School’s out!! Summer activities in Cambridge for children and families

School’s out, the sun is shining and there’s plenty going on in the city to keep youngsters amused through the summer break, much of it low cost or free.  Here are a few ideas!

Summer at the Museums    140 drop in and bookable activities at museums in and around Cambridge as well as the Botanic Garden.  A mix of events, trails and hands-on activities.  Download the full programme from http://www.museums.cam.ac.uk/events/summer

Cambridge Museum of Technology
Cambridge Museum of Technology

Cambridge Museum of Technology has recently re-opened after a major refurbishment – read more here.  They are running Family Engineering Mornings, where you work together to design, build and test rockets and boats and build a tower crane, as well as Family Papercraft Mornings.  The Museum is in a beautiful spot down by the river.  Food and drink are available but you’re welcome to bring a picnic and there’s lots of room for children to run around.  Click on http://www.museumoftechnology.com/whats-on for more.

ChYpPS is running Playdaze, a free daily programme of activities for kids plus Big Wednesdays, mini festival fun afternoons of art, sport and culture for the whole family.  Details on http://www.cambridge.gov.uk/chypps-activities

Great St Mary’s, the University Church on Senate House Hill, is running Family Activity Mondays on 5, 12 and 19 August from 11am – 3pm, offering family craft events with a different theme each week.  More on Facebook @GreatStMarys.

Waterstones Cambridge events
Waterstones Cambridge summer events

Waterstones in Sidney Street is offering a series of free events with storytimes, crafts and more, with a different theme each week.  See the photograph for details.

Hidden Tales Riddle of the White Sphinx
Image credit: Hidden Tales

Heffers on Trinity Street has organised several free children’s activities with local authors as well as a series of Museum Adventures with the Hidden Tales, tying in with Cambridge treasure hunt Riddle of the White Sphinx – read more here –  and featuring special guest appearances from four Cambridge museums and their collections.  Details on http://www.heffersbookshop.business.site

Have a wonderful summer!!

 

Riddle of the White Sphinx: A Cambridge Treasure Hunt

The summer holidays are almost upon us and while it’s wonderful to cast aside the daily routine of the school term times, many parents will be thinking about ways to get the kids out and about, engaging with each other and their surroundings rather than staring at screens.  For Cambridge parent Sorrel May, thoughts like these inspired “Riddle of the White Sphinx”, a magical book aimed at 8 – 12 year olds.

Hidden Tales Riddle of the White Sphinx
Image credit: Hidden Tales

Sorrel’s idea started to take shape when she mentioned it to Mark Wells, a friend who had started writing on retirement from his business career.  An alumnus of St John’s College and a Cambridge resident, inspiration struck Mark as he wandered round the Fitzwilliam Museum listening to a commentary through headphones.  What if certain museum artefacts could only speak to children?  He went home, wrote until 3am and sent his words through to Sorrel, whose children loved it.  So Mark kept writing, illustrator Jennifer Bell created rich, evocative images that children can pore over and Fiona Boyd of The Cardozo Kindersley Workshop designed the fantasy alphabet that’s used in the coded message which appears in each illustration.

Hidden Tales Riddle of the White Sphinx
Image credit: Hidden Tales

To solve the riddle, children need to find seven of the “Hidden”, each of which is in a different Cambridge museum, to free these “Hidden” from the sinister “Keeper of Secrets”.  There’s a Museum Passport in each book … get that stamped in every Museum because the word in each stamp makes a sentence which gives a big clue as to where the ultimate Keeper’s Secret is hidden in the city.  Plus there’s that code to crack and kids can also join the AHA! Club through the website to get advice and extra clues.

Hidden Tales Riddle of the White Sphinx
Image credit: Hidden Tales

Mark has worked with primary schools throughout the writing process.  Careful thought has gone into the book’s design; to help dyslexic readers, the story is printed in Baskerville font on off white paper and the print is not justified on the right hand margin, to avoid any distortion of letters.  Mark has created a literacy pack with lesson plans on reading, illustration and code breaking as well as a teacher guided tour of Cambridge museums.  Schools have been signing up for an author visit and reading plus Q & A sessions.

Mark Wells Cambridge
Image credit: Hidden Tales

Riddle of the White Sphinx launches on Saturday 20 July at Heffers Bookshop.  This family event, which starts at 2pm, will include a treasure hunt round the shop, a reading from Mark, personalised badge making, a drawing workshop and a Q & A session.  Other linked events through the summer include free weekly craft activities at Heffers with special guest appearances from four museums and their collections, a code cracking workshop at the Fitzwilliam Museum and an illustration masterclass from Jennifer Bell.

Hidden Tales Riddle of the White Sphinx
Image credit: Hidden Tales

You can buy the book in Cambridge bookshops and at the museums or order it through the website.  University of Cambridge museums are all free entry whilst the Museum of Cambridge is giving free entry to children who arrive with the book.  I reckon this is a great way to keep children absorbed for hours, working together in an analogue rather than a digital pursuit that gets them out and about in a quest to find the Keeper’s Secret, hidden somewhere in this city.  For more information, details of events and for more of Mark’s story, take a look at these websites.

http://www.hiddentales.co.uk

http://www.marknwells.com

Half term break in Cambridge … some ideas!

As I write this post, Spring is very definitely in the air, the sun is shining in a blue sky and we hope for beautiful weather next week for the half term break.  I’ve put together a few details of events in the city, many of which are free, both indoors and outdoors so you’re covered whatever the weather!

Cambridge University Botanic Garden

One of my favourite green spaces in the city is the Cambridge University Botanic Garden and there’s lots to do here for all ages.  Spring into Yoga on 19 February offers springtime yoga sequences for 8 – 12 year olds to get bodies moving and minds focused and calm.  The Red Alert Twilight Event on 20 February is a free, drop in session where you’ll see some of the world’s most endangered plants and meet the people helping these plants to survive.  Flowers, Friendship and Wild Wonders on 22 February tells the story of a friendship – expect dancing, drama and lots of fun for 5 – 7 year olds.  And if you’re free ranging around the Botanic Garden at any time, children will love the Crazy Cone Caper, a self guided family trail.  You’ll find details of all these events on http://www.botanic.cam.ac.uk

twilight_17_preview
Image Credit: Martin Bond

If you’ve seen the movie “Night at the Museum” and wondered how it feels to wander round a museum after hours, now’s your chance to find out at Cambridge University’s “Twilight at the Museums” event.  Explore fourteen local museums and collections after dark on 20 February from 4.30 – 7.30pm and experience these spaces and collections in a different way.  This is a free, drop in event for families with activities and themed trails across the venues, most of which are just a short walk apart.  So wrap up warm and bring a torch to help you explore those darker corners.  Visit www.museums.cam.ac.uk for full details.

Kettle's Yard Studio Sunday
Image credit: Kettle’s Yard

Kettle’s Yard On Castle Hill has plenty lined up for the break, starting with Studio Sunday, a free, drop in artist-led workshop for families on 17 February.  On 19 February, they are running a Collage Workshop for 8 – 12 year olds and a free Portfolio Afternoon for those aged 13+ who’d like to work with a professional artist to develop their drawing practice and their portfolio.  From 21 – 24 February there’ll be free drop in drawing activities each afternoon, suitable for all ages and abilities, in the Clore Learning Studio.  Or come and explore spirals, webs and weaving at the free, drop in Dream Weaver Community Day on 23 February.  Further details of all these and booking, where booking is necessary, on http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk

Heffers Bookshop Cambridge

Heffers Booksellers are a Cambridge institution – they’ve been selling books in the city for over 140 years.  Children’s at Heffers is offering a number of free events over half term so you can meet authors, join in fun activities and enjoy Story Time.  See the photo for details and book your place via http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/heffersbookshop

Have a great half term break!!

 

 

 

 

Cambridge Literary Festival

One of the things I love most about writing for my blog and this column is the people I meet.  People who are getting on with their daily lives, have that light bulb moment and just go for it to create something wonderful in the city.  People like Cathy Moore, founder of the Cambridge Literary Festival.

Cambridge Literary Festival logo

Cathy first came to the city to read History at Newnham College and was only the second person from her Liverpool comprehensive school to make it to the University of Cambridge. She also loved English and books so after graduation, Cathy built a career in publishing before taking some time out to be with her young family.  A spell in teaching followed but Cathy returned to Cambridge and books, working part time in Waterstones and running their programme of events.  That’s where she met writer Ali Smith and as the two of them chatted about the Hay Literary Festival, they wondered why there wasn’t a similar event in Cambridge.

Cambridge Literary Festival
Image credit:  Chris Boland

Within months, Cathy had created Wordfest, doing everything herself and setting up twenty four events in three venues.  That was back in March 2003.  “There were about sixty literary festivals then”, Cathy tells me, “and now there are around four hundred in the UK, so we’re all in competition for the authors.”  Wordfest grew, events regularly sold out and initiatives like the debut writers panel made it truly a festival for writers as well as readers.  After gaining charitable status, Wordfest rebranded as Cambridge Literary Festival in 2014.  It now brings Spring and Winter festivals to the city as well as one-off events through the year and since 2017 has delivered the Wimpole History Festival in partnership with the National Trust.

These days, Cathy isn’t doing everything herself!  She and her small team have an office in Downing Place and they have strong support from patrons, media partnerships and sponsors.  A band of volunteer stewards welcomes the many thousands of festival goers and enables events to run smoothly for both authors and audiences.  More volunteers are always welcome so if you’re interested in giving your time (and enjoying some volunteer perks!), contact the team through the website.

Cambridge Literary Festival
Image credit: Chris Boland

 

Festival venues this year include several beautiful university spaces which are normally hidden from public view.  Refreshments will be available at most of these so you can grab a quick drink and a snack between events.  Heffers run a bookstall and there are author signings too.

I’m really excited for this winter’s Festival; it’s always a fun, buzzy weekend and the packed programme truly offers something for everyone, including a brand new Murder Mystery Musical from Sophie Hannah which sounds intriguing!  You’ll find details of what’s on and a booking facility through the Festival website at www.cambridgeliteraryfestival.com

 

This post is part of my “New in Cambridge” column in the November issue of Velvet Magazine.  Read more on http://www.velvetmag.co.uk