Arts-lovers guide to summer family fun

However much time you have to spend with the children over the school holidays, the arts is awash with some fantastic family friendly fun, with many events and activities happening all summer long. Here’s my arts-lovers guide to a summer of family fun!

S is for Shakespeare’s Globe

Celebrating literature and the art of storytelling, from 28-30 July the globe hosts everything from talks with Michael Morpurgo to interactive Shakespeare workshops. Advance booking highly recommended. See website for tickets and times.

U is for Udderbelly

Catch the last few gems of this family spectacular, which has been occupying the South Bank since April. The Australian acrobats staging Children Are Stinky (22-27 July) wowed the crowds at Edinburgh last year with their daredevil stunts, whilst Jungle Book (1-24 August) brings Rudyard Kipling’s well-known tale bang up to date, setting it in an urban jungle and packing it with street dance and circus.

M is for Museum Trips for Kids

Remember our recent trip to David Hockney with Imagine Art Club? Bringing artists and exhibitions to life in a way that so few galleries do, the enigmatic Aga returns with a host of visits planned to fill the dying days of the holidays. The sessions, which combine an informative exhibition tour with some practical art techniques, take in Matisse at the Royal Academy (29 & 30 August) and Fahrelnissa Zeid’s abstract art at Tate Modern (3 September).

M is for Mad Hatter!

Les Petits will be occupying the atmospheric tunnels of The Vaults almost every day of the summer holidays, with their immersive interpretation of C S Lewis’ classic, Adventures in Wonderland (until 3 September). If you’re looking for something more summery, Sixteenfeet Productions are presenting their own unique retelling in some of London’s loveliest green spaces, including Brockwell Park (22 July to 31 August), Morden Hall Park (4-7 August), Streatham Rookery (10-14 August) and Osterley Park (16-20 August). There’s also a chance to attend a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

E is for Eclectic

National Theatre’s free River Stage returns to the South Bank for almost the entire summer break this year, promising an eclectic mix of live theatre, DJs, family fun, dance, cinema, workshops and live music. Don’t miss the all-female performance troupe Figs in Wigs and their creative tribute to the 80s (29 July, 15.15) and The Jukeboxes (5 August, 12.00 and 14.45) who recreate classic pop videos using props, puppets and wigs. There’s also a beat-boxing vocal workshop with UK beatboxing champion Grace Savage (12 August, 14.00).

R is for Royal Academy

A few weeks ago I reviewed the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition on behalf of Kids in Museums, and I was so impressed at the endless variety of work, from world-renowned artists such as Tracey Emin and Bob and Roberta Smith, to emerging artists and architects. We also loved the handy Art Detectives pack, free to family visitors in order for them to get the most out of the show. See website for details of tickets and opening times. Exhibition runs until 20 August. While you’re there, as part of exhibition Second Nature: The Art of Tunnicliffe, there’s also the RA’s first ever dedicated family corner with permanent activities, as well as a series of workshops and story-tellings.

O is for Outdoor Art

It should really be P is for Pavilion, as both the Serpentine and Dulwich Picture Gallery celebrate all that is great about art in the outdoors, showing off their spectacular summer pavilions. As well as a family day (22 July) Serpentine are hosting a programme of lunchtime talks, whilst every Wednesday in August, Dulwich Picture Gallery will be hosting drop-in art making sessions for families, inspired by their exhibition Sargent: The Watercolours, and the design of their first ever pavilion. If you love outdoor art, make sure you also don’t miss Frieze Sculpture 2017 (until 8 October). This first-ever summer display of sculpture in the English Gardens of Regents Park is absolutely free, and brings together 25 new works by leading 20th-century artists and contemporary artists from around the world.

F is for Festival

Nobody does festivals better than Southbank Centre and alongside the usual beach and water fountain fun, the Summertime festival extends this year’s theme of Nordic Matters with contemporary circus Cirkus Cirkör (13-16 August), the continuation of Adventures in Moominland (until 20 August) and a weekend celebrating Swedish feasting, craft and Nordic music (19-20 August).

F is for Framed Film Club

Framed Film Festival returns to Barbican later in the year but the Framed Film Club picks up again every Saturday in September with a programme specially curated by children’s films by author Jamila Gavin. Popular kids flick Ratatouille sneaks into the end of the summer holidays (2 September, 11am), but more exciting is The Adventures of Prince Achmed (9 September) with introduction from Ms Gavin herself, as well as a live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne. See website for tickets and age restrictions.

U is for Up

Well, Pop Up. As well as your last chance to catch the immersive exhibition The Fantastic World of Dr. Seuss (ends 3 September), this summer, Discover Story Centre will be staging 2 pop-up playgrounds. Illustrators and artists Pencil & Help will be hosting a Pop-Up Poetry Playground (5-20 August) where you can make a poem out of big bendy shapes and draw a poem to take home with you, then artist Kristi Minchin unveils her interactive Geometric Playground (21 August to 3 September) with cogs to turn, levers to pull and pendulums to swing. See website for opening times and details of day passes. Entry is free from 21 July to 14 August to those living or working in Newham.

N is for National Portrait Gallery

Inspired by the BP Portrait Award 2017, the gallery has planned a programme of free family workshops and activities (24 July to 4 August) including painting, drawing and a chance to learn more about judging a portrait competition. The jewel in the crown is the  special Playdoh Portraits session (20 August, 13.00 for 3+, 15.00  for 7+) with artist Eleanor Macnair, where visitors recreate a portrait from the gallery’s collection using nothing but play doh. Tickets are free and available one hour before the event.

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Best of Free Edinburgh Fringe for Families

So if you remember back to January, it was my new year’s resolution to go back to Edinburgh Fringe once again this year, except this time (and for the first time ever) do it with the kids in tow.

Me being me, my spreadsheet was out as soon as their brilliant new programme was released online – long before my beloved guide plopped through my letter box. I wasn’t sure what to expect planning a visit with the family. But to my surprise, not only is the programme plentiful, but it goes way beyond simply regurgitating well-loved children’s books to the stage. And what’s more, so much of it is as free as a bird!

Prepare to be amazed! Here’s my pick of free Edinburgh Fringe for families:


Cabaret and Live Music

Dr Frankenstein’s Spooky Disco
Join Dr Frankenstein and friends for a fun-packed hour of dancing and spooking goings-on in this renowned gothic venue. Be warned; the spooky organ music, thunder and lightning effects might prove too scary for some (adults).

Venue 304, Frankenstein Pub, 26 George IV Bridge, EH1 1EN
August 15-29, 12pm for 1hr
Suitable for 2-12


Free Fringe Music
Tempt them in with the promise of the natural history galleries and this celebration of traditional Celtic music and dance from Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales will hopefully make them want to stay! See website for details of each of the free daily performances in this magnificent space.

Venue 179, National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, EH1 1JF
August 6-28, 2pm for 40 mins

Suitable for all ages


Magic and Clowning

Bubble Show with Milkshake and Dr Bubble
A brilliant alternative to spending £9 on The Amazing Bubble Man at Udderbelly, this Australian-Romanian duo have every bubble trick imaginable. There’s big, small and sculpted bubbles, the bubble carousel, the square bubble, smoke bubbles, caterpillar bubbles, tightrope bubbles and bubbles in bubbles. Plus with a bit of magic, you might even get your baby in a bubble!

Venue 272, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 139 Cowgate, EH1 1JS
August 3-28, 1.15pm for 1hr

Suitable for children age 3-14


Science Magic
Big tick mum and dad, this one’s as good as them doing their homework! Multi award-winning comedian and scientist Dónal Vaughan shows you the secrets of some of his amazing science tricks using everyday items and (if you’re lucky) you can join in too!

Venue 272, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 139 Cowgate, EH1 1JS
August 4-28, 11am for 1hr

Suitable for children age 6+


Theatre

Van Gogh Find Yourself
One of the few free theatrical performances on offer, Walter de Forest’s one-man show is based on the letters of Vincent and Theo and the memoirs of Vincent’s stay in Auvers-sur-Oise. Get closer to the real struggles of Vincent Van Gogh through this interactive performance, which promises every visitor a portrait! You’ll be grinning from ear to…er…

Venue 415, 
Natural Food Kafe 55 Clerk Street, EH8 9JQ
August 6-9, 11-16, 18-23, 25-27, 2.25pm for 55 mins
Suitable for all ages


Comedy

Andrew Roper: Superheroes for Kids
Proving just about anything can be adapted for a children’s audience, this show started life as a geek-tastic sci-fi stand-up for grown ups that were keen to fill in any knowledge gaps around their favourite comic book heroes. Now it’s the kids’ turn for some superhero fun. Dads: wear your pants on the outside of your trousers, kids: bring your capes and get involved.

Venue 272, Laughing Horse @ The Free Sisters, 139 Cowgate, EH1 1JS
August 3-28, 1.30pm for 45 mins

Suitable for children age 5-10


David Green: Celebrity Love Letters
You might have to spend the majority of the show explaining who most of the subjects are (unless perhaps Taylor Swift creeps in there) but they are sure to enjoy the tempo of the love songs, poems and letters. David Green’s first solo outing at the Edinburgh Fringe deconstructs the cult of celebrity – from 90s kids TV presenters to Edwina Currie. It should prove the perfect family giggle.

Venue 239, The Street, 2b Picardy Place, EH1 3JT
August 7-14, 17-27, 2.45pm for 50 mins

Suitable for all ages


Improv & Spoken Word

Bump
Back in January, I highlighted the woeful lack of family content as part of the London International Mime Festival and Edinburgh is no exception. One consolation is that at least what’s on offer is under the banner of ‘Pay What You Feel’. Written and performed by Claire Cogan with original music by Jonathan Todd, Bump should inspire little ones into thinking about befriending those noises in the night that give you a fright. More sleep all round zzzzz.

Venue 40, Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, EH1 2JL
August 9-13, 1.15pm for 25 mins

Suitable for children age 3-8


The Harry and Chris Show
Having been performing together since their school days, Harry’s Baker’s award-winning words combine with Chris Read’s jazz/pop/funk musical stylings to deliver a show rich in wordplay and songs from their debut EP ‘Whaddyawannado’.

Venue 100, Pilgrim, 3 Robertsons Close, EH1 1LY
August 6-16, 18-27, 1.45pm for 1 hr
Suitable for all ages


Storytelling

The Listen Inn
Award-winning writer and performer Vickie Holden presents three of her favourite stories in 45 minutes storytelling sessions that are packed with fun, music, poetry, lots of laughs and a whole host of characters. A great chance for big and little ones to relax and grab some collective downtime.

Venue 415, Natural Food Kafe 55 Clerk Street, EH8 9JQ
August 6-27, 11.45am for 45 mins
Suitable for children age 0-11


Exhibitions galore!

Far too many to list here and outside of what is going on in the side shows, Edinburgh will be packed to the rafters with free exhibitions across a plethora of venues including mesmerising suspensions by major artists such as Damián Ortega, as well as interesting murals and craft shows.


Are you visiting Edinburgh Fringe with your family?
Tweet me your best picks @pippye and maybe we could tweet up!

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)

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).

Richard Tuttle @Tate Modern: 15 minutes of play-filled peace

As many of us have discovered, Tate Modern is always a reliable choice for art-loving parents who want to combine a lovely day out spotting boats and buskers on the South Bank with introducing their children to modern art in a relaxed and inspiring environment. Well this autumn, Tate Modern is rewarding us richly with a magnificent sculpture in the Turbine Hall by American artist and poet Richard Tuttle.

I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language, is a major collaboration to celebrate the work of Tuttle, who has made his name through his delicate and playful work, combining sculpture painting, poetry and drawing, often using every day materials such as cloth, paper, rope and plywood. This commission in the Turbine Hall, features in conjunction with a major exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery surveying five decades of his career.

The sheer size of the structure, measuring over twelve metres in height, draped with brightly coloured fabric, drew an immediate “wow” from my two young viewers. From the viewing gallery beyond the main entrance hall, the section suspended from the ceiling was, to them, like the most exciting bridge you’d ever want to cross, whilst the larger support section rising up from the lower ground floor formed a giant beanstalk in their imaginations. Down in the vast hall itself, the kids loved running underneath it, seeing something different each time they looked up.

The good news is, for once, you don’t need to rush as the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition is running until 14th December, and the sculpture will remain resident at Tate Modern until 6th April 2015.

Want to see more? This bite-size beauty is perfect if you don’t think the kids will manage a whole room or exhibition at the Tate, but if you do want to see more, the Whitechapel Gallery is hosting one of their fantastic Crib Notes sessions on Tuesday 4th November at 10am. The session dedicated to parents and carers with children under 5, costs just £5 and includes a tour of the exhibition with Assistant Curator Poppy Bowers. For those of you with a buggy, the majority of the exhibition is on the ground floor, but there is a lift that can take you to the work featured on other floors (although be warned, the rest of the building can seem some-what maze-like). Failing that, you are welcome to leave your buggy with the cloakroom.

Whilst you’re there: Just along the river, enjoy a free lunchtime concert at the Southbank Centre with Mastercard’s Friday Lunch sessions. From classical and jazz, to folk and world, this is a great opportunity for the little ones to experience live music in a family-friendly (and easy-to-escape) space.