School’s out and here is your guide to budget-friendly family days out in Suffolk and north Essex this February half term
- Credit: Archant
Summer seems a long way off as we struggle through the Arctic-like days of February and with a long half-term break ahead it is hard to imagine just how to keep your kids busy without breaking the bank.
But we have a weeks worth of fun ideas to keep you and the children entertained, without blowing the budget.
If the weather is good, make the most of it and get out and about, and switch the schedule around when the rain comes down and tries to spoil your fun.
Sian Partridge, mum to two young boys, suggests making use of the junior movie sessions hosted at most cinemas during the holidays.
You may also want to watch:
“We go to the Movies for Juniors at Cineworld,” she said.
Films may not be recent, but there is usually a choice of two or three so you should be able to find something new to you and your children.
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Sit back, pop out some treats and enjoy.
And in the afternoon, how about some fun at home?
“We usually have a Lego day at home,” said Sian.
Encourage your children to set their imagination free and see what they create.
Provided the rain has held off, why not throw caution to the wind and pretend it is summer?
“We go to Heybridge Basin on high tide to do some crabbing,” said Heather Ball, a mum of two from Witham.
“Parking is free and there’s a good play area as well.”
Felixstowe Ferry is another crabbing hotspot, with parking just a couple of pounds and with miles of stunning coastline in Suffolk and north Essex, you shouldn’t have to travel too far to find a jetty you can use for crabbing.
Admittedly you won’t be able to spend all day there as you would in the summer but warm clothes, a hat and a pair of gloves should keep the cold out for an hour or two.
And as the crabs start biting, your kids will forget is actually mid-winter and get lost in the excitement.
Anne Francies suggests taking a camping stove and having an outdoor, winter picnic - sausage sandwiches with baked beans are firm favourites with her twin daughters.
Midway through and the ideas are starting to run dry - but you don’t have to in charge of entertainment everyday. Why not take advantage of one of the educational days held at nature reserves and country parks right across the region.
At Lackford Lake you can learn to build a bird box, for just £5 per family. Or take part in the Stig of the Dump fun day at Arger Fen, Assington for just £2.50 per person.
Children aged 10 to 15 can learn what it is like to be a warden at Foxburrow Farm, cost £6 per person.
You can visit RSPB Minsmere and build a nestbox any day this week - costing £5 per box.
Katie Blackmore, whose children are two and seven, said: “Wild Wednesday at Danbury Lakes is awesome.” These fun sessions run from 11am to 2pm,.
Katie advises: “In winter months park in the first car park and follow signs into the woods. It’s very, very, very muddy but great fun.
“They usually have a fire so take some marshmallows!”
If half-term is turning into more of a battle than a relaxing week off, why not call on your friends for some moral support?
Louise Edwards, of Coggeshall, has teenage children and she said: “We used to meet up with friends and each person would plan one activity, like a Scavenger Hunt, that all the kids do.”
You could all meet at one house and bring games - someone else’s toys are always more fun than your own - or work in teams and have a mini-bake off.
Or have a messy day - get out all of those arts and crafts sets that were bought at Christmas and swiftly hidden away because you couldn’t face Plaster or Paris exploding over your turkey or glitter being sprinkled over your laptop.
Cover the floor in old plastic table cloths or newspaper and go wild.
Some clever mums go one step further. Rachel Gardner, a mum-of-one, said: “I’ve been a bit cruel an hidden some in opened Christmas presents jigsaws and books he got.”
Ever tried fossil hunting? Today could be the day.
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis, from Hadleigh, said: “We took our kids to Walton on the Naze a few weeks back fossil hunting.
“Park at the Naze Tower, follow the steps down and head left. There are loads of unusual rock pools in the clay carved out by the sea to explore.
“It was freezing when we went but we wrapped up warm and they loved it - we came home with mermaid’s purses, fossilised wood and even some amber. The nearby nature reserve is a short walk and a haven for seals.
“And, best of all, you can go and get fish and chips afterwards to warm-up!”
But if it really is too cold for the beach, why not try Playworld in Stowmarket.
For Kate, mum to Matilda, five, Florence, three, and one-year-old Lizzie, it is a place of sanctuary.
“I would love to pretend my children are content to colour or stick an assortment of food cartons together to create mythical creatures for hours on end. That would be a lie.
“So on a rainy day, or a bleak winter morning, I need a contingency.
“We enjoy the Playworld at Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre in Stowmarket. It underwent a £200,000 refurbishment last year and in my opinion, is the best space on offer. There are various play areas to suit each age and a good café to restore my nerves. It is especially good in the summer months because the entrance fee also includes use of the main hall, with go-karts, bouncy castle and sports zone. It’s a great place to keep the children entertained while the storm clouds pass. If you really want to exhaust the children, there is also a swimming pool on site.
“You’re pretty much guaranteed a quiet journey home whilst they snooze - enough to prepare you for the bombsite that awaits you at home.”
Entry costs £3.50 for under threes and £5.50 for older children, with a special swim and play rate of £6.35.
Today is the day you get to pull out your trump card.
Or rather, your loyalty card, annual membership card or discount voucher.
“We always had gold cards for Colchester Zoo,” said Louise Edwards. “Then we could go whenever we wanted during the year.”
The indoor enclosures and the play areas give you the perfect place to retreat to if the weather takes a turn and there is so much to see that every trip is differrent.
Or cash in your supermarket reward vouchers for a great day out at a fraction of the regular cost.
Tokens for Bressingham, Banham Zoo, Namco Funscape bowling in Ipswich and Rollerword and Quasar in Colchester are all currently available on Tesco Rewards
Just £5 in reward vouchers will pay for a day out at Bressingham for a family of four, while £10 in vouchers will pay for two games of bowling each for two adults and two children.
Check voucher sites for other great offers too.
Back to school tomorrow - and yet you find yourself asking, ‘where did that week go?’
After a busy week fossil hunting, climbing trees, diving into ball pools, riding steam trains and painting hand-made Frozen figurines, you will be ready for a relaxing day.
Finish the homework - what exciting diaries your children will have this holiday - and then settle in for a family film.
Buy a bag of popcorn from the supermarket or health shop and let your kids help pop it in a giant saucepan before you start.
Then make up your own cinema tickets, draw the curtains and act as an usherette to complete the cinema feel.
The perfect end to a week of winter family fun.
And if it rains?
Why no burn off some of that excess energy and take a dip at your nearest swimming pool? Or venture a little further afield to find one that offers something a little different.
There are flumes, jets and a wave machine at Leisure World in Colchester, and if you are lucky they may even have the outside rapids open.
A family ticket is £23 so it is best to time your visit to ensure you get the maximum time in the water before the children need to a pit-stop.
Crown Pools in Ipswich has a wave machine and a beach slope and costs £14 for a family of four.
Or try Deben Pool in Woodbridge where there is a family fun session with floats and inflatables on a Saturday morning.
When your half-term savings are completely exhausted?
Why not wrap up warm and make your own adventure- afterall, the best things in life are free!
Go for a walk in the woods, or go on a tour of the parks in your neighbourhood.
“We have a park at the end of our close that we use regularly,” said Natalie Sadler. “But we always get a great reaction when we visit the one at the end of the village because it is different, and as it is a little further, we get a bit more exercise getting there.”
Jody Wilkey, a mum of three, said: “Maldon Prom or the Discovery Centre at Great Notley are great fun.”
Castle Park in Colchester has several play areas to occupy children of varying ages and Chantry Park, in Ipswich, has a great aerial runway for your thrill seekers.
Don’t forget a flask of hot chocolate to ward off the freezing temperatures.
For an educational day out, try Imperial War Museum Duxford. Or if you are looking for a budget-busting, action packed day out that your kids will never forget, why not try The Snow Centre at Hemel Hempstead. Or take a day off from being the grown up and be a big kid at Bewilderwood.