Monkey beamed up at me as he excitedly grabbed some sellotape and red flags. “Mummy, we’re going to stick this on the mast and put them along the side of the ship, too,” he instructed. It was 10.00am on a Sunday morning and we were making paper ships hats, before embarking on a treasure hunt across the grounds of the University of Kent. Not your usual weekend activity, but then again, we were enjoying a host of workshops and events at BOing! – a family-friendly Kent Festival in Canterbury.
Even though we specifically came to Canterbury to enjoy BOing! the family-friendly Kent festival, we couldn’t return home without exploring some of the historic city. Although time wasn’t on our side, we did manage to sneak in a quick visit to Canterbury Cathedral and appreciate its exterior – it’s one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site. We couldn’t take a tour inside because we had to meet Henry from Canterbury Historic River Tours.
There are so many wonderfully quaint pretty buildings from a bygone era that grace the River Stour that it’s impressive being able to see if from the water. Meeting Henry on Kings Bridge next door to an old weaver’s cottage, we boarded the boat and set off on a new Myths and Magic Tour. Henry was enthusiastic and ever so good at rowing, steering and talking at the same time. We learned about some of Canterbury’s history interwoven with tales of mythical creatures, legends and of witches. There were several Harry Potter references which had Monkey enthralled and his eyes widened like saucers when Henry showed us the Ducking Stool, which was used on women who were thought to be witches.
It was only around 25 minutes long, but it was a perfect introduction to the stories behind the city, and more than enough to keep two little ones entertained.
Our weekend at Boing! – A Kent Festival
Celebrating international arts, BOing! showcases the best of dance, theatre, music and film with a variety of different live events, shows and workshops by performers from all across the world. It’s also family-friendly, open to children of all ages and free to enter. Set in the University of Kent’s vast grounds and different venues, the Kent festival was easily accessible and well run, considering BOing! had a tightly packed schedule and many thousands of visitors over the course of the weekend.
There was plenty to occupy families from the silent disco – where we all enjoyed a little boogie to live shows, including our particular favourite, the Bollywood Brass Band, who got the crowd dancing with their vibrant mix of great tunes with a Bollywood edge. We also loved the DJ Frietmachine installation, where the humble potato produces some amazing melodies as well as a portion of chips all at the same time!
It was impossible not to find a suitable performance or event, as there were too many to choose from. The children were able to roam quite freely, finding their own way to various pop-up stalls such as the face-painting and the Yurt for Little People – where Peanut enjoyed a short session of stories and rhymes. We also spent some time watching the CSI Forensics team as they were learning how to collect samples. Monkey was desperate to join in but unfortunately, he was too young on this occasion.
What we particularly liked – aside from the good organisation of this Kent festival which saw plenty of facilities such as baby changing and toilets close by, food and drink available all over campus and helpful staff and volunteers – was the laidback and peaceful atmosphere of BOing! Everyone appeared to be having a wonderful time and because of the timetable and ticketing system for the paid-for events, it didn’t feel crowded. Of course, it was impossible to do everything, but we really did give it a good go. Here are some of our highlights at BOing!
10-Minute Dance Party
As we made our way to the old shipping container right in the centre of the complex, we joined in with a warm-up dance outside – this definitely lightened spirits and left the children amused. With young DJs inside spinning the decks, we all entered the container and began dancing straightaway especially as the first track was the ever so boppy Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars. Even the baby, mesmerised by the disco lights, busted some moves. Ten minutes just flew by!
Beatles for Babies
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this quartet of musicians. Asked to sit around a square stage, I was worried that Peanut would be up and about and getting in the way. And I was quite right – there was no chance that he would sit still on my lap for any length of time. Luckily, the whole point of La Petita Malumaluga’s show is to get young children into the rhythm of the Fab Four’s music and it was endearing to see my little man swaying to Hey Jude and Let it Be. The performance made up of violin, saxophone, cello and percussion, as well as a dancer was captivating and I was sad when Peanut decided he’d had enough after 20 minutes and walked to the door waving goodbye. This was my cue to leave albeit very reluctantly.
Shipbuilder Workshop and Treasure Hunt
Run by Animate Arts, this fantastic workshop enabled Monkey and me to work together and release some of our creative juices. First up, we had to make a large paper ship and decorate it in our team colour of red. After attaching it to a hat, Monkey was then able to wear it while we went on a treasure hunt with our team captains. Against the yellows, it was a race to discover all the clues around campus from different characters played by various members of the Gulbenkian Youth Theatre. They were all excellent, so confident and able to easily involve the children in various exercises from singing and dancing, to puzzle solving. It really was great fun, and Monkey was pleased to be able to have a share of the treasure.
We saved the best until last. After taking off our shoes and slowly making our way to the entrance of a huge tented structure, we were ushered inside through a zipped door. What greeted us was a stunning spectacle of dazzling lights in a cascade of different colours.
We were spellbound as we moved through different tunnels bathed in light, and then discovering several soaring domes with magnificent ceilings. We spent some time marvelling at Katena, which has been likened to a Hindu temple. You’re encouraged to sit and take it all in, so we decided to lie underneath it for a time. The kids adored it – finding little nooks for themselves and then exploring the paths. Our 20-minute time slot went all too quickly, but nevertheless, it was a fitting end to our time at BOing! – we all left on a huge high.
And even though the heavens opened and it began to pour down with rain after we left the Luminarium, we felt lucky enough to have been able to really delve into the heart of BOing! and enjoy a wonderful array of different talent aimed at visitors of all ages. Plus with such a relaxed atmosphere, it never felt frantic or overbearing. It was just as easy to wander aimlessly and discover the various treats awaiting you around the festival, as it was to go to the ticketed events.
Our weekend in Canterbury and at Kent festival BOing! was a huge success and we all slept very well when we returned home – so exhausted by how much we packed into the weekend. It’s not often that each and every member of the family is able to enjoy specific events that allow for creativity and an openness to different experiences from all over the world. From storytimes and dancing to a spectacular light show, we all had a blast and it made a nice change for us to do something out of the norm.
* This post was written in collaboration with Visit Kent. We were provided with overnight accommodation at Ebury Hotel and complimentary entry to the ticketed events at BOing!. As always opinions are my own.