Well, I thought I would put into practice some of the tips from my previous post regarding making mummy friends. I was invited to visit the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford, with some mums I met through the Walking Mums group. I was delighted to be invited, and to actually be able to attend with no previous engagements. I quickly popped a text to a lady I met in church who has a baby the same age as Penny to invite her along. She’s a lovely lady, and we just kept bumping into each other at baby groups etc but it took MONTHS for me to actually ask for her number. Then I lost it somehow. So I asked again through the lady who actually runs a group. Then I smashed my phone and lost it AGAIN. I seriously suck. Anyway, thankfully, she was free and able to attend. Turned out, she’d been wanting to try out the story centre too. Who knew right?
So, I thought that as I was looking at the centre with fresh eyes, that I would write a short review about our first visit.
We arrived quite a bit earlier than the rest of the group, because it was our first visit I wanted to make sure I wasn’t late because I couldn’t find the place. It turned out to be very easy to locate however. I was impressed instantly by the initial appearance of the centre. It certainly stood out from the grey and dreary surrounding buildings and was like a beacon among the heavy traffic surrounding it. Once you walk through the automated (yet security locked) entry doors, it is easy to forget where you are.
I paid my entry fee of £4.50 for the whole day (Newham residents can get a discounted rate) and sat down in one of the brightly coloured cafe areas. This area filled up very quickly however and got a little bit grid locked with pushchairs, but due to classes running throughout the day at different times, the flow of people was continuous. The events are ticketed in order to keep numbers manageable and for £1 you can book your tickets online in advance to avoid disappointment. By the time the rest of the group arrived, there was more than enough space to sit and thankfully tickets available for the sessions we wanted to attend. The selection of food/snacks/drinks in the cafe wasn’t fantastic, but ok for grabbing a coffee, and they allow you to bring in your own food and drink which is always a bonus when you have little ones.
If you have toddlers or older children, I would recommend the downstairs cafe as you are basically sat in a book shop which could end up costing a fortune. The books are a great collection, with finger puppets and some toys too.
If you have a hyperactive toddler to attend to (as I most definitely did today), you will appreciate the tannoy announcements which state clearly when each session is about to start and exactly where to go. I was already impressed when I arrived, but upon entering the actual story centre I was pleased to see a buggy park as well as lots of good sized lockers (20p) to keep your belongings safe, leaving you free to explore with your child.
Penny was instantly drawn to a huge screen with coloured spot lights. Everytime the light beam was interrupted, a farmyard animal noise would sound. This got a little noisy with 9-10 children running through the beams, but the children seemed to love it.
We were called to attend our first session SPLISH, SPLASH, SPLOSH and made our way down the the basement. (There is a lift for those unable to make the stairs) We were welcomed by a very cheery lady, removed our shoes and joined her in her bath tub! You were instantly transported into the imagined environment. In reality, we were very cozily squeezed into a small room, with lowered ceiling. There were bean bags and cushions all around the room, with dimmed blueish lights. There was fishing nets across the ceiling with other ‘under the sea’ type decorations. The children were instantly drawn to the bubble machine and the story teller with her ukulele.
I have never seen Penny so totally at ease and independant. She felt happy and safe enough to explore and hardly ever checked in to make sure I was there. Maybe I should be a little sad about that, but I was immensely proud of how confident she was. We enjoyed singing, clapping, a rainbow fish story and puppets and shakers. After the session had ended, Penny walked freely back into the bath tub room and snuggled up on the cushions waiting for more. I went back in to fetch her expecting her to be ushered out, but instead she was treated to a rendition of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ on the ukelele and spoken to in such a way that instantly put me at ease. In fact, I must say that all of the staff engaged with the children in a way that seemed to spark their imaginations and instantly seemed to out them at ease.
We went back to play upstairs while waiting for our next session to start. Penny loved the slide, and found dressing up costumes as well. There really was so much to do for the little ones that I could have stayed there all day. We only managed to really see a fraction of the space due to timing and the fact Penny was a little overwhelmed and wanting to run and explore everything at light speed. We decided to leave the story garden for another visit and will definitely spend longer there next time. Expect a follow up post in a few weeks for sure!
Our second session was the Oliver Jeffers exhibition, based scenes from on the book How to Catch a Star, Up and Down, Lost and Found and The Way Back Home. Personally I had never read any of Jeffers books, but after today we will be adding them to our book collection soon. We started off with the scene being set by one of the story tellers. We then moved into the bedroom of ‘the boy’ who wanted to catch a star and were then sent to find the stars among the adjoining rooms. We got to play in the scenes from How to Catch a Star, Up and Down, Lost and Found and The Way Back Home. Took a trip to the seaside, rowed a boat, made friends with a penguin (seriously big kisses from Penny) and an alien, visited the Lost and Found office and watched as stars magically appeared.
If I were to point out some negatives, in the interest of writing a balanced review, I would say that the rooms in the basement were VERY hot. It did get a little bit much, especially when chasing around after a toddler. (I know she’s only 11 months, but that child can book!) There were also a lot of people in quite a confined space and they were all walking in different directions, which I know was the point of the exhibition, but with at least 1 adult per child, it was a bit crowded. Also I was slightly disappointed that there was only 1 baby changing room, which seemed a little low considering the amount of babies using the facilities every day.
Overall however, we had a fantastic afternoon and Penny was most definitely exhausted on the way home. (Always a good sign). Mummy is also shattered but can’t wait to go back again.
All in all a win for mummy making friends and visiting a new place (not quite a library, but pretty close) , I actually took my camera with us (although there was a memory card failure so had to resort to phone pics which weren’t great-sorry)as well as Penny for gaining so much confidence and showing she’s a loving, independent, head strong little girl. I think an annual membership will be in our near future.
Discover Children’s Story Centre
383-387 High Street
Telephone: 020 8536 5555
Fax: 020 8522 1003
Registered Charity Number: 1070468