I was really pleased when the soft play area opened at Woodcote Green garden centre as it’s only a few minutes from where we live. Dobbies, the garden centre chain that recently added Woodcote to its portfolio, runs something called Little Seedlings, which includes soft play and a monthly children’s gardening club, and we have been to the soft play a couple of times now, as it’s the perfect size for my daughter, who is three and a half.
There’s a two-storey climbing structure with steps, a slide, lots of things to climb on and through, a round window like a giant bubble on the top floor, and some swinging foam carrots (in keeping with the Little Seedlings theme!) on the ground floor, and more. I would say that it’s really most suitable for 2-5 or 2-6 year olds; children any older than that would probably find it a little boring as it wouldn’t be challenging enough. But for a younger child, particularly one who isn’t very confident at some of the larger soft play venues, it’s ideal. There is also an under 2s area, which has solid foam shapes and things to sit and climb on, but there is nothing to stop older children from going into it, which has been the case every time we have been. It’s also quite a small area, so not much room for parents of babies to sit in there with their little ones.
The soft play is in its own room with sliding doors, and there are a few tables and chairs inside but not nearly enough, so I’ve never been able to get a table. Some parents stand near the edge of the soft play to watch their children, which means if you are sitting at a table further back, you probably won’t be able to see your child playing anyway. The first time we came, I found I actually needed to watch the doors as well – I wasn’t sure if they were supposed to remain shut between sessions, but parents kept going out to the coffee shop next door, coming back with drinks and leaving the doors open, and on a few occasions I saw young children come off the soft play equipment, looking for their parents; not seeing them as they were sat at a table to the side and starting to head out the open door into the garden centre. It would be much better if the doors were kept closed, or at least monitored by a member of staff.
The soft play is really good value – £3 for an hour or £2.50 if you have a Dobbies membership card, and there is no charge for accompanying adults (unlike most soft play venues that I’ve been to). There’s no longer a booking system, and now rather than having sessions at set times, you get an hour from whenever you enter. It’s worth bearing in mind though that they hire the space out for birthday parties, which means sometimes the soft play is closed earlier than usual. I haven’t seen this communicated anywhere, but when I emailed the manager with a different question, she let me know that for the rest of the year the soft play would be closed at 3pm on Saturdays and 2pm on Sundays due to birthday parties after that. So I’m glad I checked as I had been planning to go mid-afternoon one Saturday!
As this is very local to us we will definitely be regular visitors , and I do recommend it for anyone with younger children – you can combine an hour in the soft play with the outdoor playground at the garden centre (which includes a sandpit) if the weather is nice, and looking at the fish in the aquatics section, which is always a popular activity with my daughter!