The Ark

The Ark

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. 

Our visit

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. 

Essential info

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.


Imagine Festival at Southbank Centre

Imagine Festival at Southbank Centre


Imagine is an annual children’s arts festival at Southbank Centre. It’s usually held during February half term. Last year it completely passed me by so this year I was determined to get along.

Our visit

The festival programme included both free and ticketed events and loads of cool things such as an animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes and a special Screaming with Laughter show with the Scummy Mummies. Unfortunately, Screaming is for babies under one year and Revolting was for older kids. I choose to book a musical performance for under 5’s called Whoosh! and planned to stick around after for a free performance by Mil’s Trills, a New York group promising interactive songs for littles.

Pea was in a grumpy mood, for why I don’t recall. Let’s blame teeth, it’s almost always teeth. Before the show even began he’d already had a mini tantrum involving whacking his head on the floor so things weren’t looking promising. After removing our shoes, we were then led in to the performance in the Clore Ballroom. Seating was arranged in a semi-circle and dark curtains were used to block off the ballroom and create a smaller performance space. I sat in the second row with Pea on my lap but our view was a little bit obscured by the people in front.

Whoosh! is a wordless performance based all around breath and air. It’s performed by a trio of musicians who deployed a variety of instruments throughout. The performance began without instrumentation, just gentle movement and breath work. It built to incorporate instruments such as flutes and tubas and a whole bunch of things I couldn’t name. The movements became more elaborate and sometimes comedic as the show progressed. At the conclusion, the children were encouraged to get up on stage and interact with the musicians and the instruments.

I thought the three performers were excellent throughout and was particularly impressed with the way they engaged with the children at the end. Whoosh! is a beautiful show that should have been relaxing for the adults and engrossing for the kids.  However, I felt that the choice of venue worked against the content. Although efforts were made to block off the Clore ballroom, nothing could be done to mask the background noise from the Central bar and foyer. The whole place was heaving with children and their adults so it was really very noisy. I found it hard to concentrate on what was happening, and it was apparent that the children in the audience were getting quite fidgety at times. Despite being out of sorts, Pea was fairly engaged with most of the show but certainly restless at times. It’s is a lovely show I didn’t feel we got value for money on this occasion.

We had a bit of time to kill in between Whoosh! and Mills Trills so we went to the Riverside Cafe for a reviving coffee (me) and a pot of blended goop (Pea). Again, the cafe was extremely busy and loud and Pea drew the unwanted attention of a little girl who was hellbent on poking him in the face and stealing his snacks. I think her mother was having as miserable a time as I was.

With still a bit of time to kill until Mill’s Trills, we ventured up to the quieter levels and Pea was content climbing up and down stairs, waving and giggling at anyone who walked by.  I think this was the happiest he was all day.

We headed back downstairs to the central bar for Mill’s Trills. We got there a good 15 minutes before the start time and there wasn’t a single available seat or even much free floor space. It was loud, hot and chaotic and I probably should have just cut my losses at this point. I wedged us into a tiny patch of floor space for a limited view of proceedings. I developed a sore arse almost immediately.

Mills Trills got started and pretty much delivered what the brochure described –  lively and interactive singing and banter to the accompaniment of an electric ukelele. Again, no discredit to the performers here but we just weren’t feeling it. Pea couldn’t really engage with the music as he wasn’t close enough to the action and I was feeling drained of all energy and struggling to muster up enthusiasm. He got really fidgety then grumpy so after about 10 minutes I felt it best to just get out of there. After a brief struggle to find our buggy amongst the sea of other baby transportation units we left and Pea soon fell asleep for what turned out to be a two-hour nap.

On a whim, I thought I’d take advantage of the sleeping baby and have a sit-down lunch in a proper restaurant. I went to The Green Room, just behind the National Theatre, and a place I first went to on a date with Daddy Pea. The lunchtime rush was fizzling out when I arrived and the staff were friendly and accommodating. I sat there and ate cauliflower tacos, followed by apple pie and washed it all down with a crisp white wine and Pea slept the whole time and it was lovely. Emboldened, I polished it off with a fancy coffee. I spent double what I usually spend on lunches out and I’m not even sorry. It was almost as good as a spa day.

I really wanted to love Imagine festival as the programme looked wonderful but our experience was disappointing. Of course, this was just one day out of a two-week festival so probably not representative. Southbank Centre is a brilliant venue for families, but I’d be a bit wary of attending any Imagine festival events in future. I just can’t handle the crowds and it turns out neither can my kid.

Essential info

Imagine Festival takes place each February at Southbank Centre, London SE1. Some events are ticketed, some free so check the programme for details. There’s baby changing, lift access, bookshops and several cafe/bars throughout the building.