Booking now: 5 family arts activities you won’t want to miss

I am always getting asked how on earth I find out about the things that I write about, especially when most activities are sold out quicker than you can lift a limb. Sometimes it’s a tip-off by press contacts, sometimes it’s my own digging around and sometimes it’s just pure luck – a chance spot on social media or a passing conversation with a friend. 
 
With half term holidays just around the corner, and Easter looming not long after, here are 5 unmissable arts activities where only the truly organised will be richly rewarded.
 
1. Imagine Children’s Festival
The Southbank Centre’s annual art, theatre and literary festival for kids takes hold for just under two weeks in February bringing a smorgasbord of family fun. This year’s event celebrates 100 years since the birth of the great poet and storyteller Roald Dahl, and is marked by its very own programme of events including an orchestral production of the BFG and the chance to make your own very own dream jar. The infamous giant storytelling bed also returns as well as a range of events and workshops ranging from improv to writing and poetry. Outside of the paid programme there’s also a host of free activities to get involved in, suitable for children of all ages. 
 
Imagine Children’s Festival
10-21 February, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX
Admission prices vary. Check specific events for age guidance
See website for details

2. Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius
The much celebrated painter of the Mona Lisa has being given special recognition by the Science Museum in this incredible exhibition which honours his status as an inventor and engineer by re-building his inventions. Promising 13 interactive games and 10 multimedia installations, the exhibition also features historical models recreated from his famous drawings and sketches of flying machines and some more modern examples too. Set to be the must-see exhibition of the year and so exciting it’s sure to put the dinosaur queue at the neighbouring Natural History Museum to shame.   
 
Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius
10 February-4 September, Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD.  Admission Adults £10, Children 7-16 £8, Under 7s Free
Recommended age 5+

 
3. Goosebumps Kids
Last year Adventures in Wonderland set the bar very high in the world of children’s immersive theatre, so with the handiwork of the same set designer (Samuel Wyer) and the same incredible location (The Vaults) I am expecting great things! Audience members are expected to wind their way through the abandoned railway tunnels and through a series of spine-tingling tales inspired by some of Stine’s most popular creations including The Blob That Ate Everyone and The Haunted Mask. Goosebumps Kids is billed to be a shorter (50 mins, no interval) and slightly less scary take on the adult version which opens on the 6th April, but is expected to have enough twists and turns to keep you all on your (curling) toes.
 
Goosebumps Kids
From 14 May, The Vaults Theatre, Leake St, London SE1 7NN
Admission for all visitors is £15 per visitor, plus £1.50 booking fee  
Recommended age 5-11
Book tickets for Goosebumps Kids

4. Half Term at the Royal Albert Hall
If you’re feeling the need to improve your child’s listening skills, what better place to go than one of Britain’s most famous concert halls, home to the annual Proms. As well as term-time music and storytelling sessions for the under 5s, half term brings a musical extravaganza to this incredible Grade II Listed building in the form of Jazz For Kids; a special jazz session for children aged 4-9 hosted by The Dixie Ticklers. Children are invited to sing, dance, listen to the music and meet the musicians, with plenty of opportunity to fondle the instruments for themselves. When you’re done, you’re in the perfect place to make a day of it – right on the doorstep of the fabulous Kensington Gardens, home to Princess Diana Memorial Playground and the Serpentine Galleries.
 
Jazz For Kids: Jumpin’ at the Royal Albert Hall
18 February, Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP
10.30am and 1.30pm. Admission Adults £13.24, Children £7.12
Recommended age 4-9
See website for details of this and other half term events

5. My First Ballet
For the fifth year running, My First Ballet returns to London’s Peacock Theatre in an exciting collaboration between English National Ballet and English National Ballet School, enabling children as young as three to experience an adaptation of a classic ballet production. This year’s treat is the romantic fairytale Sleeping Beauty, featuring all the magic of the traditional story but with the addition of narrators and shortened musical scores to help little ones to follow proceedings. A victim of their own success, these tailor-made productions are always a sell-out, so if you aren’t lucky enough to catch its preview in London, the production will be touring around the country until the end of May.

My First Ballet
24 March–2 April, Peacock Theatre, Portugal St, London WC2A 2HT
Times vary, check website for booking details. Tickets £10-£25, Family ticket £65
Recommended age 3+
Locations included in the nationwide tour are Norwich (8 & 9 Apr), Dartford (16 & 17 Apr), Hastings (7 & 8 May), Manchester (23 & 24 Apr), Bristol, (21 & 22 May), Woking (28 & 29 May) and Oxford (30 Apr & 1 May)

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Last chance to see…Winter Lights at Canary Wharf

Station closures, unprecedented crowds, trending on social media. If last week was anything to go by it’s fair to say that Lumiere Festival was a roaring success and proof that us Londoners are in desperate need of something to brighten up January.

If you missed out on last week’s illuminations or simply don’t want it all to end, then the good news is that the bite-size Winter Lights festival at Canary Wharf is on until Friday.

Completely free and perhaps more appealing for families with younger children due to its earlier start time (4pm to 9pm), the festival features a range of light structures, sculptures and installations, all set to the stunning backdrop of Canada Square’s towers and reflected in the surrounding waters below.

Particularly popular on our visit was The Pool by Jen Lewin Studio in Montgomery Square. Akin to excitement and chaos of a haystack maze at a festival, these giant concentric circles change in colour and light intensity as you run, jump, step or hop onto them. Either stand back and watch from the sidelines, or hold hands and get involved, it’s by far one of the most interactive of exhibits and a well-thought-out crowd-pleaser.

Also impressive is the cascading words of Bit.fall by Julias Popp. Set above Chancellor Passage, illuminated droplets of water fall to form random words in mid-air, representing our age of incessant information. Even if you don’t quite understand the significance of the words spat-out, young (and even new) readers, will love the challenge of reading the quick-fire words before they dissipate, leaving you happy that you’ve done something arty as well as educational.

Winter Lights is at Canary Wharf from 4pm-9pm until 22nd January.
Admission free. See website for details and a site map.
Nearest station: Canary Wharf (DLR, Jubilee Line) and Heron Quay (DLR).

5 Essential family arts activities for January

This festive season was absolutely jam-packed with things to see and do, and having had so many hands on deck to get out and about, the New Year can feel like a bit of a let down. But fear not. This January is an exceptional time in the arts, with so much on offer for parents and carers with younger children. Here are my top picks for the month ahead:

1. Lumiere London
Having got the kids used to so many late nights over Christmas, leading creative company Artichoke (working in partnership with the Mayor of London) are just about to give us a very good reason to keep them up late once again! For 4 days (well, nights) this January, some of London’s best known locations and most iconic architecture will be transformed by 3D projections, interactive installations and a host of extraordinary light works as part of Lumiere London. Visitors are invited to walk the dazzling night time gallery on foot, using their map to navigate the concentration of work in and around the West End and Kings Cross. The entire programme looks awe-inspiring but specific highlights for families look set to be Neon Dogs, Circus of Light and the life-like elephant Elephantastic, which will emerge from a cloud of dust before making a slow journey into Central London to the sounds of the jungle.
Lumiere London, Various locations, 14th – 17th January, 6.30pm-10.30pm, admission free

2. London International Mime Festival
Aside from aspects of theatre that we have seen at The Unicorn, The Polka and The Albany, my visit to Hackney Children’s Theatre last year was one of the first times I have ever seen the more traditional art of mime tailored to a family audience, and it went down a storm. The kids were mesmerised whilst proud parents looked on, realising how unnecessary it was for them to narrate every turn of events. With this in mind, I really hope that future incarnations of this festival bring a bit more for younger viewers, but for those keen to explore the art of mime with little ones, there are a couple of highlights on offer. Kite at the Soho Theatre (Age guidance 7+) tells a poignant story of freedom and the joy of play, whilst the Barbican is offering a rare opportunity to enjoy vintage Charlie Chaplain in a weekend of classic circus films (certificate U)
London International Mime Festival, Various venues, 9th January to 6th February, purchase tickets via the event website

3. Mini Vault Festival
Having visited many times in the past for productions by theatre companies such as Punchdrunk, as well as the incredible Adventures in Wonderland last summer, The Vaults is fast becoming London’s premiere venue for immersive and interactive theatre. It therefore seems fitting that this curious maze of tunnels under Waterloo Station should play host to a family-friendly spectacular of underground shows and events to compliment their grown up festival which starts this month. Promising circus, puppetry, live music and even comedy sets suitable for younger ears, Mini Vault goes a long way to prove that this top-secret location isn’t just the domain of big kids.
Mini Vault Festival, Leake Street, SE1 7NN, 30th & 31st January, 13th & 14th February and 27th & 28th February, admission free (although some workshops and specific events have admission charges).

4. Southbank Centre: Winter Festival
Proving it really is for Winter and not just for Christmas, even after Slava’s Snow Show has packed up and gone home, the Southbank Centre’s popular Winter Festival is still going strong. Head to Bump Roller-Disco under Hungerford Bridge, for a less chilly alternative to ice skating. Promising dazzling lights and a pumping sound system from 11am to 11pm every day, it’s a fun way to eek out the last of the festive season (skates start at child’s size 9 through to adults size 14). Whilst you’re there, remaining conveniently located in Hungerford Car Park is also the Rekorderlig Cider Lodge where you can enjoy winter drinks (of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety) and Scandinavian street food in a cosy pop-up bar resembling a quintessential Scandinavian house. Aside from the festival, there’s usual draw of the Clore Ballroom as well as Gamelan workshops for pre-schoolers (Dragon Babies, Monday 11am) and some fantastic free lunchtime music with Friday’s Lunch and Tonic.
Southbank Centre Winter Festival, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX, until 17th January, admission free (although some activities and events have admission charges).

5. Tickets for Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt are available again!
January is definitely a time to give thanks that the wonderful interactive exhibitions at Discover Story Centre don’t just run for half term but for half of the year! After a sell out run over the Christmas holidays, tickets are now available again for Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake & Bad Things at Discover Story Centre, and it is proving one not to miss! Younger visitors have the chance to go in search of the bear, to stumble and trip in the dark forest or swishy swash in the long wavy grass, whilst older visitors can embark on a fun fact-finding mission and create their own ‘Rosen-inspired’ poems to take away. Read more about our visit at the end of last year.
Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake and Bad Things, Discover Children’s Story Centre, 383-387 High Street, London E15 4QZ until 10th April, admission £5 per visitor plus free day admission with £1 admin fee (under 2s free).
Note that the exhibition is only open Tuesday to Friday, 3pm-5pm in term time, but returns to daily pre-bookable all-day sessions come school holiday time (i.e. February half term).