30+ things to do for kids of all ages this May half term
Will Essex's children be bored senseless, running circles around the kitchen table? Not on our watch! We've got exhibitions, festivals, and fun galore for teens and tots alike.
Fancy some amazing food, tonnes of activities, and a day out in the sun? If the answer is ‘er, yeah!’, then book into a festival, stat. We’re excited about the Coggeshall Summer Festival on 4 June, celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Little ones will be dazzled by the RAF Spitfire display, dog show, kids characters meet-and-greet, and crafts. Grown-ups will be delighted by the gin and cocktail bar, wine bar, outdoor screenings, and vintage cars. Fun for, dare we say it, the whole family.
You can also visit the annual Chelmsford Festival, which promises a full month of arts and entertainment, though for half term you’ll want to hot-foot it to the launch on 3 June. This will see Chelmsford High Street awash with live music, dancing, bright outfits and lots of activities.
Another ongoing festival to know about is the Summer of Culture, a broad series of activities, talks and events across Essex, including a guided tour of Chelmsford’s royal connections on 3 June in honour of the Jubilee. Keep an eye on the schedule throughout the summer to see what’s on.
In partnership with the Summer of Culture is the Essex Book Festival, taking place from 1 to 30 June, which again offers a range of events and workshops throughout the month. For half term, head to its Greenwood Words event in Burnham-on-Crouch on 2 June, a free afternoon involving storytelling, family arts and crafts workshops all focusing on The Natural World, pop-up writing desks, and the opportunity to Plant Your Own Jubilee Acorn. Good, wholesome, free fun.
For something a bit different (that’ll make train-mad children over the moon), head to the East Anglia Railway Museum for its Transport Extravaganza on the 28-29 May. Expect all the stops pulled with unlimited steam train rides, vintage cars, a children’s playground, and 10 acres to run amok in.
INTO THE WILD
Want to get them more in touch with the natural world? We know just the thing: Audley End Miniature Railway is hosting its annual Wildlife Week from 28 May to 5 June. Teaching kids all about the big world of little creatures, this involves bird boxes, bug hotels, sneakily educational worksheets, and an extra dose of whimsy thanks to fairy and elf walks. All on top of, of course, the ever-pleasing into-the-woods miniature train ride.
A visit to the zoo is always a good idea, but with special half term activities on offer half term is an especially good time to visit Colchester Zoo. From 28 May to 5 June, as well as the 180 types of animals to see, there will be dancing mascots, a regal activity trail to complete, and cream teas in honour of the Jubilee.
Not enough nature? There’s a whole host of things on offer with The Essex Wildlife Trust this half term. Head on a Thameside Jubilee Trail near Stanford-le-Hope between 28 May and 5 June for an interactive riverside trail with a prize. There’s also a Forest School drop-off day for over fives at Belfairs Woods on 30 May: making shelters, climbing trees — charming stuff. Or, have your kid work on their best detective skills at Abberton Nature Detective on 31 May, where they’ll hunt for footprints, complete the scavenger hunt, look for birds, dissect owl pellets, and check out some animal artefacts. Also on 31 May is Thorndon Buzzing Bees Crafts, near Brentwood, where kids (accompanied by an adult) will create a bee hotel out of wood.
Fancy something arty-farty? Oh yes, darling, our children love a bit of high culture. At least, they’ll love the interactive excitement of tracking down the different pieces of art on offer at this year’s Brentwood Art Trail, launching 4 June and on until 26 June. Featuring cool contemporary art on display in venues across the town, pop-up galleries, and interactive workshops, this is a really great celebration of local talent, and way to get the kids interested.
You can also catch the tail-end of Firstsite in Colchester’s Keep Being Amazing exhibition, ending 6 June. Colourful and energetic, this celebrates holiday fun with artworks forming a kaleidoscope of colour and plenty of crafts. It’s vibrant, interactive, and engaging for little kids and cynical adults alike.
To get them involved in a different sort of art, book ’em into Theatre Camp at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, running 1-3 June. With improv skills, storytelling, and a load of play and props, this should tucker them out nicely.
Over at the Museum of Power near Maldon, there’s a really underrated selection of educational exhibits on steam pumps, Victorian gadgets, and vintage vehicles. Plus, a tonne of half-term activities on offer: river dipping, rock painting, spring crafts and more, from 1-5 June.
Perhaps your kids are of the opinion that if it ain’t got scales and died 66 million years ago, it ain’t worth their attention. Just for them, we have two dinosaur events to pick from this half term (or, indeed, attend both). From 28 May to 3 June, Lee Valley Animal Adventure Park at Waltham Abbey is holding its Big Dinosaur Day Out. Guests can meet dinosaurs, learn facts, and dig for prehistoric fossils – and that’s on top of the usual Lee Valley favourites.
Meanwhile from 28 May to 5 June it’s time for Dinosaurs Unleashed at Old MacDonald’s Farm & Fun Park near Brentwood. Here you can get up close and personal with their realistic six-foot dinosaur (and some of his mischievous babies), complete a dino trail for prizes, and learn How to Train Your Dinosaur.
Fancy a bit of multifaceted fun in the open air? You’ll want to try the Royal Half-Term at Barleylands Farm Park near Billericay, 28 May – 5 June. As well as all the usual farmyard hits, this promises meet-and-greets with familiar princesses, arts and crafts, magic shows, and more.
Or, enjoy even more fairy tale fun at Nevendon Manor’s Once Upon a Time interactive showcase, near Wickford. Set across the Manor’s grounds on 28 May, this will see a whole host of beloved characters come to life and interacting with visitors.
TO ENTICE TEENS
Teens are usually a tough crowd, but even they may raise an interested eyebrow at this – a whirl around Brentwood Go Karting. Billed as the South-East’s widest and fastest outdoor go karting race track, suitable for enthusiasts of all skill levels, you could always don a helmet and show them how it’s done, as you yell, “Eat my dust, baby!”
Even the most devoted video gamers will unplug for a day spent at Laser Mayhem, in Abridge. With all-bells-whistling infra-red equipment and 20 different playing fields, complete with life-size propers (think 38-ton tanks and you’re on the right track), it’s like playing a computer game but in real life.
And finally for those who like their thrills with lots of spills, make a beeline for the Lee Valley White Water Centre in Waltham Cross (a teeny hop across the border to Herts). As this adventure lovers go-to, you can try out white water rafting, tubing or hydrospeeding on the rapids.
THE BIG SMOKE
Fancy a day-trip to London this half term? We won’t pretend to list everything on offer in the capital, but we have a few choice kid-friendly picks. Firstly: the return of Dippy, everyone’s favourite dinosaur, at The National History Museum from 27 May. While you’re there, there’s a great exhibition on Our Broken Planet: How We Got Here and Ways to Fix It.
Over in Greenwich, the Cutty Sark is running specific May half term events from 30 May to 3 June: learning how to sail, fun character actors, all about flag signalling, and more.
And, of course, it’s impossible to forget about the Jubilee celebrations. On 2 June, The Queen’s Birthday Parade will feature over 1,400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians going down The Mall, as well as RAF fly-bys. Then, on 5 June, more than 6,500 performers will be dancing, singing, and celebrating outside Buckingham Palace for The Queen’s Pageant, with a starry list of celebs including Ed Sheeran, Sir Cliff Richard, Gary Lineker, Bill Bailey, and Gok Wan. (Dazzle the kids, then indulge in some shopping for mum…?)