At Discover Children’s Story Centre, in Stratford, East London, you’ll find a twinkly-lit magic forest, an alien story sorting office, and a frosty playground, complete with penguins. In the world of Discover, it all feel perfectly normal. A visit to the three-story space leaves you with the impression that the creators of this multi-sensory space had great fun taking the best bits from children’s story books, and using them as inspiration.
You enter Discover through a children’s bookshop. This was expanded in 2016 after a refurbishment moved the centre’s café upstairs, into a more fit-for-purpose, airy space. Then there’s a choice. Visitors can either head up, to the new play area that cleverly re-uses fittings from the excellent Once There Was Oliver Jeffers exhibition. Up there you’ll find a slide, a crafting area, a spaceship play-den and a reading corner. Downstairs is where the centre holds its birthday parties, interactive exhibitions, and ticketed workshops. When we visited the exhibition was The Fantastic World of Dr Seuss, which ran until September 2017.
The ground floor holds the most exciting treasures. My children spent a good half hour dreaming up tales in the story sorting office of Hootah. This little creature is a baby alien who wants to gather up stories from earth, and he’s a bit of a mascot for Discover, popping up all over the place. The magic forest includes a hidey-hole with disco lights, and there’s another crafting space on this floor, where children can make masks and wooden spoon-figures. The back of the centre opens out onto a story play garden. So long as the weather’s fine, this is always busy with children exploring the spaceship, the monster whose cheeky tongue doubles up as a slide, and the treehouse.
Although Stratford has plenty of attractions for families, like the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Stratford Circus Arts Centre, Discover seems to attract fewer visitors than if it were in a more central part of London. Having said that, it packs a mighty punch. Big names in the world of children’s literature often star in the centre’s event, the most recent being Michael Rosen.
When we visited, the children enjoyed the Fantastic World of Dr Seuss. This was a timed session in the interactive exhibition space, where a storyteller read The Lorax, then encouraged the youngsters to explore, and to find green eggs, which were hidden around the room. No ham, though.
My daughter enjoyed playing in the Onceler’s Wagon and the Boom Band booth, where you pressed instruments on the wall to make different sounds. My son threw himself into the mini-basketball that was set up in one corner, but he was perhaps a little too old for this exhibition, which worked best for the 3-6 age group.
Both children, however, still talk about the animation workshop, led by artist Grace Emily Manning.
The workshop lasted two hours. Children chose shapes and colours to create a Dr Seuss-inspired creature that would move across a screen. They then took it in turns to sit with Grace while she helped them take pictures of their little monsters. The resulting animations showed them crossing a bridge by hopping, flying, doing somersaults…. It was an awful lot of fun, and educational. I was also pleased that Discover had managed to host a session that managed to engage and enthuse my seven-year-old son, as a lot of the centre’s activities are aimed at pre-schoolers. Discover has been a favourite with our family over the years, and I’m not quite ready for him to outgrow the centre just yet……
Have you been to Discover Children’s Story Centre?
A day pass to Discover is £6.60 per person, or £22 for a family of four. We were given free admission for the purpose of this post.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.
Pin for later: