It’s not very often that all three of us get to spend time together as a family. Luke’s either at his dad’s or Mikey is at work. It makes having family days out quite tricky. Luckily for us, bank holidays exist!
Thanks to the long weekend at the beginning of the Easter holidays, we were able to plan something fun to do with Luke. Originally, we were going to take a trip to the beach and visit Portsmouth – a favourite spot for us, however, the weather was awful so we decided to do something a little closer to home.
After browsing through my 95 Things To Do With The Kids This Summer In Surrey and Hampshire blog post for some inspiration, Mikey came up with a great idea for a day out. Not quite in Surrey, but just outside of it in Berkshire, lies amazing place called The Look Out Discovery Centre. The centre is adjacent to Swinely Forest in Bracknell. This means that not only does it offer an amazing activity filled day for children, you can also find bike trails for all capabilities and practice some den building in the forest.
Hands On Science
The Look Out Discovery Centre is all about hands on science! With over 90 different activities, the centre offers interactive scientific exhibitions that children of all ages can benefit from and enjoy. The activities are organised into zone which correspond with topics that our children may be learning about at school. In fact, The Look Out Discovery Centre often runs school trips for children and it’s the perfect way to reinforce our children’s learning.
There are five zones at The Look Out Discovery Centre, each designed to correspond with your child’s school education. The zones are: Forces and Movement, Body and Perception, Light and Colour, Woodland and Water, and finally, Build It.
As we watched Luke play, it was easy to see how the cleverly designed activities were teaching him all about science and the world around him. He was learning about how things happen and why they happen, without being ‘told’ anything.
Our Visit To The Look Out Discovery Centre
Parking and Tickets
An entire day of parking costs £4, or you can pay £2 for four hours of parking. The car park is used for the bike trails, the forest and the Discovery Centre. Don’t worry though, it’s huge and there is plenty of room for cars and coaches. The parking bays are also quite generous too – I assume this is to allow for all the mountain bikers to load and unload their bikes!
When buying your tickets, ensure you take the stub given to you by the parking machine in with you as this gets you £2 off an adult entrance fee to the science exhibitions. The centre is open every day from 10am – 5pm with planned closures over the Christmas period. With the three of us going, we bought two adult tickets (£7.60 as of April 2018) and a child ticket (£5.20 as of April 2018); the child ticket covers children from the age of 4 to 15. There are plenty of ticket deals for toddlers and parents, as well as seniors etc – check out the full list of entry fees.
Woodland and Water Zone
The first zone we visited was the Woodland and Water zone. Here, there’s an indoor river with boats that children can play with – this was especially cool as the different levels and obstacles at various stages of the river affected the currents, which Luke found really fun. He got really stuck in with the other children there and helped a couple of other boys build a dam.
There are also woodcutting ants which were fascinating to watch. By interacting with their habitat, you could change the close up camera angles so that you could really get a good look at what they’ were all up to. The woodland and water zone also had interactive games about our local trees and wildlife and a spinning table you can roll disks across. This part of the exhibition is outside, but the area is covered and there were aprons available for the children to wear so they didn’t get their clothes soggy.
Forces and Movement Zone
Next we ventured inside to explore the Forces and Movement zone. There’s really so much to do here that it’s hard to find the time to go round and play with all the different activities. Luke’s favourite part of this zone was found upstairs. A giant magnetic wall had bits of funnels and tubes dotted around and it’s up to you to build an exciting tunnel for the balls to fall through. The aim is to get the balls from the top of the wall, to the bottom and into the little funnel that shoots the lightweight balls back up to the top of the wall. This activity seemed very popular and lots of tunnels had already been built when we arrived. We spent a long time here, Luke loved watching the balls shoot up their tube and fall down his tunnel; he also really enjoyed watching other people’s tunnels too.
We explored some more of this zone, but as I say, there really was so much to get through and Luke was having fun exploring and switching from activity to activity. There is a hydrogen rocket that you can launch into the air, but sadly that didn’t seem to be working on the day we visited. This is apparently a very popular attraction and one that Mikey remembers from a school trip he went on way back in the day! I found a great table with two holes in which you can shoot ping pong balls into and learn how gravity would react between two stars or black holes.
Light and Colour Zone
The Light and Colour zone is really something and we all enjoyed this immensely. This zone is a lot smaller than the forces and movement zone, but definitely worth a visit! It’s very dark inside and the main feature has to be the heat seeking camera that displays your image across the wall. All the children were fascinated by this and Luke was rubbing his hands together and watching them change colour on the wall. The UV shadow box was also amazing fun and we spent quite a lot of time in here. The UV light made our entry wrist bands and teeth glow; Luke also had a jumper with white specks on which lit up in the shadow box room!
Build It Zone
Thanks to school and Cbeebies shows ‘Bitz and Bobs’ and ‘Do You Know?’, Luke is extremely curious about the world around him and how things are made. Sometimes this is a little awkward as I don’t always know the answers! On the way to The Look Out Discovery Centre, Luke happened to be talking about roofing and was asking Mikey how builders put roofs of houses. Mikey dutifully explained the process to Luke and he seem quite happy with the answer. Imagine Luke’s glee when we found the build it zone which features and entire role play area dedicated to roofing! Luke climbed up onto the ‘roof’, popped his builder’s hat on and got to work! There are also giant building blocks that look like Lego and little trucks children can zoom around in and collect more bricks.
Body and Perception Zone
Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to visit the Body and Perception zone on this visit, but next time we go, we will definitely have to find it! This is an area that Luke would be seriously captivated by – I imagine that we’d lose a good hour in there!
The Look Out Tower
This is probably the highlight of the day out for Luke. The tower can be seen from the car park and as soon as we arrived, Luke was buzzing to go up it. There are 88 steps to the top of the tower where there’s a spacious viewing point – from here you can try and spot your car in the car park, see that playground and marvel at the glorious view of Swinley Forest.
In my opinion, the cafe lets the whole place down a little. The staff were friendly, but not very on the ball and the food options we very limited – especially for vegetarians! While we were there, we also heard a few other customers talking about the lack of information regarding allergy awareness – there was no clear indication of ingredients or potential allergy advice. There were no vegetarian sandwiches or light snacks available, so my lunch for that day was a piece of carrot cake. I didn’t fancy a bigger meal (like a jacket potato) and all the food was over priced and mediocre at best.
Next time we visit, we will definitely be taking a packed lunch!
The playground here is incredible – it is definitely one of the best children’s playgrounds I have come across in my local area. This playground isn’t part of the Discovery Centre and is free to use. There are three sections in this huge play area: a playground focused on accessibility, a playground for younger children and a playground for older children.
I really like that the play area is divided this way! Luke is a lot more confident physically now, but a year ago, he wasn’t the greatest climber or explorer. We had a small incident last summer when we visited Thomas and Friends on the Watercress Line; Luke was playing on the playground and another boy who was a lot more boisterous and confident on the equipment made Luke lose his balance and fall off the jungle gym.
I also think it’s great that there’s an entire play area designed for those with accessibility needs so that no one has to miss out on the fun.
We had intended to go for a walk through the forest after out visit to The Look Out Discovery Centre, but after all those activities, we were all feeling a bit tired. Instead we hopped over the playground fence (a bit naughty!) and spent the rest of our afternoon building dens. There were lots of children around building dens – some kids were demonstrating some serious survival skills and building brilliant shelters, while the little children were stacking thick logs against trees. We built a great den and ‘decorated’ it with pine needles and pine cones. Luke was a real slave driver and every time we asked if he was finished, he ordered us to collect more logs!
As I mentioned before, the playground here is divided into three sections – one is for
children who need extra space or have accessibility needs. There are also disabled change facilities available, all you need to do is ask for the radar key to gain access to the disabled change/toilet area.
Would We Go Again?
We all had a brilliant day out at the discovery centre and we will definitely be going there again. Hopefully next time we visit, we’ll be able to spend some time in the body and perception zone, as well as going for a nice walk in the forest. If you’re near by, I’d definitely recommend a visit – the centre is great for children of all ages and is well priced for the experience you get.