01/06/2015 07:16 BST | Updated 05/05/2017 14:55 BST

Soft Play - Fun or Frenzy?

Soft Play; time for joyous play for minors and an opportunity for you to see your little one engage in safe learning or an example of 'top-dog boy-child triumphs over all and self indulgent parent slurps coffee' time? #controversial


I sat pondering this very question while the little lady braced herself for the carnage that is a soft play area. The high pitched sounds of squeals and grunts from sweaty hard core conquerors of the aforementioned arena surrounded me as huddles of parents had bedded down with their choice of coffee; some had even sneaked in a bacon sandwich or three while their little companions graced the monkey bars and bounced through the forest of swinging sponges.

I know it's a space for 'soft play' which ordinarily would lure me into a sense of security thinking that my two year old would be playing without fear of being bombarded by a barrage of elbows and knees or that she was avoiding becoming the victim of toy thieves, whose parents were deep in conversation about the latest familial controversy and slurping their cappuccinos. But, my developing knowledge of these spaces and my observations of children's behaviours within them, teaches me that I need to be a close ally to her. So, I pulled up my socks and got in there.

Perhaps the most enlightening moment of today's excursion was observing a father egg-on his child rather than intervene, as his boy barged into the side of another boy in retaliation whilst both children sat in Cozy Coupes. Then, when the mother of the initial perpetrator approached, all she had was: "don't do that ....," (in a limited effort voice) followed by her sharp exit back to the fluidity of chat she'd monetarily stepped away from to do the 'right thing'. Needless to say, the barging continued and the top dog asserted himself by walking away grunting and metaphorically beating his chest. Followed shortly after by his dad.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure as she grows she'll too become a hardcore soft play champion bossing about and squealing like a trooper but I'm not ready for that yet and neither, do I think, is she. Today, she's remaining a two year old not to be exposed to swearing from a seven going on 15-year-old; but a two year old who can flip into the ball pit, ride on the over used wonky horse and one who can be reassured by a quick glance back to her daddy, in his best socks sans knee hair, and I won't sit at the table ignoring the rules about my child bringing sharp objects into the play area, I won't obscure the rules about what constitutes a sock-less foot and I certainly won't be flouting the guidelines about entry of a tween into the under 4's section.

Yes, the fact that I was in there at all means that I've broken some established boundaries I set for myself before parenthood but I was in there will all of myself and not just the bit of me that required some 'down time' or 'me time' because, if I'm honest, what type of respite does such an environment provide? None - that I can see.

So, at 11.30am we departed the multicoloured space and, in hindsight, I've decided my opening question is not rhetorical. For the parents amongst us who get down and up and down again and around the soft play area and don't sit at a distance glued to our I.T screens or engage in the latest gossip with my circle of friends without an observant eye on my offspring, the whole experience can be joyous for child and parent who sees their little one having fun but for others who believe that they are engaging and actually aren't, indeed it is quite barbaric at least from the perspective of an observer.