Soft play – what they didn’t tell you

So what is soft play? The Macmillan dictionary states that soft play is ‘a playground with a soft surface for young children’.

Sounds pretty self-explanatory right?

WRONG!

If you have never been to soft play, my god, you’re in for a surprise.

The idea is that it is a soft area inside where children can play. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are small little areas within restaurants. Others are the size of a warehouse. They can include ball pits, climbing frames, slides, trampolines obstacles, fireman poles, you name it.

At larger soft play centres, there tends to be sectioned areas for toddlers so aged 3 and under and generally have areas for all ages.

Depending on the age of your child, adults can climb round with them because they certainly need supervision as there can be fairly big drops and steep slides. I still go around with Taormina now and she’s two and a half. If it is a small soft play where she is visible at all times without dangers then she’s fine to play on her own.

What better idea than letting your child run off some steam to hopefully wear the little beauties out so they sleep like angels! Well that’s the theory.

So let me tell you how my first soft play experience went. I went in naive without expectations. I was greeted by several dozen screaming kids. It was pretty overwhelming due to the sheer noise and size of the place. We proceeded to the play area whilst Poppy went and got a hot chocolate and a table. Taormina and I took our shoes off so we could start exploring. Taormina must have been 1 years old so she could crawl around but not walk as such. We went on one of the routes and climbed up a ramp. In came two boys about 7 years old running so fast I naturally guarded her like a Spartan Bodyguard. If only I had a shield! I would have felt safer.

We continued up another climbing ramp where I had to help Taormina. Again, two little children almost climbed over my precious child. I pulled her out of harms way.

At the top we had to squeeze through a tiny tunnel on a slope. I’m not exactly a small guy. I was out of breath and putting my body into all sorts of odd positions that my limbs hadn’t experienced in a while.

Then we came to a stand still near the top. Some boy was blocking the way and telling us we couldn’t go through. As Taormina was trying to crawl passed, he tried stopping her and shouted at her that she couldn’t go. He was being aggressive.

I decided very quickly that the gloves are off. The rules of soft play are that there are no rules!

I looked around to firstly check if the boys dad was bigger than me and gently assisted the little shit down the ramp, out of the way by shoving him so my little princess could enjoy her play time. He was okay, the only thing I hurt was his pride, but he had it coming. I’m the King of this castle.

Once we were at the top, the only way down was one of the 90 degree death-defying slides. I was terrified for my daughter. How is my baby girl going to get down? What if she hurts herself? You can’t go back, going back is like driving the wrong way round a motorway. It’s not designed for it and the volume of traffic makes it impossible. She went down in between my legs. My weight made us go fast! So I had to use the palm of my hands and hope the friction on the slide would reduce the velocity. It worked. The joy of getting back down took my mind off the severe burns on my hands.

Phew. We made it.

I went back to Poppy sweating my butt off, out of breath and fatigue kicked in. I definitely shouldn’t have worn a jumper. I guzzled a bottle of water and asked if we could go home now.

The truth is, kids absolutely love soft play. It’s great fun for them. However, I do think they should change the name as it is false advertising. It should be called something that resembles the battle of Hastings or paint balling.

Once you get used to soft play and remember the rules, you will be more confident and experience is key.

When your child is a toddler, they definitely need supervising as much as possible. I’m yet to have the experience with older children so look forward to it.

I strongly feel new parents should be warned about soft play. Maybe the NHS could include it in antenatal classes? I tried googling some sort of suitable body armour but they don’t do bullet proof vests in children’s sizes.

So parents; you have been warned!
In all seriousness, we have been to some great soft play centres located at:

  • Soft play at Hobbledown in Epsom, Surrey
  • Jungle Adventure in Stanway, Colchester, Essex – this had characters come out every so often who broke into song and dance. Great fun!
  • Soft play at Adventure Island in Southend-on-Sea, Essex
  • Soft play at Bocketts Farm in Fetcham, Surrey

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