Crúinniú na nÓg is Ireland’s national day of creativity for children and young people. All across the country children and young people from 0 to 18 will have the opportunity to take part in a dazzling variety of free creative events from stop-motion animation to family friendly raves. The first Crúinniú took place in June 2018 and returns this year on Saturday 15th June.
Last year we made a family day of it with a family friendly guided tour of Dublin Castle and a concert and music workshops at the National Concert Hall. A full list of events can be found on the Crúinniú na nÓg website and can be searched by location and filtered by age range and event type. All events are free of charge but some must be booked in advance.
Below is our pick of the most exciting events taking place in Dublin and suitable for under 5’s. I haven’t included any events that are fully booked at the time of writing and this is not intended as an exhaustive guide but rather a means to get a flavour of just some of the fun to be had.
Imaginosity is Ireland’s only interactive museum for children under 9 years of age. It’s really more of a large play centre than a museum, with an emphasis on imaginative role play and a daily schedule of activities such as parachute play, story time and crafts.
So this is another place that’s been on my radar since we moved to Dublin but just didn’t get to until earlier this year. There are a few reasons for this. The location is fairly out of the way for us and booking ahead is strongly advised as at busy times visitors may be turned away. I’m generally wary of pre-booking things that are a trek to reach because that is just an open invitation for a toddler to do their worst as you try to wrangle them out of the house on time. In the end, I opted just to book online on the day of our visit so I could be sure we didn’t make a wasted trip.
The website states that during busy periods (weekends, Bank Holidays etc) timed entry is in operation. We visited on a Friday in January but the online booking is biased towards the busy period as it forces users to select entry in two-hour intervals. So I could book 11.30am – 1.30pm or 1.30 – 3.30pm rather than choosing a two-hour spot commencing at the time of my own choosing. I was stressing about arriving on time for our slot, worrying that if we arrived late we’d either be refused entry or just lose out on time. We did arrive 15 minutes late and it was no problem and we weren’t under any pressure to leave after two hours. Maybe I’m being picky here but I wish that the online booking was sophisticated enough to service peak and off-peak bookings. I should note that telephone booking is also available so perhaps that is more flexible.
Okay, rant about the booking process over. What’s actually inside? Three floors of interactive, educational exhibits, that’s what. Level 1 is themed around a typical town centre with child-sized library, market, bank, diner, surgery and garage. Level 2 has a puppet room, theatre, art studio, construction site and dolls house. Level 3 is mostly the roof garden which was closed when we visited in January. Connecting all floors is The Climber, a formidable looking structure aimed at children aged 3 and up – and therefore desperately alluring to daredevil under 3’s like Pea.
The garage was hugely popular with all the kids. In particular, the life-size stationary yellow car (I’m pretty sure it’s actually Bumblebee in fact). This was a bit unfortunate for us, as Pea loves vehicles of all persuasions with a passion bordering on violent. He wanted to get in the car but another kid was already there so we immediately had a meltdown situation. I distracted him with a collection of toy cars and a ramp nearby. This worked for all of about 2 minutes when another child had the cheek to approach the ramp and play with one of the many cars. Pea screamed at her, she burst into tears and was swiftly extracted by her guardian. I scolded Pea possibly a bit too sharply and earned myself a concerned look from a member of staff. Not a good start.
With a bit of coaxing, Pea let himself be drawn away from the cars to explore the rest of the tiny town. We had some success pushing mini shopping trolleys around in the supermarket and eating plastic cakes in the diner. The only thing that really came close to entertaining him as much as the garage was the Town Table, because there were trains. Apparently Level 1 also has a butchers and a water play area which we didn’t see.
We found Level 2 considerably quieter and calmer but the exhibits on this level didn’t have the same appeal for Pea as Level 1. He did rather enjoy the construction zone and some of the sensory pieces but he kept gravitating back towards Level 1. It’s hard to compete with Bumblebee. When he started begging for snacks we retreated to the cafe. Level 1 is visible and accessible from the cafe, and just after our order arrived Pea legged it back to Bumblebee, so that was that. After a bit more playing around in the garage zone, we called it a day and schlepped home.
All of this is sounding very negative but I can’t really fault anything about the exhibits at Imaginosity or the staff, who were generally lovely. It’s just unfortunate that I have a kid who loses his shit over planes, trains and automobiles. We’ll definitely make a return visit once the outdoor play areas have reopened. Now that I know the set up I’ll have a better idea of how to manage Pea’s triggers and won’t stress out about the time slots.
Imaginosity is at The Plaza, Beacon South Quarter, Sandyford. Open daily, see website for full opening hours. Admission is €8 adults and children over 3, €6 for toddlers. Facilities include cafe, gift shop, baby changing and lift access and buggy parking. Buggies cannot be taken into the play areas but baby carriers can be borrowed at reception.
Welcome to Lee and Pea’s pick of the best things to do in Dublin with kids this March. It’s a bumper selection this month as the city (literally) goes green for the five-day St. Patrick’s Day Festival. From 2nd to 3rd of the month, immerse yourself and your little people in a multilingual experience courtesy of the Mother Tongues Festival. Close out the month by heading to the coast for the Mountains to Sea Book Festival. Space doesn’t permit us to include all of the fabulous family friendly events from these festivals. We’ve selected some of our favourites here but be sure to check out the full programme for both festivals so as not to miss out.
1st & 2nd, times vary: Seedlings Early Years Workshop – The Last Straw! @ The Ark
Draw and create shapes with hundreds of paper straws and contribute to a sculpture that…
The Ark is a purpose-built cultural centre for children based in the city’s creative quarter, Temple Bar. Expect a busy schedule of theatre, music, exhibitions and workshop catering for ages 2 to 14.
The Ark has been high on my hitlist of toddler friendly things to do in Dublin since we arrived here in late March. As the events are aimed at children aged two and above, I’ve had to hold off until Pea came of age. I couldn’t quite wait until his second birthday though, I just don’t have that kind of willpower. When I started writing this post, it was going to just be about our experience of Grass, a dance production back in September. But I’ve been so behind with my blogging that we’ve been again since, so I’m going to write about our second visit too. Kind of a Buy One, Get One Free type of deal.
Grass, 27th September
I took a chance and booked this for a then almost 22-month-old Pea in disregard of the age guidance. I don’t make a habit of ignoring age guidance for this type of thing but there’s a dearth of these opportunities in Dublin and I’ve taken Pea to enough shows for young children now to know that he can stay focused in the right conditions.
Grass features dancing, puppetry and projections in a performance that explores the ground beneath our feet and the creatures that inhabit it. I thought Grass was a beautifully conceived an executed show. Like the best performances for young children, the concept is a simple one with a little bit of educational content (interesting facts about various insects) a playful approach and a lot of surreal fun – the ant dance-off being the highlight for both me and Pea.
What didn’t really work for us was the seating. We were seated on the floor right in front of the stage. Cute little fake grass mats were provided which I thought might keep Pea distracted. Wrong. What caught his interest was a ceramic plant pot. It looked like just part of the set but in fact was just a clever way of concealing some of the lighting. We were warned not to touch it as it would get hot. So, that was the one and only thing that Pea wanted to get his hands on. I kept trying to prise him away from it and trying to distract him with other things but he just kept going back, as did several of the other children.
So that was annoying for him and stressful for me. He did eventually settle down and were able to enjoy the rest of the show. I don’t mention this to sound nitpicky – I’m not a theatre professional and don’t pretend to understand the challenges of staging any kind of production, let alone one for such a niche audience. I just think it’s interesting that a neat solution to a staging issue had the potential to derail the performance simply due to the tendencies of the target audience. Since we attended Grass Pea has reached the recommended age threshold and I can confidently say that he’s no more capable now of not touching something he wants to touch than he was two months ago.
Seedlings Early Years Workshop – Slime Symposium, 30th November
Seedlings Early Years Workshops are hands-on, creative workshops for children aged 2-4 and are held monthly at The Ark. When I went to book this a few weeks in advance I discovered it was sold out. I added my name to the waiting list not really expecting anything to come of it. When I didn’t hear anything by the day before, I assumed that was it and made other plans to for my day with Pea.
As it turned out, Pea had a rough night with teething and barely slept. So I barely slept, and then we both did sleep, late into the morning and we missed our window for my planned activity for the day. I couldn’t fire up my burned out brain to devise an alternative plan so resigned myself to the day becoming a write-off. Then we got a call from The Ark advising that a spot had become available for the 2pm workshop and did we want it? Hell yes, we did.
The Seedlings workshops are designed and delivered by Artist in Residence Lucy Hill and take a different format each month. The ‘slime symposium’ promised messy play and our own slime to take home. Nice. Lucy started things off by introducing the children to two crates one filled with ‘mud’ (If I recall correctly it was actually chia seeds but looked very convincing) and one filled with seaweed. Pea ignored the mud but happily got into the seaweed, running it through his hands and studying it closely.
After the seaweed fondling, the kids donned cute little smocks and were set to work at their slime making stations. The slime actually was cornflower more chia seeds and food colouring, with various accessories to embellish it with. We had googly eyes and purple glitter, neither of which Pea was all that interested in. He mostly just wanted to stir the slime ingredients around in the bowl and that was fine. Lucy and her team of assistants made the effort to engage with us and demonstrate the wonders of slime but did so in a relaxed, unobtrusive way. The consistency of the slime, by the way, was more doughy and sticky than slimy but it looked pretty and it felt great so no complaints here.
As well as the slime making, there was a lightbox covered with dyed tapioca balls (the ‘bubbles’ in bubble tea) on top of it that Pea loved playing with. They are satisfyingly squishy to flatten underneath the palm of your hand. Around 10 minutes before the end of the session Pea abandoned messy play altogether in favour of barrelling around the studio. No one said a word or made us feel awkward, which isn’t always the case with similar activities we’ve participated in.
The Ark is at 11a Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. Tickets for Grass costs EUR 12.50 each. Tickets for Seedlings cost EUR 11.50 per child/adult pair. The Ark building has step free access, accessible toilet and baby change facility. No cafe on site, but there are numerous options around Temple Bar and Dame Street.
EPIC is one of Dublin’s newest museums, opened in 2016 in the historic CHG building. With it’s modern facilities and highly interactive displays the museum is very appealing to families with young children. As a recent returning immigrant I was interested in reflecting on the experiences of Irish immigrants and their contribution to the countries they settled in. When Pea’s Dad had a job interview nearby, we decided to make a day of it.
For the first hour or so it was just me and Pea, while Pea’s Dad went to his interview. We asked about parking the Pea mobile when we booked tickets and were advised to fold it up and put it in one of the lockers. I don’t think any of us expected it to fit. It didn’t. I felt obliged to push it around one-handed while attempting to control Pea with my free hand. In the end, an obliging staff member agreed to store the buggy in a locked room, giving me both hands free for optimum toddler wrangling.
Upon arrival, visitors are given ‘passports’ with a space inside to stamp each of the sections as you move through the museum. This is such a nice idea. It’s practical, as it serves as a map of the museum and I found this much easier to navigate my way around than a traditional floor plan. It doubles up as an activity trail, as visitors stamp their own passports in the stamping machines in each room. This would be a great way to keep little people focused.
The first few rooms focus on individual stories of immigrants, the reasons they may have left (famine, political strife, employment opportunities, missionary work). Later rooms cover the social, political and cultural impact of Irish immigrants worldwide. There were some really nice little touches throughout the museum. In one section, there’s a selection of old fashioned school tables with crayons, which kept Pea busy for a blissful twenty minutes or so. We had the most success, funnily enough, in a room decked out like a traditional Irish pub with little tables, traditional music and pub quizzes. The touch screen quizzes proved to be a great distraction for Pea, and gave me a much needed rest. I also really liked the ‘Achieving Infamy’ section with a myth-busting quiz about notorious Irish criminals.
When Pea’s Dad returned, we were all hungry and Pea was looking tired, so we stopped for lunch. Once Pea fell asleep in his pram we were able to go back for a second walk through and this time I was able to take my time to read the bits that interested me. There is a lot to take in, and even though we spent most of the day here there were still sections that I didn’t get to fully appreciate during Pea’s napping window.
I really liked the fact that the museum shines light on the positive impact immigrants have had in the world and not just on the tragic reasons for leaving the homeland. I had expected it all to be a bit heavy on famine and strife but it was much more balanced than that. The exhibits are interactive and innovative, making some subjects, such as sports, much more appealing to me than they generally would. While there’s nothing here to directly engage with very young children it’s overall very family friendly and Pea certainly found enough to keep himself occupied.
EPIC The Irish Immigration Museum is at the CHQ building Custom House Quay, Dublin 1. Open daily, 10-5. Admission is EUR 15 adults, EUR 7.50 for children 6-12, under 5’s go free. Step free access, accessible toilets, baby changing and lockers are available. The CHQ building has a gift shop and several food and beverage outlets for refuelling.
Dublinia is a heritage centre located in Christchurch Dublin. Visitors can learn all about Dublin’s Viking and Medieval past through interactive exhibits.
I’ve been meaning to visit Dublinia ever since I can remember and certainly long before Pea’s arrival in the world. Somehow, despite my numerous visits to Dublin before we moved to the city I’d never gotten around to it. I’d earmarked this one as something to do with Pea on a rainy Autumnal day, but in the end, after weeks of baking hot weather I just wanted to do something indoors and relatively cool.
There are four exhibitions to explore – Viking Dublin, Medieval Dublin, History Hunters and St Michael’s Tower. Viking Dublin provides some context into the Viking way of life. You can step inside a poky Viking house, learn the runic alphabet (we didn’t) or wield some Viking weaponry (we tried). This part of the experience was the least successful for us, it was difficult to engage Pea with many of the exhibits and I couldn’t read any of the information because I was too busy trying to prevent him from getting trampled by other visitors.
Medieval Dublin was much more successful for us. Here, you can explore Dublin’s docklands, call into a merchant’s home for dinner, play games from the time and, best of all, do some shopping at the market. The highlight of this was the spice trader’s stall with its selection of spices stored in drawers within Pea’s reach.
History Hunters focuses on archaeological techniques and the process of piecing together the city’s past. This exhibition included more information to read than the others and I mostly had to skim these as Pea isn’t capable of remaining still for long enough for me to read anything. Still, there were some nice hands-on features that Pea loved. Namely, trying on hard hats and attempting to get his little bubba feet into an adult sized pair of wellies. This section also included some archaeological finds for handling, an opportunity to create a trace drawing and interactive quizzes at the end.
At the end of the History Hunters exhibition is the gift shop, coffee shop and an exit and I nearly missed the final part of the Dublinia package – St. Michael’s Tower. This recently renovated medieval tower offers stunning views over the city. I wasn’t sure how Pea’s little legs would cope with the 96 steps to the top, but to his credit, he got almost all the way up before he threw up his arms to be carried. The views from the top really are gorgeous and it was very quiet and peaceful there. The best bit? All that climbing tired Pea out and he slept for nearly two hours afterwards.
Dublinia is at St. Michael’s Hill, Christchurch, Dublin 8. Facilities include baby changing, step-free access, cafe and gift shop. There’s no designated buggy park but the front of house team let me store the Pea-mobile by the entrance. Admission is EUR 9.50 per adult, EUR 6 for children and under 3’s go free.