Museum Mum’s FREE Easter holiday museum activity calendar

It doesn’t seem five minutes since half term, but Easter is almost upon us – and with it two whole glorious weeks with the family. London’s museums have once again egg-celled themselves with over 700 activities for your off-spring – and all for FREE. That’s right – no entrance or event charges – leaving you more to spend on lining the Easter bunny’s pockets. Egg hunting, bonnet making, nature trailing, scientist meeting, story listening, art creating, dancing, object handling, yarn bombing -very active, very hands on and lots of fun!

Signs of spring in Horniman Museum & Gardens

Signs of spring in Horniman Museum & Gardens

To save you from your own Easter hunt, I’ve compiled all of these egg-citing free London museum activities here in one choc-a-block online calendar.

Dates run from Saturday 28 March to Sunday 12 April 2015.  It’s a google calendar – so you can easily copy any events that interest you to your own diary. I’ve added the URL of the original listing so please check before you head out. Any errors are blamed on the human condition.

If, like us, you’ve got different weeks off, why not visit one of the larger museums when everyone’s back at school? All of the kudos, ovoid-ing the crowds (hopefully).

For all you non-Londoners, there’s plenty of amazing museums outside the capital – just search to see what’s happening in your local museum.

Whatever you do with you and yours, a very hoppy Easter to you all.

PS. Like the timetable? Let me know by:
* Leaving a comment below – an ‘egg-cellent’ will do if you don’t know what to say!
* Share it with others – tweet, post on your wall or mention it to your parenting friends
* Follow me (but only on twitter @vykisparkes or instagram @museummum, anything else would be weird)
* For regular Museum Mum news –  click on the brown cog on the top right hand side of this blog and enter your email to get automatic updates

PPS. If you want some inspiration, why not check out these reviews: Grant MuseumMuseum of London,  Kenwood House and Small Stories at Museum of Childhood.

Review: Small Stories at the Museum of Childhood

Most reviews I write after a single visit – and try to capture our experience as a family, however much or little we see of a place.  My inner museum professional is affronted by these seemingly ‘imperfect’ visits where tiredness, hunger and dirty bums encroach on our time. Kids, we haven’t read ALL the text panels – or looked at all the displays! But as I’m reviewing for families hopefully just as imperfect as me, I regularly fight the urge to revisit places to do them ‘properly’.

However for this review, of the Small Stories exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood, my inner perfectionist demanded a revisit.  Our first visit was a hastily made plan B, after arranging to meet a friend at another museum – on the only day it closes in the week. Oops. A coffee and catch up was essential after that mishap, with a play in the sandpit followed swiftly by lunch.

It’s baby- sorry, toddlerccino time!

By the time we made it to Small Stories, it was a little too late in the day for my liking.

Exhibition entrance

At first Small Stories appears like a simple exhibition – twelve dolls houses from different eras and dolls that tell stories. Boom.

‘I prefer magnolia personally’

The dolls houses range in age, size and style – from a large country pile made out of an early hanging wardrobe 300 years ago, to a brightly coloured perspex open plan 21st century home. With a Victorian terraced lodging house, a post Second World War tower block, and mid-twentieth century council house also on display, it’s like a brief history of British architecture – in miniature.

And if you save up all your pocket money for the next 400 years, you too might be able to afford a shoebox in London

Each house is displayed complete with furniture, furnishing, and accessories, right down to a set of little toy bowling pins in a playroom. You can turn on the lights in each dolls’ house to get a better look – and the toddler certainly enjoyed pressing the buttons. All in all there are a dizzying 1,800 miniature objects and 107 dolls on display – many specially conserved for this exhibition. Having worked on exhibitions before, my mind boggled thinking of how long it must have taken to put all this together!

A summer’s afternoon in the Museum Mum house…

My favourite house was the Art Deco home complete with outdoor swimming pool and strangely lithe dolls. I can just imagine the cocktail glasses chinking whilst the jazz blared out of the gramophone.

I liked the information given about the original makers and owners of each the dolls houses – it gave such a personal insight into each of them and I could really imagine them in people’s homes, rather than in a museum. It was interesting to see how many were made by women in their adult years as reflections on their childhood years (like Amy Miles’ house), or as a space where perfection is possible (Betty Pinneys’ house).

The toddler enjoyed the playspaces, particularly the kitchen. Here he grumpily grabbed metal plates and banged them on the wooden table, like a put-upon footman from Downton Abbey.

Get lively with the kettle luv, no point us dilly dallying around here

As well as a being fun I loved the way it had been designed to look like a blown up version of the dolls’ house just outside. There was also a play living room, all kitsch and 1960s, just like the tower block we’d been looking at a minute before.


The tweenager particularly enjoyed Dream House – a 20 roomed dolls house with each room made by a different artist or designer. Bright and creative, and really highlighted how doll’s houses are not just reproductions of homes in miniature, but also represent an imaginative playspace.

Toddler checking out Dream Spaces

Each house also had a button to press to hear the dolls speak. As the exhibition was quite busy, you couldn’t really hear the audio very well – in fact we assumed they were broken as they seemed unresponsive.IMAG1494

Although we still enjoyed ourselves, I knew there was more to Small Stories than I could appreciate with a nap deprived toddler so decided to revisit – and I’m so glad I did!

As I was sans tired toddler on my second visit, I had plenty of time to read those pesky text panels and listen properly to the dolls’ stories. I found out that the audios were all working – but as you can only have either all lights or the story character (and corresponding light) on at a time – and they WILL NOT be interrupted, even if you do change your mind and want to hear someone else. Or just randomly hit buttons like the toddler.

I started to see the houses differently – as somewhere less idyllic, requiring upkeep, a place of work, a public entertaining space, that demanded something of all the residents. Many of the dolls were stressed out. Poor Betsey the maid in the Killer Cabinet House was worried about keeping the place clean, what with living in a dirty town during the Industrial Revolution and all. Sir Phineas Henriques was convinced his man servant was stealing from him, whilst in the early twentieth century home the ‘servant problem’ was finding staff in the first place.

Tate Baby House

One story which really struck a chord was Johanna’s in the Tate Baby House, anxiously writing a letter to her mother whilst big-bellied and awaiting her two week ‘confinement’ to bed. Whilst I would have liked a bit more rest post-birth, I think keeping me in bed for a fortnight would have sent me over the edge!


Johnanna’s room of confinement

There were also elements of great humour – keep an eye out for drunk Uncle Herman, looking and sounding like something out of the Fast Show in Betty Pinney’s House.

Judging by the other visitors I saw enjoying and engaging with the objects, this really is an exhibition for all ages. Your kids will like it, your parents will love it – and you’ll be won over too – especially if you get a chance to see it ‘properly’.

PS I’ve just joined Instagram – feel free to follow me on @museummum if you want to see pictures of this and other exhibitions, as well as snapshots of my daily life.


Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls’ House runs until 6 September 2015
V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA

Opening hours: 10.00am to 5.45pm daily


Cost: Free

Further details, including buggy accessibility, baby changing, and suggestions on making a day out of it are available on my review of their last exhibition, Jacqueline Wilson.

Museum Mum’s FREE February half term holiday museum activity calendar

Next week is the first half term of 2015 – and being February, it will probably be blinking fr-reezing, and you’re still skint from Christmas. But fear not, you London parents – our fantastic museums have plenty to keep you to stop you climbing those icy walls, and keep you off those cold streets.

The OTHER good thing about museum activities is that someone else tidies up afterwards

In Museum Mum tradition, I’ve created a calendar of free museum family events happening in London over half term – all with no entrance or event charges. That’s right, completely fr-ree. So not only can you keep yourself sane, you can also save on home heating costs too!

There’s everything from puppet shows, craft sessions, sports activities, nature trails, science demonstrations, talks and tours to story time and singing and dancing. With nearly 750 activities listed, the biggest problem might be choosing! Here’s the timetable:

Listings start from Saturday 14 February 2015 and run until Sunday 22 February 2015, with a few stragglers outside these dates. It’s a google calendar – so you can easily copy any events that interest you to your own diary. Any errors are entirely blamed on jet lag (it’s a real thing, who knew?) Wherever possible I’ve added the URL of the original listing so please check before you head out. If you’re a museum with a free activity that hasn’t been listed, drop me a line.

If you want to say it’s Feb-ulous then please do one or more of the following:

  • add a comment below – a simple ta will suffice, or let me know what you’ve enjoyed
  • share with your networks – facebook, twitter, your local parenting groups
  • follow me for more updates – click on the brown cog on the top right hand side of this blog and enter your email to get automatic updates
  • tweet me @vykisparkes
  • I’m also now on Instagram! @museummum

For all you non-Londoners, don’t get envious – search to see what’s happening in your local museum.

PS. If you want some inspiration, why not check out these reviews: Museum of London and Kenwood House.

Review: Kenwood House

Christmas. Don’t you just love it! The food, the drink, the presents, the excitement… the mess, the exhaustion, the claustrophobia! Lovely as it is, by the time Boxing Day is through I’m gagging for fresh air, and lots of it. But as it’s been a bit, well, brrrrr, combining a walk with a museum stop is the perfect way to have your cake, and eat it. Literally. It was a three generational family outing, as Museum Nanna came too.

Kenwood House is a grand classical house and art collection nestled on the edge of the ancient Hampstead Heath. Just a few miles from central London, the Heath is like a large slice of the countryside – with panoramic city views. We caught an overground train to Hampstead Heath station and continued on foot through the great outdoors.

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s trekking around the Heath we go!

Directions to Kenwood are not well signposted on the Heath, so do check a map before you leave. Or just tramp around, get lost, and then follow a random man with dog who really just wanted a quiet walk. Alone.

‘Kenwood? Just our small London crash-pad…’

Our heathland adventure over, on arrival at Kenwood we surprised Museum Nanna with a meet-up with her sister and brother-in-law. Our group now had a combined age of over 300 and what with all that gallivanting on a cold heath we were more than ready to start our visit – at the cafe.

Thawing out, one sip, slurp and bite at a time

The main cafe was packed to the rafters, but we found a large table in the atmospheric old kitchen. Hot soup, hot drinks and sausage rolls were the order of the day – and every last bit was devoured. We didn’t feel rushed so had plenty of time to catch up.

Suitably refreshed, we then visited the house itself.  We were greeted with staff who, apologetically, told us we had to leave our buggy a few hundred yards up the drive.  On return, we noticed the warm welcome extended to a real, roaring fire in the lobby. In this cold weather, it felt very special – and fortunately the toddler has spent enough time with Museum Dad in the kitchen to understand not to touch things that are ‘hot’.

Some like it hot!

Kenwood, run by English Heritage has recently been beautifully renovated, but is more like an (admittedly world-class) art gallery than somebody’s home. There are some incredible paintings on display – it’s like a who’s who of old masters with works by Constable, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Gainsborough. The great aunt took the tweenager round to look at shoes, costume and children in the portraits upstairs.


‘I had a pair just like these!’

Heading downstairs we came across a small room stuffed full of shiny shoe buckles, jewellery and miniature portraits which the tweenager enjoyed exploring with me.


Now on my jewellery wish list

The jewellery with the lock of hair struck a chord with me, particularly as I’ve had to say goodbye to the toddler’s curls recently (I now know what to do with that snipping though!)

The tweenager picked this child’s portrait as one of her favourites, and we talked about why someone would want to have such a small painting of themselves or someone else. I’m banned from using the word ‘selfie’ in my house due to being *so embarrasing*, so it’s good to know eighteenth century portraits are neutral territory.

Inscribed: I am NOT a selfie

Downstairs the paintings are more varied in subject, and I spotted lots of animals to point out to the kids. The rooms themselves were stunning and as the sky darkened they became even more atmospheric.

Its all about the lighting

The centrepiece was the beautifully elegant library, designed by the famous  (read: only one I can remember) Georgian architect Robert Adams.  The room host was extremely welcoming – rushing to greet me with a room guide as I carried Museum Baby in sling, he told me straight away the places I was welcome to sit (any black seat basically).  And I needed a seat to check out the incredibly decorated ceiling.

Kenwood Library: open more than your local library. But do not ask to borrow books as embarrassment may cause offence.


‘It’s nice and all Robert, but I was thinking more magnolia’

The kids however missed the whole of downstairs as they were too busy in the making session in the Orangery. What they were meant to be making was unclear – but they got stuck in, and managed to produce a card (as well as a mess). They weren’t too keen to see much more of the house.

Glue + glitter = happy kids

Next to the Orangery was a family room which included a rather giant dolls’ house with peg dolls to play with.

How ever did Santa fit THAT on his sleigh?

The room also contained a small binder filled with stories of the families who had lived in the house, and wonderful portraits of local families. It’s a shame that this interpretation hadn’t been more integrated throughout the house – I do feel that these people stories are what Kenwood is missing. It was the part which brought the place most to life for me, but felt sidelined and easy to miss. I think I may not be alone, as when I stumbled across a screen with histories of previous residents tucked under the stairs, there were four other people eagerly reading it.

Where all good history lives – under the stairs

A family trail is also available if requested, but the tweenager thought it a bit young for her, and it was a bit too old for the toddler. We didn’t see nor were we offered any of the other wonderful family resources listed on this page. Darn.

The ever increasing travelling circus

With night nearly upon us, it was time to leave. In the words of the tweenager ‘I liked it, but I didn’t think I was old enough for it’. Kenwood will definitely appeal to the older family members but has just about enough for the kids too to make it work – as well as art sessions, they also hold storytelling events and an under fives group. My rule of thumb would be, if the combined age of your family group is over 125, it’s a good cross-generational place to go. Combine a tramp across the heath, a well-deserved cafe treat and a look at some world-class art and it’s a great day out.


Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, London NW3 7JR

Opening hours (until 29 March 2015): 10.00am-5.00pm daily


Cost: Free

Buggy accessible?: No, you’ll have to leave your buggy a few hundred yards away in a covered buggy park. Locks are provided but no keys.

Baby changing: One in the disabled toilet, near the cafe.

Breastfeeding friendly?: There are plenty of seats you can sit on in many of the rooms (remember: black not red!)

Toddler time from galleries to toilets: You’ll need to pop outside to the toilets by the cafe, so allow a good couple of minutes.

Nearest playground: Kenwood House has 112 acres of its own grounds to explore with a family trail. There’s an award winning playground with paddling pool at Parliament Hill and a One O’Clock Club at the Peggy Jay Centre. Here’s a map of the Heath to avoid you getting as lost as we did!

Food: There are two main food offerings: The Brew House Café and the Steward’s Room, both in the service wing.  The Cafe was rammed, so we went to the rather poorly sign-posted Steward’s Room which does take-away only. There are plenty of places to sit – as well as the old kitchen we sat in, there is a beautiful terrace outside, and other large sheltered benches. Plus they sell Pimms and ice-cream outside in the summer too – score!

Want to make more of a day of it? Hampstead Heath is massive and great to visit year round. You can fly a kite from Parliament Hill, visit the animal enclosure at Golders Hill, or go swimming in the Lido or outdoor bathing lakes.

Review – Horrible Histories: Spies at Imperial War Museum

I’d make a rubbish spy, if this trip was anything to go by. I forgot to check the route to the Imperial War Museum before sitting down on the tube, and left the camera at home! Apologies for the poor quality mobile snaps in advance – let’s pretend I wanted to give this post a reconnaissance feel.

The girls act in a clandestine manner

The girls act in a clandestine manner

I also found out not only had both my daughter and friend already visited Horrible Histories: Spies, but they hadn’t been that impressed by it. When did that happen? With school. Why did nobody tell me about it? Oh, my signature was all over the permission slip (I must have instantly forgot about it).

Thankfully, the Second World War had much more, um,  reliable secret agents, and on their second visit – without dozens of other school kids to distract them – the girls had a fantastic time.

‘You forgot the camera’ ‘No, you forgot the camera!’

Horrible Histories®: Spies tells the story of Second World War spies and spycraft, including codes, camouflage and forgeries. Don’t be fooled by the cartoon-like graphics – all of the facts and people are real. Just like the bestselling books and TV series of the same name, this exhibition focuses on the fun, horrible bits of history – so not only will your child enjoy themselves, they’ll learn something too!

We are introduced to six ‘super spies’ who all performed amazing feats of bravery and endurance during the Second World War. They are each introduced with their real name, codename, and special skill. We find more about each one throughout the exhibition – in particular, my daughter and friend loved reading what happened to them after the war.

Stamp collecting

A trail leads you through the exhibition’s eight themes, with a stamp to collect from the retro looking lamppost in each area. Each stamp refers to the main message of the zone, so it’s an educational as well as fun hands-on activity.

I like to ride my bicycle

Radio Gaga

The exhibition is packed full of quality interactives – the girls’ favourite activities being the cycle-powered radio, the disguise photo-booth and the various quizzes.

Double spy disguise action

Double spy disguise action

Visitors are encouraged to use their senses – from smelling ingredients for invisible ink to listening for real secret messages in seemingly innocuous radio broadcasts. There are also clips from the Horrible Histories TV series to watch too.

Splatting those pesky rats

The only interactive which felt a little spurious  was the projection of exploding ‘rats’ onto the floor for visitors to jump on. Having seen a nearly identical interactive in the earlier Horrible Histories: The Trenches exhibition, initially I felt as if they were recycling content better suited to a different story. But history triumphed – I found there was a spy link with the suggested use of explosives in rats. Plus the girls loved stepping on the digital pests too!

No army landings here, sir. Just people with massive bare feet.

Given the drawing and narrative style, there is a risk that the stories could seem a bit fantastical – but the presence of real objects  really help remind the visitor of the history behind the exhibition. The girls’ favourites included the fake feet put on top of boots so that those involved in beach landings would leave foot- rather than boot-prints on the sand.

They also loved the fake Hitler passport created by the Special Operations Executive to showcase their fantastic forgery skills.

Hitler’s passport. Or is it?

 At times it all gets a little Bond-like – a secret spike letterbox, a prototype smoking pipe gun and a biscuit tin radio feature in the displays. But it was the ingenious use of washing on the line to pass messages over the enemy lines which most impressed me. I’ll never look at laundry in the same way again!

Handkerchief. Eiderdown. Linen. Pants. Story of my life.

The quizzes at the end helped remind the girls of what they’d seen (or learnt by stealth), one of which is available to take at home:

Testing times

All in all,  it  was a great space to allow children to explore and enjoy, and without the crowds of the rest of the museum.  It was fun without being frivolous – the spies’ stories and special gadgets show the ingenuity and bravery involved to help win the war. If you’re looking for somewhere warm and easy to take the kids to this Christmas, this is perfect. Just bring your camera, and check the route before you get on the tube!

NB – The Imperial War Museum has been newly refurbished – look out for a fuller post soon!

The exhibition tickets were complimentary from the Imperial War Museum for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


Horrible Histories: Spies runs until Sunday 4 January 2015
Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Rd, London SE1 6HZ

Open daily 10am-6pm, last admission 5.30pm.
Closed 24, 25 and 26 December.


Adult – £6.20
Child (4-15) – £3.30
Concessions – £4.40
Family of 3 – £12.25
Family of 4 – £15.60
Family of 5 – £19

Family tickets – maximum two adults
Children 3 and under go free

Booking: Book online and save 10% or buy from ticket desk on day.

Recommended length of visit: I’d say you’d need about 45 mins to an hour for the exhibition, although to our surprise we managed nearly 2 hours!

Buggy accessible? Yes, there are four lifts at the rear of the museum to take  you up to the exhibition floor. Top tip: the West Entrance gives a step free route to the main hall. This is to the right side of the museum, in the park and past the cafe terrace.

Baby changing: Two facilities are available on the ground floor, one near the West Entrance and one in the reddest toilet you’ll ever go in, underneath the main entrance. Both have fold down tables (the red one  had a strap) and an adult toilet inside too.

Breastfeeding friendly?: It’s quite dim, not too busy and has a few places to sit so I was able to feed the little one.

Toddler time from exhibition to toilets: Yikes, not good. If you had the buggy, you’d have to wait for a lift, then would recommend using toilets near West Entrance as there were queues to the other ladies’ toilets. Give a good, nerve wracking 4 minutes.

Nearest playground: The IWM is surrounded by Geraldine Mary Harmsworth park which includes a small playground with swings, climbing frames etc. There’s also a brick hut which hosts playgroups during the week – see and for more information.

Food: There’s a nice cafe run by Peyton & Byrne and a tea room in the summer months too. We had our lunch outside in the park.

Want to make more of a day of it?: There’s the rest of the Imperial War Museum to explore – including the stunning atrium, A Family in Wartime exhibition and the showcase galleries on the First World War. I’d be tempted to walk 20 minutes to the South Bank and show the kids the River Thames, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament and the street performers. There’s usually lots of fun stuff going on at the South Bank Centre.

Review: Historic Dockyard Chatham

October is birthday month, and what better way to spend it than quality time with the family – at a museum of course! As birthday girl, I got to choose – I wanted somewhere new but close enough we could drive to with a screaming baby. I plumped for the Historic Dockyard Chatham – less than an hour from home. There was no escaping – the whole family came on this trip.

Entrance to Historic Dockyard Chatham

Entrance to Historic Dockyard Chatham

The Historic Dockyard Chatham boasts of being the world’s most complete example of an historic dockyard from the age of sail. With roots in Tudor times, and parts still in use today there’s certainly lots to see –  historic buildings, Royal Navy warships and lots more ship-building heritage – all on a massive 80 acre site.

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Museum Mum’s FREE October half term holiday museum activity calendar

It’s soon to be half term – and what a long term it has been! You guys may recall this summer I created a calendar of free museum family events happening in London over the summer holidays – with no entrance or event charges. Well, you guys LOVED IT, and it very quickly became the most popular post I’ve written so far.

Getting crafty with the stained glass activity

Getting crafty in May half term

So, to say thanks for all the page views, I’ve done it again! Although obviously not for the summer holidays, that would be silly. Instead, I’ve done another trawl of over 75 websites to find out what you can do with the nippers in London museums this October/Halloween half term – for nowt. All treats, no tricks! And think of all that money you can save for the dreaded ‘C’ word. There are currently 525 events listed, so ‘witch’ ones will you choose?

Here’s the timetable:

Listings start from Saturday 25 October 2014 and run until Sunday 2 November 2014, with a few stragglers outside these dates.

It’s a google calendar – so you can easily copy any events that interest you to your own diary.

Any errors are entirely blamed on museum baby. Wherever possible I’ve added the URL of the original listing so please check before you head out. If you’re a museum with a free activity that hasn’t been listed, drop me a line!

If you want to say ‘FANGS!’ then please do the following:
* add a comment below – a simple ta will suffice, or let me know what you’ve enjoyed
* tweet me on twitter @vykisparkes
* share with your networks – facebook, twitter, your local parenting groups
* follow me for more updates – click on the brown cog on the top right hand side of this blog and enter your email to get automatic updates

For all you non-Londoners, I hope this inspires you to contact your local museums and see what they are up to.

Have a ghoulishly good time!

PS. If you want some inspiration, you could check out these reviews:
Museum of London, Jacqueline Wilson at the Museum of Childhood, Grant Museum