February half term roundup: Fun for creative kids

Suzy Prince
Bear Hunt cast

It’s that time again: the dreaded February half term. Fortunately, there’s a great deal of help at hand. We round up the best activities for children aged up to 11.

As a parent with two infant school-age children, February half term always presents a particular challenge. It’s close enough to the Christmas holidays to feel flat in contrast, it’s chilly outside, meaning that picnics in the park are out and anything to do with cold-ish water and swimming pools is probably going to lead to cries of protest. This is where living in (or travelling to) a big city really comes into its own. Practically every cultural institution in Manchester provides activities for little people that are fun, educational and, better still, mostly free, leaving more cash for that necessary trip to the café for coffee (us) and fruit shoots and small, overpriced boxes of raisins (them). Here are our half term recommendations to help you on your way.

Winter Studio at The Whitworth

Photo of the Whitworth's new wing

The Whitworth is hands down a fantastic place to take the kids to. First and foremost it’s a gallery in a large park: a park which has a great little playground (this stuff matters). The gallery itself is also fab: it’s big and bright and spacious, although admittedly you can spend quite a lot of your time reminding your children NOT TO TOUCH the art (Tibor Reich, Wallpaper, Richard Forster and Portraits will all be on show over the break). And let’s not forget the café and its cakes: another great reason to visit this half term. The Whitworth has also lined up a fab-sounding Winter Studio for the February half term; a storyteller will be setting of from the gallery’s parkside entrance every day (at 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 2pm) to lead a colourful adventure through the galleries. There will be some messy printmaking on offer, too – all in connection with the current Tibor Reich exhibition. Best of all, it’s free! The Whitworth, Oxford Road, M15 6ER

The Astronaut Science Show at Jodrell Bank

The Whitworth has also commissioned a 30 minute science show at Jodrell Bank (repeating throughout the week), which demonstrates the realities of life in space in celebration of astronaut Tim Peake starting his mission to the International Space Station this December. Children will see a mini-rocket launch, and learn about microgravity and meteorites. It sounds out of this world (sorry). Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK11 9DW

Blitzed Brits at Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum, North is a winner to visit with children at any time: the location is spectacular (the Quays is a perfect place for kids to run around and explore), the café is great and they have a large dedicated children’s learning room which runs constant workshops and events. This half term, to coincide with the release of the Dad’s Army film (‘don’t tell him, Pike!’), children are invited to explore the fantastic interactive Horrible Histories: Blitzed Brits exhibition, and through exhibits and workshops to discover what life was really like in the home guard. The daily craft sessions will offer a chance to make your own wooden home front hero, as well as to dress up as a member of the home guard or an air raid warden. IWM North, The Quays, Trafford Wharf Road, M17 1TZ

Workshops at Manchester Art Gallery

The Clore Art Studio at Manchester Art Gallery is always a top city centre place to stop off with kids. This huge interactive space is always stuffed with colourful resources. And lots of crayons. This half term sees artist Yu-Chen Wang, whose artwork Heart to Heart will appear in the gallery’s exhibition the The Imitation Game, giving workshops for children up to age 11. They will be invited to take inspiration from the work to create sculptural, wearable art using geometric shapes, forms and paper construction techniques. Manchester Art Gallery, Moseley Street, M2 3JL

Year of the Monkey activities at Z-Arts

Two wooden monkeys on a stage

Z-Arts is offering a week of activities (from 15-19 February) celebrating the Chinese Year of the Monkey. These events are aimed at six to ten year olds, and resident artist Gill is taking the helm, with help from Chinese artists, working in partnership with the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art. Each day will explore different art forms including calligraphy, painting, papier-mâché, old techniques and new art forms. Z-arts, 335 Stretford Road, M15 5ZA

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt at The Lowry

Bear Hunt cast

Some books come across as completely unfilmable, or unstageable, and you would think that Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt would fall into that category. But Sally Cookson’s noisy, silly, squelchy adaptation, running at The Lowry from the 17-21 February, puts paid to that notion. There’s lots of mud, lots of splashing and lots of gunk as the intrepid adventurers go on their quest to find a bear. The songs are super catchy and will remain as your own personal earworm for many, many days after you’ve seen this playThe Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, M50 3AZ

Steam, Sweat and Sewers at the Museum of Science and Industry

Woman waves to kids on carousel

Where would we be without the Museum of Science and Industry? Half term sees a Steam, Sweat and Sewers extravaganza, where children can get up close and personal with the sights, sounds and smells of the Industrial Revolution and Victorian Manchester. The museum’s former railway yard will be transformed into a traditional Victorian fairground, with a coconut shy, carousel and helter skelter. Then there’s the Goo in the Loo workshop, all about Manchester’s drainage systems – which may not sound too thrilling at first, until you realise that this means that it involves toilets and bodily fluids, meaning that all children will find it deeply entertaining. Or there’s an interactive storytelling session in which kids can roleplay at helping some mill children escape from the grim reality of their lives and into the colourful world of the circus. Museum of Science and Industry, Liverpool Road, M3 4FP

Day trip: Showzam! in Blackpool

Woman balances on man's head

Blackpool’s annual festival of circus and performance returns at half term, promising European Circus greats, sideshow sensations, a post-millennial take on Punch and Judy (which should be interesting) and even a steampunk werewolf, because no circus festival is complete without one of those these days. At the heart of proceedings is Showzam! Central: a four day family circus and street arts extravaganza which is completely free. And on the outskirts of that are many more specialised events, including French circus stars Akoreacro, who are staging their UK premier in Blackpool tower circus, where they’ll be showcasing their blend of high octane circus skills and music. Then there’s Bivouac, which promises to be a ‘vibrant and anarchic’ mass street theatre show featuring pyrotechnics, a cast of blue-painted men and a fire-breathing dog. As you do. Various venues, Blackpool

Day trip: Yorkshire Sculpture park

Admittedly quite a lot of the fun at Yorkshire Sculpture Park depends on being outdoors, rambling around the whopping 500 acre grounds and checking out the outdoor sculptures, so you’ll probably have the best time if you choose a dry, mild day to visit. But the galleries and facilities are not to be sniffed at, either: the café is excellent and the shop does a fine line in child-friendly trinkets. And, most importantly, this half term sees exhibitions by illustrator Jonny Hannah, in which visitors are invited to take a stroll down ‘Main Street’, which is effectively an illustrated street: the children will love this. Then there’s also the first UK exhibition by American artist KAWS, whose work focuses on street art and pop culture, with a nod to cartoon art. His work is bright, colourful and immediately accessible and will appeal to the whole family. Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield, WF4 4LG

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