How to entertain your children without spending a fortune.

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Keeping the children entertained at the weekends and during holiday times can be a struggle. I’ve a six, four and two-year-old, all with very different ideas of what constitutes ‘fun’, usually taking them out anywhere involves spending money to keep them entertained. But I’ve a few tricks up my sleeve that mean that you don’t have to spend a fortune any time you want to do something with your children. So here is some wisdom for keeping the whole family happy.

On Saturdays, and often Sundays too, many of the local cinemas in Belfast run kids clubs in the morning. The movies being shown have normally been out for a while but it is a good way to put in and hour or two. The Odyssey and Movie House cinemas are probably the cheapest at £1.50 per person but for the Odyssey Cinema you will likely have to factor in a parking charge on site as well. Dundonald Omniplex is £1.80 per person but if you register online you can pre-book through your account and access a 10% discount on all tickets purchased. At the minute the Strand Cinema in east Belfast have a number of childrens’ movie screenings coming up that are free of charge as part of the NI Science Festival, the Belfast Children’s Festival and Belfast Festival of Learning. The advice is to pre-book which costs just £1.50. They also run a good Minor’s Club on a more regular basis.

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On the first Saturday of every month check out the Gardening Club at Hillmount, where the children ( five years plus) learn about planting seeds and herbs and even a bit about birdwatching and other wildlife on occasion. They always leave with a bit of greenery in hand and often some other bits and pieces too.

Tours of Belfast City Hall, Stormont Parliament Buildings and CS Lewis Square are all available free of charge, and can be something educational and a little bit different for older children.

Do check out the Belfast City Council or any other local council websites for special events happening in your area. In February and March Belfast City Council are running a number of Parks Events across Belfast. Last year we booked tickets for the Easter Eggtravaganza held in Belfast City Hall to attend a magic show and a chocolate making workshop run by Aunt Sandra’s Candy Factory, both were really enjoyable! Be sure to subscribe to the City Council emails so you won’t miss news of these events.

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Other suggestions would be to go feed the ducks at Kiltonga Nature Reserve in Newtownards, or stimulate their imaginations as you tell stories of a princess in the tower on a walk up to Scrabo Tower or Viking invasions as you walk around the monastic ruins of Nendrum or Sketrick Island.

You could take a whimsical adventure around Slieve Gullion as you explore the Giant’s Lair and discover where the fairies live. There is a great adventure playpark here so if you go armed with a picnic you can easily put a day in at Slieve Gullion.

I’d also recommend the Gruffalo Trail at Colin Glen, if you have it do take the Gruffalo book with you and read it as you walk around, it will add to the experience. The Ulster Museum is another good afternoon out, our girls never tire of seeing dinosaurs and that Egyptian mummy, neither do I actually!

The Nails Inc. counter in Victoria Square, or Debenhams in Belfast, is worth visiting if, like me, you have a little lady who loves a bit of glam. Manicures are normally £24 but for those under 20, you simply pay the equivalent of their age. So for an eight-year-old girl that’s £8 and the like.

Finally, I recommend devouring the back pages of the NI 4 Kids magazine every month for some ideas as to free events coming up over the next few months, it really is a great source of information. Look out for events run by Young at Art or the Replay Theatre Company, they are always worth going to.

I hope some of this information will be helpful to you. Maybe you know of other events or locations that are good for children if so do share your own wisdom in the comments section below!

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Surviving the Easter holidays

imageThe Easter holidays are looming and if you’re anything like me the thought of entertaining all three littles full-time for two weeks is a daunting prospect. Best to have a few field trips up your sleeve I find, to keep the whole family sane. I’m now six years into parenthood and truth be known I’ve exhausted every Disney movie known to man, so you can imagine my delight when an email landed in my inbox on Monday morning about Belfast City Council’s Spring into Easter Festival, a four day Easter programme of activities with events for children happening in and around Belfast City Hall.

Over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend City Hall will host a four day programme of free family fun, including tours, displays, craft workshops etc. I quickly scanned the schedule of events listed in the email and noticing that some were ticketed I sprinted to the Belfast Welcome Centre on my lunch break, for fear that they might be booked up already. In my head it went something like this:

In reality it went something like this:

Anyway, silly running aside, my mission was accomplished and I managed to secure tickets for the girls and I for a magic show and a chocolate making workshop with Aunt Sandra’s. Ok, I admit it, the chocolate making workshop is more for me.

Aside from the ticketed events, the City Council will also have Spring Koi ponds, a Spring Fling dance workshop, a vintage car display (Saturday and Sunday) and some of NI Drift Series’ coolest sports cars (Monday and Tuesday). As well as Phil’s Farmyard, face painters, balloon modellers and an array of colourful street theatre to keep everyone entertained. You can find out more about the festival and events planned here.

We’re also planning a trip to Kiltonga to feed the ducks, a trip up north to enjoy Portstewart Strand and a bit of surfing and bodyboarding, beachcombing around Holywood/Cultra and a journey to Slieve Gullion Forest Park in search of fairies.

If time allows we’ll check out Curiously Comber on 24th March. When the historical town of Comber will be transformed into Alice’s Wonderland for the day. Featuring a Mad Hatters Tea Party, tours of the town with the white rabbit, street theatre, live music, workshops, a petting zoo and more.

We may even get to experience Easter Egg Decorating at Rowallane Garden in Saintfield. Rowallane is a National Trust venue and I thoroughly recommend paying for membership for the year, if you’re always looking for places to take the kids this membership will pay dividends over the course of the year, find out more here.

If all goes to plan all of the activity should have the desired effect on each of my littles:

Here’s hoping!

I would also highly recommend visiting the Gruffalo Trail at Colin Glen Forest which is also free to explore.

If you have any recommendations for free events/activities to help amuse the littles feel free to share and use #wisdomandpennies.

My advice for the holidays is that of the Scouts “Be prepared”. Godspeed fellow parents!

Lxo

P.s. If in doubt hit IKEA!