I’m the kind of mum that is good with my own toddler’s bodily fluids, but I don’t want to deal with anyone else’s thanks very much. I’d seen enough social media jokes about “soft play hell” and the associated bodily fluids, germ, bumps and altercations that the thought of going to a soft play centre wasn’t top of my list of things to do.
However one rainy Friday, when my little girl had been home from creche for a few days sick, but was back to normal and bored I decided it might be a good place to let off a bit of energy, so we headed to PJs Playcentre in Balbriggan.
It usually costs €7 for one child for a two hour session, but for non-walkers it is free so I didn’t pay anything. I even got a voucher for a drink in the cafe, so it was great value, although I didn’t actually get a chance to drink my cup of coffee as I am that parent that ends up in the ball pool with my child rather than just letting her explore, but maybe when she’s a bit older I’ll appreciate the sit down and coffee more.
As we arrived they were just finishing up a toddler morning where the staff had been painting with the children and were playing instruments and singing, so that would have been even better value.
There is a dedicated section for non-walkers with a ball pool, some foam shapes and a slide. At first she just sat looking overwhelmed by all the colours and noises, but then she found the ball pool and enjoyed sorting the balls, and miraculously didn’t put too many in her mouth.
She really enjoyed the slide but she needed my help to get up onto it.
Then we progressed to the toddler area that has bigger slides, a bigger ball pool, a play house and more foam shapes. It was a great place for her to practice her attempts at walking and she was made a few dashes between different structures, and I didn’t have to worry about her bruised knees.
There were quite a few other kids there, mainly bigger than her but I didn’t feel like she was going to get knocked over. She was able to stand her ground with them, and even tried to initiate peek a boo with them round the edges of the shapes.
At one point a little boy toddled over to me with his face smeared in sick and tried to wipe it on my top. I was like whoa there, and subtly turned him around and gave him a gentle push off in the direction of what I guessed was his mum, who was chatting on the other side of the pen. If it wasn’t his mum she was going to get a surprise.
For toddlers there is also a really cool climbing course with a slide at the end, but I was worried if I went into it I would get stuck (I can’t imagine anything more embarrassing than having to be rescued from a climbing frame), and if she went in alone she might not find the way out, so I left that for another day.
This time round I stayed close to her because she is still little and very unsteady on her feet. She’s a keen climber but hasn’t yet mastered getting back down things safely. However I would hope at future visits I’d have the confidence to let her play a bit more independently. It is a very safe environment, but you can’t avoid every bump and bruise they will get. I’ve heard a lot of play centres are struggling with high insurance costs because of an increase in litigation costs following accidents. It would be a shame if that meant good safe centres disappearing, because it’s good to have a place to practice these new skills.
After about an hour we had had enough, she was getting tired and I was getting a bit bored so we left. It hadn’t cost us anything so I didn’t mind leaving early.
So the verdict, is it soft play hell or soft play fun?
Overall I was impressed, it was good value and everything was nice and clean and safe. For non-walkers there isn’t a lot to do, but it’s a great place to encourage them to practice their crawling and walking on nice soft surfaces.
I nearly came into contact with more bodily fluids than I would have liked, but I didn’t, and most of the parents kept a watchful eye on their kids so I didn’t see any of the kiddy altercations that social media had led me to believe were a common occurrence (although it was a quiet mid week day).
I will definitely be back, but I might wait until she is a little older and can explore the climbing frame on her own, and get onto the slide herself, so there is more for her to do, and I might even get to sit down and enjoy my coffee.
For more information about this particular soft play centre visit…https://pjsplaycentre.ie/
(Note: I have no affiliation with this centre and this review is just my own opinion)