Indoor soft play is a great idea on a rainy day (if you don’t mind it being busy) but I thought last week it would also be the ideal way to keep my three-year-old out of the sun when we were in the middle of a heatwave. The lure of air conditioning outweighed the fact that I find soft play a bit stressful at times (more on this later) so I booked a two-hour session at Kidspace Croydon across the middle of the day when I thought it would be hottest at home. Unfortunately when we arrived we found that their air conditioning wasn’t working!
It wasn’t actually too hot inside, either because the central areas are away from windows or perhaps there was some air flow – though it certainly wasn’t the cool and refreshing time I was expecting!
My daughter really enjoys soft play – of course – but until very recently she wasn’t the most confident and until we went to Butlin’s – where adults weren’t allowed in the soft play so she had to go it alone, which was a watershed moment for her – she preferred to use equipment at ground level (though she did always love a slide). I sometimes found it difficult when she did want to climb up the bigger structures, as she then wanted my help, and for me to come too – which is sometimes a bit of a squeeze, but also I’m scared of heights and would prefer not to have to go up there myself! I try to make sure that doesn’t put my daughter off and I do encourage her to climb and use all parts of the soft play and to challenge herself.
Having said that, at Kidspace there is a toddler area designed for under 5s, and a larger area for 5s and over – under 5s can use it, but they must be accompanied by an adult. My daughter, who is three, didn’t want to go near the larger area at all on either time we have visited. We did have a look at it and it wasn’t actually immediately obvious to me how to get in and climb up – I saw a notice saying that some entrances had been closed due to Covid and that finding a new way in was part of the fun, but my daughter didn’t really want to explore and spent her time instead in the other areas.
Even in the under 5s area the first time we visited in the summer, she wasn’t keen to climb up the play equipment – it’s all designed like a pirate ship in different sections. At one point she did climb inside the main part of the ship and up some stairs, to a very narrow rope bridge, which she crossed but then became quite upset so I had to go and help her down. After that she stayed on the lower level, where there were two small slides each accessed by just a few steps, a sensory area, a sandbox and more. However, a few months later on our second visit, we attended Kidspace for a birthday party and my daughter was able to explore with her friends. Again they preferred to stay in the under 5s area (the children were 3 and 4) but Sophie was much more confident, at one point calling to me and waving from the very point where last time she had been calling me for help.
The sandbox is pretty cool – it is raised on a tabletop with a bench alongside; children are not allowed to get into it and instead are encouraged to use their hands. Coloured lights are projected onto the sand so it looks like each section of the sand is a different colour, and another moving projector makes it seem as if wildlife – a turtle, a crab etc – is moving around in the box. I read on the website afterwards that the projector reacts to the shape of the sand if you make islands or valleys, which wasn’t obvious when we were there as my daughter preferred just to lift handfuls of sand and drop it again. It was fun and a nice way to chill out – though of course not all children follow the rules at one point there was a small boy sitting in the sandbox throwing handfuls of sand onto the floor. Not all adults follow the rules either – our first visit was right before the easing of restrictions where masks were still required unless sitting down at a table eating or drinking or accompanying their children in the playframe – but I think I was literally the only adult wearing a mask inside the place. Also, I found the rules a bit odd as I would have thought that inside the playframe when you are in a small enclosed space it would have been even more important to wear a mask.
That aside, I quite liked the venue, though it is expensive. The current price at weekends is £13.50 for children aged 3-12 on a weekend, and £5.50 for adults – I thought the adult ticket was a bit excessive given most parents will only be watching, and if accompanying their children through the tunnels it’s probably more because they have to than they actually want to!
But there is more than just standard soft play. In the under 5s area, in keeping with the pirate ship theme, there is an area that took me a moment to figure out as I’d never seen anything like it before. There were seats and a bench, a selection of blank pictures to colour – different shaped fish, turtles, seahorses – and crayons, next to a digital screen showing an aquarium. When you have coloured your picture, you take it over to the screen and place it into a slot, which scans the page – you have to leave it about 10 seconds, then the fish or creature you have coloured pops out of a pipe at the top left of the aquarium screen. You can then watch your creature swimming around on the screen which my daughter was very excited to see!
Sophie’s favourite part was ‘Thunderdome City’, a large enclosed space with soft balls (not a ball pond – this is something completely different). Children – and parents – gather up the balls and place them inside chimneys located around the room which suck the balls up to a cage at the top. When the cage is full, you can press a button and it will rotate and tip the balls out onto anyone standing below. My three-year-old absolutely loved having the balls rain down on her and always wanted to be the one to press the button! The room also contains a giant cannon so there were constantly balls falling and blasting which made it a lot of fun.
Indoor go karts are also included in the price; it’s a small track and they don’t go particularly fast and when my daughter and I went on one (together – small children can’t ride alone) we were the only ones using it, but she still had a great time. We had to find a member of staff to open it and wait about 15 minutes as there was no-one manning the karts (even though I’d asked at reception and was told it was open) – there didn’t really seem to be many staff on site while we were there.
Given that Kidspace claims to be one of the largest indoor play areas in the country, at 30,000 square feet, we must have only used a fraction of it – it will be interesting to go back when my daughter is old enough for the main area, though I hope I don’t have to climb in it with her!
Birthday parties at Kidspace Croydon
We were recently invited to a birthday party for a four year old at Kidspace Croydon and really enjoyed it. As it wasn’t our own party I can’t comment on the price or organisation but as a guest I can certainly give it a good review. We were shown upstairs to a table where we could leave our bags and have a drink – squash was provided for the children. Then the kids had an hour and a half to play, followed by half an hour back upstairs to eat. The children were seated in a booth with a horseshoe-shaped table, which was laid out with plates and cups, party hats, streamers and noisy blowers. They had pizza, crudites and big bowls of chips to help themselves to, and a pot of ice cream each for dessert, as well as birthday cake to take home. The adults were served pizza as well, and plenty of it – it was a very good pizza!