Toddlers get the short shrift during school holidays, at least in my biased opinion. As a toddler parent, nothing fills my heart with dread like an impending school holiday. All of Hushpuppy’s regular classes go on break. Playgroups are closed. The parks and play centres are absolutely overrun with bigger kids, many who don’t yet have the self awareness to not completely plow over an awestruck 2 year old. Take all of these things out of the equation, and our weeks are frightfully wide open. For school aged children, there’s no shortage of activities and camps to fill their days, but most of these start at Kindergarten age, so bored toddlers are left out of the mix.
And, don’t you dare suggest crafts at home unless you’re coming over here with some rags and buckets to clean up the aftermath of two weeks of glitter and finger paint.
So, with yet another round of school holidays nipping at our heels, I wanted to let the toddler parents of Sydney know – there is hope for getting out of the house. These toddler-friendly activities are available all through the school holidays, and should save you from fending off threats of purple marker on your sofa and roving gangs of 8 year olds on razor scooters.
The Australian Museum
The Australian Museum really caters to young children. They have an gated play area for under-5s, which includes several play pods and interactive stations, as well as a change station and crawling baby area. There is also an exploration room, which is more suited to older children, but Hushpuppy still had a fun time touching and exploring some of the items in there. Of course, the biggest (literally) draw is the dinosaurs. My toddler walked around in absolute awe, saying “Big! Big!”. She’s still talking about it months later.
All children are free.
The Powerhouse Museum
I’d been to The Powerhouse once in my pre-child days, but wasn’t sure if my toddler would have any use for the arts and science museum. Two words convinced me that she’d love it. The. Wiggles.
The Powerhouse hosts a permanent display all about The Wiggles. It’s quite large and very interactive, including sitting in the Big Red Car, making fruit salad, exploring Captain Feathersword’s pirate ship, and visiting Dorothy The Dinosaur’s house. We spent at least an hour there, and then I was pleasantly surprised how much of the rest of the museum interested Hushpuppy. She was quite taken with the Steampunk section and loved the transportation area, particularly the train and the airplanes.
Under 4s are free.
The Botanic Garden Train
All toddlers love trains, right? Well, mine certainly does, so she is excited to no end when I take her on the Choo Choo Express around the Botanic Garden. The red “train” leaves every half hour from the gates near the Opera House and makes four stops around the garden. If you live in Sydney, you’ll probably find the tour information very elementary, but it’s of no consequence to kids. The views are some of the best in the city, and the half hour ride is just about the right length for a toddler.
Under 3s ride for free on the Choo Choo Express, and if you bring a pram, you can park it at the ticket table while you ride. More information on their site.
Creative Play at the Opera House
The first time we did the Botanic Garden train, we combined it with a stop by Creative Play at the Opera House’s Western foyer. Each school holidays, the Opera House presents a different Creative Play exhibit that’s suitable for children of various ages, free of charge. When we went, it was an installation of a light display that the children could manipulate. I don’t think it’s worth a special trip in just to do Creative Play, but if you’re nearby, it’s a great way to spend 30 minutes or an hour.
You can see more about Creative Play here. (I should warn you that I found the page a little confusing the first time I looked at it, and I heard other people complaining, so I know I’m not the only one. Creative Play offers one installation per session, and the site shows a range of examples).
See a Play
Of course, while you’re at the Opera House, you could just stay and see a show. The Opera House has a full schedule of child-friendly performances, some of whose suitability begins at age 2. The full schedule is on their website, and you can narrow your search by age group and “school holidays.” Many communities also have their own performing arts centres with dynamic family performances. In my neck of the woods, The Councourse in Chatswood keeps a busy schedule of plays for children. I’m trying to decide if I’m relieved or disappointed that we didn’t go in for tickets to Mister Maker there this school holidays.
Go to a Toddler Friendly Movie
My toddler loves going to the movies – mostly for the popcorn, I think – and it’s perfect if you can find a family-friendly cinema with daytime screenings. Ours offers booster seats, a child’s sized popcorn (which Hushpuppy refuses to share with me), and 10a.m. showings of children’s movies. People are generally pretty understanding of toddler antics at that hour. Depending on the age of your toddler, they may be able to sit through a full -length children’s movie, but at 2-1/2 that’s a pretty questionable proposition for my kid. I don’t mind leaving early as needed, but as an alternative, Hoyts Cinemas offer a series called Hoyts Junior, which are generally a bit shorter (45 minutes or so) and aimed at the tastes of younger children. We’ve see The Wiggles, Fireman Sam, and Octonauts.
See Some Fish at an Aquarium
We’re lucky to have not one, but two aquariums in Sydney. We had a fish-fabulous morning at the Sea Life Aquarium in Darling Harbour. I think aquariums are super for toddlers because they can get close up to the aquatic life and much of it is friendly to their height level. There is a touch pool, as well, which toddler parents will know is a big win (as long as you’re nearby to ensure they don’t pull a toddler and squash anything!). The coolest part, however, is the huge arched ceiling aquarium where sharks and rays swim above and next to you. Massively impressive.
I can’t personally vouch for the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, but have heard from multiple sources that it’s possibly even better for toddlers than the one at Darling Harbour. Something for our list this school holidays.
If you’re making a morning of the Sea Life Aquarium or The Powerhouse Museum, stay on at Darling Harbour for lunch. There’s a huge playground and, in season, a water play park. And, if you’re so inclined, even a carousel and tourist train. The playground does get busy during school holidays, so if it’s too manic, grab a Happy Meal at McDonalds – if you’re into that kind of thing, which we are – and take a seat on the lawn. Even just walking the promenade and looking at the Harbour are an interesting way to wile away a toddler afternoon. Yes, it’s terribly touristy, but if you think of it from a little person’s perspective, it’s a very exciting place to explore.
Have I mentioned that my kid likes trains? Sometimes all we need for an afternoon adventure is a ride on one of Sydney’s trains. A hop onto the North Shore line takes us over the Harbour Bridge, which gives us the chance to look at boats, cars, buildings, and other trains, as well as the sweeping Bridge, itself. Or, the ultimate in public transport is a ferry ride. How exciting it is to be on a boat! The whole process of getting on and off, viewing the scenery from one of the outdoor benches, spotting seagulls, waving at other boats, looking at the equipment, and just being on the water is epic. It doesn’t even matter where we end up. Just be sure to avoid peak times on public transport when people are commuting to and from work.
Tea for Two
My little lady would have been about 18 months old the first time we had a tea and scones date at Alice’s Tea Cafe in Chatswood Westfield. There’s something about letting toddlers participate in adult activities that makes them sit up a little straighter and show a sense of pride across their little faces. Of course, that all may last no more than 40 seconds, but we all have to start somewhere! Full lunches or dinners are long for toddlers, but a little tea break is a more realistic option for young ones. Alice’s is nothing particularly special, but they have kid sized tables, teddy bears and colorful Alice in Wonderland themed decorations. Honestly, though, any cafe that is friendly to children will do the trick. (Edited: Alice’s is now closed). Any place that serves a babyccino is a winner in my kid’s book.
Alice’s Tea Cafe
I’m intrigued to take Hushpuppy to The Tea Cosy in the Rocks for the Kid’s Devonshire Tea after reading this review on Adventure, Baby. Have a wander around the Adventure, Baby blog for more ideas, as she and her daughter have tested out many restaurants in Sydney.
Another activity that’s on our list and comes highly recommended is a day trip to Amazement Park in Wyong Falls, about 1 hour and 15 minutes drive from Sydney CBD. They open every day during school holidays (weekend only outside of school holidays), and they have attractions including mazes, farm animals, a playground, and an “enchanted” forest walk. I’ve had several people vouch for it’s toddler friendliness, so I think we’ll venture a drive out this break. Watch this space.
More about all the amazing Amazements on their website here.
I have written before about the toddler-playground that is Taronga Zoo (AKA – “our home away from home”). There are so many places for toddlers to climb, play, explore, and of course, see animals. It’s pram friendly. You can bring your own picnic or buy food there. It does get a lot busier than usual during school holidays, but I have always found that they layout is so well designed that the crowds flow freely and are never much of a hassle. Though I’m quite crowd averse, I don’t mind Taronga on its busy days.
If you’ll go more than twice during the year, it’s worth purchasing an annual pass.
Under 4s are free.
Featherdale Wildlife Park
More animals! Featherdale Wildlife Park in Doonside is brilliant for toddlers. It’s very casual and some animals like kangaroos and birds even roam free in the park. You can purchase food to feed the very docile kangaroos, pet a koala, and see an incredible range of Australian animals. It’s so family friendly and easygoing. It feels almost like stepping back in time to a park from the 1950s (in the nicest, most wholesome way). Watch out for the gift shop – it’s massive, and hard to get out without buying something.
Under 3s are free.
Swim at an Indoor Pool
Sydney is full of aquatic and community centres with indoor pools, and don’t all Sydney kids love to swim? Wherever you live in Sydney, you most likely have a pool that’s open to the public for a reasonable fee nearby. I find that at our centre, school holidays can be a great time for a toddler visit. While there are frequent swim lessons and school groups taking classes at the pool during term, it’s often quite quiet during the holidays, particularly outside of the summer season. My kid will easily spend two hours at the pool and, bonus, she’s guaranteed to sleep after all of that wet and wild rumpus.
Feed the Ducks
Thanks, I’m fairly certain, to a Peppa Pig episode, Hushpuppy began obsessing one day on feeding ducks. We had a free afternoon and decided to humor her, and ended up at Berry Reserve in Narrabeen on the Northern Beaches. It’s a beautiful park with a promenade and fenced in playground, and absolutely teeming with friendly ducks. We brought a container of oats, which the ducks were more than happy to eat from our hands. (Don’t bring bread – it’s “junk food” for ducks. Oats, rice, or leafy vegetables are better options). Peppa would have been proud, and my toddler was delighted.
Please leave a comment if you have any other ideas for great activities for toddlers to do during the school holidays. And, join me on Facebook for more on what my toddler and I get up to around town this school holidays and throughout the rest of the year.