Hard play

I’ve been meaning to blog this for while. Russell thinks ‘soft play’ is “one of those things that’s better than it used to be” and I see what he means but I’m not so sure. I’m a pretty involved dad and I spend a fair amount of my time in a local soft play area and I’m definitely ambivalent about these things. Half the time (I suppose while I’m drinking a frothy coffee and reading the paper I hopefully brought with me) I think they’re pretty cool and a bit or a liberation for harassed 21st Century parents and the other half of the time (while I’m loitering by the spongy slide thing, trying to prevent injury, for instance) I think they’re a kind of kiddie hell where you pay (through the nose) for pleasures that used to be free.

It’s a very natural instinct of capitalists everywhere to ‘add value’ – to transform something that already exists by refining or enhancing it so you can charge more for it, at least for a while, until your precious improvement becomes the norm. So I guess it was inevitable that clever businesspeople would ‘add value’ to old-fashioned play by offering a secure place with reasonable coffee and no obvious sharp edges and charging for it. I remain to be convinced, though, that our kids are going to benefit, ultimately, from spending time (and cash money) in video-monitored, time-limited, rule-governed, air-conditioned play places like these. I’m not going to idealise my own childhood – which was an ordinary, working class 1960s sort of affair – but these ultra-confined play facilities are the polar opposite of the free-range play of our youth and that must influence our kids’ image of the world. Are we producing a generation of agoraphobics?

1 comment

  1. Point taken.

    I may be more favourably disposed because we get our soft play ‘on the rates’.

    And unstructured, free, outdoor, setting fire to conkers play is obviously better (where available) but soft play is also better than staring at the walls at home, or hanging around in a toyshop or God forbid, visiting a musuem.

    But you can’t argue about that fantastic new surface they now have on the floor of playgrounds. It looks like the horrible old-fashioned gravel/concrete, but it’s all bouncy. That’s the future.

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