Just 30 minutes from Chislehurst is….The Discover Children’s Story Centre
It is that time of year when it is wet and cold outside and the kids need to be entertained. A walk in the countryside would be just too miserable and you’ve exhausted the soft play options in the local area, may I introduce you to the The Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford, East London….
I hadn’t heard about it until a friend from Warwickshire mentioned it to me, despite living just half an hour away from the Centre. Just before Christmas (during the school holidays), we made a special trip to the centre to discover more. It is just within the 30 minutes zone but once you park up at one of the nearby car parks, it will take you a little longer to actually arrive at the centre.
The website pitches the Discover Children’s Story Centre as a place where “children and their families can enjoy playing learning and making up stories together”. It is like nowhere else I have visited. This is a truly interactive, immersive experience for children. The ground floor indoor trail lets the children’s imaginations soar. They can explore a secret cave, make a spoon puppet, have a tea party, dance on the noisy polka dots and dress up in a whole array of unusual and thought provoking costumes. This is a great child-led experience. It would seem that the concept behind the space is to allow children’s imaginations to go wild in this stimulating environment. As I raced round with my boys (Ted 5 and Henry 2), they initially scope the joint, find out what’s on offer at breakneck speed and then re-visit their favourite spots. Initially it is the noisy polka dots that inspire. A truly great space that has the children hopping and racing from one spot to another to see what noise they make. From what I can gauge, it is the crowd pleaser of the experience. The other areas require them to think more and with a leap of imagination from the children, they begin to uncover themselves. Ted loves the Lion Tunnel and the Trip Trap Bridge. Suddenly, they are creating stories amongst themselves. “Come on Henry – this way…” They are off. Child-led play at its best! The boys are busy roaring like lions, shouting orders at each other and immersed in the entertainment around them.
Just then there is an announcement that the 10.20am exhibition is about to start. We make our way downstairs to enjoy an exhibition of Michael Rosen’s “Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake & Bad Things”. This is held within the “Story Studio” which hosts a rotating programme of interactive family exhibitions by both established and up and coming picture book illustrators. Each exhibition is themed and offers lots of activities for ages 0-11 to encourage imaginations, creativity and play.
My boys are BIG fans of the “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” classic and they immediately sit down poised to hear from Marion, our tour guide. Marion is great at this; animated, enthusiastic and clearly in love with her job. She immediately engages the children who are eager to start looking around. She sets up the Bear Hunt story and we do all the story stages; through the grass, river, the squelchy mud and more. She then breaks mid-way so the children can discover the space for themselves before re-grouping everyone at the end to finish the story. Whilst the Bear Hunt engages the under 5’s, the older children love the other themed areas; the Chocolate Cake, The Dread Shed and The Larder. Plus there are worksheets throughout the space for older children to complete. Whilst my children were too young to engage with the worksheets, I can see that the older children are busy developing poems and finding out more about Michael Rosen’s other classics and poems.
In all, we are within the Story Studio for 40 minutes. Enough for them to explore all the areas, play with individual items and hunt the mini “fairy rooms” which are scattered throughout the space – these are so special! This area has been so well crafted. It is creative, magical and again, like nothing else I have visited for young children.
After the exhibition, we return to the Story Centre to see the bits the boys hadn’t truly discovered. After some dress up time and more time on the noisy polka dots, we also venture outside. It is a bit drizzly but my boys are pretty hardy! Hoods up and a healthy attitude and they are again creating stories! From the pirate ship to the spacecraft, they are enraptured by this outdoor area. This well contained and safe garden has been spectacularly well used – cramming in impressive climbing frames, a story glade and even giant musical instruments. We spend at least 40 minutes in the garden and I notice that had it been a better day, we could have brought a picnic to have on the balcony area at the rear of the building. Next time…
We spend around 2 hours at the centre and had the weather been better, I believe we could have spent longer in the garden area. I think the centre represents great value for money. Admission is £5 for adults and children alike and there is no extra fee for the exhibitions (although there is an online booking fee of £1). You should book the exhibition in advance. I recommend you take a look at their website for more details.
The “Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake & Bad Things” exhibition is on until Sunday 10th April. The Centre as a whole is open Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 5pm and Saturday and Sunday 11am – 5pm. It is also open every day during the school holidays. The Bear Hunt exhibition is open: Term Time Tue-Fri: 3-5pm (not pre-bookable) and Weekends and school holidays only: 10.20, 11.20am, 12.20, 1.20, 2.20, 3.15 and 4.15pm. Please visit their website for up to date information.
A few essentials for parents – there is an on-site café which although we didn’t use, looks inviting and a great pit-stop for families. There is also a good sized buggy park, lockers and baby change facilities as you would expect from a family attraction. Parking and travel information can be found here. The café is surrounded by a well-stocked children’s book shop which is well worth a gander.
To summarize, if you are looking for something a little bit different that isn’t all “Disney-fied”, plastic coated and high-octane – this is the perfect antidote to that. The Discover Children’s Story Centre has been well curated, designed and inspired. I loved it (as did my boys) and we will definitely be returning in the near future with my husband in tow. Discover is also a registered charity with all proceeds directly delivering high quality innovative work for children and families in East London.
One extra tip – why not combine your visit with a children’s show at the nearby Stratford Circus Arts Centre? This is a high quality performing arts centre, dedicated to providing artistic excellence and accessible experiences. We’ve been a few times and it hosts a great range of shows and parties.
Written by Tamsyn Clark
Many of the photos are provided by the Discover Children’s Story Centre. With thanks to Andrew Baker, Jeff Moore & Tim Mitchell. And some of the weaker ones are from me!