Ah, soft play. Those big warehouses with padded walls and hundreds of kids haring about shrieking at the top of their lungs, parents fuelled by bad coffee and simmering rage trying to keep their cool – that’s usually my experience of such venues. To be fair, they are great places for my boys to run off some of their energy on a cold or rainy day.
It can be hard to stay calm when there’s a constant assault on your ear drums, harassment by the kids wanting food, drink or the toilet. Or hearing tales of other kids being mean. Once, I was checking on the boys when someone else’s little one tugged my sleeve and told me a child on the highest level of the play zone was being throttled by another. Yikes!
As for getting the kids out of the place, I’ve seen it all. The pleading ‘please come down now, it’s time to go’. The bribing ‘if you come down now you can have some sweets’ (said through gritted teeth) to the full-on rugby tackle and head-lock move as the kids appear at the end of the slide… It’s a jungle in there!
I know, I’ve been there, done all that and got the pizza-stained t-shirt. The boys do love that soft, squidgy jungle though, and over the three years that I’ve endured soft play hell I’ve learnt a few tricks to keeping my cool. I always give them a healthy snack like banana or toast before we go to avoid hungry tummies and sugar crashes; have you noticed how soft play places only seem to sell sugary, additive filled stuff? Surely a bit of fruit or boxes of raisins wouldn’t be too hard to add?
A timed-warning works wonders
I also let the boys know in enough time when we’ll be going. A 15 minute gentle warning followed by reminders every 5 minutes works wonders in getting them to comply. I sometimes use an incentive too, which I tell them about in advance, to reward them for good behaviour for coming out first time. I found these brilliant tips in Noel Janis-Norton’s excellent book ‘Calmer Easier Happier Parenting’. Apparently telling you child they can have something if they stop doing the naughty behaviour, while they’re doing it, is bribery and reinforces the poor behaviour. Agreeing something in advance is an incentive and helps to motivate your child towards the positive behaviour.
Noel’s ‘think through’ technique also helps – this is talking through the expected behaviour in a positive way with your child before an event and is a good way for them to remember a rule or routine.
Though I have mixed feelings about soft play, we were very excited when Quest at Merry Hill invited me and the boys to come along and try out their adventure play. It’s a bit of a hike for us – 50 minutes by car, but Quest offers a different take on the usual soft play. It’s based on a Japanese concept and is the first of its kind in the UK, so I was quite curious – plus the boys eyes lit up when I showed them the website, they called it special soft play.
A different sort of soft play
I was pretty impressed by just how different it was. The equipment makes full use of all the senses, not just touch, but sight and sound too. There are bouncy see-through floors, bright colours and a squidgy slide that lights up as the kids slide down. Plus climbing frames that move, a slide with water running underneath and even a trampoline that makes kids feel they’re bouncing on water.
There are high and low ropes too – a great way too for kids to challenge their spatial awareness and motor skills. The balloon ‘room’ is a genius touch – lots of balloons kept aloft by fans. Tiddler was in his element and would have stayed there all day if he could. Boo also enjoyed trying out the Nerf shooting gallery. Luckily Mr N. was on hand to help out as it was too tricky for me. The play area itself was quite small compared to the larger soft-play venues and I fretted that the boys wouldn’t enjoy it for long. But how wrong I was! Two hours in and they were still going! The incentive of going to the Disney store that we’d talked about earlier was enough to bring them out!
I liked that the play-place was part of a shopping centre. Usually these venues are situated on industrial estates miles from anywhere. As it was an 80-mile round trip for us, we combined the day with shopping and lunch at Pizza Express. If I lived nearby, I would happily combine a regular shopping trip with a visit to Quest.
Want to try out the timed warning tip to get a smoother child-extraction experience next time you’re at soft play?
The timed warning tip:
Give them timed warnings
Talk to your child at a neutral time before you leave the house. Make sure you have their full attention. Explain that you’ll be giving them a warning as to when you’ll be coming home so they know what to expect. Then, when it’s time to leave the venue, they’ll need to come to you first time (i.e. leave the soft play area and put their shoes on first time you ask).
Ask them to tell you what will be happening so you can check they’ve understood.
So, at soft play for instance, when it’s time to get ready, tell your child you’ll be leaving soon and give them a count down.
E.g. I tell Boo 15 minutes before it’s time to go home. I ask him ‘what’s it time for in 15 minutes?’ and he’ll tell me ‘it’ll be time to go’. Then I remind him every 5 minutes until I ask him to come and put his shoes on. I’ve found this works wonders and leaves no room for kids negotiations. A speedy and calm extraction!
Thank you to Quest UK who invited us to try out their adventure play at Merry Hill for free!