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The first rule of Soft Play is… You don’t go to soft play when it’s raining.

The second rule of Soft Play is… You don’t go to soft play when it’s raining.

The third rule of… You get the idea.

Now, the new parents among you may be thinking “what’s the big deal? It’s just soft play!” For the more experienced parents out there you’ll  know that there has never been a more frightening combination of two harmless words. Many of you probably broke out in a cold sweat just reading the title. You’re not alone guys, I just had my third cold sweat since starting this post.

Believe it or not, soft play can actually be a really fun and rewarding experience for the whole family. BUT, it can just as easily be about is much fun as Mike Tyson giving you a root canal so here are my top ‘dad rules ok’ for soft play survival, ignore them at your peril.

  1. Don’t go when it’s raining – Seriously, this is rule number one for a reason. Timing is the biggest single factor in determining whether you come home as a soft play supremo or a gibbering wreck. For some reason, when the heavens open, every single person on the planet with a child under the age of 10 decides to go to our local soft play centre. People actually arrive, see that the carpark is fuller than Aldi on a Sunday afternoon and think “It’s probably not that bad inside”. Try and time your visit to soft play for when it’s likely to be quiet; midweek mornings are best (unless it’s raining… obvs). Ultimately the fewer people there, the lower the probability of any kind of fracas/injury/general incident and the better time you’ll have.
  2. Phone ahead – This might sound a bit OTT but when you get there and find out that Kerry Katona has booked half the venue for her kid’s birthday party you’ll wish you’d made that 30-second call to check if there were any kids’ parties on. On the other hand, the nibbles should be decent, comme si comme ça.
  3. Dress for the occasion – First off, it’s not a fashion parade, when it comes to soft play comfort is king. Also, it’s a well known fact that chasing a toddler round soft play for 10-minutes burns more calories than the entire SAS Who Dares Wins training course, so there’s no need for anything other than short sleeves. Don’t believe me? Next time you go, wear a turtle neck.
  4. Limber up – Like any form of exercise you need to warm-up beforehand. Now I’m not suggesting you start doing lunges by the ball pit, bit weird… But don’t go flying in at the deep end. Start off with something nice and easy that doesn’t involve any climbing and build up to the big stuff.
  5. Don’t go on your own – Unless going alone is completely unavoidable, take a team mate. As per rule number 4, when you’re knackered after 10 minutes and the 42nd time climbing back up to the top of the slide you’ll be glad that the other half of your Legion of Doom is on hand to be tagged in.
  6. Don’t go on a full stomach – Trust me, I take pride in the fact I’m in the 2% of people who haven’t chucked up in soft play. Don’t be that guy.
  7. Do not go in the ball pit – Or as it’s otherwise known, the cesspit. Imagine a giant tombola… but instead of winning a Freddo, you win a manky old plaster, a half eaten banana, and some toddler vomit. Our local soft play do a pretty good job of keeping the place clean (I get jabbed in the ankle with a cordless Dyson every 20 minutes or so) but when it comes to ball pits, there’s only so much they can do. I mean, it’s not like they pull out the snooker umpire white gloves and give every ball a good rub is it… I fear I may have set my standards a little too high here. Don’t make eye contact – You’ll be seen as a potential friend/playmate/lame duck and before you know it, word will have spread like wildfire that there’s a grown up who’s willing to play ‘war’. In a matter of seconds you’ve been bound, gagged and tied up with a rope ladder while your toddler has sneakeck off and got wedged halfway down the spiral slide.
  8. Don’t fight with the other parents – When that guy with a spiderweb tattooed on his cheek just sits there and watches his 14-year-old kid run through the toddler section knocking kids over like skittles, don’t get mad. Do the right thing…. and let his tyres down instead.
  9. Don’t get carried away – Remember, you’re the adult in this situation… With the exception of rule 9.

And there you have it. The path to soft play enlightenment. If you have any survival suggestions please let me know, we’re stronger together… *fist bump emoji*

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