Pony Advent calendar

This is the Advent calendar the four-year-old would like me to have bought, but I didn’t. Contains stickers and stamps. Underwhelming.

These two are both available on Amazon.

POCKETS OF EXCITEMENT

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This one is from Not on the High Street

This is the Advent calendar I’d have bought if I’d been organised enough to get things to put in the pockets. It’s totally reusable too. As I said last year, ‘I’ll do that next year. Definitely’.

ERIC CARLE

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Eric Carle’s Dream Snow Pop up Advent calendar

I was very tempted by this one – there’s a pop up Christmas scene that you can add to. Looks quite special doesn’t it?

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Magical and memorable

NUTCRACKER

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It’s a winner.

In the end I went for this one. You get a tiny book each day which, by Christmas Eve, has delivered the charming tale of the Nutcracker. It’s been a hit so far.

These last two are also on Amazon and I’m sure elsewhere.

 

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Jump. Jump. Jump.

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Photo from zapspace.co.uk

The four-year-old and the one-year-old may be the most frequent visitors to the new trampoline park in Stratford, Zap Space, to date, but I’m late to the party and made my debut at the weekend.

So here’s what you need to know.

If you live a hop, skip or a jump away from Stratford and have a toddler who likes to bounce on a trampoline, it’s the place for you. Make your way to Zap Space in the knowledge that you’ll come away with a tired and happy toddler.

It’s actually designed for all age groups and is open 9am-9pm every day (way past a toddler’s bedtime). It’s the mornings that are devoted to Little Zappers aged five and under. Check the timetable here.

As far as I can tell, just the downstairs is open during the Little Zappers sessions, so that’s trampolines, a foam pit and a balance bar. For younger children, there’s a small soft play which kept my one-year-old very happy indeed. Better still, at the moment at least, the baby soft play area is free (they may start to charge at busier times).

For the trampoline park, you pay on the door (or book ahead online) and you get a one hour session. If your toddler is trampoline crazy, there is a multi-pass option that helps you make savings.

There’s a counter selling food and snacks in the main area (there are tables, chairs and high chairs), but there’s also a nicer, lighter cafe (with a wider menu, I think) that you can also access from Stratford High Street. It’s called The Old Town Bistro and is also run by Zap Space.

I enjoyed our trip to Zap Space because it was a really easy way to keep two little ones entertained on a rainy day and get some energy well and truly burnt off. On the plus side, there are lots of cheerful, friendly, polite and helpful staff making sure everyone is having safe fun.

I have a few gripes based on the fact my four-year-old wasn’t that keen on the trampoline and would have preferred the climbing area. Sometimes she’s been allowed to use it, but at the weekend she wasn’t as it was included in the bit that was closed. Only one child was allowed in the foam pit at once, which was terribly safe, but not much fun.

Like I said, if your child loves the trampoline, it’s for you. If they like soft play more generally, there are better places to go.

My favourite remains the East London Gymnasium, which you can read about here.

All the information about Zap Space is here, including entry costs which is currently £8 for a Little Zappers session.

Walthamstow Wetlands – part 2

A few days ago, I wrote about a visit to the newly opened Walthamstow Wetlands. Did you know there are special activity days for children under fives and their adult companions on Mondays and Wednesdays, 10am-3pm?

There’s the promise of story-telling, crafts and wildlife activities – and it’s all free.

You can find the details here, where you’ll also find information about other sessions that the London Wildlife Trust offers at various sites.

 

Walthamstow Wetlands

If there’s a blue sky over London, I can’t think of a better place to be than the Walthamstow Wetlands – Europe’s largest urban wetland – which opened to the public only a few weeks ago. There’s something incredibly heartening about being encircled by huge skies, and seeing the sunlight cast reflections onto the reservoirs, rivers, channels and streams that run through the reserve.

And it’s not just for walkers, birders or fishing enthusiasts, it’s a fine place to be as a family with toddlers. The principle paths are stony, so although I’m sure they get muddy from time to time, they’re also a good bet for pushchairs and scooters. There was one section where we needed to carry the pushchair up some stairs to walk on the bund of the reservoir, but I noticed an accessible path has been constructed – it’s just not yet open.

Walthamstow Wetlands get the seal of approval from my four-year-old who passed her verdict (‘beautiful’) and is keen to return. So are the rest of us. We only walked round a small part and it will be interesting to see the whole reserve change through the seasons. On our first visit, we spotted a heron, but we’re already looking forward to next year’s ducklings, goslings and cygnets. If you have binoculars for your little one, be sure to bring them.

The old Engine House has been beautifully restored and there’s a nice-looking cafe inside as well as a viewing point and what looked like a spot to eat your own sandwiches. The cafe had a long queue when we visited, so I can’t tell you what the food tastes like, but it looked pretty appetising.

As the website advises, the car park is small. If you can, you’re better off coming by train, tube or even by bike up the Lea/Lee valley.

It’s free to visit and open 9.30am-4pm (October-March)

All the details you need to plan a visit are here.

 

Set sail for a mini maritime festival

This weekend – Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 – from 12 noon the Museum of London Docklands is the place to be for free songs and stories that, despite being terribly nautical, are entirely suitable for families.

Together with your toddler(s), you’ll have the chance to sing a sea shanty or two,  hear stories from the sea in your shell-like, and try your hand at craft activities including making a pirate hat.

All the details are here. Simply drop in and enjoy.

 

 

 

Take to the stage…

Now that Halloween and Bonfire night are behind us, we can all get well and truly stuck into the mince pies that have been on the supermarket shelves since August. And perhaps plan a festive day out because there are loads of lovely things on at the theatre in the run up to Christmas and in its gloomy aftermath…

No pantomimes listed here – I’ve gone for other toddler-friendly performances that look like they’ll make a memorable seasonal treat.

  1. Stickman 

21 October 2017-7 January 2018, Leicester Square Theatre.

Needs no introduction, surely? Julia Donaldson’s lovely story about Stickman, his Sticklady love and their family – featuring a guest appearance by Father Christmas.

Click here for info

2. Santa’s little Workshop

1-24 December 2017, Little Angel Theatre

See ‘Twas the night before Christmas, then enjoy puppet making yourself.

Click for more details

3. The Velveteen Rabbit

17 November-31 December, Unicorn theatre

The classic story of the rabbit who dreams of being real becomes real (on stage)

Find out more

4. The Ramshackle House

Monday 4-Sunday 24 December 2018, Stratford Circus.

Dance, acrobatics and clowning from the theatre company that created Bedtime stories (we saw this at Stratford Circus last year and it was fab).

Click here for info

5. Ugly Ducking

Saturday 6 January, Half Moon theatre, Limehouse.

The heartening tale of the ugly duckling that turns into a beautiful swan reinvented into a tale of self-discovery.

You can also see it at The Albany theatre, Deptford throughout December.

Find out more here

6. Snow Mouse

13-23 December, Barbican

A child finds a sleepy mouse in a show especially for under threes.

More details

7. The Gruffalo’s Child

22 November–6 January 2018, Lyric Theatre.

Aha, oho, a follow up to the Gruffalo – for all those who do not fear the big, bad mouse.

More info here

8. The Little Match Girl

13-24 December, Sadler’s Wells.

Dance, song and live music – this looks beautiful, but is probably for school-age children (guidance is 5+). Performance is one hour 5 mins which isn’t bad…

Find out more here

Word!

Newham Word Festival starts today and there are quite a few toddler-friendly activities – and they are almost all free (although you do need to book).

The festival lasts a generous 12 days, so if you’re looking for something to do between Monday 6th and Friday 19th November 2017, it’s worth investigating the options.

You’ll find the details here. (Click on ‘families’ for toddler-friendly events)

Here are a few things I picked out:

Story Builders from the Discover Children’s Story Centre will be bringing ‘So much’ by Trish Cooke to life – a lovely story about a family gathering. It’s doing a tour of Newham libraries and community centres. It’s at Stratford library on Friday 17th November, 12.30pm, for example, and it lasts 20 minutes.

There are various music events that sound fun starting on Monday 6th November at Custom House and Canning Town CTC 10-11am – TIMTAM toddlers’ music group. Or on Saturday 11th November, there’s a song building session at Custom House Library at 10.30am.

Anyway, time for you to take a look and see what tickles your fancy.

Click here.