I started writing this a while ago after a trip to a local soft play but it’s taken a while to craft as I’ve toyed with whether I wanted to admit how much I hate it, or whether I was going to sugarcoat my image and scrap the snarky preface to lead with the tips. Then two things happened; I realised I was high on snark and low on tips (but I defend the usefulness of the two I do offer up) and I found myself telling my mum not to “put yourself through it” when she recently told me of her plans to take Harry to a soft play on one of her ‘days’.
I should let you know at this point that I am always excited on Harry’s behalf to do any kind of activity that’s designed for his enjoyment, and that I’ll probably continue to take him to all manner of places and activities that he loves even if I don’t like them, I just wanted to give an honest appraisal of my experiences of soft play because I wish someone had told me what to expect.
Before having a child, the limit of my knowledge of on Soft Play was personal experience based, you know, as a child. Great memories of having the absolute time of my life with my brothers. Well, if you think that your experience of Soft Play as an adult will echo such joyous memories, I’m afraid that I must warn you that’s probably not going to happen.
Personally, I find Soft Play a bit like going to the gym. You think it will be a great idea, you even get excited about it, forgetting how much you hated it the last time and how you vowed never to go back, but I find that for me the excitement I feel on behalf of my child begins to wane rather quickly on entry. I also find myself clock watching to make myself stay for what could be considered a respectable amount of time, like is it a waste of the journey and the entry fee if we leave after 15 minutes? Hmmm… okay, let’s hold out for the big Two-Oh.
On arrival you will clock in (for the uninitiated you have to sign in with your entry time) with the world’s most miserable staff*, this in itself should send you screaming for the door but on the whole I have observed that pretty much all parents choose to ignore this harbinger of doom. *I have been to a number of different soft play venues and I find this to be a fairly uniform thing, I have yet to meet an enthusiastic staff member at one of these places.
As you wander in you will be greeted with lots of noise, and usually a significant amount of heat. Par for the course yes, but trust me that this will add to your escalating stress levels when you’re committing to rugby tackle style intervention, to stop your toddler from sitting at the bottom of a slide that another massive child is flying down at break neck speed, whilst trying not to lose your footing or drop your phone and anything else valuable you’re carrying…and B R E A T H E.
On the subject of things you are carrying, I am sure most Soft Plays do offer lockers but you will tend to find that there are shoes and bags and prams scattered everywhere you look. The first time we went to a soft play I left my bag amidst this detritus, following the lead of a more experienced mom-friend. I then spent the entire time watching it like a hawk whilst smiling at all the other moms through gritted teeth, and feeling awkward worrying that they might find my paranoia that one of them would rob me a bit rude.
I’ve also found that when you have a toddler seeking independence, the ‘baby area’ just does not cut it. Without fail, Harry is bored of the plastic rocking horses and tiny slides in approximately 45 seconds flat. (Remember what I was saying earlier about clock watching? This is when it starts).
He will instead make a bid for freedom, in an attempt to scale the perilously high structure designed for older children. This makes my heart do somersaults as I panic about bigger kids being mean to him if he’s up there on his own, and what if they land on him? Or what if he hurts himself and I can’t get to him quickly enough?! These thoughts put the fear of god into me, so I find myself battling through his protests each (of many) times I retrieve him and plonk him back in the area designated for children of his age.
This cycle of escape, retrieval, and tantruming is relentless; it continues until we are both exhausted and the ‘acceptable amount of time’ I mentioned earlier is up.
If you haven’t been completely put off by the rant above, below you’ll find a couple of useful things to know below…
Take Socks – I did not take socks for me or for Harry the first time we went and you have to wear them. Now that he’s a bit older I am unsure as to why he wasn’t wearing them anyway because he wears socks every day, but that’s by the by.
Make yourself as hands free as possible – Take a back pack. This way you can keep things you may need like your phone, baby wipes, sippy cups etc. on your person, but you won’t have to cart them around with you whilst you’re bouncing around with your little one.
Be less dramatic than me – Because I’m sure it can’t be as bad as I have made out for everyone.