Four and a half years already? Where did that time go? It seems like only yesterday that I quit my job to become a full time dad to my then one year old. Over those three and half years, we’ve gone from all day daddy day care, to a few hours in mother and baby groups, then onto a couple of morning sessions of preschool, before ending up at full days with all her new friends in preschool.
But we always kept a day free to go off adventuring together.
All that’s changed now as she’s started at “big” school, all day, five days a week. The excitement has been building for weeks, all over the holidays she’s been wanting to try on her school “costume.” To make up for the impending lack of spare time, we decided to cram as many visits and activities into our last few weeks of freedom. Luckily, the ‘Reception’ intake is staggered over a two week period here in the UK, so we were able to take advantage of the fact that most kids were already back at school and the associated reduction in queuing times!
Read on to see what we got up to…
First up was a bit of art. The Hayward Gallery on London’s Southbank had an exhibition by Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto, who likes to build installations from colored fabrics and laser cut plywood.
The plywood is cut and assembled in such a way that it doesn’t need glue or screws to hold the giant structures together, which appeals to the maker in me. The curves give them a very organic feel, some of the pillars look like huge bones and sections are cut from some panels so they resemble butterfly wings or honeycomb.
These solid forms are softened by the use of great swathes of material similar to ladies tights (pantyhose?). The rainbow colored sheets stretch and curve all over the structures, with arm sized tubes connecting walls together, inviting exploration. Sometimes the fabric is weighed down by pockets of pebbles, sometimes the edges are hemmed and joined to the next section with buttons – the neat freak in me had to sit down for minute and redo all the buttons that had come undone!
There might be scented seeds sown into one wall or a kettle drum in the middle of a pod. One section was a tunnel, moving through the colours of the spectrum, which ended outside on one of the Hayward Gallery’s balconies and an inflatable pool, complete with two changing room pods. There’s probably all sorts of rhubarb to explain the ’emotions’ involved in the pieces, but I don’t really go for all that nonsense. Does it look pretty? Is there a lot of technical skill involved? Is it a great idea? If so, then I like it.
The best thing about the exhibition, and a lot art that is of interest to children, is the fact that you are allowed (almost required really) to interact and touch it. There are plywood platforms that you can climb up and go through the fabric ‘ceiling’, getting a different view of the space. One section allows you to walk on the stretchy fabric and contains a giant round foam cushion – with a hole in the middle that swallows the legs and arms of small children, and the occasional head of a silly dad.
Next up, SCIENCE!
The Look Out Discovery Center, opened up in the town I grew up in just outside London a few years after I moved away. It’s yet another ‘Hands on’ science centre – if you’ve ever been to the Exploratorium in San Francisco, you’ll know the kind of place I mean. This one is much smaller in scale and is set in a forest, which also was home to a Hill Fort in about 500BC, but that’s History, not Science.
There are around 90 exhibits, covering many aspects of physics and the natural world – water, sound, light, forces, perception, as well as some biological elements are all represented.
Personal favorites include:
- The Bernoulli Blower – which keeps a beach ball suspended in a fast flowing stream of air through a difference in air pressure
- The Batak Board reaction tester – 35 in 30 seconds for me
- The Laser Harp – eat your heart out Jean-Michel Jarre
- The mental stacking puzzles – I went round the whole table assembling pyramid from pool balls and cubes from 3D Tetris pieces, only to have them taken apart straight away again.
- Giant Plasma Ball – no matter how many time I see these things I can never take enough photos of them.
However the kids favorites where:
- The water channel/river simulation – it had little locks and places to build damns, sections showing erosion and the snaking of a river, but they didn’t care about any of that as IT WAS WET!
- The gravity well simulation – although they tried to just get the balls straight into one of the black holes instead of seeing the interactions between the two.
- The ‘Big’ style walk-on piano – not to play any kind of a tune at all of course, just to run up and down making as much noise as possible.
- The giant human body jigsaw puzzle – layering up the bones, muscles, organs and skin in the right order. Some of the info must have sunk in right?
- Optimusic – breaking beams of light as quickly as possible by jumping into them. Great fun for a group of girls, but when some testosterone fuelled boys arrived things got a bit too competitive for my liking!
Stay tuned to see where we ended up next…