I never expected to feel so relaxed during our 7 day holiday to Florida

*This is a paid collaborative post. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Our recent trip to Florida spanned just 7 days and we packed as much fun into our holiday as possible. Our days were jam-packed and we certainly enjoyed lots of thrills and excitement. After lots of research before our holiday, I knew we were going to have an amazing trip but one thing I just did not expect from a holiday to the theme park capital of the world was there would be so many relaxing moments. 

Kata's Kookaburra Cove | Aquatica, Orlando

However, across the week I experienced multiple moments of relaxation and at times, I was certainly able to completely switch off from the world. There are in fact multiple ways to relax at the SeaWorld Parks and today I’m sharing a couple of my most relaxing moments from our break. 

Discovery Cove, Orlando

How to Relax at The SeaWorld Parks

We visited Florida at the end of August. Most American children have gone back to school at this time of year and the weather is hot and humid. Prior to our trip I pictured packed theme parks, long queues and lots of hot and sweaty bodies. Honestly, this wasn’t the case at all. The SeaWorld Parks are designed so there is plenty of shade and there are complimentary water points dotted about to keep you hydrated. We watched a couple of shows at SeaWorld (Dolphin Days was our favourite) and were able to sit out of the direct sun and just relax - I 100% expected to be sitting out in the blistering heat during show times and was pleasantly surprised to find some shade. A couple of the theme park shows are indoors with comfortable seating and air conditioning too. Our favourite show from our trip was ‘Turn It Up’ at Busch Gardens - a fabulous indoor ice show with professional skaters. We watched the final performance of the day and found this to be a perfect way to relax and reflect on our day before leaving the park. I’d definitely recommend planning your day around show timings as these are a really nice way to rest and relax as well as escape the sunshine.

Dolphin Days Show | SeaWorld, Orlando

The parks we visited were super spacious, spotlessly clean and filled with beautiful plants and flowers. Again, not the concrete and metal-filled jungle I expected. One special memory from the trip is us all sitting down by some pretty flowers and sharing a couple of frozen lemonades from pineapples at Busch Gardens in the sunshine. Bliss! There was certainly no rushing around at the theme parks and there was plenty of time for us to take things at our own pace. 

Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay

How to Relax at Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove is like nowhere else in Orlando. Spending a day at this all-inclusive resort has to be the ultimate way to relax. First of all, food and drink is included with admission which takes away the stress of budgeting or planning for meals. I loved being able to help myself to a frozen cherry Fanta or order a beer and relax on a sun lounger in the beach area and the kids couldn’t get enough of the freshly baked pretzels and snacks you could help yourself to. Our whole day at Discovery Cove was set to a relaxed pace and we really enjoyed floating around Wind-Away river and snorkelling with tropical fish and rays at our leisure. We hired a Cabana which really enhanced our stay and I’d recommend doing this if you’d like some extra privacy. Our Cabana included our own mini fridge which was re-stocked with drinks throughout the day, a personal locker, comfortable sun loungers, seating and the piece de resistance - our own personal hammock. If I could have smuggled this hammock back in my suitcase I would have - sooooo comfortable! If you don’t splash out then don’t worry as there are plenty of sun loungers dotted around the North Beach and Serenity Bay areas. 

Discovery Cove, Orlando

Discovery Cove is such a beautiful resort. You’ll walk past stunning waterfalls, swim through magical caves and marvel at the tropical birds flying above. The waters are crystal clear and because numbers are strictly limited, it’s never too busy or overcrowded. We especially enjoyed the special Sunken Terrace area within Freshwater Oasis where you can enjoy a drink sitting in the in-water chairs after you’ve visited the otters and marmoset monkeys. Spending a day at Discovery Cove really feels as if you are on some sort of tropical island and it’s easy to forget you’re in the heart of Orlando. 

Discovery Cove, Orlando

How to Relax at Aquatica

Aquatica is the park in Florida that we felt really had it all. This water park has the biggest thrills (I’ll never forget free falling after the floor disappears as part of Ihu’s Breakaway Falls), lots of options for families but also plenty of opportunities to relax too. Roa’s Rapids and Loggerhead Lane are two river rides that do all of the hard work for you. On Loggerhead Lane simply float around and relax in an inflatable ring as you drift past beautiful surroundings, an aquarium and even Commerson’s dolphins. I could easily spend the whole day just staying in this part of the park and did feel completely chilled. Harry, Heidi and Jack really enjoyed it too and continuously begged us to go around just ‘one last time’. 

Loggerhead Lane | Aquatica, Orlando

For parents with older children, you’ll find that Aquatica is home to Orlando’s very own beach. There are certainly worse things in life than relaxing under a parasol with a good book to the sound of waves as your teens explore the slides at their leisure. There are smaller water play areas dotted about the park for younger children too and I loved just relaxing in the shallow pool as I watched Harry, Heidi and Jack spend some time enjoying the smaller slides (which they loved by the way).
Aquatica, Orlando

How to Relax at your Hotel

We stayed at the Renaissance at SeaWorld which is perfectly located to explore SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica as they’re all pretty much on your doorstep (less drive time also equals a more relaxing holiday in my experience). We found this hotel to be perfect for families, especially as the hotel pool was open until midnight every evening. The hotel also has it’s own spa where I sneakily escaped to on a couple of occasions to enjoy a couple of treatments. I highly recommend the spa’s steam room or one of the hotel’s outdoor spa pools if you’re suffering from aching limbs. Children are allowed in the spa pools as long as they’re supervised and it was lovely all being able to relax together after a day on our feet. 

Aquatica, Orlando
Would I recommend Florida to families looking for a relaxing holiday? Before our trip there is no way I’d have even suggested a trip but after experiencing some of what Florida has to offer for myself, I certainly wouldn’t discount it. From relaxing in hammocks and watching beautiful sunsets together to floating around lazy rivers, experiencing first class service and enjoying professional shows, there’s certainly a lot more to Florida than rollercoasters.


Why I allow my kids to take their mobile phones to school & how to keep them safe

*This is a collaborative post. Please see my disclosure policy for details. 

Harry turned 11 last week and was over the moon with his first proper mobile phone. Honestly, I have no idea where the time goes. It feels like it was just yesterday that he relied on me for everything and now he's at the age where he is starting to gain a little more independence. I have never been the type of parent to wrap my children up in cotton wool and do try and give them freedom where possible (and within reason). This summer Harry and Heidi made their first solo trip to Aldi with instructions to 'buy something for lunch'. It did make me giggle when they returned with a loaf of bread and a raw chicken to make chicken sandwiches. They did survive though and definitely gained from the experience. Harry will now occasionally stay at home by himself when I pop to the shops or my mam's house and he loves being trusted enough to do this.

I also applied for Harry's High School place last week and we have our first meeting there next week. Our local High School is a 1.5 mile and 30-minute walk from our house and in the opposite direction to his younger siblings' school. Harry will be mostly walking with his friends which I'm not too concerned about but I do have some niggles I'll be discussing with the Pastoral team at his new school next week.

The official word from Harry's new school is that mobile phones are not allowed. I can see their reasoning behind this and after watching TV shows like Educating Manchester, I can definitely understand how they'd disrupt lessons. If children are caught using a mobile phone during school hours they are confiscated and taken to the school office where children can collect them at the end of the day and as a parent, I fully support this. I didn't even own a mobile phone when I went to school and survived to tell the tale but I do think that if new technologies are available to us, we should use them and that's why I'll be allowing Harry to take his mobile phone to High School next year - as long as he promises it stays in his bag until home time. I like the extra reassurance a mobile phone offers - if he's going to be late home or wants to pop to a friends house or a friends house after school he can simply send a quick text and stop us from any unnecessary worry.

'A survey of almost 1000 children across 29 countries found that most children had their own mobile phone from age 9' - New York Times

I will allow Harry to take his mobile phone to High School but I still have concerns:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Harry watching unsuitable content
  • Easy access to Social Media before he's ready
  • Mobile phone theft 
  • Inappropriate contact from strangers
  • Mobile phone addiction

Allowing your children to take a mobile phone to school does open a can of worms. My first worry is Cyberbullying. The best way to combat this I think is to have open and honest discussions both with your children, their friends, other parents and the school. We have set Harry super clear ground rules to follow and he knows the consequences if he doesn't.

Harry is growing up and I know that he is probably going to stumble upon (or even search for) unsuitable content on the internet at some point. As parents, we can install family security software such as Kaspersky to devices. Kaspersky can be installed on multiple devices and can be set up to alert parents when a page has been opened that is potentially unsuitable. It also records a child's search history and warns parents if a child tries to disable the app. As Harry grows older and is aged 16+ I will probably offer him more privacy but while he is still a child, I definitely feel more comfortable having this extra peace of mind and being able to monitor what he is looking at online.

'Children are in danger of seeing social media like sweeties and their online time like junk food' - Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield

Most Social Media sites state that you must be aged at least 13+ to sign up. After walking to school with other children though, I know in practice that this is not the case. Harry does have his own Twitter and YouTube account and it's something that both Steve and I monitor and have the password to. I don't feel comfortable with him having his own Instagram or Facebook account yet and will probably wait until the recommended age of 13 before allowing him to sign up to those sites. The government has published official advice on how to deal with children using Social Media here. 

Mobile phone theft is a real worry to me. I would obviously be upset if I spent hundreds of pounds on Harry's phone only for it to be stolen but I'd also be worried about the impact it would have on Harry himself along with the access anyone would have personal bank details and passwords. Almost half a million Brits had their phone stolen in 2016 but there are measures you can take to ensure your children aren't part of this statistic:
  • Ensure your children uses a pin code and does not leave their phone lying around in a public place
  • Use security such as Kaspersky software to keep passwords safe 
  • Don't buy expensive and top of the range phones which are more lucrative to thieves
  • Use a tracking device on phones

Inappropriate contact from strangers is probably most parents' worst fear. The NSPCC has released lots of very good advice on how to keep your children safe online and their website includes a couple of games you can use together with your children to help educate them on the importance of online safety. You can set up parental controls and sign up to a parent e-safety course too.

'Children as young as 13 are attending 'smartphone rehab' as concerns grow over screen time' - The Independent 

Finally, mobile addiction is a real thing. In fact, I'm sure I've fallen foul to it myself. Harry is still only 11 and I really don't want him to spend his life through his mobile phone screen. We have an 'after school routine' pinned to our fridge that specifies when our three can play online. It's a set time each day and they do manage to stick to this. You can also set up parental controls to stop children spending too long online and of course plan lots of other activities such as Forest School, woodland walks and local days out. I hope when Harry walks home from school he still gets to ride his bike, chat and fool around with friends and even run home in a storm just like I did when I was a child and hope he isn't going to have his head stuck in his phone the whole time. 

Harry's happy face when he received a new mobile phone for his birthday this year

Children taking their mobile phone to school is considered 'the norm' these days and personally, I still think the benefits outweigh the risks but as parents it's super important for us to be aware of the risks involved with allowing children potential unsupervised time online and for us to stay open, honest and vigilant with the whole family. 

Over the next few months in preparation for Harry joining High School next year, we'll be utilising all of the research suggested by the NSPCC and the Government in this article and getting to grips with security software such as Kaspersky too. I think it's important to remember though that even with your best efforts, there are still always going to be risks. Remember to update security software and updates as soon as possible, create an online contract with your children and talk regularly about the risks.

Do you allow your children to take their mobile phone to school? How have you minimised the risks? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


What's On in the North East for Kids & Families | 30 September & 1 October 2017

We'll welcome October this weekend and I can't wait! As I type this up I am surrounded with conkers that Heidi and Jack have been collecting from our street tonight. They have quite the haul! It definitely feels like we're well and truly ready for autumn. I'll link to some of my other autumnal posts at the end of this post if you're looking for more inspiration but for now, here are a few ideas for the weekend:

30 September | Funny Stuff for Happy People Kids Comedy | Arts Centre Washington

An hour of comedy, funny stuff, circus, storytelling and silly science with Martin Mor. Find out more here

30 September - 1 October | Harvest Festival | Beamish

Join Beamish for their annual harvest with stunning displays, live music, entertainment and crafts. Find out more here.

1 October | Age friendly Museum Day | Segedenum Roman Fort 

For one day only, over 55's will be admitted to the museum free of charge. Find out more

1 October | Shildon Vintage Vehicle Rally | National Railway Museum at Shildon

FREE admission and FREE parking. Enjoy a wide variety of vehicles from across the 20th Century. Find out more

1 October | Family fun day at Raich Carter | Raich Carter Sports Centre, Sunderland 

£1 entry and you can stay all day. There'll be bouncy castles, raffles, refreshments, soft play, table tennis, free swims and more......Find out more 

1 October | Do Not Enter the Zoo | Sage Gateshead 

Join the Sage for live theatre, music (with a monster band) and lots of fun for children aged 7 and below.  Find out more here

1 October | The Walled Garden Feast | Preston Park

Celebrate harvest in the walled garden in association with Taste of the Tees festival. Find out more here

1 October | Grandparents Day | Whitehouse Farm 

Up to 2 grandparents can enter Whitehouse for FREE when visiting with one paying child today in celebration of National Grandparents Day. Grandparents will also receive a voucher for a free cup of tea/coffee from the cafe. Find out more

Did you see my autumn clothes haul? I went a little wild and spent £120 in Primark. Here's what I bought for myself, Steve and the kids.......

Have a good weekend! We have LOTS of fun planned - follow my Instagram stories if you'd like to see what we're up to. 

Christmas 2017 - Our plans so far

I know, I know......another Christmas post. But the early bird really does catch the worm at this time of year and some festive attractions have already sold out!! I will probably add to this list but I've decided to share a list of the activities and events we've booked so far........

Alice in Wonderland at Northern Stage

I love, love, love Christmas at Northern Stage. Their Christmas shows are perfect for families who aren't really into traditional panto but still want to experience some theatrical magic. I already know that Alice in Wonderland will not disappoint but it's going to be hard to top last year's James and the Giant Peach. Tickets are available here. 

Father Christmas visit at Wallington Hall

Despite loving Christmas, we've yet to visit Father Christmas at a National Trust property. We decided on Wallington Hall as the old house feels like it will be the perfect setting. Let me know if you've been! Tickets are available here. 

Manchester Christmas Markets with the girls

I've ALWAYS wanted to visit Manchester Christmas Markets and I'm so excited that we've finally agreed to make the trip this year. We're only staying over on Friday night but it's with my oldest friends and I can't wait. Bring on the mulled wine!! Find out more here.

A Christmas meal at Jesmond Dene House with friends

I think this was the first Christmassy thing I booked - as a special treat for my birthday weekend I'm getting dressed up and visiting Jesmond Dene House for the night with 10 of my North East pals. I can't wait to see everyone all glam and to enjoy some of the best food and wine in Newcastle. Check out Jesmond Dene House at Christmas here. 

Newcastle Panto Company Returns 

I think Newcastle Panto Company is on the other end of the scale from Northern Stage but just as enjoyable. If you're looking for a traditional panto, these guys are the best. They're back with a new show (Sleeping Beauty) and after departing ways with Tyne Theatre & Opera House last year they have a brand new venue too (an indoor theatre at Gateshead International Stadium). Their version of the twelve days of Christmas is always a Christmas highlight. Buy tickets here.

Christmas Cottage

I love a December getaway in a cottage and this year we've booked a stunning cottage in Embleton. It's just a few minutes from the sea, features a wood burning stove and even has it's own hot tub. I can't wait to relax for a few days! You can have a nosey here. (affiliate) 

Christmas and Ice Skating at Beamish

We visited Beamish at Night a few years ago and queued for ages to see Father Christmas and ended up feeling a little disappointed if I'm honest. We're determined to give Beamish another go though as so many people do rave about it. We're planning a daytime visit this time and we can't wait to have a spin on their real ice rink (when I say we - I mean Steve and Heidi). Buy tickets here. 

An Enchanted Christmas at Belsay Hall

As soon as this event popped up in my news feed I knew I needed to book ASAP. I love evening events and as Belsay Hall is our favourite English Heritage property, I think we're going to love it. There's a garden walk lit by fairy lights, vintage fairground rides and mulled wine for sale. Oh it will be lush if it snows a little too! Buy tickets here. 

A Big Christmas Meal at Evan's Bistro, Whitley Bay

Unfortunately, due to there being so many of us and a lot of my family working shifts, we can never all get together on Christmas day (that would be my dream) so instead I usually organise a big Christmas Meal where all of our friends and family get together for the afternoon. This year we've picked Evan's Bistro as they have board games to keep the kids entertained and I know the food will be spot on (it helps that my brother is the executive chef). You can follow Evan's Bistro on Facebook here. 

If you LOVE Christmas, please check out my Mrs Mulled Wine Facebook page and join our 'We Love Christmas - North East England' Facebook group here. 

Do you have anything booked yet? 

Maps International - Ideal gifts for children, teens & grown-ups who love to travel

During our flight to Florida last month, my three were obsessed with the little map on their personal TV that showed them exactly where our plane was positioned and our expected route to destination. They've always loved maps and learning about the world - geography never seems like a chore for them. Maps International share this passion and when I received one of their press releases recently, I knew their map gifts would also be of interest to my lovely readers. Maps International agreed and have kindly provided us with a beautiful gift map bundle to giveaway to one lucky reader below, but first, let's take a look at some of the children's gifts they have for sale this Christmas:

Scratch the World Map - from £20 | Buy here

Kids Cartoon Map - from £25 | Buy here
Kids Glow in the Dark Map - from £30 | Buy here
Kids Doodle Map with Crayons - £24 | Buy here
Kids Animal Map of the World - £26 | Buy here

These are just a few of the gift maps available. There's something for all ages from football stadium maps to butterfly maps and even dinosaur maps. Check out the full range here. 

Maps International Giveaway

Maps International have provided us with a children's map bundle to giveaway to one lucky reader. The prize is worth £50 and includes 1 x Doodle Map and 1 x Unframed Animal Map of the World. UK postage is included. To enter, simply complete the rafflecopter below. Daily entry is available via Twitter.

*Prize is a £50 map bundle (doodle map and unframed animal map) which can be posted anywhere in the UK
*Prize may be substituted for something of a similar type/value if necessary
*One winner will be selected at random from all valid entries and contacted via email
*Giveaway ends at midnight on 29/10/17
*No cash alternative, prize is non-transferrable and refunds can not be provided. 
*Giveaway is open to over 18s only and excludes family members and colleagues of Maps International and North East Family Fun

What's On in NewcastleGateshead - The Juice Festival | FREE Activities for October Half Term 2017

*This is a collaborative post

The Juice Festival returns to NewcastleGateshead this October half term with a jam-packed 9 days of fun, theatre, dance, arts and culture. Aimed at children and their families plus young people under 25, the festival is thought-provoking, inspiring and offers something a little different.

Juice Festival | 20 - 28 October 2017

The theme for this year's Juice Festival is Freedom City 2017 - a city-wide programme across Newcastle marking the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King receiving an honorary degree from Newcastle University. There are over 20 events taking part in this year's festival across public spaces, arts and dance venues across NewcastleGateshead. If you fancy trying something new with the kids this October or need a break from the barrage of Halloween fun, the Juice Festival should be the first place you consider.

Juice Festival - FREE Events

Imagine That - Family Day | 26 October 11am - 3pm | Gateshead Central Library

Head to Gateshead Library with the whole family for a FREE day of high quality & creative activities. Highlights include:
  • Rapper Maxwell running freestyle rap workshops and performing throughout the day
  • House of Objects will be recycling materials into something new
  • Enjoy a multi-sensory experience where you'll travel back in time with Von Turr Salon
  • North East art collective Set of Drawers will be holding workshops
  • Real-life author Chloe Daykin (Fish Boy) will be running drop-in workshops where you can create your own pop-up book and illustrations (which will be added to the festival's pop-up exhibition)
Wow! I can't believe all of this is being offered completely FREE of charge. 26 October is definitely a date for your diary. No need to book - simply drop-in. See here for more details.

Illustrate | 20 - 28 October | Gateshead Central Library 

Inspired by the theme of freedom, pupils from Primary Schools across Gateshead have been working with local artists to create their own illustrations of mythical creatures and imaginary places. The exhibition is free to visit and special workshops will run alongside the event. Find out more here. 

Random Selection | 20 October 7:30pm (aged 15+) | Tyneside Cinema

The region's young people are invited to join Tyneside Cinema's young programming team in celebration of the best young film-making talent cross our region. Expect an evening of film, popcorn, celebration and lots of talent. There is no cost to attend this event but places should be pre-booked online here.

Circus in the City Workshops | 21 & 23 October | The Big Top (near Civic Centre)

Specifically designed to be inclusive, these workshops offer participants the chance to try an array of circus skills from hula-hoops to tightropes and spinning plates. Workshops are offered free of charge but places should be pre-booked (and are limited so be quick). Find out more & book your place here

Family Circus | 21 - 23 October | The Big Top (near Civic Centre)

Family Circus sessions are a chance for the whole family to have fun together and learn new skills. Play games with the circus performers and try using some Circus props to create your own act. Family Circus is a free event but places should be pre-booked (and are limited so be quick). Find out more and book your place here 

Circus Drop-in | 21 & 23 October | The Big Top (near Civic Centre) 

Fancy trying your hand at juggling want to try spinning plates? Pop along to the big top for your chance to try. Workshops are FREE and do not need to be pre-booked but they are available on a first come basis so if you're keen, my advice is to get there early. Sessions start at 2:30pm on Saturday and 2pm on Monday. Find out more here.

Baby Disco | 22 October 10am | The Big Top (near Civic Centre)

This special session is aimed at children aged 6 and under with their grown-ups. It's the chance to move, play and explore the circus. This event is free of charge but places should be pre-booked online. Find out more and book your place here. 

Family Acrobalance | 22 October 11:15am | The Big Top (near Civic Centre) 

I tried this at another festival with Heidi last year and it was so much fun. It's the chance to build trust and communication with your family as you balance family member on family member. Sessions are free of charge but should be pre-booked. Find out more and book your place here.

Juice Festival 2017 - Other Highlights for Families

As well as the FREE events mentioned above, there are lots of other low-cost activities happening as part of the Juice Festival across the week. Highlights include pay as you feel Circus performances, Comics Takeover at Seven Stories,  Walter at Alphabetti Theatre, Above & Beyond at Northern Stage, iPet at Northern Stage, Fairytales Gone Bad at Northern Stage, Get Crafty at Shipley Art Gallery and so much more. 


11 magical evening events that will get you in the mood for Christmas 2017

There's something exciting about getting wrapped up warm and heading out after dark to enjoy some festive magic. I've put together a list of 11 places to visit after dark this year. Let me know if you have any to add to the list.

Christmas Evenings at Beamish | 7 & 8, 14 & 15, 21 & 22 December from 4:30pm

Beamish will once again open their doors for this popular after hours event. Enjoy ice skating, mulled wine, Christmas decorations and entertainment, visiting Father Christmas in his fireside grotto, mulled wine, roast chestnuts and more..... Tickets always sell out so If you'd like to visit, I'd advise booking ASAP. Find out more and book here. 

Enchanted Belsay at Belsay Hall | 15 - 23 December 2017

Follow the fairy lights through the garden trail and experience light, sound and colour in this special evening event. You'll find traditional fairground rides, mulled wine, mince pies and Christmas shopping opportunities too. Find out more and book here. 

Fenwick's Window - date tba

It may be personal preference but I LOVE taking the kids to see Fenwick's window in the dark. We were there for the unveiling last year and absolutely loved it - the atmosphere was fantastic. I wonder what the theme will be for 2017?? Keep your eyes on the Fenwick Newcastle Facebook page for announcements.

A trip to the Panto - various dates

Our favourite after-school trip in December is a trip to the panto. We're spoilt for choice this year with new pantomimes at Times Square and Gateshead Stadium alongside traditional favourites. I'll be writing a guide to North East pantos soon so keep your eyes peeled!

Christmas by Twilight at Wallington Hall - 1, 8, 15 & 22 December

Visit Wallington after dark and see the house beautifully lit up and decorated for the festive season. Enjoy festive music in the hall, baking smells from the aga and Christmas shopping opportunities. You can book to meet Father Christmas too. Find out more here. 

Enchanted Parks - The Inventors Ball, Saltwell Park - 5 - 10 December

This popular event by NewcastleGateshead Initiative and Gateshead Council returns for 2017 with the theme 'Inventors Ball'. Specially commissioned artists will transform Saltwell Park with incredible inventions, plants and creatures. Tickets go on sale 9am 4 October and usually sell out quickly so set your alarms if you'd like to visit. Find out more here. 

Newcastle Christmas Lights Switch On - date tba

Newcastle's Christmas Light Switch On is always a popular event with street entertainment, music and lots of fun. Look out for a date announcement soon (normally the end of November). 

G4 Christmas By Candlelight - 14 December

Join G4 at Trinity Church in Gosforth for their special concert. Expect to hear timeless classics such as Silent Night alongside up-tempo numbers. These concerts raise money for the charity 'Missing People'. Find out more and book here. 

Sunderland Illuminations - 5 October - 5 November 

Roker Park will be transformed into a festival of light with a Disney theme. The park will be open every Thursday-Sunday evening from 5-10pm (plus every night during half term). Expect sparkling fairies, pirates, an art zone, helter-skelter, music and entertainment. Tickets are £1 per person. Find out more and book here. 

Christmas Spa-ty Night at Rockliffe Hall - Thursday evenings

Rockliffe Hall Spa are hosting a special Spa-ty in their stunning Spa Garden every Thursday evening throughout November & December. Enjoy a glass of mulled wine and mince pies as you relax in the spa to festive music under the night sky. Find out more and book here. 

Carols by Candlelight at Gibside - 11 & 20 December 

Wrap up warm and head to Gibside's chapel for two special evenings of festive music. Mulled wine and mince pies will be served during the interval. Find out more and book here. 

For more Christmas Inspiration, please like my Mrs Mulled Wine page on Facebook

Let me know if you have any evening events booked yet or if there are any from my list you fancy. 

There's a secret Forest School in the heart of Plessey Woods - here's how to join Footprints on the Moon

*Blogger Event Review - see my disclosure policy for details

Despite what the media tries to tell us, my children (like most) still love playing outside, exploring the great outdoors and getting nice and dirty. We enjoyed lots of outdoor fun over summer and this does not look like it's going to slow down any time soon. The weather is no deterrent for us and as long as you have the correct clothing, we believe that the great outdoors can be enjoyed in all weathers. 

So when we were invited along to a secret forest school in the middle of Plessey Woods last weekend, I knew it was going to be right up our street. Forest school is suitable for all ages and abilities and the activities are tailor-made to the group. If there are lots of young children I imagine the mud kitchen will be in full swing and older groups will be keen to challenge themselves and build their own den or use real tools. Forest School can be booked as a private event or party (fab for birthdays) and an exclusive 2 hour session can be booked from just £160 including campfire and treat (see here for full pricing and availability). We took part in a session during heavy rain and due to the natural woodland canopy plus a few strategically placed covers, the rain didn't bother us at all and we didn't end up too wet (not that the kids would have been bothered if they were). 

What to expect from Forest School with Footprints on the Moon at Plessey Woods

Forest School is held in a super secret location in the heart of Plessey Woods. There's plenty of free parking, a play ground, loos and cafe nearby. You'll be asked to meet at the visitor centre where Sarah, Annie and Rachel will meet you at your allotted time. After a quick safety briefing and a few games to help us get to know each other, we ventured into the woods. 

The setting is gorgeous and so inviting to kids and grown-ups alike. There's quite a bit of land to explore with various staffed and un-staffed stations and activities dotted about. I loved that the kids could just run off and do their own thing - there's no structure or kids being forced to do something they're not keen on - they can all choose which activities they'd like to try first. We split up for most of the afternoon with Harry and Heidi doing their own thing whilst I supervised Jack. Here are some of the activities we got up to. I still can't believe we managed to fit them all into just two hours! 

Making our own bread

The first activity my three wanted to join in with was baking bread. This is something we do fairly regularly at home and really enjoy but I think doing it in a special forest setting made it that little bit more fun. Rachel led but encouraged everyone to get involved. The dough was saved to be cooked on the campfire later in the day. 

Using real tools

There's no way I'd let them loose on our power tools at home so they loved the chance to have a try in this safe and supervised session. The children took it in turns to use saws, drills and blades and created wooden medallions and sticks for their marshmallows. Jack particularly enjoyed this and was very determined to saw through some wood all by himself and with a little guidance, he managed it. He was super proud and it was great for his self esteem. 

Woodland crafts & knot making

My three love messy play but it's something we don't do as often as they would like so when the opportunity to create forest-inspired models from clay was presented to them, they were super pleased. Heidi and Harry mostly did this when I was with Jack in the tool section and they worked super hard to make their own woodland mug and woodland piggy! They found a safe den in the forest for them to hide in when they tried the other activities and were able to bring them home at the end of the session which pleased them greatly. 

If clay isn't your thing, you could also learn how to make various types of knots and how to use them to create a hammock or string bag and there were rope courses around the forest to try too.

Den building

This is something the kids were encouraged to run off and do by themselves and this delighted Jack and his friend Charlie. I love the picture of them below as they are clearly really thinking about how they're going to build a good den. 

I loved that they worked together in a team and they really were proud of their final den (which I forgot to take a photo of - oops!).

Campfire cooking

Our session ended with us all gathering around the campfire. We'd been out in the cold and rain for over an hour and it was the perfect way to end our session. It felt super safe with plenty of adult supervision and checking that the children all knew and followed the rules. 

The photo below really sums up our afternoon - I can't remember what we were all laughing at now but I do remember the feeling and that we were all feeling nice and happy.

Mugs of warm tomato soup were handed around with chunks of our homemade bread and we ended the day toasting some marshmallows on our special sticks - perfect.

Mud kitchen 

Finally, how cool is this mud kitchen! It was a real hit with the smaller children in our group who spent time creating and getting messy. 

We packed so much into our 2 hours session, when I checked my watch on leaving I really thought we'd been there for around 4 hours. It never felt rushed and Harry, Heidi and Jack all left tired and muddy but with huge smiles on their faces. 

What really makes Forest School special for me is the staff - Annie and her team are all super passionate about the great outdoors and encouraging children to create their own adventures. It's a hard balance to keep children safe yet give them the freedom to explore AND ensure they have lots of fun. Footprints on the Moon manage to get the balance just right. The afternoon was inclusive to all with nobody feeling left out and I really believe it worked wonders for the kids' confidence and self worth. 

Footprints on the Moon offer birthday parties, private events for groups, schools and team-building, forest school and special TreeTots sessions for under 5s. Check out their website here for details


What's On in the North East for Kids & Families | 23 & 24 September 2017

This week's post is super brief - trying to write it around a couple of other deadlines AND Harry's birthday celebrations has proven quite difficult. There's plenty to choose from this weekend - we're heading to Whitley Bay for the day on Saturday where Harry and his friends are going to enjoy some time playing with VR gaming machines. Let me know what you're up to.

In case you missed them, you might like to get ahead and check out the following posts too:

From 22 September | Jurassic Kingdon Tour Newcastle

22 September | Dog Days Annual Dog Show | Backhouse Park, Sunderland

23 September | Family Clubercise Launch | Eastcoast Kickboxing

23 September | Storytelling with The Snow Queen | Enchantment Cafe Sunderland

23 - 24 September | Under the Sea | Seven Stories

24 September | The Magic Faraway Tree Story Explorers | Wharton Park

24 September | Fungal Foray | Chopwell Woods

24 September | Fungi Foray | Allen Banks

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