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

Project Mc2 Ultimate Spy Bag

How do you make Science interesting to kids? One way is to make it not seem like science at all. That is what the “Project Mc2 Ultimate Spy Bag” tries to do.

All in all, there are 20+ pieces to the science/spy kit, including a magnifying glass, test tubes and beaker, alongside a booklet full of experiments to perform.

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Scientific Beaker

All of this is held within a carry case that can also be used as a stylist handbag within the house!!

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Showing off the carry case

TOP TIP!! Make sure you take a photo of how all the items fit in the carry case. It makes it so much easier when it comes to packing it all away!

The most unusual part of the Spy Bag is the fingerprinting kit, including dust powder. This can also be used as shimmer makeup (not until Heidi has left home!!!) and cards to collect the fingerprints. I say that it is unusual because you don’t really see many products on the market with this specific product. So if your child is into fingerprints and/or the whole CSI thing, then this is going to be a good product for you.

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Part of the fingerprint pack

The most fun part of the kit is the lipstick that doubles up as a secret message launcher. It was very fun and also the most frustrating item because we couldn’t get it to work!! This is through no fault of the product, more the fault of an overexcited child. She thought that she knew EXACTLY what to do (without reading the instructions!)

Your child will require parental involvement with this product. Your child will gain so much more out of it if they are taught as the items are used, rather than just being left to get on with it, so it isn’t a bad thing. There are no dangerous substances within the kit and so safety equipment isn’t needed. Adult assistance is probably needed because some of the pieces are quite small within the product.

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Instruction Guide

The Adrienne Attoms Project MC2 brand is the driver behind this product. Whilst that might be a plus point for some, you certainly don’t need to know or understand the brand to enjoy the kit. However, it might lure you into a YouTube path that might make you lose an hour or so!!

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Contents of the Spy Bag – all neat and tidy!

All in all, it is an excellent product on a number of different levels. If your child has an interest in science, or problem solving, this is likely to be a hit with them.  As at July 2018, it is retailing for £39.99, although there may be offers on if you research a little. The recommended age for the product is 6+ and that feels about right. However, I feel as though a 5 year old could have a good go at most of the things, especially with a high level of adult assistance. Best of all, it includes the batteries needed for one of the items – woohoo!!

Full Disclaimer: The Project Mc2 Utimate Spy Bag was offered free of charge for the purposes of this post. My opinion was not influenced by this.


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Hotel Chocolat – Children’s Workshop

We were invited to attend the Hotel Chocolat “School of Chocolate”. This is a children’s workshop to show them all about how chocolate is made, why it tastes and looks a certain way, as well as have a lot of fun at the same time!

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Hosted by the fabulously child-friendly Dan and Sam, we were guided upstairs. After a hand-wash (good start!) the children were sat around a table and the adults had their drink orders taken and let Dan and Sam take over!!

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You HAVE to have a hot chocolate at Hotel Chocolat!

The Chocolate

The children were asked about how chocolate was made. I think it’s safe to say that the adults learnt just as much as the children! Then the taste testing began, with buttons of various kinds of chocolate being passed around. With Hotel Chocolat being Hotel Chocolat, all of the chocolate was amazing (adults were jealously looking on at this point!)

After half an hour, the sugar was really kicking in and the children were led downstairs to look at the conch (who knew!) and how the beans were cooked and then the chocolate made. Then, they were up close watching how the tempering process took place. However,the children were genuinely scared that the mix was about to be thrown onto a marble table top!!

The tempering process can be seen below.

It is best if you follow your child down for this bit because, well, would you leave a child in a sweet shop?!?! Seriously, they are looked after well but the adults get as much out of it as the children!

Going back upstairs, the really hands-on part came, with decorating a slab of chocolate and a chocolate lolly. This is the part where adults get involved a bit, depending on the age of the child, but remember the chocolate is for the children and not the adults!!

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After that, the decorations are put in the fridge and the children get to have a warm drink of salted caramel. The drink wasn’t to my taste, but it went down well with the children! They also got to decorate a box for their chocolate slab.

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After that, it was time to go with our goody bag and into the shop. You get an in-store discount and so it would be rude if you didn’t buy a little something extra!!

Price

As of October 2017, it costs £20 for a place at each workshop. It feels a little steep, you probably get £5 of chocolate to take home, plus a drink and a discount in store. As a result, the course might pay for itself if you are buying Christmas/Easter presents there in bulk!!

Age Range

In terms of age range, they suggest ages 5-12 and that feels about right. The child has to be confident enough in conversation on their own as it is effectively a learning experience. The class size is limited, so it is a special occasion for all concerned.

Talking to Dan and Sam afterwards, they do suggest that it is better to come as a group. This gets a better atmosphere in the session, but if you have a confident child, they will be fine on their own. It did make me think that it could be an ideal birthday party venue. This is especially so if you don’t want to invite too many kids!!

We are extremely lucky to have this in Leeds, as the only other location where Hotel Chocolat is doing this workshop is in London. Fingers crossed it will be a success, and it deserves to be because it is a wonderful one-off experience.

 


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Orlando Science Center

Regular readers of the blog will know that Heidi is quite the scientist, with our regular trips to Mini Einsteins (read here) and almost continual rocket experiments.  So a trip to the Orlando Science Center seemed like a perfect way to fuel this interest whilst on holiday and make sure she was learning a little whilst away from nursery.

Orlando Science Center is around 30 minute drive away from the Disney parks. Located up I-4 near downtown Orlando, and it is a relatively easy drive, apart from the traffic near the parks. There is onsite parking ($5) in a multi-story car park where there are plenty of spaces. However. please don’t make the same mistake I did and park on the top floor – the sun makes the car remarkably hot!!

Orlando Science Center is a fully indoor attraction (good for rainy days!) and has 4 floors. Our favourite was the top floor with the lab and hands-on experiments. The lab had around 7 little experiments for people to try out. These included testing the acidity of food/drink and testing the strength of structures. We had done a few of them back at home previously, so it was good to know that the science methods were the same on the other side of the Atlantic.

Also on the top floor were lots of hands-on, visual experiments which were ideal for smaller children. The dinosaur exhibit was also on the top floor and for any dinosaur fan, the impressive structures would really help their learning and bring them to life.

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The next couple of floors down were slightly too advanced for Heidi. This was because they were to do with complex structures and space. These would have been ideal for children around 7 years old and older as they would have linked into the school curriculum quite well.

However, there was still plenty for our 3 year old as there was a play area focused around farms/produce. This is where the children could run around and “play” but they could also focus on learning. There was also a lovely wet play/water table area in this area which had a similar effect.

On the ground floor, there was a lovely small animal section. In here are some adorable turtles as well as quite a lot of small water creatures – highlighting the Florida eco-system. Again, for a 3 year old, it was mainly about seeing the animals, rather than learning about them in great detail!!

The best idea is to play the day around the pop-up activities throughout the day and take it from there. When we went, the activities weren’t well signposted, but the friendly staff went above and beyond to help. Likewise, the staff member in the Lab area (she had ginger hair and was losing her voice!!) took a real shine to Heidi and made a very good visit a little bit more special!

In terms of facilities, there is a Subway on site, which is useful for a snack. However, if you’re staying all day, you might need something more substantial. As you would expect Stateside, the toilet/changing facilities are brilliant.

At May 2017, it costs $19.95 for adults, $13.95 for children aged 3 and over and under 3’s are free. As well as all the learning, you also get a screening to a “Hollywood Movie” as well as films in the CineDome. We didn’t take advantage of either because, well, a 3 year old on holiday doesn’t want to see films!!! This cost feels about right, but obviously for overseas visitors, the exchange rate plays a part.

Heidi was probably a year or so too young for Orlando Science Center.  We did stay around 3 hours and that is with us being slightly tired after walking round the parks etc.  However, that just means that we can go back again at some point and learn it all again!!


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Life Science Centre, Newcastle

With New Years Eve 2016 falling on a Saturday and my sense of adventure feeling stronger, we decided to go for a city trip to Newcastle by train. Here we went to the Life Science Centre and the Discovery Museum (which you can read about here).

Getting to Newcastle from Leeds is much easier by train and took about 90 minutes. Then we took the 5 minute walk from the station to the museum and thanks to excellent signposting, finding it was a piece of cake.

Whilst the Christmas ice rink outside was somewhat appealing (see here for our eventual ice skating adventure!) we headed in to see what we could find.

In the main area of the “museum” (I call it that loosely as it was more a “hands-on learning experience”) there were loads of little experiments and areas to learn. One of the favourites was the thermal imaging camera showing the heat contrast between humans and a block of ice. On this, we experimented by rubbing our noses onto the ice.

Our other favourite was the spinning wheels where the children discovered centrifugal forces (almost!) The exhibits weren’t manned so parents were empowered to do the teaching, which is no bad thing!

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Learning about centrifugal forces!

Upstairs was a decently sized free play area for the younger children (I would suggest aged 8 and below). Here there is a free soft play blocks/mats but also a small mock shop and kitchen. This provided a good breakout area after quite intense learning downstairs.

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Play area!

The special attraction at the time was showing the insides of animals, in terms of their bone and muscle structure. This was perhaps not the most suitable for a 3 year old as the models were VERY realistic. However. her enthusiasm for biology took over and seemed to learn a bit.

Our favourite part was the show in the planetarium. There was loads of shows going on throughout the day and some are more age specific than others. Due to the dark nature of the auditorium, there is likely to be tears from some of the younger ones. However, I think that it is just one of those things!

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Planetarium show!

Our one slightly disappointing part was that we weren’t allowed into the science lab to do some experiments. Children had to be aged 7 and over to go in. Whilst I fully understand the safety concerns, the experiments that they were doing were ones that we do in our kitchen!!

Overall, we stayed at the Life Science Centre for 5 hours or so and so it is good value for money. Making use of the lockers (£1 charge + refundable deposit paid in cash) was a good move but ask for a large locker!. The food was decent, although we were extremely tired when it came to having tea there, so it might not be the best assessment either way! You can come and go during the day, which we did. Also, the toilets were decent.

The exhibits keep on changing and so when the time is right, we will make another trip up the country to do some more exploring at the Life Science Centre.


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Discovery Museum, Newcastle

On our day trip to Newcastle, we took in the Life Science Centre (post here!). However, we also spent an hour or so at the Discovery Museum, which is about 10 minutes walk from the train station. If you’re struggling to find it, look for the imposing building. (think 19th century hospital!)

In truth, I wouldn’t really write a blog post about somewhere where we only spent an hour. However, the free attraction was so quaint, and delivered the most perfect memory to round off 2016, I simply had to!

Initially we went to make a lantern for the New Years Eve parade and I didn’t know much else about it before going in. However, the top floor was an absolute hidden gem of hands-on experiments and puzzles for children of all ages.

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Making a lantern

Obviously some will get different things out of each section, but the floor was crammed full of visual illusions/perceptions, as well as bits about motion, gravity, electricity and telephone communications.

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How many lights can you see?!

However, the best part of all was something hidden away in the corner – 3 mirrors put together – and it caused these reactions…

 

Heidi spent about 20 minutes in there playing/learning/experimenting. However, if it was not closing for the day, she could have been in there for hours!

Now, aside from this brilliant floor, the museum has 3 other floors detailing local history and other science-y things. However, we never got to see any of it as we grossly underestimated the time we needed!

This just gives us an excuse to come back to the Discovery Museum and explore, especially why there is a HUGE boat on the ground floor!!
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Mini Einsteins Update

We have been to  “Mini Einsteins” from the beginning and as the “We are Mini” brand has been launched, I thought that it would be a good idea to do a bit of an Mini Einsteins update. If you want to read a somewhat “serious” experience of our first Mini Einsteins class, you are probably best reading this post (Mini Einsteins – Rainbow Factory)

** This class isn’t being run by the Rainbow Factory at the moment **

However, in a vain attempt to be creative, I thought that I would go all poetic and write about our story so far..

We started in June
going to our favourite science class
We learnt about solids, liquids
and even some gas

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Homemade lava lamp with Alka Seltzer

At first there was just us two,
and a helper with Professor Ellen
We learnt about vegetables, plants
and fruits such as melon

As the group grew,
so did our knowledge
Some of the topics took me
straight back to college

We learnt some long words,
and learnt to predict
We knew that the lesson plans
had been professionally picked

They learnt why things went up
and why things went down
They learnt what would float
and then what would drown

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Taking Mini Einsteins knowledge into nursery

The classes were different
in fact they are unique
I think I’m turning Heidi
into a big science geek!

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Using cabbage juice at home to work out the acidity of items

We have used household items
to blow up balloons
We have used vibrations
to play nifty tunes

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Vinegar and bicarbonate of soda

We have tested our senses,
our taste, hearing and sight
The children were blindfolded
to see if they could still write

Joining the class was one of
the best things we’ve done
So why don’t you come along
and join in the fun!

While the post is slightly “jokey” – the class is seriously, seriously good, especially if you are wanting to challenge your child a bit and get them interested in science and generally learning. On the back of this, we have really explored both the activities and sought out some good science museums.

It is pitched at the right level for a to 5 year olds (there is an older class as well) and last for an hour, which is more than enough! The staff are so friendly and welcoming and you never know, you might learn a thing or two as well!!

To find out more about Mini Einsteins and the rest of the “We are Mini” classes, go to http://www.wearemini.co.uk/  or check out their Facebook page (search for “We are Mini”) or Twitter site (@wearemini). I hope you enjoyed this Mini Einsteins Update!!

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Thackray Medical Museum – 6/8/2016

With both the Teddy Bear Hospital and Peso from Octonauts making an appearance at the Thackray Medical Museum, I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to take Heidi for her first visit there.

Heidi is obsessed with all things medical and while I thought that it might be a bit scary to see all the medical instruments, balancing it up with some child specific fun would be ideal. She already knows that she wants to be either a doctor and a radiographer so if anyone has a spare x-ray machine laying around, it would make a perfect Christmas present!

Thinking that the one-off events would be popular we headed off upstairs to put our name down for the hospital, and this was a wise move! While the allocated time is 30 minutes for each session, we were one of the last ones to leave, after 20 minutes. Here, you can get your little one dressed up and perform all sorts of medical tests and procedures on your teddy bear (don’t forget to bring one!)

As you can see, Elmo was in his bed and had a blood transfusion, x-ray (absolutely brilliant!) as well as medicine, injection and a bandage. While there are helpers, it is a parent led session so you do have to roll up your sleeves and help with the diagnosis and treatment! We play doctors all the time, and it was good to get a few different ideas, as well as play dress-up! This was only £2 and was well worth the money!

We then ventured to the meet and greet with Peso which was a bit of a fleeting visit for us as while there was a craft activity to try, neither of us are particularly skilled in it, and there was a projector showing a loop of Octonauts which was of much greater interest! Meet and Greet is at certain times, so it might be an idea to ask at reception so you can plan your time.

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So onto the museum itself… The first thing to actually say is that it isn’t a child specific museum and so some bit might be a bit scary or not overly appropriate for toddlers. However, you can quickly bypass those areas without problem.

The top floor isn’t “hands on” and this caused Heidi some confusion – try telling a 3 year old that they can’t go onto an operating table! However, it only takes a couple of bits to spark the imagination. For us, it was the x-rays (obviously!) the dentist/false teeth as well as the child birth section.

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However, downstairs is much more child friendly, where there are lots of little games/puzzles, hands on exhibits as well as the story of food going through the body. I mention this because there was a piece of rope the length of the intestine and it was somewhat difficult to explain the concept to a toddler!!!

Also downstairs is some more dress-up clothes as well as a lovely little exhibit showing what happens to the spine when you move while sat down. If we did this again, we would do downstairs first before a bit of tiredness set it (we were there for almost 2 hours)

In terms of facilities, while the museum is on a couple of floors, there are lifts so it is pushchair friendly. There is also a cafe, although we didn’t visit the toilets so can’t comment. The entry fee covers entry for the entire year so you don’t feel as though you have to cram everything in. As car parking is only £2, it makes for every cheap return visits!

The next Teddy Bear Hospital/Octonauts is on Thursday 25th August so try and make your way down there!!


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Museum of Science and Industry – 10/6/2016

Planning this post in my head was difficult and I questioned whether or not to write it, because MOSI wasn’t particularly suited to us at this point.

There wasn’t anything particularly bad about it, but it was more focused for adults and older children, rather than inquisitive toddlers. And that is not a bad thing, it just doesn’t fit in with us at this time!!!

So, quickly going through the downsides, they include poor signage, the museum being in 4 separate buildings and the exhibits not being particularly hands-on. Also, parking is a problem as street parking outside is only for 2 hours and probably won’t be long enough (which is a good thing as there is plenty to see!)

Now that I have got that out of my system, I can talk about the positives from a toddlers perspective. There is a brilliant exhibit next to the restaurant which is hands-on and practical and lots of fun for young and old alike. It is full of little puzzles, interactive science experiments and various other bits and pieces like that.

While the little ones will enjoy playing, it is possible to explain the science as well behind it all which is what going to the museum is all about. Our favourite was the experiment dropping the ball into the different surfaces and predicting how high they would bounce. (It is quite dark in there, so pictures are not easy to take!)

In terms of the other good aspects of MOSI, the cafe serves excellent pizza and the gift shop is to die for – I could have spent all day in there!! While it was not particularly for toddlers, we did spend 3 hours in there so it certainly wasn’t a wasted trip!

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For toddlers, MOSI isn’t in the same league as the National Media Museum or the Railway Museum – and it isn’t supposed to be. The focus is on industry, which isn’t as exciting for toddlers as opposed to science and things going “bang” or “pop”!!!

However, there is a place in the world for MOSI, especially if your child is learning about local (to Manchester) history or the Industrial Revolution. We are not in that place yet, but when we are, we know that we’ll be able to get a lot of knowledge out of our visit there.


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Sheffield Life Festival – 23/4/2016

The sign of a good day out is when you can’t stop talking about it afterwards and that was certainly the case with the Life Festival in Sheffield we went to!

With Heidi being completely obsessed with all things medical and a particular focus on radiology (can 2 year olds specialise?!) it felt like going to a medical research event was a must do, even though it was in Sheffield and it certainly was!

Although it was in the slightly strange location on an indoor market, it helped create a good atmosphere and I dare say people who didn’t know about the event were drawn in and hopefully increased the impact of the event. As a dad of a toddler, it helped as it was inside (read: dry and warm!)

So the event was 9 or so stands dotted around the market all showing different aspects of medicine and medical research. While a few of the stands weren’t really appropriate for toddlers (and that is completely understandable) there were some which were absolutely brilliant.

The dentistry stand run by the dentist students was brilliant as Heidi is into brushing her teeth (thanks to a Minions toothbrush!) and hearing her talk about how she brushes them was an absolute joy. The students were absolutely fabulous with Heidi too, showing her and teaching her about fillings and being interactive with a drill.

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Learning about teeth

We moved on to the stand run by the medical students and given Heidi’s obsession with all things medical, I knew that this would be a success! We used a mock MRI machine and then we looked at real life x-rays before playing a game trying to put internal organs in the right place (not real!) While this final bit was a bit advanced for both of us, it has given me ideas how to teach/stretch Heidi’s learning going forward.

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Scientist Heidi breaking bones!

The other stands were not quite as toddler friendly, although we did enjoy the chicken bone experiment  (it would take me an age to describe it!) but just getting Heidi used to science, experiments and safety goggles is all good. Oh, and Heidi kindly got an ice lolly to help with her calcium, obviously!

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"Healthy" option

There were some really cool things for slightly older children, which we tried to have a go at, including using microscopes 🔬 which was on the “to do” list after going to the Be Curious event in Leeds previously (link here) and so that was really good to do. We also saw some futuristic companion pets, although I think that was somewhat lost on Heidi!

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Companion pet

All in all, we spent an hour and a half there which was really good and we would have spent longer if we weren’t getting a bit hungry and had to head back home. Even after seeing everything, Heidi wanted to go back to see the x-rays and the dentists again!!!

After a quick bite to eat, we continued with the toilet training (last update here – and we are making progress!) with Debenhams toilets being the place to go! As the snooker championships are on at the moment, there were a few activities on the go, with one being a mini-football court set up, which Heidi had a little go on…

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I said at the start that the sign of a good day was went you can’t stop talking about it and Heidi was mentioning it all day yesterday and even wanted it as her bedtime story. Another sign that it was a good day was when Heidi fell asleep straight away for the journey up the M1, absolutely exhausted  (after a mild, rare tired related strop!).

I’m sure we will be back in future years and take in more activities from the festival as this was just one part of it, albeit the most toddler friendly!