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.
Do you take your little ones to any pre-school classes? There are lots of different ones to choose from and it can be hard to find out exactly what you're in store for, so hopefully that is where I can help. I've been visiting a couple of different classes over the last few weeks, and I'll be posting photographs and details about them, so it should help you to decide if any of the classes are right for your baby or toddler.
First up is Little Learners. I've followed the Little Learners's account on instagram for a while now, so I knew from their photos that messy play was a big part of their sessions. We had wanted to go along to their incredibly popular pre-school festival during the summer but unfortunately already had plans the day it was held, so it wasn't until Halloween that we got to accept their invitation to try them out.
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.
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.
WOW. This afternoon we went to the family friendly opening of their newest exhibition, and interactive hands on selection of giant playground equipment. It's absolutely brilliant, one of the few activities that I think all kids from babies up until teens will enjoy, and it's perfect for a rainy day. Also like all the other exhibitions everything else in the Baltic it is FREE!
Turns out that we were well jammy getting an a ticket for the opening event, because not only did we get to see the exhibit first, but the lovely people at the Baltic had even put on a spread for us. Drinks, cakes and fruit platters. Shows that it is worthwhile keeping an eye out on Facebook for event invitations, I'd seen this on on the great Family Explorers Facebook page.
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.