Rainy City Dad: Rob Foster's team effort

This week we are thrilled to welcoming our first Rainy City Dad! It has always been our intention to hear from dads as well as mums in our quest to explore and discover the best things about Manchester, so when we came across Rob Foster while researching new books and realised he was a local dad we knew we had to ask him onto the site. His books, the Quack and Field series, are a sweet and funny way of introducing sport to children, and we love that it features Paralympic sports too – a really positive way of talking about different abilities in terms of what people can do, rather than can’t. So, for a list of fun and active things to do with kids, it’s over to Rob…

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Hi…my name is Rob and I’m dad to two amazing girls, Grace who’s 10 and Charlie who is 7. We live in Salford with my wife Su. The kids are both really active and imaginative so we’re always looking for new and fun things to do with them.

I work full-time across the North West but recently started writing a series of children’s books called Quack and Field. It started out as a bit of a stress-release thing in the evening but it’s quickly turning into a second job! The books are aimed at pre-school children and are designed to introduce young children to the dozens of different Olympic and Paralympic sports, hoping to inspire them to try new things. Over the last few months, I’ve been fortunate to get some amazing reviews on the books and Rainy City Kids got in touch after reading one of the reviews. I’ve never been asked to do anything like this before so was absolutely delighted to write a piece for the website.

So, I sat down with the kids, told them about the article and said that we needed to agree five activities and/or places we were going to write about. We are lucky living in Manchester as there is so much to do locally and within the surrounding area so we soon came up with a list of about 15 things!

I said I wanted to include a mix – some inside, some outside. Some that were free/cheap and others where we had to spend a bit of money. So the list below is a team effort. We hope you enjoy!

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Dunham Massey

Cost – as we’re not national trust members, it costs £5 in car parking. I think if you are a member, it’s free.

We love Dunham Massey so much that we come two or three times a year. It’s such a wonderful place for the kids to let off tons of steam! It’s a beautiful place to visit and there’s plenty to do. We’ve taken picnics, bread to feed the ducks, footballs and rugby balls to kick and throw, frisbee’s…there’s just so much open space to play around in. As well as that, there’s lakes and ponds, fallen trees to climb on and around and shelters to explore. The kids don’t stop walking and running and they love it.

But one of my favourite days of the year is the annual visit to Dunham Massey on Christmas Eve. It’s become a bit of a tradition for us and that’s for one very special reason – to go and see the reindeers! There are loads of them and they’re all different sizes and colours. You get the big stags with the huge antlers and then the smaller more dainty, younger dears. It amazes me how close you can get to them…as the pictures show you! The kids will often creep up on tip toes to see how close they can get and the deer’s are so relaxed around people.

It has such a magical feel to it on Christmas Eve and it’s a fabulous way to get the kids (and adults) even more excited!

And afterwards, we tend to head to the Axe and Cleaver that’s just around the corner – about a two-minute drive. It’s a lovely pub that serves incredibly tasty real ale and the food is gorgeous! We’ve never had a bad meal there but it’s just probably worth booking because it does get very busy.

Dunham Massey, Woodhouse Lane, nr Altrincham

Museum of Science and Industry

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Cost – free entrance. All they ask for is a donation on entry so I’ll generally put £10 in the bucket.

This place is perfect for any child with an inquisitive mind or a budding scientist! Educational and fun, there’s various rooms and sections to explore. They have different themed events running at different times of the year.

It’s such a practical place too where it encourages a hands-on approach and the kids just dive in and get involved. There’s activities associated with all the different senses and you know it’s right for them when they step back with a look of surprise, confusion and wonder…and then make reference to it months later.

The kids went there a couple of weeks ago with my parents at the very end of the Christmas holidays. They came back buzzing having appeared on stage (Grace had her body chopped off and Charlie was the presenter’s assistant!) and they’d made kaleidoscopes out of toilet rolls and told me in detail how they’d made them and how they worked. It was lovely.

Then there’s buildings showing the great industrial heritage of our country. There’s a hanger with full size planes and helicopters (the size of the helicopter is staggering), showing how they have evolved through the years. Then another building with full sized steam and diesel engine trains. There’s a model showing how a steam engine works and the driver’s cabins that you can stand in.

There’s another building where you feel like you’re going underground as it explains the history of Manchester’s waterworks and sewerage…why do kids find talking about toilets so funny??

And then there’s a fantastic 4-D cinema (which does cost extra). I won’t give away what happens but there’s plenty of surprises and the kids talk at about a million miles an hour when they come out, laughing and joking!

I really like MOSI because, for me, it strikes a perfect balance of education, history and fun and it’s done in a way so it doesn’t feel like a lesson to the kids. From the kid’s perspective, it’s a hands-on, fun day out.

Museum of Science and Industry, Liverpool Road, City Centre

Emily’s Paint-a-Pot

emilys2Cost – varies depending upon how many items you paint. Prices start at roughly £5 per child but this will increase if you paint more.

The kids absolutely love playing with craft and we’ve visited different pot painting type places around Manchester and this is their favourite. When I asked them why they like Emily’s over the others we’ve been to, they say:

  • The variety of pots that can be painted – we’ve done dogs, princesses, planes, plates, mugs, Christmas baubles, money boxes, candlesticks….and there are so many more;
  • The range of paints available (although I’m not convinced they have any more or less than other places!);
  • The different materials that are available to stick on the pots; and
  • The different brushes, sponges and tools you can use to paint and design your creation

Like other places, you get a table to yourself and I always book in advance to avoid any disappointment. They serve a good selection of drinks and snacks and look after you well. The place has got a lovely and relaxed feel.

What I love about places like this is how much the kids concentrate. You can sometimes hear a pin drop and neither of my two would ever be described as quiet children! It’s an absolute joy to sit back and just watch them taking their time. Their attention to details seems to increase massively as they construct their masterpieces!

We’ll often plan visits in advance of birthdays and Christmas as the finished items make wonderful and personal presents which always go down so well – and they also make fantastic ornaments for shelves and fireplaces around the house.

Just one thing to note if you’ve not been to a place like this – you generally need to go and pick up the items a week after your visit as they glaze and fire the pots in a kiln to give them a lovely shiny finish.

Emily’s Paint-a-Pot, 355 Bury New Road, Prestwich

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Apple Jacks

Cost – the stated entrance price on the website is £11 for adults and £11 for children (with other concessions available) but I’ve never paid that. I always get vouchers from one of the discount websites and usually only spend half of that amount for the whole family.

Even though Apple Jacks isn’t in Manchester, it’s only a 30-minute drive away and we think this place is great. There is so much to do and it’s always a full and fun day out. The ball blaster on the way in is hilarious! A chance to fire foam balls at each other for a couple of minutes! The kids on one side, us on other. You get hit quite often but it doesn’t hurt at all!

Then there’s tons of other stuff – electric cars, archery, a ball cannon, a big zip wire, a huge air pillow (that is absolutely amazing fun), tractor rides, go karts, a wooden maze, an inflatable wrecking ball type game (that my eldest enjoys more than the younger one), sand diggers and a big play structure.

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There’s a show that the kids enjoyed when they were a bit younger but aren’t so bothered about now and the highlight of the day is always the pig race. It’s real pigs racing around a track! It’s so funny to watch and kids love it.

In the summer, there’s also a maize maze. You carry a big flag around (which you can wave if you get completely lost), finding clues that give you directions and you finish by climbing the big tower which has a fantastic view. It’s such good fun and the kids take turns in leading us round. It takes a while and you always get lost and find yourself in dead-ends but it also teaches kids basic map reading skills so there’s a great education element to it too (although they don’t realise that!)

To keep the costs down, we always take a picnic and there’s plenty of space both inside and outside to sit down and enjoy your food. There’s some lovely ice cream available and the pancakes are yummy.

Apple Jacks Stretton Rd, Warrington (currently closed for winter, reopening in February 2017, check website for details)

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Jump Xtreme

Cost – £10 per bouncer. We tend to visit Jump Xtreme on the outskirts of Bolton because it’s closest to home but I know there are others that are a little bit cheaper. And I’ve also seen a number of offers on Groupon type discount websites.

I recently read that training astronauts are doing more trampolining these days because it’s fantastic exercise and less damaging to your knees than running. Whether that’s true or not, I have no idea – but my kids loved the idea!

We love to bounce! It’s such good fun and absolutely amazing exercise for everyone! I am a big kid so don’t stand and watch from the sides – I’m in the middle of the fun! Whether we’re flipping off the higher platforms onto the massive air cushion, playing dodgeball, racing each other, playing man-hunt, throwing basketballs, playing ‘follow the leader’ (where the kids take it in turns to basically lead an aerobics class and you have to copy their every move) or just simply bouncing around, this place it great.

There’s loads of trampolines and it rarely gets over-crowded. As the session wears on, the number of people bouncing also seems to thin out a bit, leaving a bit more space to do other things…like racing each other! The kids love racing each other (and me) as the trampolines are such a leveller. We take it turn to race and my kids are quicker than I am…much to their amusement!

It was also bouncing with the kids here that gave me the inspiration for my second Quack and Field book (Trampolining).

We go for an hour and we’re all ready to come off at the end! Generally a bit sweaty and in much need of a big drink! I checked after one session and reckon I’d burnt over 400 calories…and I hadn’t stopped laughing. I was made up. We are regular bouncers!

Jump Xtreme, Trinity Retail Park, nr Bolton

Thank you so much Rob, we have really enjoyed having you as our first Rainy City Dad, and of course we have to thank Grace and Charlie for all the hard work they put into researching this article – girls you must be quite exhausted! You can find out more about Rob’s fantastic books at his website or follow him on twitter @quackandfield or on Facebook.

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We always wanted Rainy City Kids to be as inclusive as possible – mum, dad, grandparent, cousin, aunt, uncle or friend, if you have kids to entertain in Manchester, we want to help. If you know someone who you think would make a great Rainy City (fill in the blank here!), get in touch on rainycitykids@gmail.com. For more top fives from local parents, click here.

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