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School Summer Hols

Over 30 family-friendly goings-on across Sussex and nearby.

Children to entertain for six long weeks? Eyeing up the gin bottle already? Fear not, here’s my round-up of over 30 things to do with kids across Sussex and nearby over the school summer holidays.

Summer Kids’ Fest, Proud Country House, Stanmer Park, Brighton, Sat 1 July – 17 Sept

From story-telling to hip hop dance classes, bushcraft and tree climbing sessions to bike tours and interactive theatre, todders’ yoga to mosaic workshops – it’s all happening at Proud Country House this summer. There are morning and afternoon sessions seven days a week –  sounds a school holidays life-saver! What’s more it’s a not-for-profit event and all ticket proceeds will go to local children’s hospice Chestnut Tree House. Check out the full schedule of events and book ahead for individual activities.

Kids’ Summer Fun, Borde Hill, nr Haywards Heath 2 Jul – 31 Aug

This summer, for no extra charge, a variety of activities are on hand at Borde Hill to keep the children occupied. There’s a daily ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Garden trail and on selected days, families can ride ‘Lennie the Landtrain’, watch a Tomfoolery show, get faces painted, watch comedy, magic and join a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. There’s also an adventure playground outdoor games on the lawn, including Giant Jenga and Badminton and plenty of parkland space for ball games, kite flying and picnics. Check out the seasonal sculpture trail while you’re there.

DROP OFF Summer Holiday Workshop, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, Wed 23 Aug

Don’t just put those aluminium cans in the recycling, make something beautiful from them. Josie Davies and Kirsty Lumm will be showing you how at this nature-inspired sculpture workshop. Find you how to create a mobile, fluttering butterflies or a robot to guard your veg patch from stuff that otherwise gets melted down. Age 7-plus. It’s on 11.00 – 15.00 so drop them off with a packed lunch. £15.45. All the other kids’ craft work shops have sold out well ahead so get booking!

Outdoor film screenings, various Sussex locations, various dates

I’ve rounded up the outdoor cinemas popping up across Sussex and nearby this summer at lovely locations from beaches, to village greens, to castles. Most are putting on family-friendly shows from retro 80s classics like Tron and The Goonies to modern faves like Star Wars: Rogue One. Some need booking in advance, some are even free. See my full round-up here. 

Corn Cob Capers, Spring Barn Farm, Lewes, 24 Jul – 1 Sept

There’s lots on daily down on the farm for younger kids. Follow the clues and complete the Trail to find your way out of the giant Maize Maze! Meet  purveyor of corny jokes Milly McSpreader and hop on the Landrover and trailer ride Decorate a pot and plant seeds to take home or take each other on in the Water Wars challenge, there are also daily animal activities and Demonstrations, a zip wire, go karts and  playground with ‘giant jumping pillows’.

Family-activities Leeds Castle, Kent, various dates in Aug  

Plenty of things to do with kids on at Leeds Castle over the hols. Join The Junk Orchestra on 5- 6 Aug to learn how to build instruments from discarded objects and join a recycled rock concert. On 12 – 13 Aug the Heroes, Heroines and Hoods themed weekend has stories of legends, royalty and historical heroes brought to life in interactive children’s theatre with a difference. Kids can also have a go at circus skills  including stilts, juggling, hula-hoops, diabolos, spinning plates and juggling machines. On 19 – 20 Aug it’s time for Mr Alexander’s Travelling Show, traditional Victorian-style family variety acts with three different programmes per day including magic, juggling, unicycling, balance and illusion. Look out also for family-friendly outdoor theatre and cinema. 

Child-friendly app tours / Out of Hours activities, Theatre Royal, Brighton, until 2 Sept

IMG_1230 (3)

Each Saturday morning over the summer at Theatre Royal, children can get their hands on an iPad on which they can watch clips, meet characters from the past and have fun with sound effects. I took this Inside the Magic tour last year with my nephews and it’s good fun and educational too – see my review. You get to go backstage and find out about past problems with mice and flooding and novel associations with local fishermen. Tickets cost £7.50. Also this summer are magical-sounding behind the scenes events including puppet show Blue, an Enchanted Forests craft project and Twilight Picnic.

Summer of Circus, Worthing Theatres, various dates until end of Aug

See my full round-up of the contemporary Summer of Circus events for adults and children here. Including a street dance version of Jungle Book on Sat 26 & Sun 27 Aug with human instead of animal characters including skateboarding ‘wolves’.  I saw the opening night show of the Summer of Circus season and frankly it was jaw-dropping, so be assured, standards are high.

Bouncing Cats & Boom Boom Pups, Pavilion Theatre, Worthing, 19 August

Worthing might not be famous for freestyle hip-hop, beatboxing and graffiti installations, but this show has all three – everything that junior hipsters could wish for. Set within a purpose-built graffiti installation that brings to life an original children’s story, rap artist Max Golden and graffiti artist Mr Dane take kids from five years plus into the world of animal land where beatbox, rap and graffiti come together. Get involved and try your hand at beat boxing with the stars of the show. There are two performances, at 11am and 2pm. What’s more there’s one free adult ticket per child. Tickets are £12.

Loxwood Joust, Loxwood, West Sussex, Sat 5 – Sun 6 Aug and Sat 12 – Sun 13

It’s your chance again to tuck into a hog roast and ale and watch jousting and sword-on-sword action from armoured knights. Despite the violence there’s plenty of educational content at this big event with recreated Mediaeval villages and learning zones, a marketplace, with hawkers and wandering minstrels, plus dance troupes and a court jester. The dedicated Children’s Kingdom is a festival within a festival where kids can try archery and have fun with wound painting, sword school, a bouncy castle and a very un-pc sounding game of ‘pelt the peasant’. Advance tickets are Adult £12, Child (4-14) £6. Gate prices £15 and £7.

FREE Airbourne, Eastbourne seafront, Fri Thurs 17 – Sun 20 Aug

Eastbourne’s International Airshow boasts a two mile flying display line along the seafront with military and civilian aviation display teams including the RAF Red Arrows, Typhoon and the Battle of Britain Memorial flights and more, and all for free! This year the Red Arrows will fly on Fri, Sat and Sun. Ground displays open 10.00am – 6.00pm daily, with flying from lunchtime until around 5.00pm.

.National Trust family activities, East Sussex, various dates

Plenty on as ever at NT properties for the hols. Much-loved characters from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book are hiding in the garden at Batemans. Search for your favourites to earn a medal. During the weekend of 5 and 6 Aug a WWI encampment complete with mess tent, field ambulance will appear, with period renactments throughout the day. Bodiam Castle has have-a-go archery on every day of the holidays and is putting children through a Hundred Years’ War boot camp in sessions throughout the day Mon 21 to Fri 25 August. Falconry walks with Hawking Centre for ages eight plus are also available until Sept 3. There’s an Adventurer Week beginning 24 July at Birling Gap with activites like mini den building and bug crafting, fish netting and kite flying. On 6 Aug join an archeology walk at Belle Tout.

National Trust family activities, West Sussex, various dates

Among West Sussex goings on from the National Trust, there’s a campfire cook out at Devil’s Dyke on 26 Jul where you’ll learn about outdoor art, create your own, then sizzle some sausages. At Petworth House, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from August, kids can make crafts to take home. The theme changes weekly, from wild art to bird boxes to kites. There are more crafts at the end of Aug at Slindon Estate but before then, on 2 Aug, join a guided walk in search of bats with a detector to pick up their squeaks.

Quentin Blake: The Only Way to Travel, The Jerwood, Hastings, 14 June – 15 Oct

Sir Quentin Blake’s madcap pictures are synonymous with Roald Dahl’s work and many other children’s tales. Hastings – where the artist spends half his time, is hosting the largest UK public gallery exhibition of his work to date at the Jerwood. What’s more Blake has created a host of new images exploring challenging issues from mental health to the refugee crisis under the theme The Only Way to Travel. It’s on until mid Oct.

 Saltdean Lido, reopened at Saltdean nr Brighton

It’s outdoors but it’s heated and I love its Modernist/Deco curves. Famous Saltdean Lido has finally part reopened after a massive regeneration project and you and yours can swim there daily from 8 July to 17 Sept. It’s pretty popular so it’s best to book in advance on sunny days.

Pros from the Shows, The Capitol, Horsham, Thurs 17 Aug

Budding dancer in the family? Need a few blessed hours to yourself this school holidays? Young performers can learn routines from Matilda & Charlie & the Chocolate Factory at this drop-off workshop led by West End star, Billy Cullum.  It’s £30 with a morning session for 8-12 year-olds and an afternoon session for those 13+ Sounds like just the (golden) ticket.

Grimm Tales For Young and Old, Cass Sculpture Foundation, near Chichester,  4 – 19 Aug

The renowned Chichester Festival Youth Theatre presents Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales For Young and Old, adapted by Philip Wilson, in a roving production at the excellent Cass Sculpture Foundation from 4 – 19 August. In a fantastical fairy tale world, Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and Rapunzel follow their destinies in an eerie patchwork of tales. Follow them if you dare… Suitable for ages 8+.

.Ethical taxidermy workshops, De La Warr Pavilion, Thurs 31 Aug

Photo: Jazmine Miles-Long

Well here’s something completely different for non-squeamish kids and teens. Inspired by animal skulls and displays in Safari: an exhibition as expedition, children will learn about the process of taxidermy and create their own ‘bind-up’ model – one of the first stages in creating a taxidermy specimen. The workshop is taken by an ethical taxidermist, meaning she uses only animals that have died of natural cause or accident. There’s a 10.00am to noon session for 8-12 year-olds then a 2.00 – 4.00pm for 13-16 year-olds  Tickets are £8.

Summer Maize Maze, Penshurst Place, near Tonbridge, Kent, 15 Jul – 3 Sep

The Penshurst Maize Maze is back once again this year. Open daily, it will be ready and waiting for you to discover its concealed corridors and clues hidden within. Will you crack the Maize Maze message?

FREE arts and crafts at Littlehampton Museum, Sat 29 Jul – Thurs 31 Aug

Inspired by its summer exhibition ‘The Collectors’, Littlehampton Museum is hosting free drop-in arts and crafts sessions for over fives during the holidays. The themes are: Ancient Egypt on Wednesday 2nd Aug, Roman Sussex on Thurs 10 Aug, Natural History on Tues 15 Aug, Treasure Hunters on Wed 23 Aug. Check the website for times. You can also download a Littlehampton Trail and a West Beach fossil hunting guide from the website.

Claws, Sea Life Brighton, ongoing

Sea Life Brighton unveiled its latest attraction, Claws in April. It features shell-dwelling freaks like Japanese spider crabs with a leg span of a whopping 1.3 metres which could grow to the size of a car and a brightly coloured peacock mantis shrimp which can move its arms with such force it can boil water! Sounds downright creepy – yet strangely compelling!

FREE Animazing exhibition, DC1 Gallery & Cafe, Eastbourne, Tues 22 Aug – Sat 2nd Sept (except Mon 28) 

One you can pretend is for the kids, but is actually for you… Come and see toys, games and memorabilia from over 70 years of children’s television from the very first kids’ TV character, Muffin the Mule to the latest Thunderbirds reboot. Find out how stop-motion and drawn cartoon work and the special effects used in the original Sixties Thunderbirds. Have a go at puppeteering, stop-motion animation and creating sound effects and plasticine characters and use a green screen to superimpose things in another scene. Just remember to let the kids have a go too! The exhibition is from 11.00am to 5.00pm every day, except Mon 28.

Family-friendly outdoor theatre, various locations, various dates in Aug. 

There are some lovely venues to catch a spot of outdoor theatre with children in an near Sussex this summer. At Leeds Castle in Kent on 17 & 18 Aug, join Badger, Ratty, Mole and loveable boy-racer Toad for a dose of Wind in the Willows alfresco. August also sees family favourites The Emperor’s New Clothes (Sat 5 Aug) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s dinosaur-themed tale The Lost World (Friday 25 Aug) at The Hawth‘s outdoor ampitheatre in Crawley. Brighton Open Air Theatre has family-friendly Princess and the Pig (25 Aug) and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (9 Sept) among its summer programme and the most family-accesible of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is at on in the grounds of Arundel Castle Fri 25 – Sat 26 Aug. See my full round-up of outdoor theatre here.

Hairy Maclary and Friends, Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, Thur 24 Aug

Out of the gate and off for a walk, went Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy…’ If you have a 3 – 5 year-old then this might be just the ticket – a play that brings Hercules Morse (as big as a Horse), Bottomley Potts (covered in spots) and the rest of the gang to life. Tickets from £9.

FREE Costume Trail, from Worthing Museum, ongoing


Worthing Museum’s impressive collections of clothing from bygone eras have been used as inspiration by costume designers from the likes of Downton Abbey. Now outfits are out on display across the town in a series of changing displays at local businesses across Worthing spanning 1740 to the present day. It’s free and it’s educational. Trail maps are available from the museum welcome desk.

Family Open Day, The Hawth Theatre, Crawley, Sat 5 Aug

A full afternoon of family events, giving you a chance to go behind the scenes plus get a taste of what the venue has to offer. See the dressing rooms and learn how to put a show together, plus have a go at some of the dance and exercise classes. Author Susan Jameson (pictured) will be reading excerpts from her book Pony Tails and answering questions, plus Lauren Cocoracchio, who stars as Snow White in this year’s panto, will be around to say hello. You can also learn how to become a DJ, mix some music or become an expert filmmaker and learn about screenwriting, directing and camerawork. It’s free and runs from midday to 5.00pm.

Summer Jousting Tournament, Hever Castle, Kent, 15 –  30 Jul/ Knights and Princess 22 Jul – 28 AugWitness brave knights display spectacular jousting skills in an authentic arena. Each tournament begins with a procession from the Castle forecourt when Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn lead visitors across the grounds to the Jousting Arena complete with a Royal Box and professional compere. The castle also has a ‘Knights and Princesses school’ with a Have a Go Jousting activity in various 40 min slots through the days till 28 Aug.
.London days out with kids 
For a full round-up of things to do with kids in and near London this summer, from Harry Potter costumes to superhero Lego and Crossrail archeological finds, see my feature on what the museums and attractions have on here
The Tiger That Came To Tea, Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, Fri 21 – Sun 23 JulyEveryone’s favourite tea-guzzling tiger is back. Direct from a West End season this musical play adapted and directed by David Wood, based on the book by Judith Kerr. It’s packed with sing-a-long songs and clumsy chaos. He drinks all the water in the taps you know… It’s aimed at ages 3+  and there are two performances each day. Tickets are £14.
Through the Door family festival, The Weald & Downland Living Museum, nr Chichester, 29-30 JulyThe Weald & Downland Living Museum has a new family festival for this summer with an Alice in Wonderland woodland trail, a teddy bears’ picnic, free cookery classes, funfair rides, a climbing wall, circus skills, art workshops, a maze, a bicycle stunt team, archery, donkey rides and more. Some activities require a small fee or donation but most are free with the standard admission price. It runs 10.30 am to 5.000pm each Club 4 Kids, Minerva Festival, Chichester, Fri 28 JulThis is a great concept – regular comedians doing non-patronising material pitched at children. I’ve taken my nephews a couple of times and my face has actually ached from laughing. Expect jokes and songs about poo, bogeys, space and dinosaurs, with knowing comments and humiliation for the adults. The kids’ interaction makes it. They heckle with their hands up and the comedians banter back. It’s recommended for over 6s and in my experience that’s about right – younger and they’ll be confused and fidgety. Tickets are £ kids tickets on British Airways i360, Brighton, Wed July 26

Pic by Kevin Meredith

On Wednesday July 26 only, the 1360 is letting up to three children aged 4 -15 years glide up to 450ft for views across Sussex completely free, when accompanied by one paying adult on a regular or senior ticket.
Free child tickets can be booked at the British Airways i360 ticket office on the day only, subject to availability.

.Creepy Crawlies Weekend, Drusillas Park, Sat 22 – Sun 23 JulySlither, slide and creep down to Drusillas Park and meet some amazing mini monsters. The Discovery Centre, open between 11.00am and 4.00pm, will be swarming with weird insects, slimy molluscs and scary spiders and experts from the British Tarantula Society will be available to answer your questions (in my case, “how far can I get away from you and how quickly?!”) A fun day out for the less faint-hearted!
DROP OFF Mini kite-making, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, Mon 24 & Tues 25  JulInspired by kites in the exhibition Safari: an exhibition as expedition, children aged 5 – 7 will find out the legends and stories surrounding kites and create and fly their own mini-kite on 24 July and the following day a similar workshop is slanted towards 8-12 year-olds with facts and stories about kite science and design. The workshops are £25 but when you consider that’s for, 10.00am  to 4.00 pm it’s cheaper than childcare.
International Jousting & Medieval Tournament Week, Arundel Castle Tues 25 – Sun 30 July Medieval jousting, no less, is coming to Arundel for the start of the school hols Tues 25 July – Sun 30 July. Knights from around the world will gather to test their chivalry and skill at mounted combat in full plate armour. The thrills and spills will be accompanied by have-a-go archery and a host of craft displays and entertainment in an authentic medieval-style encampment. Arundel really do these reenactments well, mixing with fun authenticity. See my review of a recent similar event at the castle
Tim Peake Sleepover, The Novium, Chichester, Sat 5 Aug –  Sun 6 AugAnother museum sleepover and you’re going to need to get on this one quick. Kids can enjoy a special space-themed night complete with a torch lit treasure hunt, chance to build their own rocket, games and a themed bedtime story, before settling down to sleep beneath the stars. It runs 7.00pm – 8.00am and it suitable for children aged 7 – 11 years old, accompanied by an adult. Tickets are £25 per person. Call 01243 775888 (option 1) to
Dino Snores, Natural History Museum, London, 21 July and 11 AugThis sounds a special experience for dino loving kids at London’s Natural History Musuem. On 21 July and 11 Aug during the school holidays, and monthly till January, children can sleep over in the one of the iconic galleries plus explore a torch-lit trail, get creative with a dinosaur t-shirt-making workshop, watch an educational science show presented by a museum scientist before settling down to sleep at midnight. The next morning there’s a live animal show over breakfast.  Tickets are £120 for one child and one

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