Hotel Chocolat – Children’s Workshop

 

We were invited to attend the Hotel Chocolat “School of Chocolate”, which is a children’s workshop to show them all about how chocolate is made, why it tastes and looks a certain way, as well as have a lot of fun at the same time!

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Hosted by the fabulously child-friendly Dan and Sam, we were guided upstairs and after a hand-wash (good start!) the children were sat around a table and the adults had their drink orders taken and let Dan and Sam take over!!

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You HAVE to have a hot chocolate at Hotel Chocolat!

The children were asked about how chocolate was made and I think it’s safe to say that the adults learnt just as much as the children! Then the taste testing began, with buttons of various kinds of chocolate being passed around. With children being children, and Hotel Chocolat being Hotel Chocolat, all of the chocolate was amazing (adults were jealously looking on at this point!)

After half an hour, the sugar was really kicking in and the children were led downstairs to look at the conch (who knew!) and how the beans were cooked and then the chocolate made. Then, they were up close watching how the tempering process took place, although the children were genuinely scared that the mix was about to be thrown onto a marble table top!!

The tempering process can be seen below.

It is best if you follow your child down for this bit because, well, would you leave a child in a sweet shop?!?! Seriously, they are looked after well but the adults get as much out of it as the children!

Going back upstairs, the really hands-on part came, with decorating a slab of chocolate and a chocolate lolly. This is the part where adults get involved a bit, depending on the age of the child, but remember the chocolate is for the children and not the adults!!

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After that, the decorations are put in the fridge and the children get to have a warm drink of salted caramel (not to my taste, but it went down well with the children!) and they got to decorate a box for their chocolate slab.

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After that, it was time to go with our goody bag and into the shop – you get an in-store discount and so it would be rude if you didn’t buy a little something extra!!

As of October 2017, it costs £20 for a place at each workshop and whilst that might seem a little steep, you probably get £5 of chocolate to take home, plus a drink, plus a discount in store. As a result, the course might pay for itself if you are buying Christmas/Easter presents there in bulk!! In terms of age range, they suggest ages 5-12 and that feels about right – the child has to be confident enough in conversation on their own as it is effectively a learning experience. The class size is limited, so it is a special occasion for all concerned.

Talking to Dan and Sam afterwards, they do suggest that it is better to come as a group, as it gets a better atmosphere in the session, but if you have a confident child, they will be fine on their own. It did make me think that it could be an ideal birthday party venue – especially if you don’t want to invite too many kids!!

We are extremely lucky to have this in Leeds, as the only other location where Hotel Chocolat is doing this workshop is in London and fingers crossed it will be a success, and it deserves to be because it is a wonderful one-off experience.

 


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Orlando Science Center

 

Regular readers of the blog will know that Heidi is quite the scientist, with our regular trips to Mini Einsteins (read here) and almost continual rocket experiments

So a trip to the Orlando Science Center seemed like a perfect way to fuel this interest whilst on holiday and make sure she was learning a little whilst away from nursery.

Orlando Science Center is around 30 minute drive away from the Disney parks, up I-4 near downtown Orlando, and it is a relatively easy drive, apart from the traffic near the parks. There is onsite parking ($5) in a multi-story car park where there are plenty of spaces, but please don’t make the same mistake I did and park on the top floor – the sun makes the car remarkably hot!!

Orlando Science Center is a fully indoor attraction (good for rainy days!) and has 4 floors. Our favourite was the top floor with the lab and hands-on experiments. The lab had around 7 little experiments for people to try out, including testing the acidity of food/drink and testing the strength of structures. We had done a few of them back at home previously, so it was good to know that the science methods were the same on the other side of the Atlantic.

Also on the top floor were lots of hands-on, visual experiments which were ideal for smaller children. The dinosaur exhibit was also on the top floor and for any dinosaur fan, the impressive structures would really help their learning and bring them to life.

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The next couple of floors down were slightly too advanced for Heidi as they were to do with complex structures/mechanical engineering, as well as space. These would have been ideal for children around 7 years old and older as they would have linked into the school curriculum quite well.

However, there was still plenty for our 3 year old as there was a play area focused around farms/produce where the children could run around and “play” but they could also focus on learning if they so desired. There was also a lovely wet play/water table area in this area which had a similar effect.

On the ground floor there was a lovely small animal section, with some adorable turtles as well as quite a lot of small water creatures – highlighting the Florida eco-system. Again, for a 3 year old, it was mainly about seeing the animals, rather than learning about them in great detail!!

The best idea is to play the day around the pop-up activities throughout the day and take it from there. When we went, the activities weren’t well signposted, but the friendly staff went above and beyond to help. Likewise, the staff member in the Lab area (she had ginger hair and was losing her voice!!) took a real shine to Heidi and made a very good visit a little bit more special!

 

In terms of facilities, there is a Subway on site, which is useful for a snack, but if you’re staying all day, you might need something more substantial. As you would expect Stateside, the toilet/changing facilities are top notch.

As at May 2017, it costs $19.95 for adults, $13.95 for children aged 3 and over and under 3’s are free. As well as all the learning, you also get a screening to a “Hollywood Movie” as well as films in the CineDome – we didn’t take advantage of either because, well, a 3 year old on holiday doesn’t want to see films!!! This cost feels about right, but obviously for overseas visitors, the exchange rate plays a part.

Heidi was probably a year or so too young for Orlando Science Center.  We did stay around 3 hours and that is with us being slightly tired after walking round the parks etc.  However, that just means that we can go back again at some point and learn it all again!!


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Life Science Centre, Newcastle

With New Years Eve 2016 falling on a Saturday and my sense of adventure feeling stronger, we decided to go for a city trip to Newcastle by train (I realise that I am 3 months slow in posting this, oops!) to go to the Life Science Centre.

Getting to Newcastle from Leeds is much easier by train (about 90 minutes) and we took the 5 minute walk from the station to the museum and thanks to excellent signposting, finding it was a piece of cake.

Whilst the Christmas ice rink outside was somewhat appealing (see here for our eventual ice skating adventure!) we headed in to see what we could find.

In the main area of the “museum” (I call it that loosely as it was more a “hands-on learning experience”) there were loads of little experiments and areas to learn. One of the favourites was the thermal imaging camera showing the heat contrast between humans and a block of ice, for which we experimented by rubbing our noses onto the ice. Our other favourite was the spinning wheels where the children discovered centrifugal forces (almost!) The exhibits weren’t manned so parents were empowered to do the teaching, which is no bad thing!

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Learning about centrifugal forces!

Upstairs was a decently sized free play area for the younger children (I would suggest aged 8 and below) with a free soft play blocks/mats but also a small mock shop and kitchen. This provided a good breakout area after quite intense learning downstairs.

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Play area!

The special attraction at the time was showing the insides of animals, in terms of their bone and muscle structure which was perhaps the most suitable for a 3 year old as the models were VERY realistic but her enthusiasm for biology took over and seemed to learn a bit.

Our favourite part was the show in the planetarium. There was loads of shows going on throughout the day and some are more age specific than others. Due to the dark nature of the auditorium, there is likely to be tears from some of the younger ones, but I think that it is just one of those things!

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Planetarium show!

Our one slightly disappointing part was that we weren’t allowed into the science lab to do some experiments. Children had to be aged 7 and over to go in and while I fully understand the safety concerns, the experiments that they were doing were ones that we do in our kitchen!!

Overall we stayed 5 hours or so and so it is good value for money. Making use of the lockers (£1 charge + refundable deposit paid in cash) was a good move (ask for a large one!) and the food was decent, although we were extremely tired when it came to having tea there, so it might not be the best assessment either way! You can come and go during the day, which we did and the toilets were decent.

The exhibits keep on changing and so when the time is right, we will make another trip up the country to do some more exploring at the Life Science Centre.


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Discovery Museum, Newcastle

On our day trip to Newcastle, we took in the Life Science Centre (post here!) but we also spent an hour or so at the Discovery Museum, which is about 10 minutes walk from the train station, in quite an imposing building. (think 19th century hospital)

In truth, I wouldn’t really write a blog post about somewhere where we only spent an hour, but the free attraction was so quaint, and delivered the most perfect memory to round off 2016, I simply had to!

Initially we went to make a lantern for the New Years Eve parade and I didn’t know much else about it before going in, but the top floor was an absolute hidden gem of hands-on experiments and puzzles for children of all ages.

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Making a lantern

Obviously some will get different things out of each section, but the floor was crammed full of visual illusions/perceptions, as well as bits about motion, gravity, electricity and telephone communications.

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How many lights can you see?!

However, the best part of all was something hidden away in the corner – 3 mirrors put together – and it caused these reactions…

 

Heidi spent about 20 minutes in there playing/learning/experimenting and if it was not closing for the day, she could have been in there for hours!

Now, aside from this brilliant floor, the museum has 3 other floors detailing local history and other science-y things, but we never got to see any of it as we grossly underestimated the time we needed!

This just gives us an excuse to come back and explore, especially why there is a HUGE boat on the ground floor!!
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Mini Einsteins

** This class isn’t being run by the Rainbow Factory at the moment **

We have been “Mini Einstein-ers” from the beginning and as the “We are Mini” brand has been launched, I thought that it would be a good idea to do a bit of a refresh of the class. If you want to read a somewhat “serious” experience of our first Mini Einsteins class, you are probably best reading this post (Mini Einsteins – Rainbow Factory)

However, in a vain attempt to be creative, I thought that I would go all poetic and write about our story so far..

We started in June
going to our favourite science class
We learnt about solids, liquids
and even some gas

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Homemade lava lamp with Alka Seltzer

At first there was just us two,
and a helper with Professor Ellen
We learnt about vegetables, plants
and fruits such as melon

As the group grew,
so did our knowledge
Some of the topics took me
straight back to college

We learnt some long words,
we learnt to predict
We knew that the lesson plans
had been professionally picked

They learnt why things went up
and why things went down
They learnt what would float
and then what would drown

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Taking Mini Einsteins knowledge into nursery

The classes were different
in fact they are unique
I think I’m turning Heidi
into a big science geek!

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Using cabbage juice at home to work out the acidity of items

We have used household items
to blow up balloons
We have used vibrations
to play nifty tunes

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Vinegar and bicarbonate of soda

We have tested our senses,
our taste, hearing and sight
The children were blindfolded
to see if they could still write

Joining the class was one of
the best things we’ve done
So why don’t you come along
and join in the fun!

While the post is slightly “jokey” – the class is seriously, seriously good, especially if you are wanting to challenge your child a bit and get them interested in science and generally learning. On the back of this, we have really explored both the activities and sought out some good science museums.

It is pitched at the right level for a to 5 year olds (there is an older class as well) and last for an hour, which is more than enough! The staff are so friendly and welcoming and you never know, you might learn a thing or two as well!!

To find out more about Mini Einsteins and the rest of the “We are Mini” classes, go to http://www.wearemini.co.uk/  or check out their Facebook page (search for “We are Mini”) or Twitter site (@wearemini)

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Thackray Medical Museum – 6/8/2016

With both the Teddy Bear Hospital and Peso from Octonauts making an appearance at the Thackray Medical Museum, I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to take Heidi for her first visit there.

Heidi is obsessed with all things medical and while I thought that it might be a bit scary to see all the medical instruments, balancing it up with some child specific fun would be ideal. She already knows that she wants to be either a doctor and a radiographer so if anyone has a spare x-ray machine laying around, it would make a perfect Christmas present!

Thinking that the one-off events would be popular we headed off upstairs to put our name down for the hospital, and this was a wise move! While the allocated time is 30 minutes for each session, we were one of the last ones to leave, after 20 minutes. Here, you can get your little one dressed up and perform all sorts of medical tests and procedures on your teddy bear (don’t forget to bring one!)

As you can see, Elmo was in his bed and had a blood transfusion, x-ray (absolutely brilliant!) as well as medicine, injection and a bandage. While there are helpers, it is a parent led session so you do have to roll up your sleeves and help with the diagnosis and treatment! We play doctors all the time, and it was good to get a few different ideas, as well as play dress-up! This was only £2 and was well worth the money!

We then ventured to the meet and greet with Peso which was a bit of a fleeting visit for us as while there was a craft activity to try, neither of us are particularly skilled in it, and there was a projector showing a loop of Octonauts which was of much greater interest! Meet and Greet is at certain times, so it might be an idea to ask at reception so you can plan your time.

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So onto the museum itself… The first thing to actually say is that it isn’t a child specific museum and so some bit might be a bit scary or not overly appropriate for toddlers. However, you can quickly bypass those areas without problem.

The top floor isn’t “hands on” and this caused Heidi some confusion – try telling a 3 year old that they can’t go onto an operating table! However, it only takes a couple of bits to spark the imagination. For us, it was the x-rays (obviously!) the dentist/false teeth as well as the child birth section.

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However, downstairs is much more child friendly, where there are lots of little games/puzzles, hands on exhibits as well as the story of food going through the body. I mention this because there was a piece of rope the length of the intestine and it was somewhat difficult to explain the concept to a toddler!!!

Also downstairs is some more dress-up clothes as well as a lovely little exhibit showing what happens to the spine when you move while sat down. If we did this again, we would do downstairs first before a bit of tiredness set it (we were there for almost 2 hours)

In terms of facilities, while the museum is on a couple of floors, there are lifts so it is pushchair friendly. There is also a cafe, although we didn’t visit the toilets so can’t comment. The entry fee covers entry for the entire year so you don’t feel as though you have to cram everything in. As car parking is only £2, it makes for every cheap return visits!

The next Teddy Bear Hospital/Octonauts is on Thursday 25th August so try and make your way down there!!


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Museum of Science and Industry – 10/6/2016

Planning this post in my head was difficult and I questioned whether or not to write it, because MOSI wasn’t particularly suited to us at this point.

There wasn’t anything particularly bad about it, but it was more focused for adults and older children, rather than inquisitive toddlers. And that is not a bad thing, it just doesn’t fit in with us at this time!!!

So, quickly going through the downsides, they include poor signage, the museum being in 4 separate buildings and the exhibits not being particularly hands-on. Also, parking is a problem as street parking outside is only for 2 hours and probably won’t be long enough (which is a good thing as there is plenty to see!)

Now that I have got that out of my system, I can talk about the positives from a toddlers perspective. There is a brilliant exhibit next to the restaurant which is hands-on and practical and lots of fun for young and old alike. It is full of little puzzles, interactive science experiments and various other bits and pieces like that.

While the little ones will enjoy playing, it is possible to explain the science as well behind it all which is what going to the museum is all about. Our favourite was the experiment dropping the ball into the different surfaces and predicting how high they would bounce. (It is quite dark in there, so pictures are not easy to take!)

In terms of the other good aspects of MOSI, the cafe serves excellent pizza and the gift shop is to die for – I could have spent all day in there!! While it was not particularly for toddlers, we did spend 3 hours in there so it certainly wasn’t a wasted trip!

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For toddlers, MOSI isn’t in the same league as the National Media Museum or the Railway Museum – and it isn’t supposed to be. The focus is on industry, which isn’t as exciting for toddlers as opposed to science and things going “bang” or “pop”!!!

However, there is a place in the world for MOSI, especially if your child is learning about local (to Manchester) history or the Industrial Revolution. We are not in that place yet, but when we are, we know that we’ll be able to get a lot of knowledge out of our visit there.


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