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20 things to do with kids this October half term

Half term’s looming but don’t be afraid – we’ve sorted the fun with 20 brilliant things to do in Essex to keep everyone from littlies to teens spook-tacularly entertained!

ACTION: Ice skating Disco, Riverside Leisure Centre, Chelmsford

We’ve all had a rough ride over the last 18 months or so but teens maybe more than others. So an ice-skating disco – complete with cool lighting effects  – is a great way for them to let their hair down and have a laugh with their mates. Want to get in on the fun, too? No probs – they’ve got sessions for grown-ups, littlies, the whole family. But if you want to give your tweens some space, you could always take your younger homies to the Centre’s swimming pools for a go on the flume (I’m a sucker for a water slide!).

FAIR: Pumpkin Nights, Marsh Farm, Chelmsford, until 31 Oct

One of the best places in the county to pick your own pumpkin, there’s a whole lot more than PYO going on at Marsh Farm this half term. Take a stroll around Pumpkin Village as thousands of the autumnal fruits (that’s right, pumpkins are definitely fruit – I looked it up) light the way, before checking out the fun fair, including a haunted house and dodgems. Bit chilly? Warm up your brood with a spooky-themed drink and devilish treat from the Pumpkin Snack Shack.

EXHIBITION: Space Fact And Fiction, Braintree Museum, Braintree, now until 11 Dec

Calling all space cadets – now’s your chance to get up close to a Dr Who Tardis (on my bucket list), Storm Trooper and Martian War Machine from War of the Worlds; see some real meteorites that, like, actually fell to Earth; and find out how to become an astronaut. You’ll also get to explore space-related connections to Essex, from fabrics produced by Warner & Sons (see above) to commemorate the first moon landing in 1969 to Gustav Holst writing his orchestral suite The Planets in Thaxted. Bet you didn’t know that, eh? Well, there’s loads more cosmic facts where that came from!

LITTLIES: Halloween Special, Audley End Miniature Railway, Saffron Walden, 23–31 Oct 

Gather your little monsters, ahem, darlings, for a ghoulishly good day out, kicking off with a ride on the Halloween Express train (my favourite bit). Chugging deep into the woodland, you’ll arrive at the witches’ house where the chirpy hags will be chanting spells around their cauldrons. And that’s just for starters – you’ll also meet a fortune teller and explore the adventure play area, all decked out with twinkling lights, before helping the local Wizard perform his spook-tacular spell to keep the woodland creatures all warm and cosy. There’s a daily fancy dress competition too, natch, so better get that sewing machine out. 

THRILLS: The Trail of Terror, Colchester Zoo, 23–30 Oct

Tweens reckon they’re too grown up for a zoo trip? This nail-biting event will have them doing a 360! Colchester Zoo (Muddy Award winner 2021, no less) will close up shop and tuck up the residents (so no animal viewings), before opening at 6.30pm for a night of frights galore! From rustling bushes to masked monsters and screaming scarers, they could get you anytime and anywhere. Not recommended for under-12s but it’s up to your discretion, though understandably under-fives are a strict no-no. Don’t worry – scroll down for the zoo’s Shriek Week, which is great for littlies.

ACTIVE: Holiday Fun, Firstsite, Colchester, 23–31 Oct

From free sports to creative workshops, this Colchester family hotspot has a huge array of activities ready to roll this half term. Our pick? The gallery’s Move programme, which gets the kids out and about for a fun dose of active play. Exact dates and times are yet to be announced, so keep checking the website here for the full line-up.

FARM FUN: Halloween-Fest, Barleylands Farm Park, Billericay, 23–31 Oct

Book your pint-sized thrill seekers up for Barleyland’s Halloween Fest for loads of fun and frightening (but not too frightening) activities, including a spellbinding story time, broomstick making, spooky tractor rides and their haunted farmer’s labyrinth. There’s also a chance for your little ones (or you) to face their fears when they meet the snakes, tarantulas and other creepy critters in the Reptile House. As always, there’ll be a free pumpkin for every child to take home with them.

ADVENTURE TRAIL: The Wizards of Once Halloween Quest, Audley End House, Saffron Walden, 23–31 Oct

Illustrations C Cressida Cowell

Always a hit with littlies and grown-ups alike, this month you’ll find a brand-new adventure trail inspired by Cressida Cowell’s Wizards of Once series. Your mini monster hunters will get on-the-job training as they explore the grounds of Audley End to take part in all manner of activities. Get busy with face paints and deck your nippers out in fancy dress, and they might scoop a prize. Either way, it’s sure to be a wizard day out!

FAMILY FUN: Shriek Week, Colchester Zoo, Colchester, 23-31 Oct

Hit the county’s largest zoo for some fang-tastic Halloween-themed activities. With everything from terror-ific trails and Glow shows to pirate covens and gruesome games, your little ones will have an absolute scream (the good kind). Our must-do? The pumpkin carving workshop, which starts at a pick-your-own path by spooky All Saints Church and ends in an edible (hopefully) masterpiece. Ooh, and the Runaway Ghost Train Ride is another must. There’s also a witches coven to join, which sounds positively spellbinding.

ACTION: Shriek Week, Wild Forest, Brentwood, 24–31 Oct

Got adrenaline-loving littlies and teens in your clan? Well here’s something that will keep both camps happy (plus grown-ups too). Pint-sized adventurers (age 6–10) will have loads of muddy fun as they plough through this pumpkin-packed obstacle course, while bigger kids (11+) can burn off tween-age angst on this wild obstacle course, involving zip wires, water and a lot of mud again. You’ll be glad to know your car’s interior will be safe, as hot wash-downs are available for your mucky monsters!

FAMILY FUN: Escape Room – A Magical Mishap, Hedingham Castle, 24–31 Oct

How cool is this – an immersive, magical Escape Room situated inside a real-life castle? Dippy headmistress Redwind is in a fix – she’s managed to get stuck in one of the old paintings hanging in the Potions Room at the top of the castle, which is full of weird and wonderful magical objects. But don’t let them distract you from the mission: to follow the clues and find out how to release her from the spell, with potions, cryptic notes and puzzles along the way. Meant for 10 years and up, I reckon all the family will get a kick out of this (and littlies are welcome if they’re with their folks).

LITTLIES: Wild & Crafty, Daws Hall Trust, Bures, 27 Oct

Perfect for pint-sized adventurers, this day is all about nature investigations, campfires, den building, conservation activities and nature-inspired crafts. Kids must be accompanied by an adult, but you can still take in this 25-acre nature reserve on the Essex / Suffolk border in all its autumn glory while your offspring get on with their ‘work’. Bliss.

WORKSHOP: Wind in the Willows Workshop, Headgate Theatre, Colchester, 26–29 Oct

We all know the story of Toad of Toad Hall… now, imagine that tale punctuated by musical theatre numbers such as Greased Lightening, 9 to 5 and Money Money Money. Good, eh?! Suitable for 8–16 year olds, there’s something for everyone in this fun four-day workshop, from new mates to new skills. The Friday afternoon closes with a presentation to proud as punch parents!

ACTION: Indoor Karting, TeamSport Basildon, Basildon

If anything’s going to tear your teen away from the laptop it’ll be an adrenaline-fueled day of speeding. With over 500 meters of track and petrol karts suitable for kids (age 8 plus) and adults, it’s made for racing fanatics of the virtual and real kind. The venue has multi-level race tracks so the whole family can compete. Burn rubber, baby!

MUSIC: We Love Little Mix, Mercury Theatre, Colchester, 28 Oct

Being a mum of one 10-year-old girl, I’ve been to my fair share of Little Mix shows, and I love ’em! We Love Little Mix features four talented girls paying tribute to one of X Factor’s finest exports, cool costumes (BIG part of the show) and a pretty impressive light and video show. Most importantly, you can expect high-energy renditions of all your favourite Little Mix songs, from Salute to Shout Out to my Ex. Sadly for me, said daughter has taken early adoption of the emo stage, so look out for me down the front, singing along solo.

ART: Background Bob – Guess Who’s Back, Firstsite, Colchester, now until 9 Jan

One for the cool kids (and their hip parents, of course). The young Essex artist is back with a spanking-new exhibition, showcasing over 200 artworks by street and graffiti artists, tattooists, sculptors and fine artists. The exhibition is part of a project that began during the first lockdown, when Colchester-based artist Noah (AKA @background_bob) invited people on Insta to add their own designs to his bold artworks, which snowballed into an amazing collection of unique images. The sale of the artworks then went on to raise over £100,000 for Colchester and Ipswich Hospitals Charity. Guess who’s back! features new contributions from artists across the globe, and looks to be another incredible exhibition.

THEATRE: The Three Musketeers: A Comedy Adventure, Mercury Theatre, 29-31 Oct

In need of a sure-fire way to tempt your homies to the theatre no matter what age? Here you go! Award-winning funny men, Le Navet Bete manage to condense Dumas’ 700-page classic into two hours of non-stop comedy gold. Expect hilarious heroics, raucous romances and some bonkers fun with BMX bikes at the Muddy Award Winning Mercury Theatre (even teens can’t fail to be impressed).

WALKS: Spooky Woodland Walk, Audley End House and Gardens, Saffron Walden, 29–31 Oct

As the days shorten and the evenings grow darker, join ghost-hunting storytellers on a family-friendly walk through the shadows of these beautiful but mysterious woods and grounds. With tales full of spooky and strange goings-on, this Halloween walk is sure to get you into the spirit (see what I did there?) of the season!

THEATRE: Jekyll & Hyde, Hedingham Castle, Halstead, 29 Oct

The Pantaloons Theatre Company are back at the castle to present their horrifically innovative take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s murky tale of murder, mystery and transmogrification! When lawyer John Utterson fears that his friend Dr Jekyll is being blackmailed by the well-dodgy Mr Hyde, he begins an investigation that will lead him to the shocking truth of this strange case – but will it be too late…? Set in the spookily atmospheric Tapestry Room of the Keep, the show’s for over-12s only, and parents of a nervy disposition may want to grab a stiff brandy from the full bar available on the night!

EXHIBITIONS: Game Plan: Board Games Rediscovered, Epping FD Museum, Epping, now until 24 Dec

How to convince your offspring that, like puppies, boardgames aren’t just for Christmas? Get them over to this free interactive exhibition, on loan from the V&A’s Museum of Childhood. Alongside family favourites such as Trivial Pursuit, the exhibition will look at beautifully designed games from the 18th and 19th centuries. With hands-on activities and the chance to become part of one big interactive game, come and get your game face on.

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