Play Factor-e Manchester

You can tell how much you enjoy a place when you rewrite about your experiences in double quick time, and that is the case with the Play Factor-e.

However, it was all a bit of an accident as we headed off for Heidi’s birthday wanting to take in the Albert Dock in Liverpool. It took us 90 minutes to get to Birch Services because of a crash on the M60, and so a new plan was quickly hatched. This took us to the Play Factor-e, 2 minutes away from the Trafford Centre.

It is safe to say that the only research was a quick Google search on the M60. However, but the pictures looked impressive, and they didn’t lie!

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Wow! The HUGE play area

Play Area

The play centre looks brand new. As a result, it is clean and all the equipment is new and in good condition. The eye catching part is the huge climbing frame which is hard work to get to the top of, but all good fun nonetheless! It is quite easy to lose a child in there as there as loads of different levels/paths. As a result, you may need to follow or have a stern word beforehand!! There are the usual climbing frame bits and pieces for the little ones to tire themselves out on, including slides, rollers and all the rest…

The eye catching part is the huge slide going from top to bottom. Now, under 5’s cannot go on the slide, with due reason. If you have an over 5, I would test it out yourself first (purely for research obviously!) as it is blooming fast!! Apparently, it is the tallest standing indoor slide in Europe and perhaps a little too tall for me!!

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It even has a football pitch!

Separate Toddler Area

For the little ones, there is a separate toddler play area which is lovely. Within it is the star of the show for us, which is an interactive video game. This entertained Heidi for about an hour and it seemed popular with all the toddlers as they kept on coming in and out during the visit! It is housed in a bland “house” in the toddler section. However, there is a projector showing interactive games on the floor (for example, playing a piano, popping balloons). The activities they cycle through every couple of minutes, they don’t get too bored. I have only seen it in the Science Museum in London (read about London here) and even then, it was just 1 game, so this is pretty special.

I love this part!

Food

In terms of food, we had a bagel and a small pizza, which were quite nice and reasonably priced. The portion wasn’t huge but you probably wouldn’t want to go on the play area on a heavy stomach! The variety of food and drinks was quite diverse as well, especially on the sweet side of things.

Toilets

Also, as it is a new venue, the toilets are decent and child/baby friendly with stools to help the little ones to reach the sink. The baby change room also has a toilet in there as well. The security on the toddler section is pretty good, meaning that toddlers can’t get in and out of their section. There is also an exit button on the exit of the centre, as well as someone on the desk as you leave, so that aspect is really good as well.  Parking is also free and plentiful as well.

While it is probably a bit far for us Yorkshire folk to make the trip just to here, we did spend 2 1/2 hours in there. There are time restrictions during peak times however. It is clear that we had a good time, which meant for a very easy bedtime in the evening!! However, if you’re off to Manchester, the Trafford Centre or elsewhere within the Trafford Quays Leisure Village (for example ski-ing!), it is certainly a place to add onto the itinerary!

Continue reading Play Factor-e Manchester

Totfest

For the second year in a row, we went down the M1 to Sheffield for the Little Sheffield Totfest event.

The beauty of taking boatloads of photos and reminiscing is that you play the game “I can’t believe that was a year ago!”. That was exactly what happened when I realised it was Totfest again!

In short, Totfest is an open air event just for toddlers, with lots of free activities, taster classes and mini attractions. Obviously, for us to drive an hour to go, it must be good!

There seemed to be more at this years’ Totfest (2016). However, it may have been to do with the torrential rain in the morning last year. However, this year the rain waited until the afternoon!! The weather gods certainly don’t like this event!!!

However, for toddlers, there are loads of things to see and do. We easily spent a couple of hours at the event before being beaten by the weather.

 

In terms of the activities, there were Alpacas, skunks and meerkats that the children were encouraged to stroke, as well as kiddie golf and a fire engine. There was also story telling for the older ones, but we never got round to it. Speaking of animals, there was a huge dancing and singing chicken.  I have no idea why,  but it was entertaining nonetheless!!

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Giant singing chicken!!

There was also a couple of free play areas with garden toys so that the little ones could run about and be children.

However, the best part is the structured classes, in part because they are under cover!! Seriously though, it is really good to go to these classes to get a flavour of if they suit your child. We experienced Pyjama Drama last year and because of it, we joined soon after.

There always seems to be a mix of classes. Whilst we obviously gave Baby Sensory a miss, we did Minimovez. As usual, Heidi was at the front of the class, thinking that she knew all the answers and acting like the oldest in the class!!!! (A little embarrassing!) The class was really upbeat and fast moving and so it was ideal for those who had a bit of energy to burn off. It was so good, Heidi wanted to go to the next session, before flaking out halfway through, due to exhaustion!!

We also tried Baby Spanish, which is probably more suited for toddlers, as well as adults!! This might be something for us to tackle when Heidi can concentrate a bit more and is happy to sit still. However, this is the beauty of these taster sessions!

This event has become a highlight to go to each year now. Given good weather, I am sure that it will grow and grow, especially as there isn’t anything similar in the region!


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Dadstastic!

Fathers Day 2016 was the inaugural Dadstastic event organised by Leeds Dads, headed up by Errol Murray, held at Leeds City Museum. I hope that it is the first of many more to come!

The event was celebrating all things “dad”. However, very little was “dad” focused. It was child focused, which is exactly how it should be. Hopefully mums felt as welcome as dads.

The event was also celebrating all that is good about Leeds (and the surrounding area) in terms of children’s entertainment and activities. When you look around, and hopefully my blog backs this up, Leeds has some wonderful things for children to get involved in. It should be something the city is proud of.

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In fact, one bad thing about writing this is not being able to link everyone in who made it a success, so please use the comments section! Truth be told as well, we were there for 3 hours and didn’t get round to most of what was happening. That shows how much there was going on at Dadstastic!

The Activities

Our little plan initially took us to a Frozen singalong with Suzie Sparkles aka Elsa. Now, I am very lucky as we have never seen the film. This meant that we were at a slight disadvantage! However, Elsa was wonderful with the children, young and old, and the ample distribution of lollies also helps! Even pass the parcel was a success with no-one getting upset over not being able to win!!

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After that we had our face painted (well, Heidi, not me!) and whilst challenging them by asking for a ladybird, it looked lovely and even Anna seemed impressed!!! What was also good was the fact that there was a number of face painters so the queue wasn’t long!

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So after a quick lunch stop, we went to the fabulous Boomchikkaboom. I have written about the fabulous times we have had with Faye and Natalie on numerous occasions (for example here), but they are truly brilliant.  However, Heidi seems to have been going to too many of their events as she seems to want to run the class!! The class was so good, we even had bubbles and foam. However, we did find out foam and face paint don’t go well together!!

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Straight from there we headed off to the Northern School of Contemporary Dance class. This class was a bit too energetic for all the parents sat on the side, as we were all every tired at this point!!! The teacher, Sam, was really good at involving all of the children, be they 2 or 10. I thought that Heidi might be a bit too young. However, it was ideal, except the fact that she can’t balance on 1 foot!!!

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A Dadstatic End

That took us to the end of the Dadstastic event, except for a big group photo to finish. All in all, nearly 2,000 people were in the museum on Fathers Day, which is amazing. The cafe ran out of most food, and there was lots of happy yet tired faces leaving the museum at the end of the event.

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Obviously, if Dadstastic happens in the future, please support it. It is a wonderful event, set up by a great set of dads, with the support of local organisations.  I am pretty sure the country hasn’t got a similar event and that alone makes it special. The fact is was held on Fathers Day was the cherry on the cake!

Continue reading Dadstastic!

Crafty Kids

I will start this by saying that I am not arty at all. I can just about draw stick men. Just. So after hearing about Crafty Kids elsewhere on the blogosphere, and with Fathers Day looming, I thought that we would pop down.

The set up is quite simple but really, really effective. There are 3 “arty” tables where you can paint, glue and colour in. There is also a load of toys around the edge of the room to keep the little ones entertained. (UPDATE: There is now an outdoor play as well).

Given children’s ability to get bored easily, always start with the paints. After this they may go from Picasso to grumpy child, but at least you have your masterpiece drying off!!

I suffered this after the painting and the gluing tables with a bad case of not wanting to share the toys!!! The tantrums don’t happen often but this one was a beauty! As the room is small and intimate, we had to escape into the rest of the Mill complex so we could calm down a little! (UPDATE: Crafty Kids has moved so there is more space!)

We never did make it to the colouring table. However, we did attempt the painting once again whilst playing with play doh, water table and the dolls house. All the toys were in really good condition and really safe etc!

Jessica is wonderful at adding the finishing touches to make the artwork look totally amazing and seems to know who has done what artwork and what tidying up needs doing up on them. She also gives excellent ideas to those of us who are not creative!!

So after an hour and 15 minutes, we finished and took our art home. In that time, we managed 4 paintings and a glued flag…all of varying quality, but full of love!! image

If you were coming from afar, it might be a good idea to spend some time after in the Jelly Beans soft play area. I have never been (or is that “bean”?!) but I have heard good reports! (UPDATE: Crafty Kids is very close to Cannon Hall Farm now, so you can combine the two).

All in all, for £5 we made Fathers Day presents, got creative and didn’t make a mess of the house!!! That is one of the beauties of this place. You don’t have to set it all up for either a mess to occur or for it to be used for 5 minutes and for it to be a complete waste of time!!
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In terms of age ranges, actually, it is open to pretty much all ages of children and it is probably easier the smaller they are! Also, while there are aprons etc, it might be wise to wear clothes which you don’t mind getting dirty, as well as taking a spare set!

It’s really nice to see a newish business set up and provide a really good service and atmosphere for both adults and children, so go down and support it!!

JANUARY 2017 UPDATE: We went to Crafty Kids just before Christmas to make some Christmas presents. It was just as good as it was the first time we went!


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Grass Hoppers – Tong Garden Centre

We went to Grass Hoppers in May with friends and seeing as though it was the second time we have been, and it is a stones throw from our house, I thought that I would do a review.

If you haven’t been to Tong Garden Centre for a few years, it has really changed for the better under the new owners. The fact that I am writing about a children’s play area amongst a garden centre says something about its turnaround.

Grass Hoppers Activities

Grass Hoppers itself pretty much a completely outdoor play area. There is a traditional playground, water/sand area, huge bouncing pillow, low level climbing frame with zip wire and toy houses/climb on cars. They were also extending it when we were there so as you can tell, whilst there is a lot to do, there will be more!!

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The main problem with Grass Hoppers is also it main strength. Grass Hoppers is very large with a number of activities that the little ones can go on. Given that I was with Heidi’s friends, I deliberately didn’t get involved and let her play with her friends. However, that meant that it was difficult to keep the right amount of distance!

Obviously the range of toys speak for themselves. However, given the fact that there is water and sand, I would recommend taking a change of clothes. Children seem to gravitate towards water! However, when it is cold, it appears that they turn off the water – good move!!

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Grass Hoppers Facilities

The toilets are within the play area and are of good quality, even though they are in a portacabin! The baby change toilet is pretty much ideal, which is really good to see.

There is a small tuck shop at the entrance to the play area and also a restaurant within the garden centre. This might come in handy as you will end up being there for much longer than you planned!!! They seem to be very keen for you not to eat food brought into the area, which is understandable.

Going back to the original comment about the size of the area, there doesn’t appear to be any controls stopping children from escaping back through the entrance and into the garden centre. As such, so you do need to keep an eye on them and/or sit near the entrance.

As it is outside, be prepared for all weather as well. In our group, we had one of us in jumpers and one in shorts and a t-shirt so be prepared!!

All in all, Grass Hoppers is a lovely venue with lots of good quality toys for the children to run about and get tired on, whilst being good value for money. Pretty much an ideal place to spend a morning!

 

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Fathers Day

It would be amiss for me not to make a special post on Fathers Day.

In truth, every day is Fathers Day. Every day I am responsible, care for and love the most precious little girl in the world, who in turn fills my world full of hope, laughter and play.

Being a Dad isn’t easy, I have written about that in the past. It will never be easy. However, the easy parts are when we are together, playing, laughing, teaching, cuddling.

The hard parts are when we are apart, or just about to be apart. Over the years, on the outside, this has got easier, but it still cuts me up on the inside. I am not afraid to admit that either. It shows that I care. It shows that I love. It shows that I love being a dad.

Have I improved as a dad over the years? I would argue that I was perfect already… Not because I am now better at doing plaits, playing at doctors or even looking after her.

I am a perfect dad because I love Heidi with all my heart, I always have and that will never change. Truth be told, that is the only thing you need to be a perfect parent. The rest will take care of itself.

Happy Fathers Day!!

Continue reading Fathers Day

Sandcastle Water Park

Daddy/daughter day went further afield this time!  I had Heidi on a weekday during term-time and so we decided (well, me as Heidi is still 2!) to go to Blackpool for the day. This was with the hope of beating the crowds somewhat. Also, as Heidi loves her swimming I thought that it would be good to to Sandcastle Water Park.

Location and Facilities

In terms of location, Sandcastle Water Park is opposite the Pleasure Beach and we decided to park in the car park next to it. As the forecast wasn’t that brilliant, this turned out to be a good decision, and meant that I wasn’t carrying swimming items all day!

As we went in, the first think I realised was the coin-less locket. If you read this post (Swimming with a toddler!) you’ll know my loathing of money at swimming baths, so that was a good start. We found a changing room quite easily, although getting dressed afterwards was a bit more difficult. There were plenty of lockers to choose from. Also, when going into the changing rooms, it was nice and warm, which is a nice change!

Swimming

So for the swimming itself. Sandcastle Water Park is clearly a water park and so if you’re wanting to teach your child to swim, it won’t work for you. However, there are 2 main swimming areas, one with a wave machine at the top and bottom of the hour and one with a ravine and a couple of children’s slides going into it.

There are also a large number of slides for big kids and little kids to go on. For toddlers, there are probably 4 slides that they can go on – 2 with adults and 2 without. Obviously, the queues were non-existent for these. However, with Heidi quickly getting tired, she didn’t want to go on any of them!

There is also a “splash zone” where kids can climb up a staircase/tower and splash those below. This was good and the ravine was also good to go round a few times. In terms of the wave machine, non swimmers can’t go into the deep end. This is with good reason as it is powerful enough in the shallow end and so care needs to be taken.

2 hours absolutely flew by even though we only went on 1 slide. We were only stopped by the fact Heidi was getting tired. If we were to go again, I would probably put some money on the wristband so we could go to the waterside cafe. This would mean that we could have had a rest and something to eat.

Pricing

The pricing is a difficult one for me as it is probably one of the best in the country and cheaper than the new one to be opened in Scarborough. (You can read about Alpamare here). However, 3 year olds are charged a child’s price and they are clearly not going to last as long as older children. However, I fully understand the business reasoning. I suggest that you think about the price if you have a 3 or 4 year old.

However, compared to the Pleasure Beach over the road, Sandcastle Water Park is a bargain and with older children, you could legitimately stay in all day.

Continue reading Sandcastle Water Park

Swimming with a toddler!

I have been meaning to write a blog post about swimming with a toddler for a while. However, after going swimming a few days ago to Sandcastle Water Park I thought that I would write a generic and hopefully humorous post on coping as a single dad with the trauma of swimming!!

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I found swimming one of my biggest challenges as a single dad. This is mainly as I lacked confidence to do it. So if by reading this, it inspires someone to go and give it a go with their child, then it has worked! Also, if you laugh/smile, it has worked as well!

Getting Ready

My main issue was the changing room, making sure that I had packed everything, unpacked everything etc etc!  Dry space is your friend on this…who cares if things are not folded like a piece of origami – so long as it is dry!

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I used to get us both ready in out swimming costumes before setting off to the baths as it is one less thing to forget. I tended to put Heidi’s swimming nappy on just before going into the pool. Don’t make my mistake of putting it on too early as they are not as easy to change and clean when they have been used!!!

So, getting into the pool is the easy bit, apart from playing the ‘how can I put all our clothes in the locker while entertaining a child?’ game?! Lockers are not designed for adult shoes, coats, bags or even baby items. It seems as though they only accept towels and money so you won’t be the first or the last to shoulder barge your bags, shoes etc in while holding your child in the other arm. Not glamorous, but just get the job done!

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Swimming with a Toddler

The swimming bit is actually the fun part, except you have probably got a dead arm at this point. Remember though, a child in water weighs less so you can reminisce about how light your child was back when they were born as your arm recovers and you worry about if you put everything in the locker!!

You are also petrified about not being in contact with your child for the fear of drowning in an instant. You also start to mentally design about some kind of swimming harness to make sure it never happens…

There is a serious note on swim safety here and there are many better resources than me to advise on that. However, always listen to the lifeguards, they are there for a reason!

However, you quite like this swimming with a toddler lark.

The Lockers

So after going round the same bit of pool for a what feels like an eternity, you get feeling back in your arm and decide to get out of the pool. Then you wonder how you are going to get everything out of the locker that rammed full of all your worldly possessions whilst looking after a child…

Some places have pens to put children in, so ask where it is before you go into the water in the first place. It is optional to have to take them out! However, you are probably going to try and have to use your newly recovered arm to yank the mis-shaped items out of the locker.

I probably should have said beforehand to make sure all the zips of your bags are closed before you put it in the locker. As if not, the contents will fly their way into someone else’s changing cubicle!! You then suddenly turn into Michael Caine and think that the only solution is to blow the bloody door off…

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The Changing Rooms

However, changing rooms are magical places and then you evolve from Michael Caine to a hybrid of superheroes.

You have 8 arms because you are carrying a tired child and your worldly possessions. Most importantly is the £1 coin from the locker as you promised the child something from the vending machine if they stayed in the water for more than 5 minutes.

You also turn into a hawk trying to look for a suitable changing room. For this,  size means nothing. Just make sure it is dry!

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You also turn into Usain Bolt realising you have to leave some things in the changing room to get everything else out of the locker. As such, you rush to make sure no-one will steal your underwear and worn down trainers (hint, they won’t!)

You also curse the hawk for not spotting a free changing room right next to the locker…

Getting Dressed

So you are tired, wet, cold and your superhuman powers have disappeared. Your Everest is in front of you – your child needs changing into normal clothes again! You forget everything you have ever learnt about dressing a child as you fear that hypothermia is just around the corner. (Hint, it isn’t. Although you need to get them dry as soon as possible)

This is has a difficulty level 9 and so it is ok for shortcuts to be made.
Clothes inside out? Not a problem. Shoes on with no socks? Not a problem.
Vest back to front? Be proud that you have got the vest on in the first place.

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But they you realise that you can do it, and you have done it. You have got your child dressed and not managed to break them! You’re in a changing room so no one else can see your joy. However, no one else can see your celebration dance, so go for it!

However, there is a problem. You are still in your swimming outfit, freezing cold and wondering how to get out in one piece. If your child is a baby, you are on easy street. Just give them a toy and you have bought 5 minutes. Trust me, they won’t mind!

Bribery

With a toddler, this is much more difficult. They want to get out of the changing rooms. They also know how to open the door. You panic about showing the whole world everything as your toddler escapes and you having to run and catch them wearing only a smile. But then you remember one of the keys to parenting – bribery. You offer the lure of the vending machine to keep them sweet for 5 minutes as you get dressed. You also wonder why you wore skinny jeans as opposed to baggy shorts.

And then you’re ready to leave, having spent more time out of the pool than in the pool. But you know that you have completed an important mission with SAS style efficiency and you have a happy child.

Until you realise you have forgotten to pick up the coin from the locker and the vending machine will have to wait until next time!

Continue reading Swimming with a toddler!

Toilet Training – (part 4)

Is the light at the end of the tunnel?! Quite possibly so after 3 very, very successful weeks.

As a prelude, part 1 of the adventure is found here, part 2 here and part 3 here

I remember starting this mini-series in a bit of despair really… Heidi knew what she needed to do, but also knew that she was only 2 and thought that it would be far too boring to do things easily!! However, we are getting there, rather quickly.

I managed a long weekend away to the North Yorks Coast without needing to change her once, and this included, for the first time, going without nappies in bed. So, have we finally cracked it and I can get rid of all the nappies and pull-ups that are floating around the house?

Logically, I would say yes. I haven’t changed a nappy in weeks (woohoo!) However, there are still times when there is reluctance to go, but she has never wet herself for me and she is happy to use public toilets and knows when she does and doesn’t want to go.

However, I am now the dad to a child and not a baby – and that is a weird feeling…

While it is seemingly long overdue, I know that a little bit of Heidi’s innocence is gone. She is no longer only having to think about being herself, she has to think about looking after herself as well. My little girl is growing up. Quickly.

So, what is the point of this blog post? Well, a little bit of self reflection on the journey we have been on (read back for the time she only wanted to stand up!) and also offer some reassuring words for others going through what I did go through…

I know it is a well worn saying, but it will happen in its own time. Heidi was at least 6 months behind her friends and naturally, I did worry and I wanted her to progress because you want your child do do the best in everything. However, you cannot force it. You can try and force them to go to the toilet, but if they don’t want to go, they don’t want to go!!

Would I have done anything different? I wouldn’t have worried as much, for sure, and I would have just gone with the flow. I never did the whole ‘staying in’ to train Heidi – perhaps I should have done. However, she found the whole thing slightly entertaining and her mischievous side took over at times! One thing that I would have done is run down my supplies of nappies and pull-ups! I have some artistic plans up my sleeve for those when the time is right!

 


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Mini Einsteins – Rainbow Factory

** This class in not currently being offered by the Rainbow Factory **

An unexpected day off during the week perfectly coincided with the Rainbow Factory holding a day of taster sessions for their 0-5 year old classes that they are starting to put on from June onwards. As Heidi is not attending nursery, preschool or anything like that, I felt as though it was a perfect opportunity to spend the day at ‘Rainbow Factory School’ and see how she would get on.

We signed up for 4 classes: Mini Einsteins, Fantastic Phonics, Music Monkeys and Theatre Tots and while I was fearful that Heidi would flake out after the first 2, I thought that we would go for it!

Our first class was Mini Einsteins and as we entered the Rainbow Factory itself, we saw the mini (cute) lab coats hung up, which was such a nice touch and made it feel a bit more special.

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Proud to be a scientist!

As it is aimed for 3-5 year olds, I knew Heidi would be a bit stretched (she is 3 next month) but actually, she managed to understand most of what was going on, and more importantly, has learnt and remembered as time has passed.

Heidi is a bit of a scientist anyway (see this post about our visit to a Science Fair) and so I thought that this would be ideal for her – and it was! I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the session was basicially a big science experiment, just like you did at school. Part of me thought that it would be too complex, but perhaps I am doing the kids a bit of a disservice, as they seemed to grasp what was going on.

Even though the class wasn’t marketed as messy, the lab coats were definitely needed and I am  glad that I brought the wet wipes and not the best outfit for the pair of us! However, the experiments were so simple and effective, I know that we will be trying a couple at home at some point. In fact, I have seemingly hammered home the fact that items fall because of gravity!!

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Testing out gravity

And that is the beauty of this class, the learning only starts in the class, you need to carry it on at home for it to have an effect. Even though I am writing this a week or so after, after a prompt, Heidi remembers the experiments, remembers the outcomes and remembers some of the terminology.

It is a shame that I don’t think that we will be able to attend the classes on a Friday as I know that it would really help Heidi’s development. It just means that I will have to buy a home science kit and try not to ruin the house!!

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Creating a volcano

If you have read this and know nothing about the Rainbow Factory (aka the best place in Leeds!), you might find this post useful.

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