You didn’t have soft play when I was a kid. You had playgrounds with metal climbing frames, concrete paving and kids walking around in a dazed state with head wounds. Knees were grazed, roundabouts were spun and if you could jump high off a swing in mid-air, you were a hero.

We didn’t have soft play. We had steel and concrete play. If it was raining, you got wet. We didn’t have indoor playgrounds, let alone padded hardware. Concussion was par for the course.

This generation has different options available to them. Indoor themed wonderworlds of mazes, slides, ballpits and tiny ledges that would make your average claustrophobe weep for a week.

Soft play areas are, to this father’s mind, a circle of hell. They are padded death-traps with third rate character costumes, over-priced beverages and a higher price-per-hour fee than a Monte Carlo casino.

Here, then, are the five reasons why I hate soft play areas.

The Noise

softplay-1Imagine a movie where an evil villain creates a weapon that emits all manner of human screams, yells and noises at a criminally deafening volume. Congratulations, you’ve just recreated the ambience of a soft play centre.

A child spots his mother on the other side of the centre and screams for her so she can see him hit himself in the face with some plastic balls. Children shout at each other at infinity decibels because they’re not following the precise rules of a game that they’ve made up a minute earlier. And to make it worse, most soft play areas are in cavernous rooms where these noises echo and amplify and bounce around until they land in your terrorised ear-drums.

Other People’s Kids

I sometimes feel like I’m a bit too much of a disciplinarian with my kids when we’re out in public. I don’t want to be telling them off all the time but equally I don’t want to be the parent with the feral kids. Some other parents do not have this worry.

softplay-3I have seen things. I have seen children fight, bite, steal and attempt murder right in front of their parents who’s response is to simply do nothing. And what is up with kids not understanding what a Toddler Area is? What possesses a 10 year old to make him feel that it’s okay to enter the baby zone and start launching things into the air? Are they insane?

A play area in a nearby restaurant entertained a parent who wanted to let their child play naked from the waist down. I’ve seen children smush their food into other children’s hair. Children can be horrible and nowhere moreso than in a play place.

Not your kid(s) though. They’re awesome. Obviously.

Seats

The chairs in your average play place are not built for comfort. They are designed to be easily wiped down after a child throws up some birthday cake on it. It may be the case that this hard plastic is wonderfully sanitary but that certainly doesn’t translate into something that’s a pleasure to sit in.

It is clearly designed by a company that otherwise specialises in medieval torture devices and has the aesthetic qualities of a melted bucket. Please, play place owners, think of the parent’s backs. Or at least provide a reserved area for grumpy dads who want to bring their own sun loungers along.

Crying

softplay-2It is a rule that at any given time, there are a minimum of three children crying in a play area. How frustrating. You pay a small fortune for the kids to enjoy themselves and they end up crying. Either someone gets hurt or another kid pushes them or they don’t get the right coloured slushie…

It’s like videogames. They cost a huge amount of money and when do they ever make kids smile or laugh?

Play centres and videogames leads to frustration, anger and tears. And that’s just the parents.

Food

If Jamie Oliver was upset at the state of the food prepared by school dinner ladies, he’d go crazy if he visited some of the soft play centres we’ve been to.

Now, this doesn’t apply to all places. Some centres really make the effort with fresh ground coffee machines and cracking cakes. Some places are so awesome it’s like they’ve tagged a soft play onto the end of the GBBO tent. But only some.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of a panini so dry it turned to flakes of dust in my mouth, chicken nuggets so overdone they’ve chipped teeth and chips still so frozen that they sing “Let It Go”. Why not use nice cheese, not that block of industrial orange plastic? Serve fresh food, not a pre-made crappy meal. Serve fruit and veg in an imaginative way to try and keep your clientele healthy.

Yes, I know these aren’t restaurants but that isn’t an excuse. If you’re going to tell people that you’re serving food, make it edible.
And so this rant ends. I hate softplay centres, but I will continue to go because my kids love them. They love them and I think that is in no small part because they see how much torture it causes their poor old dad.