Splash Pads, paddling pools and outdoor swimming - water play in the north east

Splash Pads, paddling pools and outdoor swimming - water play in the north east

Okay, so we might not get many hot days, but when the sun is shining there is nothing quite like playing in water for kids. In the North East we are really lucky to have a quite a few options for where to cool down when it warms up. Lets face it though, we could have a cold and wet summer and most kids would still love to play in a splash pad or take a dip in a paddling pool. Read on for some ideas about where to head and information about opening hours. 

Little Land Play - Peterlee

We recently visited Little Land Play in Peterlee. One of the newest role play centres to open in the North East. I've been to quite a few role play centres now, and I *think* this one is the biggest? If it isn't, then for me it has the best layout and sense of space. It has been really well designed, with lots of room for kids to run around, but so that parents can view the whole play space from the seating area. The role play area walls are only as tall as kids' height and none of them had front walls/doors so there were no nooks or crannies for kids to hide behind to get.

Breakfast With Santa at Wyevale Garden Centre Gosforth

Breakfast With Santa at Wyevale Garden Centre Gosforth

I have written a few posts about Breakfast with Santa across the North East, but until last weekend I didn’t really know what they entailed. Wyevale Garden Centre in Gosforth got in touch with us because they read my round up post, and invited us to breakfast with Santa, so we took them up on their offer and went along last Saturday.

Santa is clearly an early riser as all of the breakfasts are scheduled for 9am, so getting there was a bit of a struggle for someone like me who is always running late, but for once we arrived bright and early and on time. We headed to the cafe where we were given a really warm welcome by Mrs Claus who showed us to our table, which was looking very festive, set up with crackers and Christmas decorations.   

Our Family Adventure with Metro

Our Family Adventure with Metro

This is a collaborative post.

Tyne and Wear Metro recently got in touch to tell us about their new booklet 'Metro's little book of things to see' which is a guide for famililes on some of the brilliant places to visit along the metro line. The booklet is free of charge and available from any of the nexus travelshops. As well as detailing loads of places that families might like to visit, it is has metro related actvities for kids to try out, such as wordsearches, spot the difference and quizzes. Our favourite game was the #metromission which was a list of things to look out for whilst on family days out, scoring points for each item checked off. It is a really nice little guide and one that I would recommend you pick up if you are going to be out and about with kids on the metro, to add to the fun of getting catching the 'train' and  give the kids something to do to help to pass the time.

Tyneside Rocks - The sweetest way to keep kids entertained this summer

Tyneside Rocks - The sweetest way to keep kids entertained this summer

Hello. I'm so excited to be bringing you this post to let you know that you and your little uns are invited to play the biggest game of Finders Keepers there has probably ever been in the North East. If that wasn't exciting enough, it's also got the sweetest Random Act of Kindness feel to it and I think it will be a brilliant activity for any North East kids.

The Frugal summer holiday bucket list - 42 Free or Cheap Days out in the North East

The Frugal summer holiday bucket list - 42 Free or Cheap Days out in the North East

Entertaining kids can be so expensive, especially in the six weeks holidays. Whilst I balk at the idea of spending more than £30 on an item of clothing for me, we will regularly end up spending that if we head out for the day with the kids. We are really lucky in the North East to have so many options for free days out, from out beautiful beaches to the fantastic parks in the area. But sometimes it's hard to think of them all, so I've had a brainstorm and put as many as I can think of in this list. I considered 'cheap' to be less than £7 in total for the cost of an activity for an adult and two kids. I've come up with 42 so thats one for every day of the school holidays. Hopefully this might be a page that you return to a few times over the summer holidays to get some ideas that won't leave you eating baked beans for dinner 6 nights a week. 

Broom House Farm - Durham

Broom House Farm - Durham

Todays post is about Broom House Farm in County Durham (not to be confused with the farm of the same name in Northumberland). Its coffee shop with brilliant facilities for kids and parents, and a woodland adventure trail. Can't quite picture what a  woodland adventure trail is? Neither could I, but thankfully I've taken a photograph of pretty much every leaf in the forest, so by the end of this post you should have a good idea, but if you picture a very spread out park in the middle of a wood, with games and tasks to carry out then it's a good place to start. 

Wild at Kielder

Wild at Kielder

Earlier in the year we visited Kielder Water and Forest Park to follow their Gruffalo Spotter's trail,  where an augmented reality app for a phone or tablet brings the characters from The Gruffalo to life on your screen. We are planning to return again soon, but this time we'll be on the hunt for the real versions! 

This year Kielder have launched Wild at Kielder which is a campaign to encourage families to explore the park and highlights all of the wild and wonderful animals, birds, insects and plants that call Kielder Forest and Water home. 

Lets Play Big - Washington

Lets Play Big - Washington

Last week we visited Lets Play Big in Washington the brand new children's role play centre. I love these centres, they always seem a bit less hectic than soft play, and considering I'm often outnumbered by toddlers I appreciate that. 

Gruffalo Spotters at Kielder Water and Forest Park

Gruffalo Spotters at Kielder Water and Forest Park

Ever since we saw the video showcasing the Gruffalo Spotter activities on offer at forests up and down the country we've been looking forward to trying it out. We visited Kielder Water and Forest Park last year, when they had the Stickman trail on and we'd really enjoyed it, but as our kids were too young for the crafts and games which had come in the activity pack it had been more the getting dirty and running around that they had liked. This year the Forestry Commission has gone all out though, on Gruffalo augmented reality, which should entertain everyone from toddlers to mams and dads. 

Winter Farm Trips - free days out

Winter Farm Trips - free days out

This week one of my readers got in touch to ask for some suggestions for a winter's day out. Their toddler is turning two at the end of January, they had wanted to visit a farm, but found that lots of the bigger farm attractions are closed until the February half term. 

So I had a scout about and there are a few options still open if you have a child obsessed with Old McDonald, or just fancy a getting some fresh air and letting the kids have a run around outside. The best bit? Most of today's suggestions are free, or you just need to spend the price of a cup of coffee in a tea room. 

BILL QUAY FARM (FREE)

South Tyneside

Bill Quay Farm is lovely. It's pretty small. The type of place that we visit pretty regularly but only ever stay about 45 minutes. There are sheep, pigs, cows,  geese, goats, chickens in barns and fields outside. Some of them are obviously used to visitors as they'll come right up to you and there are signs up letting you know which of the animals you can touch in their pens. There is also a small animal room where you can see things like chinchillas and hamsters etc in cages. There is a cafe, but this is now closed until summer. The farm is a registered charity, and whilst they are free to visit they always appreciate donations. If you are looking to make a day of it, then it's pretty close to Role Play in Hebburn, a fab kids play centre that I always recommend. You can read about our visit there on this blog post

South Lakes Safari Zoo

South Lakes Safari Zoo

Super quick post today as I wanted to get something up whilst South Lakes Safari Zoo was still offering FREE entry. That's right totally free! I know, I thought it might be too good to be true, or be some catch somewhere but there really wasn't. 

I'd spotted on Facebook that South Lakes Safari Zoo was offering free admission until the end of December and thought it would make a nice day out for my baby's first birthday. I've never been before and have always been put off by the long drive, but spurred on by the great reviews I'd heard about it in Family Explorers Facebook group  (brilliant for getting ideas about places to visit) I thought we'd give it a go during our Christmas break.

Ice Skating at Woodhorn Museum - Ashington

Ice Skating at Woodhorn Museum - Ashington

Merry Sprogmas Advent Calendar Day 4 is all about our trip to the outdoor ice skating rink at Woodhorn Museum in Ashington. I'd visited the museum last year when it was hosting the poppy exhibition, and I often feature Woodhorn in the fortnightly 'What's On' newsletters that I write for Bubele parenting app, as they have some brilliant family events and trails. This was the first time that I'd visited in the winter, whilst their Christmas festivities were on. 

Shiremoor Adventure Playground - North Tyneside

Shiremoor Adventure Playground - North Tyneside

I'm back, after a summer of neglecting my blog, I've eventually got around to writing an actual post. We had a great summer, went to lots of places, have thousands of photos clogging up my phone and memory card, loads of ideas for blog posts, but it iss just so hard to find the time to actually sit down and write them. Especially now I am no longer a lady of ... leisure doesn't sound right... more like multiple nappy changes and cold cups of tea, as i'm now back at work! Mr Sprog is on paternity leave, looking after the kids until Christmas, so expect blog posts devoted to craft beer and Fifa to be uploaded soon.

So back in August I finally got around to visiting Shiremoor Adventure Playground. My sister had mentioned it to me a while ago, she had said they had toys, scooters etc, but I couldn't really picture it. Well when I got there it wasn't what I was expecting. There is a certain 'rough around the edges' element to it, and it reminded me of Byker Grove in that it has a youth club feel to it. There is sooooooo much to do, and I think older kids would adore it. As a parent to a toddler and baby I was slightly horrified about how big some of the equipment looked, but I feel the same when I watch kids on skateboards, or free jumping or whatever other fun kids have whilst putting themselves in danger. 

But what is is? Even after visiting i'm not sure I can adequately describe it. A youth club and park? There is a huge wooden frame, a massive sandpit, some terrifying rope swings, an allotment with chickens, a pool table, a basketball court, roller-skates, scooters and on the hot day that I visited there was the biggest paddling pool that i've seen too - but I'm guessing as it took me so long to write this post that won't be there any more. 

What it is though is FREE, which is amazing for what they have on offer. It's also staffed, and you have to sign in, so it shouldn't ever get too busy to the point of it being over-capacity. They are only open at certain hours (specific times at the bottom of this post) - afternoons after school, but during the day on weekends and school holidays. They are also closed until 13th September 2016 due to maintenance. What is also great about it, is that they run some sessions specifically for children with disabilities and their carers. 

Lets Play Big - Hebburn

Lets Play Big - Hebburn

Well, South Tyneside is fast becoming the toddler activity capital of the North East. After we visited the fab Role Play cafe a couple of weeks ago, we headed back to Hebburn a few days later to look around the new messy play venture in Victoria Industrial Estate - Lets Play Big

Unlike most of the messy play classes that I know of, which operate from community centres or hired rooms, Lets Play Big is based within it's own unit in an industrial estate. It is open 7 days a week, running four sessions a day which makes it perfect for working families. Before I started my current maternity leave, I worked four days a week, and I remember searching online for classes that I could take my toddler to on my day off, and frequently being disappointed when something looked really good, but was only available on a Monday at 10am or something when I was working. It is even better for people who work five days a week, because as far as I know, whilst some classes are branching out into putting on the odd Saturday morning, there isn't anywhere else nearby where they offer this amount of pre-school classes over holiday time and weekends. 

Apart from the brilliant opening hours, Lets Play Big had really gone for it with the variety of tasks and crafts that kids could get involved with. I haven't been to loads of messy play groups, a handful of individual classes and we used to go to baby sensory when my toddler was tiny (obviously neglected second baby hasn't been to any sensory classes, she just gets dragged around to noisy toddler activities, and perhaps that was why she was so excited to be able to play during this visit.) So I can't say that I'm a messy play connoisseur, but I felt like Lets Play Big had put on so many great play stations, that even the most seasoned crafters and gloop-players would really enjoy the sessions. 

Role Play - Hebburn

Role Play - Hebburn

Yesterday we visited the brand new children's play centre in Hebburn. It's brilliant. Really well thought through. My toddler loved it (he cried when we were leaving) and (in my mind the most important bit) parent's can have a cup of tea, a sit down and actually get a bit of a rest. There is definitely a time and place for soft play, sometimes they are just what we are looking for if our toddler needs to work off some energy or if my husband is with us so one of us can go with him, whilst the other looks after the baby. But when you're the owner of a toddler they aren't really a place for a rest, and sometimes I don't want to crawl through a child sized tube, or hurt my feet climbing cargo nets to rescue a strandard little boy (why do cargo nets hurt so much or is that just me being a baby?) So this is where this type of play centre is perfect.

As the name suggests it all designed around role play, with lots of different stations where kids can play with toys and dress up pieces. There has been really good attention to detail and the whole place looks great. It is bright and colourful, and as soon as we walked through the door my toddler was off to explore. It is all based in one large airy room, at the centre of the room are tables and chairs, and the stations are built around the outskirts, this is great as it means that you can always see the kids from the table areas, so you don't have to be on top of them all of the time. It would be a great place to go if you are in charge of more than one child as you can always keep an eye on one of them whilst seeing to another. The baby was spending time with her granny, so wasn't with us this visit, but I noticed they had lots of high chairs, a baby walker and padded play gym for the smallest of visitors to use. It was lovely to have some 1:1 time to properly play with my toddler as we haven't had much of that since the baby came along. 

Beamish Museum - Festival of 50's

Beamish Museum - Festival of 50's

I love Beamish. I hadn't been for years, perhaps since I was at school, until I got an unlimited card this spring. Since then we've easily had our money's worth. I love that it's so picturesque, that I can go and have a good walk, but that there is always something there that my toddler will enjoy too. We visited on the first day of the Festival of the 50s, a four day celebration showcasing the 50s items the museum is accruing in preparation for opening the 50s area some time in the future. The 50s festival was great, it had a really good atmosphere, and I think that will be even more so over the weekend when there are activities planned. 

This review is in two parts, for all of the people who have been to Beamish time and time again, I'll show the pictures of the 50s weekend and encourage you if you have an unlimited card to visit at some point this weekend as it's a brilliant cheap day out as all of the daytime events are included in the annual pass. Then after the photos and write up of the festival, I'll include the best toddler friendly bits of Beamish that we visit time and time again. 

Young Explorers - Centre For Life

Young Explorers - Centre For Life

We love the Centre for Life, it's a great museum in it's own right, and if you visiting without children then you can easily fill a full day looking at the interactive exhibitions that they have on. This year they've given it a long overdue makeover and created an experiment zone, in the ground floor area that was starting to look a bit tired. But apart from all of that, the main reason, that I love it now that I have two small children is the excellent play space on the upstairs floor. That's what I've focussed on in this blog post, because it's where we go most often. 

My husband had an unexpected day off yesterday, and as we were in town anyway we thought we'd pop to the centre for life for a couple of hours, as we have annual passes. More about the costs of them vs single day tickets at the bottom, but I think the annual passes are really good value. If you don't have toddlers and you are going to go to Life every couple of years to see specific exhibitions then I think you can probably justify the cost of a day ticket. But as anyone with toddlers knows some days they are brilliant and spend hours lighting up wherever they are with their happy little faces, and other days they wander round crying because you won't let them hit their little sister or because they really really wanted that fifth tangerine and you are just the worst mother for not letting them have it. For this reason, I'm sometimes a little dubious about spending large amounts of money on single days, but I love having the annual pass so that we can just call in for an hour every so often. We went almost every week in the colder months. Now it's summer we're there less often, but it's always good to know that we can go there whenever we fancy. 

Plessey Woods Country Park

Plessey Woods Country Park

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise...Well, not if you've read this blog because I've taken pictures of all of the lovely surprising bits, but if you go for a walk in Plessey Woods Country park I think that you'll like it. 

Earlier in the year I saw on Facebook that Plessey Woods were having an opening weekend, after they had added some sculptures and activity bits within their country park. I hadn't got around to visiting until this weekend, when the weather was beautiful. The warm sunshine probably helped, but even so it was a lovely place to take the kids for a walk. Our toddler managed to walk lots of it, loved stomping in the puddles and was happy to play along with me when I propped him up on some of the sculptures. I'd like to tell you the distance of the walk we did, and how long it took, but in typical me style the battery on my phone died half way through so I lost the data from the distance app that I was using. If we're doing confessions then I might as well fess up that we took the wrong turning at some point, so we missed at least one sculpture area (Totem Poles) and ended up carrying the double buggy up an exceptionally long and steep flight of stairs. So it's probably best that you look at the pretty pictures, and take no notice of any advice that I might give as I think most people would have done a better job at navigating a buggy friendly walk than we did. 

Wheelbirks Parlour (Stocksfield, Northumberland) - If Pinterest made kids areas...

Wheelbirks Parlour (Stocksfield, Northumberland) - If Pinterest made kids areas...

Last week we had an eventful visit to Wheelbirks, the farm shop and cafe in Stocksfield. I was having one of those days where everything goes wrong, mainly because I was making terrible decisions and mistakes every five minutes. I had parked up on the road leading to the farm to take a call, ended up talking for longer than I had realised and drained the car battery, leaving me stranded. After packing up the kids into the buggy and walking the rest of the way to the cafe, I realised the baby's nappy had exploded and handily my change of clothes for her were still in the car - so if you happened to be in Wheelbirks last Tuesday, I was the flustered sweaty one with the half dressed and suspiciously stained baby. I'd only planned to pop into the cafe for a coffee, but ended up there for hours waiting for the AA to rescue us. 

Whilst it wasn't ideal, even through my occasional bouts of tears (I was particularly emotional/sweary when I returned to the car and managed to drain the battery for a second time) I was at least aware that as far as places to be stranded in go I'd picked a good one. As well as having all of the sweet treats I needed to get me through the experience with minimal tears, it also has indoor and outdoor play space so my toddler could roam around and burn off some energy. The farm shop and cafe is based on Wheelbirks farm in Stocksfield, Northumberland. It has been decorated beautifully, the ice cream which is made on site is to die for, the play space keeps my toddler entertained for ages, and there are loads of tables in the orchard to sit and catch some sun if it's a nice day. All in all I think its a bit of a hidden gem.