A DVD or board game might be a simple way to entertain your little ones on weekends and during holidays, but the energy and cognitive development of school children cannot be satiated by screenings of Harry Potter and games of Monopoly alone. Thankfully, there are myriad exciting and unusual family trips that will quench your children’s thirst for activities to leave them physically and psychologically exercised, which means a greater quiet come bedtime.
As we know all too well, the school terms roll around quicker each year, so Studio Bambini went on the road to unearth the courses, adventures, activities and programs for children that won’t break the bank.
Taronga Zoo’s ‘Zoo Adventures’ Holiday Program
There’s much for children to learn at the zoo, as there has been for decades, and it extends far beyond identifying mammals from marsupials. Observing and interacting with animals, as children are invited to do at Taronga and Western Plains Zoos’ ‘Zoo Adventures’ holiday program, leads to a greater awareness of environmental and ecological sustainability, expanding upon what children are taught at school. It also creates a greater understanding of the natural world around them. The zoo’s holiday program ($55 per day, per child, designed for five to 12-year-olds) changes daily, each time focusing on a different animal group including birds, reptiles and big cats.
“Observing and interacting with animals, as children are invited to do… leads to a greater awareness of environmental and ecological sustainability…”
Cockatoo Island Night Tours
Nothing gets the imagination racing like visiting a mysterious, faraway place, particularly when the place happens to be real rather than imaginary. Cockatoo Island, the one-time prison and navy-ship repair station turned cultural and artistic space, opens its wharf every Friday night in July and August for guided night tours. Covering near two kilometres, the walking trail leads visitors around the abandoned barracks, cells and industrial buildings, with stories told of the characters and convicts who once inhabited the island. Ferries return to Circular Quay, but permanent camping sites are installed on the island and the tour is free for campers. (Adults $18, children $12, bookings essential.)
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State Library Holiday Activities
Each of Australia’s capital city libraries operate children’s programs throughout the week and during school holidays, many of them free. At the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, programs include those where children (aged five to 10, with parents) can create their own books, as well as dress-up themed storytelling. In a section of the library, Experimedia, children can dip into their favourite picture books, view digital art and borrow activity books. Similar programs, including photography workshops, operate at the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, and the State Library of Queensland, Brisbane.
The Rocks Ghost Tours
The historic part of Sydney’s CBD, The Rocks, has long been home to ghost stories where, it’s told that spirits still linger. Group tours operate most nights of the week, allowing guests to see, hear, smell and sense the atmosphere of the mystical and haunted area. A moderated version of the adult tour operates for children up to the age of 17, where gruesome tales are told as guests are led on a lantern-lit walk of the narrow laneways. Costumes, props and catering can be provided for birthday parties. ($33 per person for groups of 16 or more. The tour does not operate on Saturday nights). ghosttours.com.au
March 31 sees the reopening of Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) following a $53 million redevelopment.
It is now a major cultural centre for contemporary art and creative learning, with areas dedicated to and specialising in children’s art programs. As detailed in our Autumn/Winter 2011 issue, the MCA’s redevelopment and added focus on youth reflects its interstate counterparts: Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria and Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art, both of which offer year-round art programs on weekdays, weekends and during school holidays.
For music and film buffs
The Sydney Opera House
Sydney’s most iconic landmark offers no shortage of wondrous activities for children, including tours, performances and interactive programs. The Little Big Shots Film Festival in July is a major annual touring children’s event, dubbed “a unique cinema experience for toddlers to teenagers” by the Daily Telegraph, and shows a diverse array of local and international shorts, animations, documentaries and child-produced films.
The festival, designed to inspire discussion about world cultures and make kids think, also includes a Q&A with the filmmaker after each session.
For the musically inclined, May and November see the Sydney Symphony perform the Family Classics series in the brilliant Concert Hall, bringing to life, in the first of the two seasons, Jean de Brunhoff’s beloved story of Babar, the Little Elephant. After the performance, the conductor unveils how a team of players creates a piece of music.
The folks at the Opera House are aware that early years are key to a child’s physical and social development, and so conduct Creative Play programs in the Western Foyer each school holiday, with activities like dramatic storytelling, and arts and crafts.sydneyoperahouse.com
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National Portrait Gallery
Families flock to Canberra’s hands-on science museum, Questacon, but the nearby National Portrait Gallery, home to some of the country’s great masters, offers brilliant children’s art programs and activities throughout school holidays. They tie in with the museum’s calendar of exhibitions, allowing parents the opportunity to take an art breakaway. In the central Gordon Darling Hall, easels and drawing materials are available daily for free use by visiting children.
Splash and play
The inherent dangers to young ones when swimming in the ocean, lake or harbour can cause a nightmare for parents. Thankfully, water parks provide a safe and fun solution for those warmer days when a run under the sprinkler just won’t do. Sydney’s Darling Harbour, a long-time holiday tourism staple, has undergone a makeover with the construction of Darling Quarter, a giant playground – with both wet and dry areas – designed to keep toddlers and children entertained for hours. The free park, within walking distance of food venues and public transport, features water squirts, pumps, scoops and slides, as well as more traditional swing sets, slippery dips, balance ropes and sandpits.