School’s out! Half term ideas for creatively minded kids

Susie Stubbs

From sweat steam and sewers at MOSI to an emergency story penguin, we’ve got half term with the kids covered.

Half term: the bane of a parent’s life. It’s a holiday that’s not quite a holiday. It comes far too soon after the last time you had to skive off work to look after the small people in your life. And this half term falls at the most unpleasant time of year. Long lazy days in the park aren’t an option, and the last time you opted just to chill out at home you spent four hours in A&E, while they removed a piece of Minecraft-shaped Lego from your youngest child’s left nostril, before having to redecorate the front room thanks to a particularly explosive argument that involved a smoothie, red paint and said piece of Minecraft-shaped Lego.

Just me? Oh well, even if your kids have angelic blood running through their tiny veins, here are some ideas for keeping them occupied over February half term.

1. Naval adventures at The Quays

The Quays is a surprisingly kid-friendly place. My two are fans of its outdoor sculpture trail (find out more from the board next to The Lowry’s café), while I am a fan of Booths, that family-run supermarket that bleeds me dry every time I step inside, but does so in such a gentle, “look, it’s locally produced by this nice man on his Lake District farm” sort of a way that I don’t mind. Booths also now has a café while, over the water, IWM North has a week’s worth of free, drop-in and navy-themed events for children. There’s also a new-ish playground by the Ship Canal on the war museum side of the water. IWM North, 10am-5pm daily, free.

2. Frozen at The Lowry

I can’t actually believe I am about to recommend this, but if you’re down at the Quays check out The Lowry’s Singalonga Frozen, a special screening of the hit Disney film (with sub-titles, for singing along to) that will see several thousand young people belting out ‘Let It Go’ in exuberant and quite possibly entirely tuneless fashion. Elsewhere, a Frozen-themed acting workshop runs throughout half term. Singalonga Frozen, 16 Feb-8 March, times vary, £10.50-£16; Half Term Little Actors, 16-20 Feb, 11am-12.30pm daily, £3.50 (ages 5-11).

3. A Yorkshire day trip – with added rhubarb

Should the sun tremble out from behind February’s bully-boy clouds, pack the kids into the car and head to YSP. It has lots of space for running about (pack wellies, wrap up warm) and, over half term, runs a sketching workshop based on the excellent installation, Song for Coal. If you have time, make your way to the Hepworth nearby; its playground is almost as good as its drop-in workshops, which over half term include carving. Plus the tail end of half term sees the return of Wakefield’s Rhubarb Festival. Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Family Sculpture Workshop, 17 & 18 Feb, 10.30am & 1.30pm (workshops last 2 hours), £2; The Hepworth Wakefield, family workshops, 11am-4pm daily, free. Wakefield Festival of Food, Drink & Rhubarb, 20-22 Feb, times, prices and venues vary.

4. Get stinky at MOSI

I don’t know about your kids, but mine attract dirt like a supercharged mud magnet. So the half term roster of events at MOSI is particularly appealing; a programme that includes a goo-making workshop, Victorian steam engine demos (never less than awesome) and, best of all, a Punk Science workshop that “takes you on a trip down your colon with the help of comedy, music and gross experiments”. There’s also a Victorian fairground. MOSI, 10am-5pm daily, free (charge for fair); check website for times of individual events.

5. Get political at PHM

It’s never too early to start pressing your political beliefs into the soft, malleable brains of your kids (it’s fine – they’ll shrug off everything you ever taught them as soon as they hit puberty). And so a trip to the People’s History Museum, and its newly opened Election! Britain Votes exhibition, is the perfect place to begin political lessons. Timed to coincide with the General Election, it charts 100 years of election propaganda, campaigning and publicity – with kid-friendly events and activities running alongside all week. And who knows, you could nudge into life your own little Cameron, Thatcher or Blair. Oh… People’s History Museum, 10am-5pm daily, free.

6. The gallery in the park, the Whitworth

Yes, I know we’ve been banging on about the Whitworth of late – but hey, it is the biggest art opening the north has seen for a good long while and, having spent a lot of time there of late, I can say, hand on heart, it’s worth taking the kids to. The gallery has a new learning studio (for messy play) and a team that has won countless awards for its good work with families. Plus there are ten new exhibitions to discover, a whole lot more space and a café that serves the best chocolate brownies this side of Easter. The Whitworth, 10am-5pm daily, free.

7. Penguin adventures at Z-Arts

Z-Arts knows a thing or two about putting on a good performance for kids; its Christmas performance (59 Minutes to Save Christmas) was particularly good – and the theatre company behind it returns to the Hulme-based arts centre with a performance it describes as “a thrilling mix of puppetry, video and music”, plus hands-on activities in between the thrice-daily shows. Emergency Story Penguin tells the tale of a bird trapped in Antarctica who needs some good old-fashioned audience participation to free him. All together now… Z-Arts, 18-22 February, 11am, 2pm & 4pm, £5-£8.

8. Balance big and small at Manchester Art Gallery

Someone once told me that having just one child was “like having an accessory; it’s when you’ve got more than one the real work starts.” I was mightily offended at the time (my son? An accessory?!), but after the arrival of child number two I realized he sort of had a point: trying to keep kids of different ages happy, when they want to do different things, can be a trial. Manchester Art Gallery may be able to help, though, as it’s running two sorts of workshops over half term, one for younger children (an artist-led making workshop) and another for teens. Manchester Art Gallery, 17-20 February, Mini Worlds workshop 1pm-3pm, free, drop in; Creative Consultants workshop (for ages 14-19), 11am-3pm, free, no need to book.

Pillock at Contact
Spotlight on

Fringe Theatre in Manchester and the North

Check out our top picks of shows previewing in the North West before heading to Edinburgh Fringe Festival later in the summer.

Take me there

Culture Guides