Everyone has different opinions on what type of birthday parties work best, but we’ve always favoured going to a venue and my eldest always loved having his at soft play. In fact, his parties between the ages of three to seven were always held there (with a bit of bowling thrown in for good luck at the last two).
We loved that there was no tidying up at the end of the day and he loved the fact that he and his friends could all go completely crazy with no one batting an eyelid. However, while I think soft play is perfect for parties, I’m not completely gone on the idea of spending my free time there now they’re back open again.
Here are the pros and cons of hanging out in every little kid’s idea of paradise.
As we all know, during lockdown baby classes (along with everything else) were cancelled. Well, the good news is that Parent/Toddler mornings are back! First thing in the morning isn’t as manic as the weekend and it’s a blessing to have another adult help entertain and educate our little ones. From play-doh to painting there’s lots of activities for them to choose from and you might even get a chance to enjoy your coffee in peace!
Playgrounds are one of our favourite places to go during the summer, but the problem is that they’re weather dependent. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been known to go even when it’s wet but when they have to walk around with wet bums and soggy shoes the trips don’t last very long. While you might get caught in a rain shower in the car park, once you’re inside a play centre you don’t care what the weather’s doing outside.
The other problem with playgrounds is that you hit the ground hard if you take a tumble. What’s the best thing about soft play? It’s SOFT! We have a great video of my eldest learning to walk on one of our outings there and while kids love jumping off anything (mainly the sofas in our house) jumping into the ball pool is often their favourite.
One of the biggest cons is the price, especially if you have three under three. These businesses absolutely need our support because they’ve been closed for so long; but whereas you could do a daily trip to the playground or park for free, you obviously have to pay an entry fee for soft play. Having said that, some venues offer a free tea or coffee for an accompanying adult or have loyalty cards that definitely sweetens the deal.
I have a lot of sympathy for the celebs that took part in 'Hell week' on RTE One because I think if you’ve done the play centre circuit on all fours you know exactly how they feel (well, nearly). The thing is that when we were going weekly, and my son still wanted me to accompany him on everything, I found that I was actually getting fit. Some friends even asked what I was doing to build up my strength and I had to tell them the truth – crawling around a soft play area on my hands and knees and sweating like a pig in the process…
I don’t think I’ve ever felt claustrophobic in a large space before, but soft play definitely brings it out in me. The noise, the lack of natural light, the fear that you’ll get locked in overnight after falling asleep on the tube slide… On top of that, the kids all turn into little terrors and there’s no guarantee that it will only be your child that’s obsessed with attacking you, following you and trying to drown you in the ball pool.
Taking all the above into account, while it certainly isn’t my favourite place, it was my eldest’s for a long time. Although my two-year-old hasn’t even been yet (we’re going to tackle it next week) I’m sure it’s going to be top of his list too.