There was lots to keep them entertained, here are our top tips for what to do with children on a family boat trip along the canal or a holiday in the area.
The market town of Llangollen is a fabulous day out for children.
When travelling by canal, the part between Trevor Bason and Llangollen town is narrow and not suited to beginners.
If you don’t attempt it, it’s still worth spending time in Llangollen before you collect your boat or after you have finished your canal cruise if you are nearby.
To enjoy the town centre, join families relaxing on the rocks next to the River Dee. There are lots of flat stones to walk acroos on the river and shallow pools in between. Families often pop down there to enjoy an ice cream or fish and chips with a view.
You reach the river stones via the Victorian promenade, which is a lovely walkway raised above the river. Next to it there is a large playground.
Children will also love the spectacular Horseshoe Falls, where the canal and river meet to form a weir, a couple of miles west of the town.
You can see kayakers flying down this part of the River Dee and there are pleasant walks.
There are three meres near to this stretch of canal. You can moor up to walk around Colemere, or stop at Blakemere to admire the view.
If you moor up overnight in Ellesmere there is a walk to the town’s lake through woodland off the towpath near Blackwater Marina.
Blakemere at Ellesmere
It is about a 10-minute walk through a lovely wood to the mere, then you can go to the visitor centre, or head clockwise around to the sculpture trail and wide-open playground.
The town itself is pleasant enough to stroll around with a few takeaways and Vermeulens Delicatessen famed for its pork pies. You can walk back to your boat along the canal next to a giant Tesco, which is handy if you need to stock up.
This wharf in Llangollen is part of a World Heritage site.
Welsh cream teas are served at the Wharf Tea Room, with views out over the town and canal.
You can try a horse drawn boat trip from here – they have been running from the wharf for more than 100 years. Trips are 45 minutes or two hours.
Horse drawn boats from Llangollen Wharf
Llangollen Steam railway
This heritage railway line starts at Llangollen Station and runs alongside the River Dee, travelling through the picturesque Dee Valley.
It has events for families throughout the year such as meeting Thomas the Tank Engine.
There is a small cafe and a couple of lovely walks to view the aqueduct. One walk heads along the Llangollen Canal a short distance, down the original Offa’s Dyke path, through some narrow, steep woodland and out onto a bridge with a great view.
Alternatively, you could head out of the marina towards the aqueduct but before you reach it, turn left onto a public footpath signed Ty Mawr Country Park. Walk along the path and then turn right and head down to the river. It is a lovely spot, with a muddy beach, rocks to climb on and even a paddle in the river on a hot day. You then walk back towards the aqueduct and end up underneath its huge towers. This gives children a chance to appreciate the scale of the 200-year-old structure.
Moor up and explore
The beauty of travellng by boat on the canal is that you can stop almost anywhere. We found lots of lovely country walks this way.
The towpath is usually flat and often gravelled so is fine to cycle or scoot in a lot of places.
If your children are older you can send them off the boat along the towpath and collect them when you catch up with them further ahead.
Here are our pick of the best beaches in and around Dawlish.
This is a flat, sandy beach with shallow waters. It is very family-friendly with lifeguards keeping watch over the summer months.
It is a Blue Flag beach – awarded for high standards of cleanliness and safety.
The large car park is set behind a grassy area which you walk through to reach the beach.
The sand is separated into sections by rows of wooden groynes. There is a high, sloped wall above the sand so only walk down via the regular steps provided and hold on to younger children’s hands as you approach.
There can be big waves on a windy day which makes the beach good for bodyboards and surfing.
But when the weather is calm it is a safe bathing spot too.
Heading from the town to the beach you drive past a large funfair and there is an ice cream shop and cafe opposite.
If you fancy a good walk, the beach travels up to the mouth of the River Exe. It also backs on to a wildlife reserve.
Dogs are not allowed on Dawlish Warren beach.
Address: Dawlish Warren Beach, Beach Rd, Dawlish, EX7 0NF.
The town of Dawlish has a beach which is a short walk from the centre.
It’s quite pebbly and travels all the way to Red Rock at Dawlish Warren.
We went on a windy day and the sight of the big waves bashing the sea wall was spectacular. Although paddling/swimming in the sea was definitely off the agenda.
There’s a railway station next to the beach. The railway line runs alongside the beach and there’s a wide footpath between the line and the sand.
Dawlish is a small but pleasant place for a stroll and there is a car park and on-street parking.
The river runs through a park with ducks and swans. There is mini-golf in the park and plenty of cafes or ice cream shops.
We visited Gaye’s Creamery for their famous ice cream cone with clotted cream on top!
Dogs are allowed on part of the beach.
Address: Dawlish Town Beach, SW Coast Path, Dawlish, EX8 5BT.
We walked right alongside Dawlish beach and found:
This beach is about a 10-minute walk from the centre of Dawlish, if you start at the railway tunnel, you can follow the sea path round to the right (with the sea on your left).
Our childen had a great time here, it’s a sandy/stony beach with a sheltered spot/open cave, good for keeping warm unless there’s an easterly wind.
The curved bay is good for swimming and the dramatic red sandstone cliffs with the railway at the bottom forms a spectacular backdrop.
There are rock pools, a few colourful beach huts (some available for hire), a cafe with ice cream shop and occasional dolphin sightings.
The beach used to be known as Gentleman’s Beach, because in Victorian times only men were allowed to bathe there!
The nearest parking is on the street opposite the railway line. You can cross a footbridge from there to get to the beach or enjoy the view from the coastal path above. There is also a car park and on street parking in Dawlish town centre.
Dogs are not allowed on Coryton Cove beach from May 1 to September 30.
This is one for the adventurous families.
You park in Holcombe village and then walk down the steep Smuggler’s Lane to access the beach.
From there head under the railway line and up onto a sea wall path.
Keep a close eye on little ones as there are steep drops until you reach some steps down onto the beach. And the steps are narrow and open to the beach.
It is a sandy beach with good waves for bodyboarding.
You also get dramatic red sandstone cliffs at each end which you can imagine as ideal cover for smugglers who made use of this remote beach in years gone by.
There is a kiosk at the bottom of Smuggler’s Lane selling drinks and snacks.
This is also an excellent spot for train spotters as you can get really close to the trains heading in both directions along the line.
This narrow, isolated beach is used mainly by locals and there are no lifeguards.
Dogs are allowed on Holcombe beach.
Address: Holcombe Beach, Holcombe, Teignmouth, Devon, EX7 0JL.
We discover if Cofton Holidays is as good as it sounds for a break with children
Cofton Holiday Park/Cofton Holidays
Where is it?
Cofton is at Starcross near Dawlish in south east Devon, 20 minutes from the M5 and Exeter.
What is it?
It’s a five-star holiday park. The 80-acre site is family-run and has won multiple awards and we are very impressed, it’s one of the nicest holiday parks we’ve stayed at.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, very much so, there are lots of facilities for children – indoor and outdoor pools, an arcade and a woodland adventure area.
There are indoor and outdoor play areas for younger children and bookable activities.
It’s a great holiday park for children – our two love it as do we.
There are various options – from camping through to more luxurious options.
Luxury lodges at Coftons
You can take your own tent, caravan or motorhome.
There are static caravans, luxury holiday lodges with hot tubs and holiday cottages and apartments to choose from.
We stay in a static caravan in a great location, next to the centre where reception, the pools and restaurants are based.
Our static caravan
It is warm and cosy with two bedrooms and very comfy beds. The main bedroom has an en-suite, and there’s a separate bathroom with shower.
The double bedroom
The kitchen/diner/lounge is open plan.
The lounge area
It feels modern and clean, very comfortable with everything we need, except maybe a dishwasher!
The kitchen area
Food and drink
Two of the restaurants on site serve from the same good menu.
The Swan pub is on the ground floor and includes an outside patio.
Amelia’s upstairs is bigger and also includes outdoor seating overlooking the pool. There is a soft play area off this restaurant for under-eights.
Evening meals and Sunday carveries are also served in the Warren Retreat – an area which hosts children’s discos, live cabaret and other entertainment. This area is closed when we visit due to Covid restrictions.
There’s also a fish and chip takeaway and a small shop selling essentials including bread and milk.
There’s a lovely heated indoor swimming pool, which we use nearly every day. It is perfectly warm and a real hit with us all.
It is all one depth, there are splash taps and large, clean changing rooms.
There’s also a heated outdoor pool, open over the summer, great for warmer days.
There is an arcade with lots of games. It also has American pool tables and a mini tenpin bowling alley with four lanes.
*Woodland adventure area
At the top of the site and at the base of a forest Is a wooden adventure area complete with zip wire, assault course and climbing nets.
Woodland adventure play area
There is an outdoor play area with swings and climbing frames.
There’s a soft play area for younger children (closed when we were there due to Covid restrictions).
Anglers are well catered for here – there are well-stocked fishing lakes and fishing competitons. Assisted fishing is available for adults and children. All fish caught are put back into the water.
There are activities for children in the day – when we stay, youngsters can learn to fish or try pond dipping. At other times there are children’s discos in the evening and other entertainment.
Learning to fish
The nearest beach is the Blue Flag beach at Dawlish Warren. It’s a 35-minute walk or a seven-minute drive. There’s a big car park next to it which can get busy and a fun fair. Life guards are on duty during the summer months.
The town has a river, sea walk, crazy golf and places to eat plus Dawlish Town Beach.
*Haldon Forest Park
This is 3,500 acres of woodland with three walking trails and four cycling rails (bikes can be hired).
We take our children to Cofton Holiday Park and explore the surrounding beaches and attractions
“This is amazing,” says our son and we all feel the same.
The sheer joy of a family swim makes the months of lockdown seem a distant memory.
This perfectly warm indoor pool is just one of the excellent facilities at Cofton Holiday Park near Dawlish in Devon.
Swim sessions are pre-booked and limited to an hour to ensure the pool isn’t too crowded while Covid precautions are in place.
It is the same with Cofton’s large outdoor pool, which opens over the warmer months.
The pools are at the centre of the sprawling site along with restaurants and arcade and it’s all just a short walk from our static caravan.
We are in a Tamar model and it is a superb place to stay – modern, spotlessly clean, with two smart TVs, fast WiFi, two bathrooms, good kitchen facilities and plenty of space in the well laid out lounge/dining area.
Our static caravan
There are also luxury lodges with hot tubs, holiday cottages or you can bring your own tent, caravan or motorhome.
The lounge area
Children could spend their whole holiday at Cofton – there’s also a woodland adventure park with zip line, small playground, fishing lakes and woods to explore.
It would also be pretty easy to eat here every night with three restaurants (one closed during our visit), serving good family food and drinks at reasonable prices. There is also an excellent fish and chip shop and a small store on site selling essential food and drinks.
The outdoor pool and restaurants
Plus there are children’s activities run by the entertainment team with daily activities like pond dipping, fishing lessons and pirate adventures, when we visit.
With beautiful Devon on our doorsteps we have to get out and about too.
The beaches are our main aim and the nearest is Dawlish Warren. You can walk from the site – up steep woodland, along a footpath to a walk which takes about half an hour.
Alternatively it is a 10-minute drive from Cofton to the beach’s large car park, past a popular funfair.
This child-friendly flat beach stretches along a sand spit at the mouth of the Exe estuary.
It’s good for games and sandcastle building, there are lifeguards patrolling during the summer and a cafe and ice cream shop.
We also spend time at Coryton Cove near Dawlish, a sheltered partly sandy spot with a cafe.
For an adventurous trip out, try Holcombe Beach. You can’t park there but have to leave your car in the village and negotiate the steep Smuggler’s Lane.
Once you walk under the railway line, which hugs the shore, you come out on a high sea wall path (beware, there’s a sheer, high drop) with steep, narrow steps leading down to the sand.
The beach is good for bodyboarding and offers great views with dramatic red sandstone cliffs at both ends. If you love train-spotting then you can stand inches from the main railway line as services whizz past.
For a more sedate pace of life, try Dawlish town with its gentle river running though the park and traditional seaside appeal.
Devon clotted cream ice creams from Gaye’s Creamery, eaten beside the ducks floating along the weirs on the river makes for a relaxing afternoon.
You can also enjoy the crashing waves along the sea wall and games of mini-golf.
Cofton Holdays is only 20 minutes from Exeter and a similar drive to the hills of Dartmoor.
Haldon Forest Park with its range of bike and walking trails is another good option if you want to head inland.
Back at the park
After one hearty dinner at the park’s Amelia’s Cafe, as the evening sun shines over the rolling hills, we set out to explore the area on foot.
We look down to the holiday park laid out before us. “This is amazing,” I say.
We take a trip down memory lane in Exeter and find out if it is family-friendly and good for children
A tatty white door, three overflowing bins and a weed-covered driveway isn’t the normal tourist photo opportunity.
But it’s the outside of this terraced house in Exeter which has inspired our visit.
It’s where my husband lived when he was at university in Devon – and now he’s come back with a wife and two children in tow.
His time as a student hadn’t resulted in much knowledge of whether the city was child-friendly.
But on our short break we discover there is plenty – apart from taking a trip with dad down memory lane – to entertain the little ones.
This is the best place to start – the bustling waterfront has quirky shops, bars, restaurants and wide paths for cycling, scooting and strolling alongside the River Exe and Exeter Canal.
Saddles & Paddles
We take a different mode of transport by hopping into a canoe, hired from Saddles & Paddles on the Quayside. As the name suggests they hire bikes and boats from a waterside store.
After a cheery and comprehensive briefing, the four of us are paddling, occasionally even in unison, along the river and then canal.
Family canoe ride on the River Exe in Exeter
We work as a team to travel the two miles or so to the Double Locks pub where you can moor up and grab a drink in the large garden, which has a playground and plenty of space.
We then turn round and head back to the Quay, returning via a super low bridge which you have to duck under.
The canal is very safe as no motorboats are on it, just canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders. It is a peaceful and fun way to start our visit.
Where is child-friendly to eat in Exeter?
After working up an appetite, we tuck into giant pizzas at On The Waterfront, which is next to Saddles & Paddles. It has good outside seating and an atmospheric inside in an old customs house.
On the Waterfront restaurant
The children’s pizzas, only £6 each, disappear in a flash and even our large adult portions go down well. This is a good, friendly, relaxed family restaurant.
On the opposite side of the water, in a glass building, sits another excellent eatery.
Lobster at Rockfish
Rockfish is a chain with restaurants around the South West. It’s known for its fresh seafood and changes its dish of the day daily to reflect what’s come out of the waters around Devon.
I have a fabulous lobster and our children tuck into tasty fish and chips.
The children’s menu, well priced at £7.95, includes an ice cream dessert and a great pack of goodies to keep them entertained.
It has a puzzle book, dolphin jigsaw, card games and colouring pencils.
The activities all carry a message about protecting the maritime environment.
Once you’ve headed up the steep streets (Exeter is a fairly hilly city) into the city centre, the cathedral should be your first stop.
The Cathedral Green is a lovely space and inside the large cathedral (entrance £5 adults, children free) you can collect a free children’s activity booklet, guiding you around the building with questions and clues to answer about what’s inside. There is also brass rubbing sheets you can do at a cost of £2.
Exeter is an historic city with links to the Romans, Normans and more. You can wander past Sir Francis Drake’s favourite pub – the half timbered Ship Inn, as you walk from the cathedral to the castle.
It is more castle walls really than traditional fortress but most of the walls sit in Northernhay Gardens, the oldest public open space in Britain, which dates back to the 1600s.
Today the gardens are peaceful, picturesque and a good space for children to run around.
If you exit the gardens via the war memorial and turn left you come to Exeter’s most colourful street, Gandy Street, with coffee shops and bars lining the cobbles. It is a good spot to stop for snack or drink.
The RAMM and Underground Passages
Two of the city’s other top attractions are closed when we visit.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) reveals the area’s rich history and global connections.
And we were sad to miss the city’s Underground Passages where guided tours have taken place since the 1930s. They were designed to bring clean drinking water from natural springs outside the walled city.
The Underground Passages (pic: Mike Alsford)
Haldon Forest Park
One place which wasn’t closed – and very much open to the elements as we discover on a wet walk – is Haldon Forest Park.
Haldon Forest Park
About four miles outside the city, this large woodland area is packed with walkers, cyclists and Segway riders.
There is a Go Ape course, cafe, playground and lots of different length trails to tackle. As it’s pouring, we take the simple green route, which is a 1.5 mile circular walk with spectacular views out towards the sea.
You could easily spend most of the day at this large park, especially if you brought bikes with you.
There are other attractions on the outskirts of Exeter like Crealy Theme Park and Darts Farm Shopping Village.
The city is only around half an hour from the seaside resorts of Exmouth and Dawlish, as well as the hills of Dartmoor.
If you wanted to you could base yourself in the city and explore all of those areas.
But our time in Exeter is up and we have created plenty of new family memories to add to the student stories from two decades ago.
Mattel Play! will not be reopening following coronavirus closure
It was popular with youngsters who loved children’s favourites Thomas & Friends, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder.
But now Mattel Play! on the Royal Albert Dock has closed for good.
The adventure play centre at the Albert Dock launched in 2016 and was the first of its kind in Europe.
It was split into three themed areas dedicated to the iconic characters.
The Heritage Great Britain attraction closed in March to prevent the spread of coronavirus but has now revealed that it will not reopen.
Harold the Helicopter’s ball pool
A spokesperson said: “Following five wonderful years at the Albert Dock, we have taken the difficult decision to close Mattel Play! Liverpool.
“As the focus of the Albert Dock continued to be more bars and restaurants, we have therefore, following a discussion with the landlord, agreed to exit our lease earlier than planned.
“We would have very much liked to have remained at the Albert Dock throughout the summer months but the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and the consequences which are likely to be felt for many months, made this ambition untenable.”
This website reviewed Mattel Play! and thought it was great for younger children who were fans of Fireman Sam, Bob the Builder and Thomas.
Navigate along the middle of the canal where the water should be deeper but when passing another moving boat, stay on the RIGHT – remember it is the opposite side to road travel in the UK.
The speed limit is 4mph, walkers will overtake you. Slow down when passing moored boats, other moving boats, when going around corners and approaching tunnels. If you make a breaking wash behind you, you are going too fast.
How to stop
You use reverse to slow down and to stop a narrowboat. Small thrusts on the throttle and then back to neutral will slow the boat down quickly and smoothly.
Right of way
When approaching a bridge or a tunnel with room for only one boat, the craft nearest has the right of way. When waiting, stop and keep to the right.
Give way to non-powered craft like canoes and rowing boats.
The tiller is at the back of the boat. Move the tiller in the opposite direction to the way you want to go – pushing it right sends the boat left and left sends it right. It can be hard to remember this when you are panicking!
Try to always think ahead as a canal boat can be slow to react to a turn, especially at low revs when you will have less control. The turn will continue after you want it to if you don’t centre the tiller before the turn is completed.
Also be aware that as the boat turns in the middle, the front might be okay but the rear may hit something. To move the back of the boat (the stern), push the tiller the way you want the rear to go.
If you are in danger of hitting something put the throttle in reverse to slow down or stop.
How to park/moor a narrowboat
You can park where you like as long as it does not create an obstruction such as just before a lock, near to a bridge, on a corner or at a water point.
Approach slowly and when you are parallel with the side, use reverse gear. Get close enough so that a passenger can step off safely with a rope.
Look for mooring points with rings in the ground as these are the simplest to use. Otherwise you can use a mooring pin/metal stake which you hammer into the ground. Make sure you hammer the mooring pin right into the ground or it may be pulled free by the weight of the boat.
Tie the boat at the front and back, I asked our instructor to show me twice how to tie the ropes to ensure I got it right and was very glad I had.
Keep the rope tight – if it is loose, the boat will bang against the side when other boats pass or can come away altogether if not knotted properly.
Bond class narrowboat, Askrigg
How to turn your canal boat around
If you need to turn your narrowboat around, there are turning places every few miles called winding holes or swinging areas.
These are wider parts of the canal, marked on maps that you can plan for in advance.
When you are turning, keep the propeller and rudder away from shallow water and debris. Aim to put the bow/front of the boat into the winding hole, reverse and then go forwards and away in the other direction.
Look out for the wind or current causing difficulties and if necessary, someone can step on to the towpath and use a rope to help.
The wind once prevented us from making a turn and a friendly man on the side asked us to throw him a rope so he could help out. He said it had happened to several boats before us which made me feel better!
Listen and look out for boats already heading towards you through the tunnel if it is too narrow for two boats.
If the way is clear, put on your headlights and sound the horn before entering the tunnel. Turn the internal lights on too.
Make sure nobody is on the roof or the side of the boat.
Coming out from a tunnel
When heading towards a small bridge, the space to navigate through can appear alarmingly narrow.
Do your best to line up the boat as you approach, get the front end into position and under the bridge. Then steer the back through. You may hit the sides but it shouldn’t do any harm at a slow speed.
You use a lock key to wind the bridge up, it can seem as if it is not fully open if it hangs a little over so be careful when navigating underneath it.
Close the bridge behind you unless there is another boat waiting to use it.
Canal swing bridge
A lock is used to raise or lower a boat to the level of the water ahead.
They can be pretty daunting the first time you use them as there is a lot to think about.
There is usually a queue of boats so wait your turn and don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you. We did and having expert reassurance from seasoned boaters made the lock experience more relaxing.
Remember, if you are going up, the lock needs to be empty first and if you are coming down, the lock has to be full.
One person needs to get off the boat before the lock, armed with a lock key called a windlass. They slowly and carefully open and close the gates and the paddles which let the water in and out, in the correct order.
The person at the helm has to steer the boat into the lock and keep it as far forward as possible as there is a ledge/cill at the back which the boat can get caught on – look out for the cill marker to show you where it is.
Navigating a lock on the Llangollen Canal
Filling up water is simple but there aren’t that many places to do it. Boat hire companies recommend you fill up every day, we found that wasn’t essential but every other day is a must.
You can stop at a water point (marked on the map and signposted) and operate the tap using the Yale key your boat hire company should have given you.
You connect one end of the boat’s hose pipe to the tap and insert the other end into the hole of the boat’s water tank.
We were told the water can be drunk but we had taken bottled water.
Canal boats have chemical toilets which hold the waste in a tank on board.
We did not need to empty ours but check with your hire company how to at a pump-out point if you are staying on the boat long enough to need to do so.
Work together – we naturally found which jobs we were best at and got much better at mooring and doing all the necessary checks.
Take it in turns to steer and relax and make sure you enjoy the slow pace of life, the surroundings, the friendliness of people you pass and have fun.
How to keep children happy and safe on a narrowboat trip
To our children’s great excitement, we recently took them on a narrowboat holiday – the prospect of our own barge for a few days really captured their imagination.
Home for the break was a 67-foot boat along the Llangollen Canal between Shropshire and Wales (full story here).
We loved the sense of freedom and slow pace of life and learned a lot in a short space of time.
But how do you keep children happy and safe on a canal boat holiday?
First off – are children safe on a canal boat?
We felt that at aged nine and six, our children would be safe – they both swim and follow instructions, plus they were happy to wear life jackets.
To be honest, I would not have wanted to take this holiday when they were toddlers.
It would be hard work and you would need to keep an eye on them at all times. Plus you would need more than two adults when going through locks for example – one to helm, one to operate the lock and another to look after the children.
How to prepare children for a canal boat holiday
You will want your children to be excited about the holiday and all they can do to help.
But also make sure to give them some general safety advice.
Talk them calmly through the dangers and how to stay safe. You could also show them a video.
General safety advice for children on narrowboats
Children should wear a like jacket
*Wear lifejackets and non-slip shoes
*Don’t run by the water
*Don’t lean too far over the side
*Step on and off the boat when it is safe to do so, don’t try to jump across a gap.
*Be very careful at locks and listen to instructions. Locks have steep sides and water comes in and out quickly.
*Children should always be supervised by an adult.
What to pack for children on a canal boat holiday
*Comfortable clothes including shorts and fleeces.
*Anorak and waterproofs.
*Life jackets/buoyancy aids – check with your boat hire company if they are provided, ours were with Anglo Welsh.
*Scooters or bikes if allowed as large sections of the canal towpath are flat and have a hard surface. You can send one adult off with the children while the other steers the boat. But check with your hire company how many are allowed and where you can keep them.
*Most importantly, pack activities for the children to do while travelling (see next section).
What activities to take for children on a canal holiday?
It’s a fantastic novelty for children to be in a floating home, relaxing, playing, watching the world go past, helping with some of the jobs.
But there are also hours spent travelling where kids can get bored.
Take reading books, activity books, board games, toys, paper and pens with you plus tablets or whatever else your children enjoy to pass the time.
If there is WiFi and a television, they may not work.
Pack a camera children can use to take photos, but not an expensive one in case it falls in the canal!
Take some binoculars. You can get children wildlife spotting and feeding the ducks.
And there will be plenty to teach them about the history of the canals.
Or take hats and pretend to be pirates.
Don’t go too far
It’s tempting to power on to new destinations with a tick-list of achievements.
But be flexible, the best times on our trip were when we ended up in a random spot in the evening and headed off in the fresh air to explore nearby footpaths, fields and woods.
Exploring the countryside at St Martin’s in Shropshire
So don’t be too rigid and build in plenty of stops if the weather is dry, so that children can stretch their legs and whoever is at the helm can relax.
If children are inside, make sure the lights are on when you go through a tunnel else it will go very dark very quickly and they won’t be able to see.
If they are outside, ensure an adult is with them and they stay seated as tunnels can be very narrow and low.
Our two loved the tunnels and we played an echo game to keep them entertained but they can be very long and dark so some children could be scared.
Warn them that you will be turning the headlight on and sounding the horn before entering.
And obviously ensure nobody is on the roof or side of the boat.
Going through Chirk Tunnel in Wales
What jobs can children do to help on a boating holiday
There are different boating jobs children can help with depending on their age.
They can help plan the route, keep the boat tidy, cast off and tie the ropes.
Older children can help with the steering under supervision.
They can also help with working the locks as long as they know how to do so safely.
However, don’t get them doing every lock with you because they get just as much fun from sitting on the boat as it rises or falls in the lock.
Younger ones can look out for tunnels, bridges and oncoming boats.
We got our children to keep tabs on the number of each bridge because that tells you whereabouts you are on the canal.
Our daughter helps lift a bridge at Froncysyllte in Wales
What route to take with children
Pick places which will entertain children – work around stopping points which have family attractions where possible.
For instance we made sure to stop at Ellesmere because of its lake walk, playground and sculpture trail.
Pick spots which are near to playgrounds, woodland walks or leisure centres.
Blakemere at Ellesmere
Most importantly have lots of fun. You can feel like a real team on this sort of a holiday and it will certainly be one they remember.
We share all the details of our 67 foot bond class Anglo Welsh barge
Boat hire company Anglo Welsh has more than 160 narrowboats at 11 bases across England and Wales.
We hired one from its Trevor Basin site in north Wales to take across the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal into Shropshire.
It was our first canal boat trip and we booked it through Drifters Waterway Holidays.
We had a great time (read our full review) Here we’ll look at the boat in more detail and explain how suitable it is for children.
We hired a 4-6 berth canal boat called Askrigg, a bond class narrowboat, which is one of the most luxurious that Anglo Welsh offers.
Bond class narrowboat, Askrigg
Let’s start with space and there was plenty of it. The length of the boat is 67 feet and it’s nearly 7 feet wide. It doesn’t even feel that narrow.
It’s quite dauntingly long when you take the helm for the first time but it is fabulous for the children to have so much room to move about and play.
Starting at the rear is a bedroom with two small single beds.
There are two small beds in one bedroom
A narrow corridor, which could be a squeeze for some, runs alongside the next three rooms.
There is a bathroom, a bedroom with a double bed followed by a second identical bathroom.
The other bedroom has a small double bed
It opens up into a galley area with kitchen and dining table with sofa-seating which converts into another bed if needed.
At the front of the boat are two leather chairs facing a TV and radio.
Inside the Anglo Welsh narrowboat Askrigg
It’s a great layout and worked well for us – having two bedrooms and two bathrooms is a real bonus.
There are places to sit outside at the front and rear of the boat.
Was it easy to helm?
It is straightforward, once you’ve grasped that turning the tiller right makes the boat go left and vice versa.
As you steer from the rear, take glasses if you need them!
It’s good fun, rewarding but never relaxing when you are at the helm. It’s definitely best to take it in turns if there are two of you, to give each of you a chance to fully enjoy the experience.
What about equipment?
The boat is very well equipped. We found plenty of crockery, pots and pans, cutlery and cooking utensils. It was all in an excellent condition, very clean, and most of it looked new.
There is a gas oven, grill and four-ring hob as well as a microwave (only use the microwave when the engine is running or it will sap all your power). A kettle to boil on the hob is provided as well as a fridge freezer.
Bedding and towels are provided, along with a hairdryer and a couple of folding chairs.
What about gadgets?
There is a small TV with signal dependent on your location – we didn’t get ours to work but it does take DVDs.
There is also a radio and CD player.
In the lounge area are two plug sockets and underneath the television is a cigarette lighter point.
Try to charge mobile phones and other devices while the boat is moving as electricity drops when the engine is turned off.
Is there space to shower?
The bathrooms are a fairly tight squeeze for an adult around the toilet and sink areas but the showers were large, powerful and warmed up instantly.
Don’t forget to pump out the shower using the button at the side of it where you are done. A new bar of soap is supplied in each bathroom.
The chemical toilets are flushed using a lever with your foot.
Canal boat toilets use a sealed holding tank on board which you empty at a pump-out point if and when you need to – we didn’t.
Is there enough water and can you drink it?
There is initially enough water onboard for at least a day.
You can stop at a water point (marked on the map and signposted) and access the tap using a key Anglo Welsh give you.
You connect one end of the boat’s hose pipe to the tap and insert the other end into the hole of the boat’s water tank.
It’s a really simple process once you’ve managed to moor up!
We were told that it’s best to fill up every day, but we were careful with our water usage and managed every other day.
You can apparently drink the water but we took bottled.
How does electricity work on an Anglo Welsh boat?
We never ran out of power. An inverter on the boat converts the power from the onboard batteries.
The amount of power available depends on how long the engine has been running so keep it running for a time when you are moored (but not after 8pm).
It’s recommended to charge mobiles and tablets etc when the engine is running so you don’t drain the batteries.
Was there heating on the boat?
All the company’s boats have gas central heating with radiators and ours was cosy and warm.
There’s also a multi-fuel stove, which we didn’t use.
Are there life jackets/buoyancy aids?
If you request them when you book, you can chose a life jacket to fit when you are at the boatyard before you depart. Both our children had one and were happy to wear them.
Are pets allowed?
Yes, up to two dogs are allowed, one is free to bring, a second costs £25 or £35 depending on the length of stay.
Are bikes allowed?
You can take one or two bikes but they have to be kept outside and you need to be careful when going under bridges or tunnels if you leave them on the roof.
Was it clean and Covid-compliant?
Canal boating is an excellent socially-distanced holiday option as you have self-contained accommodation and you are never too close to other people.
Our boat was very clean and had been thoroughly disinfected beforehand. Anti-bacterial spray and cleaning products were supplied on board.
Do they tell you how to use the boat?
Yes, the handover is very thorough. Ours took an hour as the Anglo Welsh staff member explained every aspect of the boat, how to helm it, all the safety precautions and more.
He also had plenty of time for questions and even headed out of the marina with us for the first few hundred yards of our journey to help with any teething problems and offer tips.
On arrival back, the staff turned our boat round for us and moored it.
We collected our boat from Trevor Basin in north Wales. There is free parking at the boatyard and we were able to park right next to the barge, which was great for loading and unloading.
A great space for children with everything you could need.
Our first boating holiday takes in the famous Pontyscyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
I have been in charge of an 18-tonne canal boat the length of a lorry for roughly a minute.
Concentrating hard, I navigate on to the Pontyscyllte Aqueduct, the width of our craft Askrigg, trying to ignore the 40-metre sheer drop on one side into the River Dee.
The expert, who has just given us an hour’s worth of thorough instructions, steps off the barge and we are alone crossing the longest aqueduct in Britain and the highest in the world.
As introductions to canal life goes, there’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end as our two children enjoy the ride and my husband helps direct from the front – almost 70 feet away.
We are on a Drifters waterways holiday and our Anglo Welsh boat has just left Trevor basin near Llangollen in north east Wales.
About to depart from Trevor basin
Our four-day route is along the Llangollen Canal with overnight stops at the border village of Chirk and the Shropshire town of Ellesmere.
I quickly discover that canal boating is simultaneously very relaxing and stressful. Once we cross the aqueduct with its amazing views, there are other boats to dodge, tight turns to master and long tunnels to chug through.
There’s even a swing bridge to lift and our six-year-old gets out, armed with the windlass (the tool to lift canal locks and bridges) and starts helping turn the gauge to raise it high above the canal and allow us to pass through.
At first, bridges and locks may be daunting but they quickly become part of the fun, giving the children some activity and making them feel part of the team.
Luckily, every boater seems friendly and happy to help if you get in a fix.
Helming takes some practice, the boat is steered from the rear with a tiller. You may find yourself gently bumping the sides, glancing off low bridges or getting stuck in shallow water.
Coming out from a tunnel
It is all part of the adventure and steering quickly becomes second nature, even if you can never entirely relax at the helm.
We take it in turns so one of us can be with the children, prepare food or even relax, lazing at the front, enjoying the scenery.
There’s something pretty awesome about travelling along in a floating home but I recommend mooring up as often as possible to explore the towpath and surroundings.
We love stopping where we want, discovering walks through the countryside with just cows for company. This slow pace of travel needs to be embraced.
We also make planned stops at Chirk near to the famous castle, Ellesmere with its mere, playground, sculpture trail and quaint town centre, the small village of St Martin’s and also the base at Trevor, from where you can cross the famous aqueduct, a world heritage site, on foot.
As your confidence dealing with the boat increases, so does your speed carrying out its regular checks, filling with water and tying the ropes.
And the quality of our craft Askrigg really helps make the holiday (read our detailed review of the boat). It is one of Anglo Welsh’s Bond class boats and sleeps up to six (read our full review of it here).
Inside our boat Askrigg
There is lots of space inside, two bedrooms, two bathrooms with showers, a well-equipped kitchen, lounge/dining area, television, radio, central heating and WiFi. It is also extremely clean and Covid compliant.
By the end of our mini-break it has become a home from home so as we head back over the aqueduct four days later, the view was just as stunning but any novice nerves about taking a canal boat holiday have disappeared.
All you need to know when visiting the home of LEGO in Billund, Denmark
Billund in Denmark is the home of Lego.
It is where the very first Lego toy brick was made in 1932. And where the first Legoland Park opened on June 7, 1968, next to the original Lego factory.
Legoland Billund is smaller, flatter and easier to get around than Legoland Windsor. Plus it’s just a 90-minute flight from the UK so makes a great alternative for Lego fans.
If you are planning a visit to Legoland Billund, make sure you read our 14 top tips below first and then our review.
1. How to get to Legoland Billund in Denmark
Legoland Billund is across the road from Billund Airport. You can fly there from Manchester, Heathrow and Stansted Airports. Ryanair fly from Stansted and Sun-Air, a British Airways partner, goes from Heathrow and Manchester.
We flew direct from Manchester with Sun-Air (which works in partnership with BA) on a tiny plane. The flight took 90 minutes.
2. Where to stay
It is expensive but you can stay stay at the park – at Legoland Hotel or Legoland Castle Hotel, a stay which can include park tickets, parking and early park access.
There is also Legoland Holiday Village, 450 metres from the entrance to Legoland.
But we stayed over the road at Lalandia Billund – an amazing water park resort, so got the best of both worlds. We stayed in a fantastic two-bedroomed lodge.
3. Best time to go to Legoland Billund
The busiest days at Legoland Billund are Tuesdays and Wednesdays while Saturdays are the quietest.
If you want to go over the summer, go as late as you can as Danish children usually go back to school towards the end of August so it will be quieter.
We found queues manageable despite visiting during the Easter holidays – there are lots of rides and plenty of space.
4. How to avoid the queues
Most people enter the park and start going on rides as soon as they see them so head straight to the back to avoid the crowds.
The longest queues when we went were in the Ninjago area which did mean a wait for Lloyd’s Laser Maze and the Ninjago Ride.
The Ninjago Ride
If you have Ninjago fans you could head there as soon as the gates open. Alternatively, the most popular rides are often quieter in the last 30 minutes before the park closes, although you may miss out altogether if you leave it too late.
To really save time queuing, splash out on the Q-Bot Reserve and Ride system. Instead of waiting in a queue at each attraction, you spend the waiting time elsewhere in the park. An Express pass reduces your waiting time by 50 per cent and an Ultimate pass means almost no waits in queues on your chosen rides, which can be a game changer when you have young children.
The Miniland area is at its heart with recreations of everything from old Amsterdam to Star Wars, made out of Lego, which everyone will enjoy.
This park uses 65 million of the little bricks to build its displays.
There is a Duplo Land, Imagination Zone, Pirate Land, Knights’ Kingdom, Polar Land and Legoredo Town.
Lego Ninjago World and Adventure Land are really popular.
Our favourite ride was the competitive Falck Fire Engine in Adventure Land. You work with your family to use a pump to move a fire engine and then spray out ‘fires’ while racing against other visitors on their fire engines.
Falck Fire Engine ride
The farthest end of the park is the quietest and we found a nice picnic spot by the penguin enclosure where we could watch them swimming while we ate.
6. Age appropriate
Unlike some theme parks, there is lots for little ones including Duplo Land for toddlers and Imagination Zone.
There are also enough rollercoasters to keep teenagers happy – so this suits all ages from two to 16.
There’s plenty for older children
Don’t forget to be aware of height and age restrictions, so children aren’t left disappointed on the day.
7. Food and drink
There are food and drink outfits but the options can be pricey. Plus they get very busy after 12.30pm so take your own food and drinks where possible, to enjoy in one of the picnic areas.
This is obviously a Danish theme park but some of the 4D films are in English – check the times for these in advance.
It’s a nice flat theme park and not overly huge but if little one’s legs get tired, there are pushchairs to hire.
If the weather is bad or you want a break from the rides then there is a good aquarium in the Imagination Zone called Atlantis by Sea Life.
Atlantis by Sea Life
It takes you on an expedition under the sea with a few bricks to find along the way. It doesn’t take very long but is a good spot to dry off or warm up and includes a tunnel under the water.
11. Special needs
The park is flat and all roads and paths are paved so wheelchairs users can go everywhere.
Those with a hidden disability such as anxiety, autism or ADHD can collect a ’show consideration’ wristband.
Disabled and ’show consideration’ access to rides is via the exits or sometimes through the Q-bot entrance.
12. Buying tickets
Buy online to save money and to save time queuing for tickets and download the free, official app to plan your trip.
13. Don’t miss the new Lego House
If you are after another Lego experience – try the big Lego House, which has opened in Billund and is within walking distance of Legoland.
This 12,000-square-metre house is filled with 25 million Lego bricks.
Here, children learn through play with Lego. The house also includes three restaurants and a Lego store.
14. The history
You can go to other Legoland parks, but only one place is the home of Lego.
Almost every visitor stops for an iconic photo outside the main entrance sign. Save time getting in by doing this at the end of the day not the beginning, when the shot will be more clear of people.
This park is not huge but it is historic and has enough to keep you entertained for a full day or a couple of days.
Advance entry starts from around 300DKK – about £30 – per person. For tickets and information visit the Legoland Billund website.
What will change at Merlin’s theme parks and other attractions when they reopen as Coronavirus restrictions are lifted
All Merlin Entertainment theme parks, attractions and accommodation are to reopen on July 4 for day visits and short breaks – with safety measures in place.
Alton Towers and Warwick Castle have been welcoming visitors since June 6 but they will be joined by Thorpe Park, LEGOLAND Windsor, Chessington World of Adventures Resort, the Blackpool Tower, SEA LIFE Centres and Madame Tussaud’s.
The attractions will be limiting visitor numbers to allow for social distancing.
All visitors must pre-book tickets online.
There will be safety measures in place including new routes around the attractions and new queuing formats.
Staff will wear PPE and carry out enhanced cleaning, in alignment with Government guidelines.
Nick Varney, Merlin Entertainments’ CEO, said: “We are delighted to be reopening following UK Government guidance.
“There has been a huge effort from our world class health and safety team, and all our teams across our attractions, to ensure we are ready to safely welcome guests back through our doors.
He said Merlin operates in 25 countries across four continents and the UK is the final country where attractions are still waiting to reopen fully.
“We look forward to welcoming guests from across the UK back to our sites, just as we have done successfully across Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America,” he said.
“In each location, we have seen our guests embrace the ‘new normal’ and actively adhere to the new safety measures we have put in place.
“After the extended lockdown, we recognise that people need leisure and escapism and to make new happy memories with those they love. We look forward to helping them do just that.”
“Millions of familiesare not only learning how to school at home, but have also missed out on a fun vacation, so we hope this helpsease the pain on both fronts,” saidGeorge Aguel of Visit Orlando.
“As the theme park capital of the world, Orlando is home to some of the most creative minds and entertainers out there, and our tourism industry has teamed together, using their skills to helpkids and parents who are adapting to this current reality.“
*Learn how to design theme parks, engineer thrill rides and develop characters straight from Disney Imagineersin a free online program.
*Draw Mickey Mousewith Disney tutorials on the Disney Parks YouTube channel.Cast member Stephen Ketchum provides experttips on how to draw the famous mouse from vintage 1920’s Mickey to the more contemporary version.
Disney tutorials on the Disney Parks YouTube channel
*Characters from Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, National Geographic and Disney Parkshelp with lessons on the new Disney Magic Moments website, from story times with celebrities to cooking recipes to educational activities.
*Interact with droids in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, test your Disney trivia, download official Disney playlists and more with Play Disney Parks, a mobile app that offers unique experiences and activities that bring the theme park environments to life.
*Find live singalongs with celebrity musicians, techniques for sidewalk masterpieces, art tutorials, anda fun new craft each day onCrayola Experience‘s Facebook channel.
*Explore life’s oddities – such as how to make a shrunken head from an apple –onRipley’s Believe It or Not! Odditoriums at home. Visit the websitefor a schedule of live Facebook content, at-home activities tailored for all ages, and unusual facts about famous people throughout history.
*Practice building flowers, dinosaurs and flying cars with the new LEGO challenges, tips and activities on the LEGOLAND Florida Facebook page.
*Young squires and princesses can revert back to medieval times by creating their own coat of chivalry or coloring a princess crown via the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament – Orlando’s Facebook page.
*Storytime from Space is a series of audiobooks read by real astronauts. Children can also learn about living in space, Mars and rocketry or tour Space Shuttle Atlantis during an ongoing series of Facebook lives from Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Parents can find additional downloadable activities here.
*Budding scientists can find videos on do-it-yourself projects like making rock and slime on the Orlando Science Center’s website. Other tutorials include making your own superhero training camp and creating dinosaur fossils.
Orlando Science Center
Biology Class Gone Wild
At 3pm daily, their YouTube channel shares live-action encounters with animals including Burmese pythons, crocodiles, alligators and lizards.
*Explore animals all over the world, including their habitats, diets, behaviors and scientific classification, throughSeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s distance learning resources.The site includes hands-on classroom activities, teacher’s guides, videos and info books.
*Read with sea creatures during ‘Under the Sea Story Times’ every Sunday and watch interactive and educational animal encounters onSEA LIFE Aquarium‘s Facebook page.
*Pretend you’re exploring the jungle by listening to noises from nature, fromsunrise in the swamp togiraffes munching their dinner.Wild Wednesday Nature Sounds is a new listening experience on Wild Florida‘s social channels.
*Put your problem-solving skills to the test through The Escape Game’s TEG Field Trips,with free online games that take students on virtual field trips through museums and historic landmarks by uncovering clues and solving puzzles.
*PE goes online as students can practice their virtual swing at home with Topgolf‘s WGT Golf online or on mobile devices. Find additional resources like tips, drills and printable puzzles through their downloadable guide.
*Learn how to juggle, face paint or dance like a Cirque du Soleil performer via CirqueConnect, a new digital content hub featuring a section devoted to kids’ content.
*#MUSEUMFROMHOME is withOrlando Museum of Art’s free online archives and social media channels,with options ranging from livevideo streams to critically acclaimed children’s book readings, to art-inspired colouring books.
*Comedy and magic come together to teach lessons about bullying,during two full-length productions filmed live onstage of ‘Pip-Squeak, An Anti-Bullying Magic Show,’presented by The Orlando Repertory Theater, in partnership with Tony Brent.
*In times of crisis, it is important to be a helper.TheHolocaust Memorial & Resource Center of Floridais encouraging children to share their stories of how they have helped others through YouTubevideo submissions.
*Learn about native Americans, pioneers and famous people in history on the Orange County Regional History Center’s website, with activities ranging from historic coloring pages to lesson plans to virtual tours of recent exhibitions.
The National Trust has now CLOSED its parks and gardens to help restrict the spread of coronavirus.
The trust had been offering people free entry to its open spaces despite indoor areas being closed.
But there were crowds of visitors taking up the opportunity which made social distancing tricky.
Director General Hilary McGrady said: “Despite our desire to keep our outdoor spaces open, the health and wellbeing of our staff, volunteers and visitors has to be our top priority.
“We have now sadly taken the decision to close all of our parks and gardens, in addition to our houses, shops and cafes, to avoid crowding that puts social distancing at risk.
“We know that people are likely to need space and fresh air in the coming weeks and months and we will do all we can to provide access wherever possible.
“Our countryside and coastal locations remain open with parking charges waived, but we encourage people to stay local and observe social distancing measures.
“Over the coming weeks our digital platforms – our website, social media feeds, podcasts and video – will become even more important, ensuring the places of nature, beauty and history that we care for on behalf of the nation can remain open for business virtually while we are temporarily closed.
“We will also be ramping up our efforts to help people connect with nature wherever they are and to find moments of joy in the world around them. We will be providing rich content and staying in touch with our members and followers throughout this time.”
What to do with children at home during schools closures and our top tips to educate them
Schools have shut and parents all over the country are wondering how best to look after their children at home.
It’s daunting to realise you are now their sole educator for the foreseeable future.
It’s also a challenging time for children – they can’t see their friends and have lost the security of their usual routine and activities.
But now they are away from playground chat about Coronavirus, we can shield them better from anxiety and make this as positive a time as we can for them.
After all, they are living through a period which will be remembered in history – one day they could be telling their grandchildren about the time schools closed.
So, let them remember it for all the good stuff, when they got to spend quality time with the people who love them most.
Where they played games, had fun and learned about things that really mattered to them and interested them.
Read, explored hobbies and passions but above all felt loved and secure at a time when the world around them was confusing and different.
We’ve put together some ideas to help you.
But whatever you do or don’t manage, please don’t feel inadequate or guilty.
EVERYONE is in the same boat. Children are not at school, remember, you are a parent not a teacher.
Timetables and routine
Children respond well to a routine. And their normal schedule has been taken away from them.
You can make a timetable to add structure to their days and a lot of children benefit from having a visual plan in place.
I’m going to attempt to get my children up and dressed first thing – wish me luck, they do love a pyjama day!
I’m also hoping to set aside periods for learning, reading, exercise and creative time but will be flexible and lead by them.
Make sure to set aside good chunks of time for child-led play.
Remember, this is NOT the time to be nagging or upsetting children if they really don’t want to do something.
And if they don’t learn much some days? Don’t worry!
Children need plenty of exercise.
Besides keeping their fitness levels up, they’ll feel happier, more positive and more energised if they keep active.
*You could start the day with a PE session – body coach Joe Wickes is doing a free PE lesson at 9am every weekday on YouTube #PEwithJoe.
*When allowed out, plan a daily walk or jog and try different routes, keeping well away from other people. If you are feeling particularly enthusiastic, make a treasure hunt of things to find or collect bits for a picture!
Keep a safe distance from others and avoid playgrounds and anywhere where children may touch surfaces.
*Plan your own PE sessions in the garden or obstacle courses.
Adapt learning to match their interests
Example: Harry Potter
I have two Harry Potter fans so, I am really thrilled to have found some amazing resources which will combine one of their favourite subjects with ways to learn and be creative.
The Ultimate Harry Potter Project – this blog gives some fantastic wizarding ideas as trialled by a Harry Potter-loving family like potion making, wand making, a Quidditch creation and how to make Mandrakes.
And this site provides loads of carefully made Harry Potter printables like crosswords, words searches, colouring pages and maths worksheets.
And of course, encourage them to dress up and play and let their imaginations run wild.
Take a topic and research the subject together then do different activities relating to it.
This is the best time you will ever have to learn life skills together such as:
*Gardening: A lot of children love helping in the garden. I’m not exactly green-fingered but I’ve bought packets of seeds and ordered biodegradable seed pots to get us started.
*Decorate (with care): This is potentially a good time to spruce up the house. I’ve splashed out on a huge tub of emulsion and a new roller and have optimistic visions of us all having a go at this together, which could all go horribly wrong. We are also going to have a go at painting the shed.
*Cooking and baking: My two always love to make cakes and biscuits but I’m hoping they’ll enjoy trying some other easy recipes.
*Even cleaning and housework can sometimes be fun!
Make sure they don’t lose touch with their friends by arranging regular video calls for them.
We are loving Facebook Messenger where you can do group video chats. There are some hilarious filters you can use too.
It’s also proved a saviour for me and my friends later on in the evenings, with wine in hand!
It’s easy to use, just open Facebook Messenger, select a friend/friends or a group as if you were writing a message then press the video camera icon. To get the filters, press the smiley face.
I saw one mum had asked all the children in a group call who could find various items, which proved entertaining.
Set a timer and dedicate all your attention to one child.
Let them choose exactly what they want to do and be enthusiastic and supportive.
Do the same with all your children and give the others something to occupy them if possible while they wait their turn, without (good luck with this) interrupting!
Read to your children, get them to read to you and give them time to read alone. I’ve got two little book worms and it’s one of our biggest joys.
Also Amazon Audible has made hundreds of titles free during the Coronavirus.
And World Book Online has made its collection of over 3,000 ebooks and audiobooks available for free for children to access at home.
Plus, there are lots of children’s authors doing online read-alouds and activities, find out more here.
If your children like coding or want to learn, a company called Code Camp which teaches children aged 7 to 12 to code, has scrapped its subscription fees during this period.
Loads of children love LEGO and it helps develop lots of skills including fine motor skills.
If they are really keen, you can print out a free 30-day LEGO challenge here.
Make a diary
This is a time they will remember. Use this free printable stay-at-home diary.
Blue Peter Badges
If you have children aged six to 15, apply for a Blue Peter badge. And then they’ll have over 200 places to visit for free until they’re 16, once they are allowed out again.
On BBC iPlayer they have episodes of Planet Earth. One mum played them for her children and quizzed them at the end of each episode.
Pictures in the window
Children have been painting a picture of a rainbow or something else of their choice to put in the window for their friends to see when they walk past to keep everyone smiling. It’s the #frommywindow initiative.
If you are working from home
Everything is far more challenging when you are trying to work too.
Make sure your colleagues and employers know that you have children at home with you so they have realistic expectations of what you can achieve.
If you have partner who is also working from home, try to take shifts.
Give children activities which don’t need as much supervision where possible.
Accept that the children will have more screen time.
Most importantly – have lots of fun
Try everything you all enjoy – have pillow fights, have a movie night, play music and dance, sing, play tig, make dens, camp in the garden, laugh and be silly.
Concentrate on your children as much as possible, let them mess up the house, give them the freedom to play.
There has been a great deal of advice and links and websites to help us muddle through this crazy time.
But this has been one of the best things I have read. The author is said to be an experienced home educator who wishes to remain anonymous.
Tips for PARENTS OF SCHOOL CHILDREN who might be spending a lot of time at home together in the near future, because 😷🦠.
Hopefully these are some useful tips/thoughts/experience from a HOME EDUCATOR’S PERSPECTIVE on what can work at home. NB: this is what works for us and all families are different, so take however much is useful to you and leave the rest. Bare in mind, if your child is receiving work to do at home from school, that external factor may give quite a different dynamic to home ed, so your experiences may differ too. But I still hope some bits of this might be useful.
1. Replicating school at home doesn’t work. This is a truth almost universally acknowledged in home ed groups by parents who tried it, including qualified teachers. Naturally sometimes parents begin home ed in a school-like manner, perhaps after removing a child from school, thinking that’s the way to go. But it seems 9/10 times families quickly discover this is a route to frustration for children and parents. So if this happens to you, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal, read on for alternatives 🙂
2. It’s fine for children to be bored. Actually it’s good for children to be bored. Perhaps not all the time, but definitely sometimes. Boredom breeds creativity. Our minds cannot stay idle, so inevitably they find something to do, and often they find surprising and interesting things. Isaac Newton began his discovery of gravity at home when Cambridge University closed because of the plague. Shakespeare also wrote some of his best regarded plays while hiding in the countryside from the plague. Possibly if feeling bored is unusual for a child, they might find it uncomfortable at first, but rest assured it is good and valuable. Parents, we do not always have to ‘solve’ boredom.
3. Schools spend less time on learning than you might think. There are several calculations by teachers-turned-home-educators that attempt to quantify actual learning time in schools. When the breaks and moving around and getting things out and putting things away and controlling behaviour and setting expectations and golden time and school photos, and last day of term, and a million other things are taken into account, how much focussed learning time is left on average per day? The calculations range from 45 minutes to 2 hours. Consider scaling back your own expectations accordingly.
4. Learning doesn’t have to be at a table with a worksheet. Oodles can be learnt through cooking, gardening, household tasks*, reading stories to each other, board games, card games, toys and roleplay, sewing and knitting, art and crafts, DIY, servicing a car or bike, music, radio, discussing the news, magazines, documentaries… Some families find that things learnt in an active practical way can stick better than learning on paper.
* Yes cleaning really can be educational – think of all the science involved in descaling a sink, enzymes in washing up liquid, microbes on surfaces, dissolving stains in solvents…
5. You don’t have to already know everything your child needs/wants to learn. Welcome questions and try to find answers together if you don’t know. Actually you might want to search for answers together even if you do know, because how to find things out for yourself is a valuable skill for kids to develop. In periods when children’s questions aren’t forthcoming, try voicing your own questions out loud while you go about your tasks, or ask kids their opinion on something to start a discussion. For older kids (we aren’t there yet) it seems to be about helping them find resources (people, clubs, books, courses) that they can learn from. ‘Facilitator not teacher’ is a phrase sometimes used.
6. Learning doesn’t have to happen in school hours. You probably have the children with you longer than they would be in school, so you have the option to pick times when they are more receptive, or that fit with family needs. Some families come to consider all-day every-day as learning time, by noticing and using learning possibilities in all of everyday life.
(7. Because I can’t not mention it after 4 and 6: home learning doesn’t have to happen at home. Unfortunately right now there may be No, or Very Limited, options to go out – follow the advice for your country. But rest assured that there are some (many) home educating families who usually go out a lot, and they may well be having similar challenges staying at home as school families do).
8. Set expectations/ have a rhythm. This might be very individual, but what works for us, while not being too rigid, is to have a pattern of when we do activities together and when we don’t. Eg you might come together to do a joint activity in the morning after breakfast. And during meal prep and clear up might be independent play/activities that they choose themselves. I find I still need to remind frequently that I won’t be taking part in complicated parent-dependant activities when I’m in the middle of clearing up the lunch carnage! And reminding of the slots when we do those things together really helps.
9. Consider including quiet time/a break for everyone. Ours coincides with the toddler’s afternoon nap. But even before a younger sibling, we found it helpful to have a quiet break after lunch. This is when I get some quiet thinking/headtasks time (those things not being at all compatible with awake toddlers). The older one might have some screen time, and/or she usually has creative projects that she wants to work on. It took us some practice to get this going well.
10. Having a bad day? However crazy and distracting your household (younger siblings, pets, deliveries, illness, broken washing machines…) is it truly more crazy and distracting than 30 other kids? Or, if you feel like you didn’t give enough attention to your child today, was it really less than 1/30th of the attention of the teacher at school? Probably not. These can be helpful thoughts, especially on a bad day.
11. Minimise prep, or include the kids in preparing for future activities. Because, quite differently to a teacher, you have these kids with you *all the time*. If you can’t find a way to get it done together, it probably isn’t going to happen. I try not to use the quiet time/break for prepping because that isn’t a really a break and I wouldn’t emerge sufficiently refreshed for getting through the rest of the day.
12. Look for activities that you get something out of as well as the kids. This is how to stay sane. Do as many of these as possible.
13. Atmosphere. You can always subtly change how a situation feels by putting on music, changing lighting, opening a window…
14. Lead by example. Do you wish your child would show an interest in something (more) wholesome (than what they’re doing right now)? What might happen if you gather some interesting objects on the table, and some paper and pencils, and begin drawing? Or put on some exercise clothes and get out your yoga mat and video? Make sure to just casually happen to have some spare pencils & paper/floorspace nearby ready for any requests to join in. Play it cool and don’t be obvious about hoping they’ll take an interest, and keep an open mind about what follows. This can work with so many activities. They might choose to join in, or they might not this time. But chances are they’ll have noticed, and you hopefully got to do something you enjoyed for a short time, and you’ve set a great example, and… sometimes interesting responses emerge much later. 😉
15. Don’t compare. Inevitably we tend to share the highlights where a child made something we’re proud of. We don’t share the moment when the floor can’t be seen, every opportunity provided for doing something wholesome has failed all morning, both the kids are screaming because you dared to use the loo, lunch is hours late, and the toddler has smeared poo on the coffee table. 🤦 But even with the highlights, just because a friend seems to do lots of X or Y, doesn’t mean we all should. Families are different, so focus on what works for yours. Including, ignoring all of the above advice if you think that’s best!
Good luck and enjoy!
More ideas and free resources for home learning
This website has loads of great teaching resources and is offering a free access code UKTWINKLHELPS.
Explore National Trust sites safely during the Coronavirus crisis
The National Trust has announced it is giving free access to its open spaces during the coronavirus outbreak.
It is closing indoor sites like houses, cafes and shops to restrict the spread of coronavirus.
But the trust is allowing families to enjoy its parklands and gardens, after the governent closed schools and asked people to social distance.
The trust is planning which gardens and parks will be open to the public based on factors such as whether they allow enough space for adequate social distancing.
Director General Hilary McGrady said: “The National Trust was founded 125 years ago for the benefit of the entire nation. We want to honour our mission – to enable people and nature to thrive.
“Over the coming weeks we will do all that we can to keep on providing public benefit through caring for places and giving people access wherever possible.
“While we will close our indoor areas to help fight the spread of coronavirus, we recognise that people are likely to need access to open space and to nature, beauty and history.
Outdoor space and fresh air is important for children and for everyone’s mental health.
Mr Grady added: “We’ll try to keep as many open spaces available as possible but this is a changing situation and we’re strictly following Government advice so please keep checking our website for updated information and always check the site before you visit any of our places.”
The trust has said that the wellbeing of its staff, volunteers and visitors is its top concern.
And many volunteers fall into the over-70s age bracket.
A new roller coaster aimed at pre-school children has opened at one of England’s most popular theme parks
The world’s first DUPLO rollercoaster has opened at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort.
The DUPLO Dino Coaster, for children aged around two to five, is part of the attraction’s bigger improved DUPLO Valley area.
The ride has dino-themed carriages which soar around supersized DUPLO dinosaur models, 18 times bigger than if you were to build them at home.
Legoland staff think it will be the perfect first rollercoaster experience for little ones, who need to be 0.9 metres or over to ride it.
The area has also has a new show and new supersized DUPLO models, great for family selfies, plus its own official character, Dexter the Dog.
Outdoor play area Brickville has become DUPLO Playtown with a new rocket play structure for budding astronauts and there is a new puppet show at the DUPLO Puppet Theatre.
DUPLO Valley Airport has a new look with with three coloured helicopters for little pilots to choose from.
Existing family rides at DUPLO Valley include the riverboat Fairy Tale Brook ride and the DUPLO train.
Duplo Valley, Legoland Windsor
The area also hosts the resort’s outdoor water play areas – Splash Safari and Drench Towers.
Meanwhile the park has launched a new adult and toddler annual pass to be used while older children are at school.
For £49, a toddler (classed as under 0.9 metres) and adult can visit the theme park as often as they like during term time (Monday to Friday), with 20 per cent off at restaurants and a 10 per cent discount in the shops.
Children under 0.9 metres get free entry anyway to the LEGOLAND Windsor Resort all year round.
Day tickets are from £29 per person when booked online in advance.
A 70-acre unique woodland attraction is soon to open in South Cheshire
A family day out full of fun, imagination and adventure is set to open in time for May half-term.
BeWILDerwood Cheshire – A Curious Treehouse Adventure – is throwing open its wonky wooden gates on Saturday, May 23, 2020.
It is in a forest setting where children can ‘run wild’ and promises ‘no noisy rides, no technology and no junk food’.
It’s the second Bewilderwood site in the country – the first in Norfolk, has won a host of awards.
The sites are based on the magical children’s BeWILDerwood book series by Tom Blofeld, bringing to life a cast of captivating characters.
BeWILDerwood author and creator Tom Blofeld
The Cheshire site, which has been in development for three years, will feature Curious Treehouses, Wobbly Wires (zip wires), Slippery Slopes and a variety of giant wooden play structures to navigate such as a Broken Bridge.
There will also be aerial ropewalks, climbing walls, balancing logs and mazes.
Face painting and activities like interactive storytelling shows and crafting sessions are included in the ticket price and parking is free.
It is aimed at children aged two to 2 but teenagers and adults can enjoy the equipment too as the focus is on family fun.
Fun for all the family
Toddlers and children who are too small to go on the bigger bits have their own areas, Toddlewood on the Hill and Tiptoe Valley.
Food can be bought at the Cosy Cabin and Munch Bar and picnics are welcome.
Tickets are based on height rather than ages and can be bought online.
Books from the BeWILDerwood series including A Boggle at BeWILDerwood, The BeWILDerbats and A BeWILDermuddle are also available to buy online.
How to protect your family from germs on a plane – all the precautions you need to take
I’ve always been a bit OTT when it comes to germs and my children – I’m the mum brandishing a hand gel at parties and soft play.
But the spreading coronavirus has seen us all improve our hygiene standards.
Getting ill can ruin a holiday – so how can we keep our children – and ourselves – as protected as possible when we travel?
Here we explain the extra precautions families can take to look after themselves while flying.
Aeroplanes and germs
Aeroplanes are pretty amazing – they transport us quickly to fantastic destinations all over the world.
But they can also be breeding grounds for germs and bacteria – the result of packing lots of people into an enclosed space for hours at a time.
Studies say that one in five people will get sick after flying, so how can we help prevent our children – and ourselves – from getting ill?
Before the flight
When you travel on a plane, your immune system is challenged by dehydration, lower oxygen levels and other factors, weakening your body’s defence against infections.
But you can boost your children’s immune system to prepare their bodies for flying.
If a child has plenty of sleep and eats healthily before the flight, their immunity will perform better.
Where to sit
Believe it or not, some seats carry a higher risk than others.
Passengers are more vulnerable to illness if they sit in an aisle seat – they receive the most contact and potential contamination from potentially poorly people walking up and down and holding on to head rests.
So put children by the window if possible, where there are less germs.
Also try to not sit your child next to someone who is ill, instead take the seat yourself or discretely ask a flight attendant if you can move seats.
You are less at risk sitting behind someone who is ill or coughing than in front.
Also avoid sitting too near to the toilets if possible as these areas are busier. Plus, people spending more time there may be the sick ones.
Avoid aisle seats
Washing hands regularly, especially before you eat, is the BEST way to prevent illness, wherever you are. Help children to wash hands and teach them how to do it properly. Show them how to use warm soap and water, scrub all over for 20 seconds, then rinse and dry.
Discourage children from touching their faces as bugs can be transmitted to their mouth, nose or eyes. And tell them not to put anything in their mouths.
Hand sanitiser removes most bacteria and viruses from hands so use it regularly and before eating and drinking.
Even if children have just been to the toilet and washed their hands, they are likely to have touched seats or other areas on the way back to their seats.
Tell children to rub the gel all over their hands until it is dry. Apply it thoroughly including between fingers.
Supervise young children as it is dangerous if ingested and store hand gel in a bag away from them and to avoid spillages.
Germs can last for up to seven days inside a plane.
Most germ viruses are transferred by touching not just breathing the air. There are several hotspots on a plane and one of the worst offenders is the tray table.
Children love a tray table. To be safe you can wipe it down with an alcohol-based wipe or gel. Experts also recommend you wipe armrests, seatbealt buckles, screens and remote controls.
There is often a quick turnaround time between flights so these areas do not always get thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
In-flight magazines and seat pockets
Passengers often use the seat pockets as bins and air crew find dirty nappies and used tissues in them among rubbish left behind, so try not to use them if possible.
They contain a lot of bacteria but wipes can’t properly disinfect the fabric of the pocket.
In-flight magazines are touched by hundreds of people and are never cleaned so they are full of germs. Avoid!
One of the best ways to stay healthy during a flight is to drink lots and lots of water.
Ensure children drink more than they would at home as they will get dehydrated and then the mucous membranes in the nose and throat will dry up which protect us from most diseases encountered.
Everyone should avoid coffee, alcohol and sugary drinks when flying, which will dehydrate you even more.
Aeroplane toilets are a big source of germs.
Avoid touching surfaces in there and turn off the taps and open the door while holding a paper towel.
The air coming out of the vents is meant to be cleaner than the air around your seat as it is filtered, so leaving them on a low setting can move the germs away.
However, you may want to use hand gel after touching the vent as it is another bacteria hotspot!
Blankets and pillows
Bring your own blankets and pillows for children to use. If you ask for them and they aren’t wrapped, they may not be clean.
Plus having a familiar blanket and pillow to curl up with may also make children happier.
Bring your own entertainment for children so that they don’t touch onboard touchscreens which have a lot of germs from dirty fingers, coughs and sneezes. Or otherwise wipe them first!
Other Germ-Fighting Travel Tips
Health experts suggest wiping down remote controls, light switches, telephones, doorknobs, toilet seat handles and taps to protect children.
Chlorination does not kill all bacteria. Teach young children to avoid swallowing water in pools and water parks. And make sure they shower after getting out of the pool.
If you are going on holiday, do NOT let worry and anxiety spoil a trip.
Arm yourself with hand sanitiser and a bit of knowledge.
And don’t scare your children! Just make them aware of basic hygiene.
The best Easter 2020 entertainment from egg hunt to lambing activities, walks and spring festivals
Spring is a great time for family fun and adventures and getting outside with your children.
Here are our pick of the best Easter activities planned around the South East of England.
Waddesdon Manor is having a Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt from April 4 to 13.
Discover fun facts about nature and new parts of the gardens while taking part in an egg hunt around the grounds. Children £3, grounds admission applies.
Children can also enjoy an Easter petting farm at the manor which runs from April 15 to 19.
Get up close and personal with new furry, hairy or feathered friends this Easter, as animals return to Waddesdon’s stable yard. Free with grounds admission.
Farmer Palmer’s, just outside Poole, is planning family-friendly Easter-themed activities.
The Easter fun includes hands-on experiences with the animals that populate the farm and an Eggstravaganza featuring hundreds of chocolate eggs over the weekend (April 10 to 13).
Entry from £12.50, children aged two are £5.50 and children under two are free. For more information go to the website.
The annual Marbles Match and Easter Bonnet Parade takes place in the imposing shadow of Battle Abbey, site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
The marbles match
Visitors will be able to watch local teams lose their marbles in a traditional competition dating back to 1945. It starts at 10am on Good Friday, April 10.
Spectators of all ages will also be able to give marbles a try or take part in the Easter Bonnet competition. For more information go to the website.
Visit Gambledown Farm where in Spring, lambs are bottle fed, bluebells and daffodils are out and children can see baby chicks.
If you are looking for a family Easter break, the farm offers barn stays and glamping set in 270 acres of Hampshire countryside, go to the website for more information.
Chicks at Gambledown Farm
Gilbert White’s House Garden Bird Easter Egg Hunt runs from April 4 to 19. Children can hunt for painted eggs in the gardens and meadow, which are all based on the eggs of the birds which nest in the grounds. Find them all and claim a chocolate egg.
The cost is £3 in addition to the general admission price, adult £12, child under 16 £5, for more information go to the website.
Gilbert White’s House
There will be an Easter Sunday Cruise and Egg Hunt on the John Pinkerton II canal boat on the Basingstoke Canal through beautiful Hampshire countryside on April 12.
Take a leisurely afternoon cruise to King John’s Castle where children can search out their Easter eggs. All trips are crewed by trained volunteer members of the Basingstoke Canal Society, a charity dedicated to safeguarding the canal. All proceeds are used to maintain the canal for the future. It is a two-and-a-half hour return trip.
The price is adults £12, children £6. Book online here.
The John Pinkerton II canal boat
Jane Austen’s House Museum is arranging some family-friendly activities. There will be an Easter egg trail, family walks and a Young People’s Writing Workshop. Booking is required for the workshop (April 4 to 19) and walks (April 8 and 15), go to the website.
Meet Bobtail Bunny and forest friends Betty Bunny, Hennie the Hedgehog and Red the Deer at Paultons Park from April 4 to 19, go to the website.
Easter at Paultons Park
Butser Ancient Farm will be celebrating the ancient festival of Eostre and the goddess of Spring. Visitors will be able to meet the Saxons from Herigead Hundas with demonstrations, traditional crafts, cooking and DIY archaeology experiments. There will also be mini-mosaic making, wattling and more.
And Butser’s Roman IX Legion will be in residence in the Roman village with fighting and marching demonstrations, archery, Roman cooking, crafts and more.
It runs from April 10 to 13, prices are from £9 for adults and children aged three to 16 are £5. Go to the website for more information.
There will be Easter fun at Hever Castle from April 2 to 19 April.
Children can hunt for colourful carrots and bunnies in a free Easter trail in the castle or take part in two free Easter egg hunts in the grounds at 11am and 3pm.
They can also create an egg-shaped decoration to hang on the Easter tree in a free craft activity.
Admission prices, castle and gardens: adults £18.80, children aged five to 15 £10.70 and under-5s free. See the website for more information.
Easter at Hever Castle
Spa Valley Railway in Tunbridge Wells is having Easter activities from April 10 to 13 April.
Spot all the Easter bunnies alongside the railway between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge. A chocolate egg will be available (whilst stocks last) for all children taking part.
Resident steam engine ‘Ugly’ will be in action each day and standard fares apply.
Adult tickers are £10, children aged two to 15 are £5 and a family ticket for unlimited travel on the day is £28.00 when booked online in advance here.
Easter sees the return of the Worthing Observation Wheel. Standing at a height of 46 metres, the WOW is the tallest wheel on the south coast offering views of up to 10 miles across the South Downs and along the coast. See here for information.