My soft play hell

A ball pit, as found in many soft play centres.

From the number of responses I got to the tweet I sent out while I was going through the ordeal that follows, I have a feeling that this post will ring true with a number of other parents.

I had my suspicions that soft play was going to be my nemesis. Having just been for the first time, think I may have been right.

The nearest such facility to where we live is in a leisure centre I used to play five-a-side in every week. When they decided to stick an extra floor in, turn the majority of it into a bowling alley and install said soft play area on the new level, I vowed never to go there again out of protest.

How having kids changes things! My sister and her two young children were down for the weekend and, with Dylan’s birthday coming up soon, we thought we’d have an unofficial celebratory outing.

Walking into the centre that I had solemnly sworn never to return to was a weird experience. There were boarded-off bits – presumably where they were murdering the last remaining squash courts to put in a burger restaurant or something.

There were doors where there once weren’t any, doors missing from where they once were and the viewing gallery where I was once able to look down replaced by stairs that went up.

I approached the new floor these steps led to with trepidation. It was a little bit like the end of The Wicker Man when Edward Woodward emerges from the cave and realises his fate.

Fortunately, the gathered children and adults didn’t start singing a weird song and swinging their arms about. It was bloody warm enough in the place to remind me of the denouement of that particular film though.

I was pleased to see a well-constructed play area in place of a large humanoid made of woven fibres, but Dylan didn’t seem so sure at first. Being the family stuntman, Xander threw himself in with great gusto but his big brother needed convincing.

Eventually, after a bit of persuasion reminiscent of the Lou and Andy sketches in Little Britain, he gave it a go and, shock horror, enjoyed it. Hurrah.

The area where grown-ups could sit and find salvation in an overpriced coffee was witness to the same level of carnage as the soft, colourful assault course.

Kids were legging it in all directions, there were pushchairs, bags and coats everywhere and, of course, plenty of shrieking.

The humidity, level of noise and fast movement reminded me a bit of the main square in Marrakech. Although I liked Marrakech much better. Even though a strange man put a snake around my neck when I was there.

Getting the coffees across from the counter to the table was a challenge. The teenagers behind the counter – it took three of them to make four coffees – filled them to the brim. It then took me ages to get across, mainly due to fear of spilling them on a passing ball of energy.

I could see the headlines already: “DAD BLOGGER SCALDS CHILDREN”. And yes, that probably would make it onto one of those headline boards where I live.

There was one about Bananaman being rescued from a roundabout recently. I kid you not.

Thankfully, the only burn anyone suffered was when, having decided to stop being grumpy and join in a bit, I took Xander on a rope swing and fell off. Right in front of a group of indignant mums.

Oops. He was fine, of course, but I got a nice rope burn on my arm.

Naturally, Kate also saw this and is still laughing at me now. The trip has left me physically and emotionally scarred. But the kids loved it. Eventually. Same time next week then?


  1. Mark

    I think Softplay has become a rite of passage.

    I used to think the vacant stare of a parent was through lack of sleep. Now I know it’s Softplay.

    It’s our Vietnam.

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  2. David

    Love it 🙂 I have to say I’m a big fan of soft play. We have a few in the area and are regulars at them all. They have helped teach Olivia how to climb, fall, jump and tolerate noisier bigger kids – all important if you ask me 🙂

    They can be a bit hellish in terms of hear/noise/cost/risk of getting a kicking from some parents but hey – we do it for the kids 🙂

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      Cheers David. Yes, I can see that there are a lot of benefits for kids – but I’ve decided that the time is right for me to be a grumpy git about such things. 😉

    2. Eddie

      I feel your pain with the humidity and the shreaking, kids screaming they need to poo. Our local soft play is pretty good, we have had a few of the girls birthday parties there. The slides are great fun, they have those guns that shoot foam balls so whenever I go its a challenge to see how many of my kids I can shoot.

  3. Dotterel

    I feel your pain Tom but there is a deeper, darker and altogether more painful level of soft-play hell and that’s the soft play birthday party. It always ends in vomiting. And that’s not the worst…

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      Thanks Tim! Yes, that doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s actually Dylan’s birthday very soon… we’re taking him and his brother to the Sea Life Centre instead… 😉

  4. Richy

    Aw Tim, why’d you have to go and say that? We’ve just booked a soft play party in December for our 5yo to be.

    And having been vomited on by someone else’s child far too recently, it’s not an experience I’m looking to repeat!

    Good post btw 🙂

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  5. ManAndBuggyBlog

    I’m a two-time a week-soft play man… the staff where we go are amazing and take the heat off me entertaining… look forward to doing ‘older’ stuff soon like going to the cinema etc. But soft-play does have its place…

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      Thanks! I can see myself enjoying it at quieter times of day and year, but this was a baptism of fire!

  6. Andy

    I have read other bloggers posting about how much they hate soft play but I still don’t get it. I have taken George 4 or 5 times and we both love it! This kind of thing didn’t exist when I was a kid so George is getting my kicks for me. I can’t wait until he is old enough to go on the bigger stuff and really throw himself around.

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      Thanks Andy! Think I may have gone at a bad time of day; maybe I’ll take the kids earlier next time. Determined to go on that rope swing without falling off too!

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      You did indeed! I’m still waiting for my medal for bravery for attending – a call from Buckingham Palace is surely imminent…

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