Summer holiday saviours
Six plus weeks to fill? Here's our guide to keeping tots, tweens and teens occupied all summer long. You can thank us later...
Take a walk on the wild side this summer with Zoorasic Park at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (24 July – 5 Sept). There’ll be enormous animatronic dinosaurs, Jurassic facts to discover, a fossil dig and a safari car track.
Over at Paradise Wildlife Park in Broxbourne, the gates will be left open after hours for visitors to explore as the animals settle down for the night and the sun sets over the park for Summer Evenings in Paradise (30 July – 28 Aug). Grown-ups can enjoy a glass of Pimm’s and there’ll be special entertainment including African drumming, live music, wildlife stilt walking and face painting.
Want to nurture your 8-13 year old’s passion for wildlife? Check out the holiday workshops at Woburn Safari Park (2-6 Aug and 16-20 Aug) which include hands-on experiences, a behind the scenes look at the exhibitions, meeting the keepers and learning how the animals are cared for.
For creepy crawlie lovers there’s a summer bug hunt at the Shuttleworth Estate’s Swiss Garden on 11 August, for a chance to spot minibeasts and go pond dipping while mum and dad enjoy the gorgeous surroundings!
THEATRE AND PERFORMANCE
For book-loving younger audiences, the gorgeous tale of The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson has been reimagined by Tall Stories and comes to life at the Radlett Centre from 22-23 July, while a heart-warming re-telling of The Lion Inside will be perfomed at Watford Theatre’s Stage in the Park from 26-29 July.
Meanwhile The Sea Show at The Place Bedford sounds like a jolly hybrid of puppetry and cabaret with a mermaid, a seagull and a few silly songs thrown in (20 Aug, age 5+). There’s also bonkers antics by the bucketload from the ever-popular Captain Calamity – catch his Summer Spectacular at the Radlett Centre on 28 July
And to feed your kids’ obesssion with all things gross (what’s the deal with that?!), Chef Rufus Skumskins O’Parsley will be cooking up human-eating snot cakes at The Rascally Diner at The Place, Bedford on 10 July. Then comic genius, Jay Foreman’s Disgusting Songs for Revolting Children comes to The Quarry Theatre, Bedford on 17 July (age 6+) – it’s often a sell-out so grab those tickets quick! And on 31 July catch an adaptation of David Walliams’ best-seller, Mr Stink at Watford Palace Theatre’s outdoor stage.
For 7-11 year olds the immersive treasure-hunt based show, This Noisy Isle will invite families to navigate their way through a strange new world meeting interesting characters, solving puzzles and steering through choppy seas. It’s on at The Place, Bedford from 14-15 August.
Equally mysterious and magical is Rogue Theatre’s Along the Wild Path – a mash-up of mythical tales, breath-taking live music and spectacular dance, all inspired by nature. They’re coming to Home Farm Live in Elstree from 30-31 July and will have imaginations of all ages running wild.
If it’s laughs you’re after, comedy improv troupe, The Noise Next Door are inviting kids’ to lead their show, Run Wild! with lots of audience participation, at The Quarry Theatre’s garden in Bedford on 18 July (age 5+). Meanwhile kids age 7+ are invited to join the jury, while top comedians play prosecution and defence lawyers – you may be even be put on trial or called to give evidence! – for This is Your Trial at Watford Palace Theatre’s Stage in the Park on 23 July.
Got a musical-crazy tween? Don’t miss Showstoppers – The Improvised Musical at Watford Palace Theatre’s Stage in the Park on 26-27 July (age 12+). The Edinburgh Festival Fringe hit and Olivier Award-winning show invites the audience to contribute to the production of a brand new musical – no two shows are the same!
And for something more traditional, older kids will enjoy this fun and totally non-traditional production of Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth by Suitcase Shakespeare at The Place, Bedford from 27-29 July. Lamphouse Theatre recreate the great works of the Bard using only the contents of a suitcase and in just 45 minutes flat… bring a picnic for this outdoor show.
Fancy a family camping trip with a difference this summer? Pitch up at Mead Open Farm near Leighton Buzzard on Friday and Saturday nights throughout July and August – tickets include breakfast, dinner and full access to the farm park.
And over at Willow’s Activity Farm in St Albans, you can book a two-night stay (2-4 July, 13-15 Aug, 20-22 Aug) including exclusive early morning and evening entry into the park, a BBQ and marshmallow toasting and entertainment.
Alternatively, try a Snorassic Sleepover at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, and enjoy a torchlit expedition around the zoo by night, and early morning tour before it opens and free access to the zoo for the following day (6, 13, 20 or 29 Aug).
FAMILY DAYS OUT
The annual free extravaganza of outdoor arts, Imagine Watford features an array of mind-boggling pop-ups, performance and aerial trickery until 18 July. Highlights that the kids will love include a bonkers balloon show, a weather-inspired dance performance, a junk instrument jam session, and a modern adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic short story, for 7–11-year-olds, the Happy Prince.
Plus there’s circus skills and aerial acrobatics galore at the Shuttleworth Flying Circus on 14 August, including pyrotecnics, wing walking, air displays and fireworks.
And festivals don’t have to just be for grown-ups – Mead Open Farm’s Festival of Fun runs from 24 July – 30 August and as well as all the usual farm-based activities there’ll be a summer festival-themed programme with daily live music and dance offs on the Udder Stage, a Comedy Zone, Cow-eoke (yep, you guessed it), circus skills, festival games and even a ‘Venga’ party tractor!
On that note, how about an entire festival dedicated to little ones? A veritable kids’ heaven – Totfest in Redbourn (7 August) is like all your little one’s wildest dreams rolled into one epic day. Expect baby raves, theatre shows, tonnes of art and craft activities, a fairground, race tracks, toy villages, a giant soft play, character meet-and-greets, sports sessions, music making and LOADS more.
Gotta love a holiday camp that covers off a few days in one fell swoop. The Summer College Camps held at Bishop’s Stortford College are suitable for 5-14 year olds and run over 4 weeks with loads of activities from art and crafts to sports and games, using the school’s fab facilities.
Sports Fever in Tring runs multi sports and dance camps for 3-5 and 5-12 year old groups throughout the holidays and Tring Sports Centre’s multi activity camps include swimming, badminton, tennis and more, plus you can book per day, half day or a full week to suit you. And footie mad kids will be in haven with the football camps run by Just 4 Keepers in Wootton, Beds.
If your kid’s not into sport, no problemo… Camp Beaumont, with its extensive programme including glitter make up, giant bubbles, yoga and drama (alongside the archery and football) is just the ticket. The camps take place at four different Herts schools, so pick your nearest.