Social Christmas and Toddler’s at Techniquest

Since 1982 Wales Co-Operative Centre has been supporting the growth of co-operatives and social enterprises, bringing communities together and helping the Welsh economy. Over the festive period this year, Wales Co-Operative Centre and Social Business Wales are promoting social enterprises in Wales that people can support over Christmas, including events and small businesses as part of their Social Christmas campaign. If you’re wondering what a social enterprise is, it’s a business that values people, the community and the environment and reinvests profits back into the business to support their values. That’s definitely the type of business I want to support, as I’ve talked before about how parents can choose Fairtrade and about environmental values that are important to me like cutting back on plastic use, and supporting organic produce. Bringing those values to the local community is something I’m very keen to support.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be visiting a few social enterprises with my son William, showcasing some exciting events in South Wales such as Techniquest in Cardiff, Bryngarw Christmas Craft Fair and Reindeer Trail in Bridgend, and Breakfast with Santa at Bedwellty House in Tredegar (that’s going to be good!). I’ll also be talking a bit about the products and small business sellers that support these values. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to keep in the loop and you can also give Social Business Wales a quick follow too to support their work and get all the latest news.

Sparks and Snowflakes Toddler Day at Techniquest, Cardiff

Techniquest has been well known for interactive education in Cardiff since 1986, making it the longest established science centre in the entire UK. In fact, I went there as a schoolgirl over twenty years ago when it had recently moved to the purpose-built building that it still resides in, which makes me feel positively ancient. If you’re wondering how this ties into social enterprise, it’s also an independent registered educational charity. Last Friday was the first time I’d taken my son William along and it gave me a chance to see what’s changed inside over the years too. At 20 months he’s a bit below the usual age for visiting Techniquest, but once a month in term time on a Friday there’s an exclusive pre-school day where toddlers rampage through the building. Under 4s always get free entry to Techniquest, but on Toddler days accompanying adults are charged £5.70 – discounted from the usual £8.20 entry fee. Each month has a theme and being December, this visit was called Sparkles and Snowflakes.

Techniquest is located in Cardiff Bay and is very easy to find, well signposted and with two large pay and display car parks within a few minutes walk. It’s surrounded by all the restaurants and shops of Cardiff Bay, with boat trips and the barrage walk on the doorstep too, so an ideal area to spend a full day out. It was a cloudy grey and grim day with buckets of rain pouring down intermittedly, but that didn’t matter at all, as Techniquest is the ideal rainy day visit, all being indoors. Doors open at 9:30am and I was surprised to see how many people were ready and waiting, toddlers absolutely raring to go. I’d been up since 5am (not William’s fault for once, my husband was off to Germany on a work trip) so grabbed a quick coffee in the cafe to start. Then we were off!

The exhibits are all technology, education and science based but on toddler day they’re designed to be accessible even to the smallest members of the family. Techniquest had set things up very well, with a heavy emphasis on play – which is at the end of the day, how toddlers learn! William’s favourite exhibit was the water which flowed from two directions down a river. He didn’t really understand the mechanics of blocking the river, setting the flow, getting the wheels turning or anything else, but he did enjoy splashing another child with water and being splashed in return. Considering bath time is his favourite, I wasn’t too shocked to find him absolutely glued to the water section.

Joint second favourites were two exhibits that used air, weight and gravity. In the first, small pieces of fabric were placed into a tube of air being blown upwards. The more spread out the fabric, the faster it would rise until it popped out of the top and then floated down. Together with a few others, they experimented with clumping the fabric together until at one point, it was too heavy to rise and all on their own, figured out you had to separate them for it to work. The other required popping a ball into a shoot, where it would rise and then fall back into a different container depending on the force. There were a lot of balls everywhere, but some of them went in!

There was a small soft play section with emphasis on building with bendy foam structures, a giant walk on piano, big building blocks, a colouring station and an arts and crafts section where William made a paper ornament for the tree, adorned with glittery stars, as well as lots and lots of other science-based exhibits that went over his head but certainly provided a great deal of sensory stimulation. Of course, he’s way too young to understand the science of anything really – but you can definitely see the minds working as they experience different outcomes and get to try different things.

In addition to the main exhibits which span two floors, there were two optional bookable extra sessions, which are included in the price. The first was a story time and singalong session in a large auditorium style room, set up in the centre inside a giant purple inflatable tent, filled with cushions, toys and musical instruments.  Two animated staff members dressed as elves read out a Christmas book called Russel’s Christmas Magic (one to add to my purchase list) and then we sang a few familiar songs, such as Jingle Bells and Old McDonald Had A Farm. Later in the day we attended a Little Notes session which is a singing and dancing class that took place up on the third floor. By this point to be honest, William was half asleep, as he’d literally spent three hours on his feet running hell for leather from one thing to the next, so he just chilled out and had a snack and watched. Both were very well run and definitely worth going to. They do limit the number of children in each session, so if heading to a toddler day the earlier you get there, the more choice of times you get, as you’ll reserve your place when you purchase your entry ticket.

It was a very social experience as well, quickly becoming filled with the bustle of babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers. They interacted with each other (not always perfectly!) whilst playing and it was actually quite refreshing as a mum not to have to worry about the noise or the crumbs or disturbing any other people enjoying their day out – as we were all in the same boat, making us all very understanding of each other.

Just as we were heading out, William desperately ready for his afternoon nap, we ran into Santa walking around, which was a perfect ending to the day! Toddler Days are listed on the Techniquest website, with the next one being on Friday 11th January.

The Wales Co-operative Centre / Social Business Wales Christmas Event page is being updated almost daily. For gift inspiration or places to go this festive period visit: www.wales.coop/social-christmas

Note I’m working with Social Business Wales / Wales Co-Operative Centre on their Social Christmas campaign. I received free entry to this event.

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