Wonderlab – Science Museum

For Heidi and I, 2018 was the year we loved London and loved Science. As such, one of our favourite places to go was Wonderlab at the Science Museum. Located a 5-10 minute walk from South Kensington Underground, it is the ideal place for inquisitive minds.

Wonderlab

What is Wonderlab?

Wonderlab is located on the top floor of the Science Museum and is home to the more interactive exhibits. Wonderlab is a paid attraction (see later) but it is well worth the expense as the attraction is really interactive for children.

There are loads of hands-on experiments that the children can get involved in, from magnetism, to colour blending, to heat cameras. In the open plan floor, pretty much everything is available to touch, play with and learn with.

Wonderlab
Heat camera

There are a couple of areas where there are demonstrations. One is the electric exhibition, where you can see lightning being created – clearly a bit dangerous, hence the led demonstration!! The other is the mini lecture theatre, where there are shows every 40 minutes or so. These aren’t especially interactive, pretty much because they involve setting fire to things, making rockets and that kind of thing. Whilst not interactive, they are fun to watch and really educational.

Wonderlab
Taking part in the electricity demonstration

Top Tip – If your child is a little nervous, sit on the seats on the right as you go in. Here, you can make a quick getaway if it becomes too much!

What is the ideal age range?

Whilst there is a lot to see, do and play with, there is also a lot that can be learnt. As such, I feel as though pre-school children wouldn’t really get much out of it. However, they will get the visual impact of the experiments, which is an excellent starting point. However, under 3’s are free so that is a bonus!!

School aged children with an inquisitive mind are absolutely perfect for Wonderlab. They will ask questions that they have never thought about before and will think about things a different way. Just be prepared to do a lot of explaining!!

Wonderlab
Blending colours

How long does it take?

It all depends on how engaged your child is. Heidi has been in for 5 hours before and I have had to drag her away as we had a train to catch. However, if you’re short on time, you could spend an hour and a half and see/do most things. However, you wouldn’t have time to see any of the demonstrations.

Wonderlab
Understanding gravitational fields

When is the best time to go?

The Wonderlab does get busy at weekends and school holidays. However, it has never been absolutely packed, even in the middle of summer. Clearly, the best time would be during the week in the school term (such as a teacher training day) but I would not let it put you off whatsoever.

What are the facilities like?

As the Wonderlab is in its own little area at the top floor of the Science Museum, the facilities are limited. The only facilities are the toilets which are hidden away behind the maths puzzles at the back.

However, just outside the Wonderlab is a shop, as well as a Shake Bar. Here you can buy sandwiches, ice creams and milkshakes (obviously!). There is a large area of seating so you should be fine finding a seat. However, the Shake Bar closes early and so if you promise an ice cream, make sure you go sooner rather than later. I am speaking from experience on that one…!!

On the ground floor, there is a cafe and an amazing shop!

Wonderlab
Looking at freezing water

Is it worth the annual pass?

As at January 2019, the prices are:

Day Pass

  • Adults – £10
  • Concessions including children 4-16 year old – £8
  • Senior (aged 60+) – £9
  • Family (3-5 visitors with no more than 2 adults) – £2 off per day pass

Annual Pass

  • Adults – £15
  • Concessions including children 4-16 year old – £13
  • Senior (aged 60+) – £9
  • Family (3-5 visitors with no more than 2 adults) – £3 off per annual pass

As you can see, if you’re going to visit the Wonderlab twice or more in a year, you are best going for the annual pass. In 2018, we visited 4 times from Leeds and so if you love London, (or live nearby) it is well worth it.

Overall

I think it is safe to say that Wonderlab is one of Heidi’s favourite places in London and I joke that she would love to live there! It has increased her knowledge of science so much, and provided so many happy memories. I can’t wait for us to go back in 2019!

Continue reading Wonderlab – Science Museum

Operation Ouch Live

Heidi is a huge Operation Ouch fan and once the tickets to Operation Ouch Live were available, I made plans to go down to see the show. When I say “huge”, perhaps I mean obsessive. After all, we have 50 recordings saved on the TV! As a result, it was an opportunity not to miss, and it was more special than I could have imagined.

Operation Ouch Live

Operation Ouch Live – The Show

Operation Ouch Live is based on the TV show and you need to have seen a couple of TV shows to get the most of the stage show. However, the stage show stands on its own two feet.

The show lasts 70 minutes, and make sure you get into the theatre 10 minutes before as they play a clip from the TV show, which was a nice touch.

There are bits of goriness involved, but it is all educational. For example, they use a probe to see into Xand’s ear to see his ear drums, as well as inflate a set of animal lungs so you can see how they work in practice. However, it is tastefully done and won’t put anyone off.

Also, the Operation Ouch Live show tells you a little about the Doctors themselves, which was an amazing little touch, especially for a mega-fan like Heidi.

The Venue

Operation Ouch Live is at the Apollo Theatre. This is on Shaftesbury Avenue about 2 minutes from Piccadilly Circus underground station. For those who know London a little bit, it is near the Rainforest Cafe. Whilst the venue holds 775 people, it is quite compact and so you’re not too far away from the stage.  The leg room is decent, and the seats are comfortable enough for the 70 minute show!

Just make sure you look up, to see the fabulous ceiling…

The Apollo Theatre ceiling

They do sell merchandise before the show as well in the foyer, some of which Heidi is modelling after winning a Facebook prize!

Operation Ouch Live – Laughs

As you can imagine, the Operation Ouch Live show is full of laughs and silliness. After all, it is aimed for children aged 5-12! There are daft songs, silly jokes and good old panto humour.

However, the best part is where they showed how a virus spreads quickly between people. This is done by throwing massive wobble balls into the audience and getting them to throw them around. This proved hilarious for the children, but also very educational. They could see how a virus spreads, but also the importance of stopping viruses at source.

Happy faces!

Operation Ouch Live – Teaching

Whilst Operation Ouch Live is definitely a show to entertain, it is also there to teach. There are scientific terms thrown in at semi-regular intervals, but it is age appropriate and done in a manner for children to learn. The skit with the frontal lobe and amygdale is a prime example of this.  Heidi, aged 5, was absolutely fine with the learning part of things, but younger children may struggle.

However, from a parent’s point of view, there is a monologue by Xand which was powerful and poignant. Xand referenced his struggles as a child and gave some well directed life advice to those children who need something a little different in school and life. By this point in the show, the children were like sponges, taking everything in and I am sure that it will help so many. For me as a parent, it was the highlight of the show.

Operation Ouch Live – Chris and Xand

Chris and Xand are excellent on stage and whilst their background is medicine, their on stage performance was very polished. However, after meeting them after the show and an unexpected Twitter message or two, they are genuinely nice people.

Part of doing this blog was to write about the “good guys” in life and have a positive influence on Heidi’s life. Chris and Xand certainly fit into that category. The way they spoke and interacted to Heidi after the show melted my heart and made the trip down worth it. Heidi was over the moon meeting them, especially knowing that her heroes are just as nice in person as they are on TV.

Operation Ouch Live – The Verdict

Operation Ouch Live is simply amazing. I can’t put it any more simply as that!

As the show was ending, Heidi started crying saying that she wanted to come back to see the show again. For me, that is the sign of an amazing show and you cannot fake that reaction. (At this point, she didn’t know about my plan for her to meet them!)

Hopefully diaries will allow us to go down to see Operation Ouch Live again before it finishes on 6th January 2019.

Continue reading Operation Ouch Live

London Attractions Guide

As you may know, Heidi absolutely loves London! We have done a couple of day trips and a couple of mini breaks. As such, I thought that I would do a “London Attractions Guide” which should help if you don’t know where to start.

Best Preschool Attraction

The “Discover – Children’s Story Centre” is a perfect, child friendly place just 5 minutes walk from Stratford Underground station. I wrote about it here previously. Make sure you book in plenty of time because it is small and gets sold out regularly.

Discover

Best Primary School Attraction

The Science Museum is absolutely amazing and we can spend all day there! Located at South Kensington Underground station, it is free to enter. The top floor is a paid-for exhibit called “Wonderlab” and is well worth the money, especially if you get the annual pass. The live shows are educational and entertaining.

TOP TIP!! As you walk from the Tube station to the Science Museum, there is a off-licence selling fresh food. It is just as you enter the underground walkway (not the one in the main foyer.!) The doughnuts and samosas are HUGE and well worth a purchase!

Best Secondary School Attraction

Covent Garden is probably the best place for older children who want to be entertained, but are a bit too old for museums. At a weekend, there are street artists galore who are willing to do virtually anything to entertain the crowds. There is a decent sized market as well, selling all sorts at both London prices and “normal” prices! Either go to Covent Garden Underground station, or Leicester Square (800 yard walk)

Best Grown-Up Attraction

Going to the top Sky Garden in the City of London is a free attraction, but you must prebook. During the day, it is a tourist attraction and children can go in. At night it is a lively bar. Whilst free to enter, the drinks are pricey. However, the chance to sight see from 38 storeys high whilst drinking is an experience! The nearest Underground station is Monument.

 

I can imagine that I should do a follow up to this “London Attractions Guide” with “Bars of London”!!

Best Playground

The there only 2 that I know of in Central London. The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground in Hyde Park is the best one for sure. It is free, and has security on it making sure it doesn’t get too crowded and making sure children don’t escape from the single entrance/exit. There are the usual swings and slides, but there is a decent pirate ship and suspended walkway.  It is a 2 minute walk from Hyde Park Corner Underground Station.

Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground

The other one is just next to Tower Hill Underground station. It only has a slide, a swing and a wobble table, but if you’re going to The Tower of London, it will cheer up the kids!!

Tower Hill

Best restaurant

We have been to the Rainforest Cafe twice now and Heidi remembers it from 12 months ago. The decor is wonderful and the food is decent. Again, you’re best to book ahead, but this can be seen as a one-off treat. Located in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, its location is amazing. You can read about it here.

Best Atmosphere

I always find that the South Bank has a wonderful atmosphere with the street artists and buskers. There is usually an outdoor attraction on just behind the London Eye as well. We like to start walking from Westminister Underground station to see Big Ben and the House of Parliament.

From there, we cross the bridge and walk past the London Eye where the street entertainment is. Then we cross back over the river to Embankment Underground Station. However, if you’re looking for food, head towards Waterloo and you have an amazing choice!

Giving money to a busker

I hope that this London Attractions Guide has been useful. If you only have one day in London, check out this guide here.  I’ll be doing a travel guide to London shortly, which I will link to on here!

Continue reading London Attractions Guide

The Rainforest Cafe, London

I don’t normally do restaurant reviews because we have what could be politely described as an unrefined palette. However, The Rainforest Cafe isn’t an ordinary restaurant.

The Restaurant

As the name suggests, the restaurant (not a cafe!) is set in a rainforest theme. There are elephants, monkeys and various other animals. The only thing missing is the rain and humidity (thankfully!)

Set in a basement in Piccadilly Circus, you can’t actually see the restaurant from the street. You access it through the ground level shop (handy for post meal-nagging for a present!!). However, don’t let this put you off – the decor is amazing and creates such an atmosphere and sensory experience for the little ones (and big ones!)

Heidi was besotted by the elephants that were next to us. But she was even more amazed by The Rainforest Cafe mascot “Cha-Cha” who came round for meet and greets during the meal. It is a dining experience that is somewhat unique to say the least!

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Cha-Cha!!

The Food

In terms of the actual food, the service was really quick (the food was served before the drinks!!) and was of good quality. I had burger and fries as at the end of a busy London weekend, that was all I could face.  Heidi had chicken and fries. Both with drinks came to just under £40, which is expensive for a Yorkshireman, but coming here is a one-off treat, rather than a daily occurrence. The staff were very child focused and were happy to talk to the children as much as the adults!

Children get a colouring pack but there is the option to buy an activity pack, which comes with an animal mask. If truth be told, the excitement of eating in such a cool place was more than enough stimulation and is probably not needed. However, it would be a good way to navigate the shop at the end of the meal!

Booking

We went on a Sunday late afternoon and the waiting area was full and so booking is a must do. The website is so easy to navigate and we were seated within 5 minutes of arriving at The Rainforest Cafe. As mentioned, the restaurant is in the basement, so pushchairs are left upstairs (not sure there is a lift). In terms of toilets, there are baby changing facilities in the Gents, which is good to see.

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As I said previously, the cost will be prohibitive for some. However, this is perhaps the coolest restaurant that I have ever been in and so child focused, so it is well worth a visit if you’re wanting a treat.


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Discover – Children’s Story Centre, London

If you have been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that I am a huge fan of the Rainbow Factory in Leeds (Rainbow Factory posts can be found here). As I was planning a day trip to London, I kept on hearing about a similar venue, called “Discover”. It seemed such a unique attraction in London and it felt like the right place to go.

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It is located a 5 minute walk out of Stratford Underground, which is 20 minute tube ride from Kings Cross. Discover can be easily found if you go the opposite way to the Westfield shopping centre. Then aim for the strange palm tree on the roadside!!

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Seriously, what is this?!

It is best to book in advance, as you have to book the individual activities as part of the day. A couple of the time slots were sold out when we arrived.

Our day was a Dr Seuss themed day and we made it just in time for the reading of “The Cat in the Hat”. However, it was no ordinary reading! The reading took place in a Dr Seuss themed play area where there were activities for the children to play with. The session lasted 45 minutes and the first half of the story was read to the children sat on the carpet. They then had a 15 minute break to allow them to play with their surroundings, before the story was finished off.

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The younger children (under 3) understandably struggled to maintain concentration. However, they were not disruptive as they were happy to play in the play area. However, Heidi loved it and at the end, was full of beans telling the story teller all about her boots and everything else! (UPDATE: I have been told by the Discover Twitter page that it was Megan – thank you!) The way Megan interacted with Heidi was so wonderful to see!

We had about an hour before our next session and so we explored the indoor and outdoor story garden play areas. These were lovely, creative areas for children to run and climb and use their imagination. These shouldn’t be confused with soft play areas, but they allowed children to be creative. Adult interaction and support is possibly needed, depending on age. We, for instance, acted out the Three Little Pigs, as well as Three Billy Goats Gruff. We did this by simply using the play area, which lends itself to this. As it was the end of January, the outdoor area was a bit wet, but in summer it would be stunning!!

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Outdoor playarea

Our final activity was an intimate “reading” of Dr Seuss’s Scrambled Eggs Super. It was really interactive with the story teller acting as the various types of birds (with various voices!). The birds left different eggs with the children to hand around before putting them in the cooking pot.

It was intimate as there were probably 20 people sat on floor cushions in a curtained off room. You felt in touch with the story without being on show. Jonathan, the story teller, was excellent in keeping the children entertained with the story. Given that the story lasted 30 minutes, and the children were generally aged 4 or below, that was no mean feat.

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Indoor playarea

After that, we decided to make our move as we wanted to take in Central London as part of our day trip. However, we were there for 2 ½ hours and it flew by and would love to come back. Heidi was a perfect age (3) for the activities on the day. However,  they do change on a regular basis, so I guess that every visit is slightly different.

It was really good to see that there was space in a huge city like London for a child focused unique attraction. You do feel as though you could be anywhere your imagination takes you.


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London in a Day!

Trying to do London in a Day is difficult. Trying to do London in a Day with a toddler is approaching madness!! London is a wonderful place to spend the day, but was it good with a toddler… maybe not!
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The first question we had was how to get there – plane, train or automobile?! Well, plane costs upwards of £100 per person from Leeds Bradford to Heathrow. Once you clear security and get into the city from Heathrow, you don’t gain anything in time. Train costs about £100 per adult and under 5’s go free if you’re willing to share a seat with them.

Therefore, we decided to go by car and took the economical decision of hiring one for the day. It cost around £40, not including petrol of around £40. So after picking the car up at 8am, we did the lengthy journey down the M1 to London. After a service station stop, all in all, it took 3 hours 30 minutes to get to Stanmore tube station. Heidi was entertained by a portable DVD player, but it did get a bit hairy at times. Fortunately she had a sleep on the way down!!

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(hire car from Enterprise)

Stanmore is one of the few tube stations where there is a decent sized car parks. It is very close to the M1 and as it is at the end of the tube time, it is easy to get on the trains. Is it easy to navigate the Underground with a toddler and pram? Not really, but I was expecting worse! Getting into the city was easy enough but moving around the stations was difficult – but not impossible. To be fair, the “natives” were understanding of the pram and ensured that there was enough space to get on/off. The tube was very, very busy at times and so if you have a nervous child, it might not go very well. However, Heidi was amazingly alert, calm and entertaining!

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One of the keys was planning which stations had lifts and which didn’t. By using the lifts, you tend to see the back corridors of the stations which you never see! However, the lifts aren’t everywhere and so chances are you have to go up an escalator or two. You are best to carry your child and fold the pushchair and hold it. Obviously, this is very much difficult if there is just one of you.

So, having got into central London at 2pm – what do you do with a 2 year old?? Well, surprisingly, there is very little to do! There are no children specific museums and very little for toddlers at all! There seems to be more towards Greenwich/Docklands and that might be a better place to go next time.

We knew we only had 4 hours or so before having to head back so we decided to cut down the travelling as much as possible, and decided to do the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. Except there was a problem. There were massive queues (this was a Tuesday in August). As a result, we went into the Victoria and Albert Museum, for not other reason than it was quieter and we wanted to do anything!

The V&A is not child friendly at all and I wouldn’t go back at all. But because of the open spaces and “interesting” artwork, it did allow Heidi to wander around and be visually stimulated (I think!) We lasted 30 minutes and by that time, the queues in the Natural History Museum had died down and we ventured in. It was very busy but we spent about an hour in there looking at the various exhibits. There was a very child-friendly exhibition in the basement around animals which resulted in Heidi pretending to be a tortoise after touching a tortoises shell! The queue for the dinosaur exhibit was unbelievable and we didn’t try to go in.

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After an hour in the Natural History Museum, we walked down the road to the Science Museum. Perhaps the most toddler friendly place, we only made it on the ground floor and managed to watch a live show about bubbles which was really good fun (and educational-ish) Had we done it again, perhaps we would have spent all afternoon here. One good thing about London is that there are plenty of free toilets in the museums etc. There were excellent nappy changing facilities throughout.

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As evening drew on, we made it to Westminster in time to hear Big Ben chime 6 O’clock, which was more by luck than judgement. However, we should have planned this as it was pretty cool for a 2 year old! If possible, try to go to Westminster on the tube as when you leave the station, you instantly see Big Ben and it is a sight to behold.

We ended up walking along the South Bank to Waterloo. This is a particular favourite due to the street entertainers there and the good atmosphere that can be generated down there. Again, an excellent place for toddlers! We found a “suitable” restaurant for tea (not many are overly family friendly – and certainly no Wacky Warehouses!) before walking back on the more sedate North Bank to Westminster and the Tube back to the car.

All in all, we got back to the car at Stanmore at 8pm and didn’t get back home until 12.30am – a very long day!! Heidi was asleep all the way home which was a relief, although the drive back for me was a challenge due to the long day!! Doing London in a Day is tough!

Was it enjoyable? Yes!

Would we do it again? Yes!

Would we do it differently? Absolutely!

It was worthwhile, as 4 months later, Heidi still remembers certain aspects of it, which shows that the day carried some really good memories for her.

How would we have done it differently? We should have set off in the early morning to make the most of the time and concentrated our time on the Science Museum and maybe Buckingham Palace/Hyde Park. However, you live and learn and so if this helps someone out in the future, the blog has helped!

UPDATE! We have been to London quite a few times since and you can read the following blog posts:

Discover Children’s Story Centre

London Attractions Guide

Continue reading London in a Day!