Do most mums dread the school holidays?

Yes, but I never understood why until I experienced them this year. My little girl isn’t in school yet but she attends a preschool that closes over the school holidays. So we have just concluded two and a half weeks of holiday hell.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy spending time with my children – I do – it’s more the constant brain drain of entertaining them. (Good job I write for this site!) I survive the holidays by keeping the kids occupied through activities, camps, play dates, beach trips and parks.

Fine and Dandy

I thought I had exhausted nearly every activity in the Sydney area until I came across the Dandy Lions preschool programme in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney.

A friend told me about Dandy Lions about a year ago. I dismissed it as it runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays in term time. Tuesday is normally a preschool day for us and Thursday is swimming so I have never been able to go for logistical reasons.

Dandy Lions isn’t technically a holiday activity – it’s a term time, twice weekly event but as her preschool was closed for a ‘planning’ day the other Tuesday, it gave us an opportunity to try it.

A beautiful sunny day, we arrived at the meeting place refreshed by baby-chinos, a chai latte and banana bread, after a lovely stroll through the amazing Royal Botanical Gardens.

We were a bit early (registration is at 10.15), so the team were setting up. My first born is anything but shy, so she was
straight in there asking if she could help set up. The team were very obliging and assigned her some tasks and engaged her beautifully – allowing me time to cream up number two and enjoy the view.

Dandy Lions takes place near the Victoria Gate Lodge. The sloping lawn has spectacular views into the gardens and across to the city and harbour. A pretty amazing way to spend a Tuesday morning.

By 10.30 more mums started to turn up with their kids. By then the activity stations had been set up. There was a play doh table, a craft area (leaf rubbing today), tee pees, a planting table (basil today), silk worms (I will come onto them…) and wheel barrows and sit on caterpillars on which to play.

Play doh station

Play doh station

The morning was divided into free play (assisted when necessary) and group time. Around 11.15 we were called to the picnic blanket area for a story and some songs. Then we all went on a nature trail to the vegetable garden located next to the education centre about a five minute walk away. What a hidden gem. An allotment complete with scarecrows. The children were given a paper bag and the permission to pick the vegetables in the Royal Botanical Gardens. A real novelty for my four year old who I am constantly telling NOT TO PICK THE FLOWERS.

A lovely couple of hours; followed by a picnic in the park with Daddy who works around the corner.

The average age of a Dandy Lion was probably two and a half, although their were some babies. The activities and crafts, story time and music was ideal for that age group. But my four year old got so much out of it by being the eldest and being able to ask and answer questions. The staff were brilliant with her – as she has a tendency to be a bit annoying on the WHY front! One team member even humoured her when she started a water fight with the water spray guns!

Here we go round (the bend looking for) the Mulberry Bush

The highlight of the morning for my two was not the water fight but when one team member asked whether they would like to take home some silk worms. Before I had time to resist my little girl was collecting “cheeky, nibbles, rascal, tiger etc’ and they were placed in a plastic container and we were on our way home with our new pets!

Now the thing I didn’t know about silk worms is that they only eat Mulberry leaves. A native plant of my home country! I was led to believe that they would be in abundance in the back gardens of houses in our Suburb. This wasn’t strictly true. We were given enough leaves to last a day but those little worms like to eat so Day 2 was spent searching back gardens, parks for the elusive mulberry bush. After a fruitless (excuse the pun) search, physically and on the internet, my husband contacted the Dandy Lions organiser to see if she happened to know the location of a Mulberry Bush near us. Unsurprisingly she didn’t but she said that he could come to the gardens and collect some. A bit of paper work and he left the gardens with a huge bag of leaves. A few days later she emailed me with the specific location of a bush near me – excellent service. I can now report we have three cocooning worms, four very hungry ones and only one casualty – sadly one was lost to an unfortunate elbow on the sofa incident.

Further information

Where: Lawn next to Victoria Gate Lodge, Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney. Enter through Victoria Gate from Mrs Macquaries Road.
Cost: $135 per family for a term of Tuesdays or a term of Thursdays (max. 2 children, $50 per extra child). Casual places are also available each week $15 per family. Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens receive a 10% discount.
Bookings essential: Limited casual spaces available each week.
Public transport: Take bus route 441 from the Queen Victoria Building (the first bus of the morning leaves from QVB at 10.08 am and arrives at Dandy Lions at 10.15 am). The closest train station is Circular Quay and it has pram access.
Parking: Metered parking is available along Mrs Macquaries Road
Please note: It does not go ahead if there is heavy rain, thunderstorms or high winds, or if the temperature is above 35 degrees Celsius