Dora’s Ballet Adventure

Dora's Ballet Adventure
If you watch Nick Jr you can’t fail to have spotted the trailers for a new Dora The Explorer – Dora’s Ballet Adventure! Read on for more info… and we’ll add a review (with input from H) very very soon…

Break out your dancing shoes because Dora the Explorer’s dance class is having a big show! In this brand new special Dora Ballet Adventure, Dora is opening the ballet show and she can’t wait for her family to see her perform. She just needs her dance slippers, but by mistake the Delivery Duck has brought scuba flippers instead! The show can’t start without the slippers. Can Boots help Dora find a pair of dance slippers and save the show?

Dora micro site:
http://www.nickjr.co.uk/dora
Preview link here:
http://www.nickjr.co.uk/watch/dora/dora-ballet-adventure-preview/
There’s a game over here:
http://www.nickjr.co.uk/play/dora/ballet-adventure/#!
A drawing activity sheet here:
http://www.nickjr.co.uk/create/dora/ballet-dancing-colouring-sheet

To celebrate this special there are a number of repeats throughout the week, so fans of Dora won’t miss out on the show. Here is the full line-up:

Friday 30th Sept at 4pm and 6pm
Saturday 1st Oct 10.30am and 5pm
Sunday 2nd Oct at 1pm
Monday 3rd Oct – 8.30am and 4.30pm
Tuesday 4th Oct – 10.00am
Wednesday 5th Oct – 2pm
Thursday 6th Oct – no show
Friday 7th Oct – 4.30pm

The Bopps

It’s a rare occasion when someone involved in music you grew up with would then have an influence on music your child is currently growing up with (especially when she’s only 2) – but it’s already happened. Stan Cullimore, formerly of The Housemartins can be found these days on Nick Jr as Stan Bopp – alongside Keith Littler (producer of hit UK kids shows such as Merlin and Little Red Tractor) aka Keith Bopp – collectively known as The Bopps (in case you hadn’t already guessed!).

Each episode begins with a slapstick comedy sketch usually featuring Stan Bopp playing a trick on poor Keith Bopp. Expect squirrel costumes, invisible bikes and even a magic remote control that changes people’s clothes! The Bopps then perform one of their catchy songs, which will bring out a love for music in pre-schoolers. Songs include Hungry Squirrel, Dizzy the Dragon and The Holiday Song.

I was given an opportunity to ask them some questions – please read on…

Firstly I have to say, back when I was in my teens, one of my favourite bands was The Housemartins. It’s kind of weird and good that a member of a band I grew up with is now someone my daughter is growing up with! Have you had many people say this since the show started?

(Stan Bopp – SB) Hiya – glad your daughter likes the show, and glad you liked The Housemartins. Does that mean good taste runs in your family? Hee hee. Actually I have had a few people say similar things and I think it’s fantastic. Makes me feel all warm and cosy! My kids were growing up when I was in the HM’s and now I’ve got grandkids it feels like a pleasant evolution. Also, since we’re trying to make a show that both kids and their parents will like – you and your (extremely clever and tasteful) daughter are living proof that we’re on the right path!

(KB): I wasn’t in The Housemartins but Stan Bopp did give me a sock and a Diarylea triangle he found in the car park – near the studio they recorded in.

The first series and accompanying album featured four of you – the current series only two – what happened?

(SB) Keith told the others they had a choice – either they had to start calling him “Sir Keith Bopp of the Regal Gloucesters” or they had to leave. Luckily I was on holiday that day so I got to stay in the show. Over to you KB for the more fact filled version….

(KB) The true, and not so funny answer, is that the new minimalist style of series 2 and the decision to include dialogue meant 4 would have been overcrowded on screen and impossible to write for in 2 min. segments. Mike, Jo and I started playing together in the early 90’s so we’re very good chums. They were ok about it. Mike continues to produce our records and provide techie stuff on our live shows, Jo still sings on the songs (beautifully) and, as a animation voice over person, is very busy anyway. So there has been no fall out and we still play together from time to time

Watching a lot of children’s TV programmes these days I have to ask, do you get inspiration from shows such as The Wiggles – they are excellent at getting messages across, each person has their own colour, and the songs are catchy – all of which I’d say applies to your show too.

(SB) I would agree that the Wiggles are excellent. I’m also a big fan of Justin Fletcher. Truth is, I’m just grateful that you would mention us in the same breath.

(KB) That’s a good question. Never sure where inspiration comes from but The Wiggles have come up a lot in conversation since we went on air. I share Stan’s view that it’s lovely you should mention us in the same breath but they are in a different class…..I think they’ve been going nearly 20 years and are pretty global whereas we are pretty well known in Stan Bopp’s house!

When you play gigs, what would you say your target audience age would be? Is it something that would be suitable for a 2 year old who likes to listen to music, is it just the music, or are there sketches too?

(SB) On telly our main target audience is supposed to be 3 to 5 years old – plus any parents who are watching! But my youngest grand-daughter is 18 months old and I think she would love to watch one of our live shows. (When we play one close enough to her home!) We pretty much do on stage what we do on the TV show – a mix of sketches and songs – though we also interact with people; getting them to sing along and get up and dance. So really – anyone who feels like joining in and having some fun would be very welcome.

(KB) I genuinely try not to think about it. Whilst common sense dictates certain things one can and can’t do the rest, in my opinion, should be spontaneous. As dads, and Stan Bopp is also a granddad, we do what we know works with our kids and their friends. We also make a point of trying to create songs that won’t drive mum and dad bonkers… not straight away anyway!

Stan, what made you move from music into writing books? Was it something that was easy to do? I’ve found I want to write books from making up stories with my daughter – was it that kind of a progression which then led to where you are now with The Bopps?

(SB) Yes, it’s definitely been a progression. I started writing books for my children. Then as they got older I started writing kids TV shows that I thought they would like (mainly so that they would think I was a “cool” dad – not that it ever really worked!) And when I got grandkids I started writing songs for the Bopps which I thought my grandkids would like to listen to. So my advice to you would be – keep on with the making up of stories!

(KB)The market for kid’s books is a difficult one to crack and one has to think carefully about prose style, illustration and content. My books have all been based on TV series I have made (which helps) but all have a theme… the little guy beating the odds. Stan Bopp is right… focus on what you like and do that well. The minute you try to make something “for” the market it tends to go horribly wrong.

We’ve found that a lot of the time with the show it’s on at the wrong time, so we’ll catch it at weekends, or record it in the morning to watch later – do Nickelodeon have any plans for repeats later in the day?

(SB) We don’t know yet… but we shall ask them – and mention your name!

(KB) There might be plans for the series to be on later in the day. We’ll tip you the wink when we get the details.

(me – hurrah!)

How long would you say it takes to create an episode, and how easy do you find it?

(SB) I would like to say it is very easy and doesn’t take much time. But that would NOT be true! It takes ages to do every single episode of The Bopps – because Keith Bopp won’t stop telling everyone stories about his train-set. No – really!

(KB) Oooo! That is so…er…well…true really. Dull answer is about 3 hours for a sketch and then half a day for the song. Of course composing and recording the songs, writing sketches, post-production and all the techie stuff adds time (and money). But we do enjoy it and hopefully you can see
we’re having a good time. The crew is excellent – very friendly and we are looked after well for a couple of old’uns.

(KB) Lastly, on behalf of us both…a massive thankyou for the questions and your kind words….about Stan Bopp!

Ha, sorry Keith!

If you’ve not yet seen The Bopps, then head over here where there’s lots of video to watch. Their official site is over here and you’ll find tour dates here!

Catch The Bopps every morning on Nick Jr’s Wake Up World at 7.35am

Thank you to Stan and Keith for answering the questions, and to Louise for your help!

London Aquarium

London Aquarium was perfect for H – somewhere there was plenty going on and to look at, and given her love of fish, turtles, starfish, seahorses, jellyfish, sharks… oh there was so much to point out to her, and every time she was transfixed.

It’s a nice safe area, though children under 12 must be accompanied by someone over 18. We had the buggy with us and access was good – plenty of lifts.

The areas with open water had barriers high enough that H could climb up but not be in danger – and there were so many different things to look at she didn’t get bored. Plus for adults it’s a nice calm, serene kind of place. It was quiet enough to let H walk around freely as well.

One thing we forgot about was the Aquarium goes two floors down – so there’s no mobile phone access – so bear that in mind if you’re going to meet someone when you leave!

Annoyingly I hadn’t planned in advance to go there, so paid full price at the door – if you book in advance you can make a good saving – and it also qualifies for the 2 for 1 National Rail deal (you just have to show your rail tickets and have the correct voucher) – so definitely worth doing.

We didn’t use the facilities, so I can’t comment on those unfortunately, but given everything else was easily accessible, I’d like to think they were excellent too…

Official website – http://www.visitsealife.com/london/

[googleMap name=”Sea Life London Aquarium” description=”Sea Life London Aquarium”]SEA LIFE London Aquarium, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, London, SE1 7PB[/googleMap]

Claremont Landscape Garden, Esher

Claremont Landscape Garden has recently had a kids area put in – which consists of lots of soft play area, and a few wooden things to climb on.

The largest one has the best things on it – alas, it’s meant for over 5’s which we didn’t realise until H had been up it and gone down the slide several times (beware the sides, which are quite open, which was a bit worrying) – there’s also a smaller hut, and a larger one to the side, as well as a couple of one person see saw’s, and a large play area.

Best of all, with National Trust Membership you get in for no extra cost than your yearly membership (don’t forget the Quidco deal, which works out around £35 ish a year) – plus in the park itself there’s lots of space to walk around and plenty to see.

I didn’t get a chance to check out changing facilities, but generally National Trust places are pretty reliable and good.

For more info, head here.

Mayfield Lavender, Banstead, Surrey

What you have here are fields of lavender – it’s not a pick your own kind of place, but it’s lovely to wander and take photos and have your kids run around (watch out for bees and nettles though).

It’s free entry and there’s plenty of parking – there’s a small refreshment area and shop towards the entrance which has plenty of lavender bundles you can buy at a very reasonable £3.50 each.

Don’t forget to take sunhats, cream and water on a hot day – there’s very little shade!

http://www.mayfieldlavender.com/

Wakehurst Place

We’re National Trust members (you can get a very very good deal via Quidco) and often visit Wakehurst Place – for free entrance you can be a National Trust or Kew member.

For this you get acres of green to walk around (and hills too, there’s some very buggy unfriendly ones, but we did it!), lots of plants, flowers and trees.

We’d not spotted them before, but there’s a few areas which are marked with an asterisk (on the map) which are designed for younger visitors, H being almost two enjoyed two of the ones we went to.

There’s also two cafe’s, both very child-friendly. There’s changing, and the whole area is pretty much safe for a child to run around (beware, there are ponds and a lake though), as well as plenty of ducks.

The shop at the end is also good space wise to get your buggy round!

Cheam Park, Cheam

This park is a good large space, though disappointingly a lot of the playground equipment seemed geared towards older children.

There’s plenty of swings for the young ones, mini see-saw’s, and a large one and a Fire Engine they can climb inside, and slide down – but the best bit of all has to be the enormous sandpit.

Previously a paddling pool, it’s huge, with a little hut in the middle.

H loved running around, but I found she was more attracted to the rides which were a bit too old for her.

Bonus – the car park right next to the park is free.

Lady Neville Play Area, Banstead

This park is situated to the rear of the new Waitrose store. Facility-wise there’s a large cafe (complete with acoustic guitar playing this afternoon), and plenty of space to sit down and have some refreshments, as well as Ikea highchairs for your kids.

In the play area itself the majority of the playground equipment is for older kids (H is almost 2 now), but there’s some swings for really small children (that don’t swing too much), as well as two similar ones which go a bit higher. H’s favourite bit was a climbing frame which is pretty child-friendly, but has good climbing support and a slide on it – perfect for the 2-4 age range, I think – something most parks around here are lacking!

The biggest downside is that there’s nowhere with any shade within the play area – generally not a problem for most of the year, but today was a really hot one, there is a large grassy area which has shade outside the park which is great space for the kids to run around.

There’s also a younger child friendly climbing wall (but I’d not recommend them doing it on their own!).

Beanies, Croydon

‘Beanies’ is a play centre/cafe in central Croydon, on the site of the old Beanos record store. On the ground floor is a cafe area, but if you want to go up to the play area on the first floor there is also waiter service. They give you a wristband which acts as a tab you then settle on leaving. They also hire out their top floor to other ‘organisations’ that offer music, dance, drama and even yoga classes etc.
Pros: The staff are very friendly, it was set up by mums with young children. The cafe does a wide range of sandwiches, paninis, cakes and drinks. There are lots of toys and dressing up costumes for babies and toddlers. They sometimes offer painting and other arts & crafts activities. There is no restriction on length of stay.
Cons: Personally, I found £5 entrance to the play area a bit expensive considering the toys are not dissimilar to what is provided at our local Sure Start Centres (which are free) and toddler groups. There was no soft play area, which I had expected it to have. The food and drink prices are comparable to typical cafes and coffee shops, whereas another play centre I know in Addiscombe only charges @ 50p for kids sandwiches.

If it was cheaper, we might go more frequently as a treat after shopping. However, for us there are cheaper, more local, places with soft play climbing areas that we would prefer to go.

Vines Bar & Grill, Carshalton

This place has only just opened, although (and this is a guess) is probably owned by the people who had the Greek Taverna in Carshalton – which is now closed.

There’s good buggy access, and already some good deals – buy a coffee and get a free croissant, buy a meal and get your child’s one free. The menu is a good selection of regular and meditteranean foods, and a good selection of vegetarian meals.

The downside – at this point there’s no baby changing, although the man I spoke to said they’re converting an office, so that will happen soon.

There’s also an outdoor area at the back.

Although I’ve not dined here, it looks good, it’s reasonably priced, and definitely worth checking out. Open now (just!)