I would hazard a guess that most parents with small kids have in their time ventured into a new kind of hell. A hell with bright lights, multi coloured balls, cages for their kids and noise levels rivalling feeding time at the zoo. Yes, I’m talking about soft play, or ‘comfy play’ as my son prefers to call it.
Indoor soft play centres did not exist when I was a child. No, the eighties child had to make do with play dates at friends houses, playgrounds come rain or shine or playgroups in dimly-lit church halls. We got by, but clearly we were missing out on this new phenomenon.
They are an opportunity for your kids to go absolutely mad and burn up loads of energy tearing around and quite literally bouncing off the walls. They are available to us whatever the weather and are a handy place to meet up or throw parties.
Sounds good, huh? Hmm, you’ve been to one, right?
They do vary in standard, so you do need to try a few before making a judgement call on these. We’ve opted not to return to the one where we found Wotsits packets and crushed up food by the slides and a plaster in the ball pit. In fact, experiences like that, along with pondering the germs abounding in there, the following your little one up and around the trails which are clearly meant for small people, along with the crush and the noise levels all served to put me off them for a very long time. They were my idea of hell. They were a rare visit, under rare circumstances, until a few weeks ago.
Now it has all changed.
Now soft play is one of my favourite activities with my son.
Now soft play is a treat for us both.
At playgroups, my son likes to stay close to me, implores me to play with him and often asks to leave early. I’m not an evil mother who ignores her son at these things and doesn’t like playing with him, but I do take him there to encourage his confidence in playing away from me. In the lead up to starting at nursery, I was trying to get him a little bit more independent so that the wrench would not be as big a shock to him. We’ve tried a fair few different groups, until settling on a small, fairly quiet and friendly one. We have had the odd little breakthrough there, where he has wandered away and even played with the occasional child, too. On the whole, they have not been huge hits.
But at our latest soft play centre? He is gone from my side the moment that we enter the building returning periodically for sips of squash and bites of toast, then he’s flying off again. He is so confident there and so very, very, happy. Just look at his little face…
The difference in him at this soft play centre compared to a playgroup or class is huge. A gaping chasm. He comes into his own here and not only rushes off exploring every single element of the play equipment, but I have also found him giggling with other kids and making friends. This is not like my ordinarily shy boy, so it is an absolute joy to see.
Soft play has gone from being my personal idea of hell to a little slice of heaven, for both of us, every couple of weeks.
And the best bit? I have an hour or so to myself to drink a cuppa and read my book. Perfect.