I’m in two minds when it comes to soft play.
Part of me really enjoys watching the sprog climb up stairs, go down slides and throw soft shapes at my head as she develops her motor skills and confidence. The other part of me hates it – unruly kids, ignorant parents and germ-infested play equipment are just the tip of the iceberg known as soft play hell.
Indoor play areas are something of an unfortunate necessity though. When it’s pissing it down outside and you need to get out of the house with your toddler, there’s not that many options. Yes, we can go to the local museum, wander around a garden centre or visit the free zoo known as Pets At Home, but these are pretty boring if you do them more than once a week.
This means that the prospect of going to soft play and dealing with the crap that comes with it – in some cases, actual crap from other kids – is always a gloomy option in the back of my head. BUT, it’s not the only option. In my quest to entertain Toddler L as I actively avoid going to soft play – particularly as I now have to pay because I can’t get away with saying an 18 month old is still 11 months – I think I’ve stumbled upon a genius idea.
Why not just create an indoor adventure play area in your own house? You don’t even need to buy anything special, as chances are you already have everything you need at home. If the purpose of soft play is to let your toddler climb, explore, run wild and test their limits, then I’d much prefer to do this whilst sat on my own sofa without the annoying kids and scabby parents who usually inhabit these kind of places – no offence intended if you have the aforementioned annoying kids or are a scabby parent.
In fact, our house – particularly the living room – has been Toddler L’s soft play area ever since she learnt to crawl at around 10 months old. Rather than curb this propensity to explore and climb, I’ve decided to embrace it. Yes, I’m sure people have looked on and thought ‘irresponsible dad’ when I’ve posted an Instagram photo of her standing on the windowsill, but I know that she’s both safe and capable. Apart from the odd bruise, she’s still pretty much in full working order.
So without further ado, here are some of the best ways you can turn your home into your toddler’s very own soft play area:
Toddler L has always loved to climb, even back in the day when she was known as Baby L. Her favourite clambering spots have included the TV unit, the dining chairs, the settees, the toilet, the treadmill and even the windowsill. Everything that can be climbed upon has been conquered by the little explorer.
Her feats have ranged from daring to downright dangerous. Each time though, her balance, poise and cat-like instincts to fall the right way up have astounded me. I’m sure the fact that she’s always been small and light has helped – this has given her the ability to pull herself up or manage to get a leg higher than looks physically possible.
It’s not just climbing up that she enjoys though. She’s also a fan of getting back down. Without any encouragement or guidance from us, she sussed out that the most effective way of getting off an object was to turn so that she’s facing it and then slide down.
So, as long as you have any kind of furniture in your house, you’re ready to go with the climbing up and down soft play experience.
As part of her climbing exploits, Toddler L has created her own obstacle courses, because, you know, clambering up one bit of furniture just isn’t adrenaline-fuelled enough. In a toddler version of Go Ape, this has seen the sprog go from tall object to tall object without touching the floor. Two particular obstacle courses spring to mind in our living room.
The first, has involved her climbing onto one of our dining chairs, getting onto the dining table and then getting into her own highchair – often to the sound of me running across the room shouting “Nooooo!”. The second has seen her climb onto the footstool, make her way across to a storage chest, then, depending on her mood, onto the settee, armchair or windowsill.
If you want to encourage this kind of behaviour, make sure you line up all of your furniture so that they can easily navigate between each piece. A helmet, knee and elbow pads are also a good idea.
When at soft play, Toddler L loves nothing more than making her way up the padded stairs. She can spend ages going up, looping around, then coming back down. I guess it’s something of a novelty as our stairs at home are blocked off with a toddlers natural enemy – stair gates.
As she gets so much enjoyment out of stairs, I do let her follow me up and down them – not only is this helping her to navigate stairs safely, but means that I can save my energy as I don’t have to carry an increasingly fat -sorry, I mean growing – toddler. Even better, our house has two separate flights of stairs, so that’s even more steps she’s able to clamber up and knacker herself out on.
I do kind of wonder if I’ve shot myself in the foot though. When we’re out, she’ll often make a beeline to the nearest staircase and show no fear in doing so. That’d be fine if she wasn’t capable of tackling them like a pro, but the girl can move and can be gone in seconds.
If you live in a house, you’re all set for this soft play activity. If you live in a bungalow or flat, I’m afraid you’re kind of screwed.
Sometimes there’s nothing better than a riveting and enthralling game of hide and seek. Toddler L quickly gets bored of it, but I’ve been known to hide away in the bathroom for hours, all in the name of
avoiding playing with her.
There’s loads of places available to hide around the house. Toddler L’s favourite spots have included behind the armchair, behind the settee cushions and in the dog’s bed. The best thing to do though is just get an oversized box – as a blogger, I’m lucky enough to be sent a fair few products to review, meaning that I have a never ending supply of boxes (as I write this, we have 2 huge boxes in the living room at present).
She’s a little too young for imaginative play with the boxes just yet, but she does love clambering in them and shutting the flaps behind her to create her own secret hide away. I’m not going to lie, I’ve spent a fair few hours in these boxes too – not necessarily out of choice, more because I am my toddler’s bitch.
As long as you don’t live in a very sparsely furnished or recently burgled house, you’re tot will definitely be able to find something to hide behind, even if it’s a pretty shit hiding place for us professionals.
If you own a paddling pool, you can easily turn this into your very own ball pit – just remember to empty it of water and add plastic balls – I learnt this lesson the hard way. This has all the benefits of the ball pool at soft play, but means that you are unlikely to find a random used Dora the Explorer plaster hidden at the bottom. You also don’t have to deal with the ‘bigger kids’ who think that your youngster makes a good target for practising their aim.
As I wrote about last year, the paddling pool can also be used as a makeshift baby cage – sorry, I mean playpen – which is really useful to stop your baby from crawling / walking and causing chaos around the house. We bought the Bestway spaceship pool last year and have had loads of use out of it as a ball pit, paddling pool and baby cage. It’s just a bit of a bitch to blow up, deflate and collect all of the balls – I wait for the missus to come home from work to do that!
Although it might cost a few quid to get a paddling pool and the millions of balls you need, this soft play at home activity is always a winner.
So there are a few of my ideas on how to avoid soft play by turning your house into an indoor play area. What do you think? Have you done any of these before? Do you have any other ways of turning your home into soft play? A slide from the roof of your house perhaps? Let me know below!
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