Melbourne Adventures Part 1: Abbotsford Convent Sensory Art Lab

Abbotsford Convent is one of my favourite places in Melbourne, maybe even in all of Australia! So it only made sense to kick off my recent Melbourne Adventure here.

Quick background: for a few different reasons I decided to take a trip to Melbourne with just my 6 year old daughter and we planned out a week jam-packed with art and play! It was the best!

So we began at Abbotsford Convent, which, if you’ve never been, I highly recommend for the grounds alone. It is, indeed, a former convent that has been converted into a community arts and events space.

We met up there with a friend and her three year old daughter for a Sensory Art Lab program that ran throughout the month of January. It was a completely FREE drop-in space with different rooms and activities. As you entered there was a table set up with various bits of string, paper and tape where you could make a ball to then blast off in a DIY catapult. There were hoops you could aim the balls through, but that was a bit above the skill levels of our two kiddos.

There was a hammock area with books – a bit more relaxing – and a blacklight weaving room, seen below.

Our girls spent most of their time, however, in this loose parts area. An inventive playspace had been set up with a mix of industrial shelves, fabrics, boxes, tyres, cooking utensils, baskets, and all kinds of various bits and bobs.

There were volunteers throughout the space who really enjoyed engaging with the kids. Luella and Penny spent a gloriously long time making “peach soup” which got more and more elaborate, with them foraging for ingredients all over the space and feeding volunteers and other children. Such a great way to spend a morning!

The only thing I didn’t care for was the lighting. I imagine the logistics of working in an old building like this can make your options limited and I’m sure green and pink fluorescent lighting sounded like it could have the potential to be fun. But I personally found it rather harsh and headache inducing. However, I don’t think natural light was an option in many of the areas.

There was an outdoor chalking area though, and of course, the lush gardens and numerous cafes onsite for when you needed an escape the sunlight.

Overall, the kids and I had a great time, and I loved how everything was open-ended and child-directed.

It was such a lovely change of pace to see an engaging and totally free school holiday activity. I spend a lot of time looking for these kinds of things in Sydney and I don’t think I discovered much of anything that was under $25! And while I’m willing to schlep out a bit of cash for a quality program, the lack of accessibility really frustrates me.

I’m a firm believer that play is a fundamental human right for kids – as is the opportunity for creative expression and Sydney just does not offer enough spaces where kids can engage in creative activities for little or no cost. I hope to continue working to shift that culture here.

In the meantime, I count myself lucky that I can skip off to Melbourne and enjoy places like Abbotsford Convent!

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