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Surviving Soft Play: Why parents secretly love soft play centres

Susie Verrill

07 November 2017

Time to Read

3 minutes

I think we can all hold our hands up to using ‘hell’ as an adjective to team with soft play. They’re often hot, sticky, oppressive and full out shouty shouty children whose parents have simply run out of other ideas of how to let off some energy. 

BUT, and this is a big but, they’re also a total and utter godsend during these long winter months and I’m one mum glad to have them in my life. When maintained right, soft play centres are also great for autism-friendly days out.

Milo lying in the ball pit at 360 in Milton Keynes

Sure, I love an outdoor pursuit and I can’t get enough fresh air in my lungs, but somedays it’s just. not. possible. if the weather’s particularly gnarly and in our case, wielding a teeny tiny baby. And this is the thing; of course, toddlers/children/teens can be shoved in something warm and handed a pair of wellies to make the most of the shoddy climate but babies need to be warm. All they need is some body heat, a pair of arms and an environment in which they’re not going to catch hypothermia and they’re as happy as jelly. So since the weather’s taken a turn for The Arctic, we’ve been frequenting a few soft play centres in the area and I’m happy to say we survived with sanity relatively intact. 

Here in Milton Keynes, we’re lucky enough to have quite a few on offer. Our favourite is 360 because it’s a bit of an ‘Everything Under One Roof’ jobby. There’s a role play floor (that’s right, an entire floor) where our three-year-old loves to ride in the fire engine, go shopping in the supermarket or chill out with some Lego once he’s run himself ragged in the ball pits (wading through those balls by the way; total mini workout for the thighs isn’t it?) and downstairs, he can speed around on some electronic cars or ride on the carousel. There’s of course, all the usual stuff which comes with ‘soft play’; the pits, the foamy plastic towers, nets, foamy plastic carwash rollers which I stridently try to squeeze myself through each time we visit and obviously always fail.

Soft play frame at 360 in Milton Keynes

Then it’s on to the food. THE FOOD. Now, when I was younger, these sorts of places had a very limited menu and they mainly consisted of chicken, chips and here’s a sachet of ketchup. It wasn’t all that inspiring. Nowadays, management are cottoning on to parents wanting to bundle their little ones in the car and some nutrition wherever they end up doesn’t go amiss.
Coffees, salads, proper hot food (I’m talking lasagne, cooked breakfasts, jacket potatoes), Fentiman’s drinks (oooh, fancy), pick-your-own-lunches for children, fruit, flapjacks, Kiddylicious snacks; you name it, they’ve got it. AND they keep all the naughty chocolatey stuff mega high up so children don’t even get a sniff of it being available unless you choose it.
One thing I love about soft play is that you know they’re going to be safe. If you’ve got more than one mini human you need to keep an eye on, this is such a huge plus point. With areas specifically designed for younger children, it’s great to be able to involve all siblings and you’re not panicking they’re about to leg it near a main road/run out of sight into something harmful. The most they’re going to be doing is heading straight first down a slide even you wouldn’t go down, but at least there’s a soft landing.
If you’re after somewhere to meet friends with children where it’s going to be tolerable then I always think soft play’s where it’s at. You can plonk yourselves down at a table, throw shoes on the floor and either have a chinwag over a coffee while occasionally glancing over at a child you *think* is probably yours whizz past on one of those hanging ball… things, or you can at least both dunk your weary bodies belly button high in the ball pit to natter amongst the mayhem. Another place I’ve been headed to when the going gets tough rain wise, is any sort of trampoline park. Why? Because bouncing = your very rambunctious toddler wearing themselves out.

Milo bouncing on a trampoline at Bounce in Milton Keynes

They’re not overly expensive, you ordinarily get a whole hour to bounce your life away and you get to test out how good your pelvic floor muscles are working (honestly, it’s really quite the eye-opener). If you’ve got pre-school kids, then these places tend to be pretty quiet during the day but make sure your local park doesn’t have an age restriction. Up here in Milton Keynes we had to wait ’til Milo was three and where did we head on his birthday itself? Straight to Bounce.
I appreciate it can sometimes get a tad overcrowded and manic at these sorts of joints but when the outside’s really not allowing for activities and you just need to leave the confines of your own home, soft play is a wonderful place to have available. Cheap and cheerful, plenty to do and the kids aren’t sat in front of a screen. Bring on the indoor fun and get rewarded with aaaallll the snoozes!

How would you sum up soft play centres in 3 words? Let us know in a comment below, or read more about Susie's adventures with Milo and Rex.
Milo sleeping in the car after a tiring day out at a soft play centre

Susie Verrill

07 November 2017

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Susie is mum to Milo and Rex, blogging about family travels, fashion and UK based adventures. A lot of her stuff will involve surviving flights, hotel rooms & sport. Susie is one of our much loved Trusted Explorers, which means all content has been written exclusively for dayoutwiththekids.co.uk in exchange for a contribution to their family piggy bank. All posts are first hand, honest and based on real experiences.

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