The Discover Children’s Story Centre, Stratford

Half-term is a funny old time for us at this stage in Thomas’s life. He attends pre-school at a private nursery which provides year-round care. It closes for Bank Holidays and a week at Christmas only. This means that half-term doesn’t really affect us yet. I still go to work, Thomas still goes to pre-school and it’s all hunky dory. Except… anywhere that we might choose to go for a day on the days I’m not at work is FULL of older kids on their half-term holidays. I almost feel guilty for taking Thomas out to places because we have all the other weeks of the year to do these things, and everywhere is quite crowded enough without adding us to the mix. But, Thomas’s usual weekly classes are not in session, which, particularly on a Tuesday, gives us a lot more scope for a whole day activity. And with the good weather this week, I didn’t want to pass that up.

I thought carefully about what we might do that wouldn’t involve too many crowds. And settled on a trip to the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford (combined with a trip to the Olympic Park, but that’s a story for another post). It’s a place that’s been on my list to check out for quite a while, and it seemed like a good place as much of its content is aimed at younger children anyway, so I thought it was unlikely to suffer from an influx of older children and teenagers. Plus, during “term-time” I know that it’s popular with nursery and school groups, and choosing the holiday avoids these large groups. As it turned out, it was busy but not unbearably so. The good weather helped, because the outdoor garden was being well utilised.

The Discover Centre bills itself as the UK’s first hand’s on creative literary centre. From their website:

“Discover’s overarching mission is to spark children and adults’ imagination, curiosity and creativity in a magical and stimulating environment.”

And I think they certainly achieve that. The space is laid out in various sections. The main floor is a bit like a themed play area, but with numerous imaginative triggers. There is a large central area where stepping on the lights triggers musical sounds that correlate to the image of an instrument projected on the wall. In one corner there is a craft activity station.  In another an area with tents and a slide with a cubby hole underneath. Elsewhere is a trip trap bridge, a lion tunnel and mountain, and a climbing wall. There are dressing up costumes and a miniature theatre to perform your own tales. Thomas’s favourite place of all was the “Lollipopter” – a flying machine that might have been a spaceship, but might have been a boat. Thomas spent a good deal of time here, spinning the wheel and changing the speed settings. I asked him what he was doing.

“Going to find treasure Mummy!”

“Where are you going to find it?” I probed

“On a pirate treasure island. You can bring the map. It’s in the sea. We’re sailing in the sea. Oh look. We’ve arrived”

“How are we going to find the treasure?”

“On the map, silly. Look. ” [Hands me an imaginary map] “X marks the spot! We need to dig the treasure. We need shovels.”

And so it went on. With him describing what needed to do, and how we were going to do it. I prompted him every so often to ask him where, how and why, or to describe something to me, such as the chest the treasure would be hidden in. What would it look like, and feel like. We began to talk about different words to say the things he wanted to express. It was lovely to just sit listening to all these things pouring out of him and exciting him.

Can you see what was happening here? Just being in this different environment inspired me to encourage Thomas’s imagination and storytelling. It’s certainly given me pause for thought in how I deal with games he plays at home in order to nuture this raw and budding creativity. And that, I suppose, is the very point of the Discover Centre.

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They also hold various sessions, for different age groups. There is currently an Oliver Jeffers exhibition on in the basement section and there are daily story readings. We attended a reading of Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile. We bought a copy of this for Thomas for Christmas – his very first introduction to Roald Dahl. He has loved the book at home, and really seemed to enjoy hearing it in a different environment where the children where encouraged to contribute thoughts, actions and sounds. He asked to read it again before bed last night, and provided sound effect throughout for the snapping of teeth and evil laugh of the eponymous croc.

The Discover Centre also has a story garden with various themed play station, including a dragon slide, a pirate boat, space ship and taxi cab as well as various outdoor musical instruments. We were so lucky with the weather yesterday, given that we’re still mid February, and enjoying a packed lunch sitting in the garden I got so hot that I had to take my coat off. (Thomas kept his on. “No Mummy. It’s winter silly. You need to wear your coat!”)

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If you have young children, particularly if they love story telling or imaginative play (or perhaps especially if they don’t, but you want to encourage it) I’d highly recommend at least a few hours spent here. It was not only part of a fantastic day out, but it will definitely influence how I assist Thomas at home in developing his ideas, story telling and vocabulary. For a few hours that’s what we focused on, and it made me realise how simple it can be.

For a full programme of event, check out the website. We paid for our own tickets to the Discover Centre and all thoughts, opinions (and bad iPhone photos) are our own. 

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3 Replies to “The Discover Children’s Story Centre, Stratford”

  1. Hey!

    I’m writing a thesis in which Discover plays a big role, so I’m looking for photos of the Story Trail space. I was wondering if you would allow me to include the top picture, with the text? I would of course cite you as the source.

    Kind regards,

    Marieke

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