As a final Last Hurrah of the Summer Holiday, M, J and I spent Saturday gone in the wonderfully inspiring Discover Centre in London. Part soft play centre, part adventure playground, part kids’ bookshop, part interactive kids “museum” with buttons to press, ropes to pull, and costumes to dress up in, Discover defies easy description. But the glue that binds all these different aspects together is stories, and in particular telling and playing stories together.
So you can imagine how we at Playing by the book were rather excited to be there!
Various themed spaces include props to encourage creative play, and everywhere there are baskets crammed with books. You can sit and read, run about and play, explore, dance, and literally let your imagination run riot.
We’d gone there to meet up with some fellow children’s book lovers: Read It Daddy, Polly from The Little Wooden Horse, Helen from Capptivated Kids, and Elli from Taking Words for a Stroll. We were truly a babble of book bloggers – in seventh heaven as our kids played wonderfully well together and we got to let down our hair a little too.
There’s an amazing playground outside at Discover – exactly what all playgrounds should be like – with climbing frames and slides begging for stories to be told about them. Not just objects to burn up energy on, but characters in adventures to be played out. With plenty of nooks and crannies, outdoor musical instruments, shady spots and sun traps, why can’t all play spaces be this imaginative?
As well as creating themed play spaces (some are permanent, whilst others change during the year), Discover hosts lots of visits by authors and illustrators, and none other than Alex T Smith, the brilliant creator of the Claude books (absolutely perfect for newly fluent readers, just moving into chapter books), as well as several gorgeous picture books including Primrose, Ella and Egg, was holding a session whilst we were there.
Alex made me cry with the beautiful stories of how his Grandpa used to write stories for Alex, about what Alex’s toys got up to when Alex was at school. What a great inspiration! Then we all had lots of fun learning how to draw Claude, with Alex revealing several Top Illustrator Tips along the way.
Alex was brilliant with the large crowd of kids and adults; if you get the chance to see him live, grab it with both hands!
I left really wishing that Discover could replicate itself across the land. Libraries, soft play centres, more conventional museums wanting to attract kids, councils thinking about creating public play areas could all learn a lot from Discover.