Half term didn’t quite start as we’d planned, with two of my three children coming down with sickness bugs this morning. Such rubbish timing!
We’d arranged to visit St Fagans National History Museum today to check out their children’s explorer activity packs and their half term activities as part of our role as blogger ambassadors. However, there was no way Toddler and Little Miss E could have left the house so I left Cardiff Daddy at home with the poorly kids (sorry Cardiff Daddy!) and headed to the open air museum for an afternoon of exploring, just me and Little Man O, my five-year-old middle child.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t get many opportunities for one-to-one time with him and as much as I missed the others, and wished they weren’t poorly, the quality time was lovely, spending time where he wanted to go.
We picked up our Explorer Pack from the welcome cabin on arrival and set off on the challenges suggested in the books. The packs cost £3.50 each, which is a fair price, considering the museum is free to enter (other than parking, which is £5 for the day – and donations are always appreciated to help with the upkeep of the 100+ historical buildings from across Wales which have been rebuilt at the museum).
The Explorer Pack comes in a dark green drawer-string ruck sack, with the museum’s name and logo on the front. Included inside is an A5 bilingual notebook designed to get you thinking about certain buildings in the open air museum from the perspective of food. There’s also a souvenir St Fagans writing pencil, a packet of colouring pencils, a picture to colour in and a recipe, as well as a packet of grains, which you can mill yourself.
The packs are aimed at children aged 5 and above, so it was perfect for Little Man, with questions to answer and space to draw what you have seen. Toddler would not have appreciated it in the same way as his big brother did, but there’s still enough to inspire older toddlers and pre-schoolers.
It’s also good for inspiring grown-ups. We visit St Fagans a lot, so I enjoyed adding a new dimension to our visit. In fact, because we visit a lot, we don’t need to try to do everything in one day, instead preferring to focus on a few different buildings each time we visit, and the pack helped us do this with the theme of food.
We’ve been to the mill before, but the explorer pack really encouraged us to spend time in there (a good half an hour, in fact). Miller Geraint Thomas was on hand to answer all our questions (and Little Man had lots!), as well as helping us to mill our grains with the use of a stone grinder. Geraint explained exactly how everything worked, from the water wheel outside, to the rope sack hoist.
From there, we headed to the Gwalia Stores, which has always been one of my favourite buildings. Little Man had to think about what he’d put on his shopping list if he’d lived back in the late 1920s, which is the era the shop depicts, as well as using the traditional scales to work out the weight of two mystery packages.
The pack also focused on kitchens and we spent a lot of time talking to the guide in the Nanwallter cottage, built in the 1770s, who told us all about the different utensils and equipment used to cook food on the open fire.
The guides at St Fagans really are a wealth of fascinating information and, if you have the time, it’s worth chatting to them. They answered all of Little Man’s questions thoughtfully and fully, and I came away having learned lots too. As much as St Fagans is a visual, hands-on experience, it’s good to get that expert knowledge too.
The book also asked us to think about the farm animals at the museum (pigs, cows and sheep among others) and the vegetables growing in the various gardens. We did the latter in the ironworkers’ cottages, a row of small terraced houses from Rhyd-y-Car in Merthyr, each depicting a different era from 1805 to 1985. We love the houses, but this encouraged us to think more about the gardens and how self-sufficient our ancestors were.
As it’s half term, the museum has a range of activities on celebrating childhood.
We made wooden peg dolls and a paper thaumatrope, where two different images appear as one when you spin it around. This costs £2 per child, but you can make as much as you like for that amount. Miss E had been really looking forward to this, so we took her home some fabric, wool and a traditional wooden peg to make her own doll, when she feels better.
The toy making continues tomorrow, Sunday as well as Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th February. From Monday to Friday visitors can enjoy free playtime sessions with traditional toys and Victorian childhood guided tours (£2 per person, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm).
We finished the afternoon by visiting a few of our favourite buildings, such as the bright red Kennixton farm house, the Victorian school, the 1960s prefab and the toll gate.
A few things to note when visiting St Fagans – parking costs £5 per vehicle and you need to have the correct change. Also, while the museum grounds are buggy-friendly, prams and pushchairs are not permitted in most of the houses, due to the damage they can cause. There are toilets at the entrance and near the prefab, including baby changing facilities. The café is currently closed due to building work on a new visitors’ centre, but there are drink and snack stalls at the main entrance.
See the St Fagans website for more information on the Explorer Packs and half term activities.