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Do Soft Play Areas Ever Lose Their Fun?
The obvious answer to the question would be no, because they are always still very busy all year round, and the kids love 'em. But that's not really what I mean. Actually, it's not what I'm getting at, at all. I mean, do they lose their fun as we become adults? Perhaps more specifically, I should ask, do we lose our sense of fun as we grow up?
There are two simple answers to that: a) yes; b) no. And quite obviously some people belong in the yes group, and some people belong in the no group. Neither group is better, just different. I wouldn't dream of categorising anyone else as a fun person or a not fun person. And also, not liking soft play areas does not automatically make a person less fun, of course. But I will take your through my experiences of soft play areas, to illustrate my own answer to the question.
When I was a small girl I can only remember one visit to a soft play area. I believe that it was at Blackpool Tower, but I could be wrong. I have a vague memory of standing somewhere very high up, looking down at my mum and dad, wishing that I was braver and that I could just get on with it and run around and scream and yell like other children did. But my shyness usually rendered me mute in public, and I was terrified of doing anything that might draw attention. At that time my younger brother was always by my side, experiencing similar feelings of terror to my own, although he could be slightly braver than me. Soft play areas were a place where I could understand the potential for fun, but could not quite manage to access it myself. I lacked a particular kind of imagination at that time, and found it impossible to see the equipment as anything other than giant foam blocks and platforms. While other children were pretending to be pirates and were hunting for treasure,* I was desperately trying to see what they saw. I never could.
I do now.
Possibly at the age of seven or eight I was middle aged and serious. I believe I am actually experiencing my true childhood now, at the age of thirty-three. My mum has always said that I never played as a child. She gave up on buying me toys for Christmas and birthdays, because after I had arranged them in pleasing and correct ways, I did not know what to do with them. I never knew how to play. This was not down to bad parenting, because I have excellent parents. That was just the kind of child I was. And don't misunderstand, I did not have a miserable and colourless childhood - not at all. I just preferred to read, or to talk to my family, or to listen. I spent a lot of time listening to conversations between my mum and visitors. It was a very happy childhood, full of books and pencils and drawing paper. I don't think it was so much that I didn't have a sense of fun, it was more that I didn't see the point of it. I think I was just born an adult.
I am digressing terribly. Apologies. I think you are probably used to this now though, if you have been following me.
So, I missed the point of soft play areas. I did not seem to have any need of a place to let off steam. If anything, I think I did enjoy the slide - I did manage to generate some kind of adrenalin rush there. But that was all.
* Insert fantastical imagining of choice here.
We shall now fast forward twenty years or so to my first visit to a soft play area with my own children. I have to tell you that I was horribly disappointed... because it was for children only. I was now forced to be a grown up, and I was kept on the outside of the fun, only permitted to sit at a grown up table and drink a cup of grown up tea. This made me feel rebellious - I did not like being told not to do something. But I was never a naughty child, so I stuck to the rules. My children had a wonderful time, because their imaginations are one hundred times more fertile than mine. I was jealous of them. It affected me deeply. I decided that I did not want to take them to soft play areas again if I was to be barred from participating. We would find something to do that we could all join in with.
But joy! About a year later we heard about a little farm, a few miles out of our town, which had a play barn attached to it. Imagine my excitement when I learned that adults were allowed to play in it. I seized the first available opportunity to get down to that play barn. We by-passed the animals - they could wait, we could see animals any time.
We entered the soft play area. I felt a little of that old shyness return, but I was determined not to let it take proper hold this time. I asked my eldest son what we should do, because he was very knowledgeable about playing, and he said that we should find the slide. And that was it. We ran, we climbed, we crashed into each other, we swung from things dangling from the ceiling, we shouted at the tops of our voices, we chased each other, we hid, we found, we squeezed through small gaps, we climbed cargo nets, we slid on our knees, we slid down slides, we dived into ball pools, we pelted each other with balls (even though the throwing of balls is prohibited), and we fell over when we were so tired that we could no longer stand. I have probably never had as much fun as this in the whole of the rest of my life.
My children have always known me to be a fun person, so I do not want to paint a picture of this as being some kind of revelation for me. It wasn't. I had already found my inner child by this point. But on entering the soft play world I experienced a kind of homecoming. I could almost see that little serious Linda of so long ago, watching me from the top of the barn. I think she approved - I'm sure she was smiling.
So my answer is actually this: no, soft play areas do not lose their fun as we grow older, and neither do we. It is up to us to let go of silly inhibitions, and to get stuck in. Only if you want to though - it can be just as nice to sit on the sidelines and watch, and I am really not criticising if that's what you choose to do. I do this too sometimes. Chances are though, that you'll live longer than me if you always watch, because I'll burn out soon!
Some tips, if you do want to play:
- Children have more energy than adults, so adults will probably need to take a break for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. This is fine, and one of the perks of being grown up - you can decide when it's snack time.
- You are now heavy. It's difficult, but remember that you are no longer only three stones in weight. If you dive into a ball pool without first checking that it's empty you may well land on a breakable child and do it some serious damage. At the very least you will receive a stern look from the parent of the squashed small person.
- There is no way of being delicate about this: your backside is big. There is no shame in that, it is just a fact of becoming an adult: we get big bums. Bear this in mind when you prepare to go down the slide - you might get stuck. Some slides are wide enough and you will be fine. Our favourite play area has a huge slide, and the first time I went down it I almost took off. It seems that on some slides, weight = speed, so be careful.
- Wear layers, and lots of deodorant. Play barns tend not to have the heating on, even in winter. This is for a reason - the children generate the heat. And you will too if you are being a child for a couple of hours. Be prepared to peel off clothes as you go, and be prepared to feel icky and sticky by the time you've finished. For this reason I wouldn't bother with make-up either.
Let yourself go - trust me, you will love it.
Have fun being a child.