Surprisingly not-hellish: Review of The Treehouse soft play, Didcot

So I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was going to write a no-holds-barred expose of soft play hell, based on a couple of experiences I had had. They’re loud, drafty or hot, smell peculiar and often seem unclean.  Children run rampant and feral and the whole experience feels like a hyper-coloured scene out of Lord of the Flies.

So my heart sank somewhat when, due to the ‘inclement’ (read: fucking miserable) weather, The Man proposed we ran the fidgets out of The Boy at a softplay in Didcot they’d been to before.  I reluctantly agreed to go along as The Girl was on day two of a feeding frenzy that left me with no free hands and a desperate need to get out of the house in an attempt to save some of my last remaining sanity.

20150613_153312Unlike many softplays, The Treehouse is not housed in a large industrial unit facility, but rather an old converted retail property, so it’s more ‘bijou’ (as estate agents like to have it) than your standard soft play.  This works in its favour in that it’s not as drafty, is less overwhelming for children who lack in confidence and it’s easier to keep an eye on your progeny whilst you enjoy a nice coffee.

The costs are reasonable and flat-rate, as in: they don’t bump the prices up on high days, holidays and weekends.  There’s a decent coffee shop with reasonable prices, comfortable seating for adults (including some nice squishy sofas) and the loos are spacious and very clean which is a huuuuge tick in their favour as far as I’m concerned.

The equipment is fun and well padded and the whole place seems very clean. None of that worrying suspicion that a teenager on their Saturday job may not have spotted or cleaned up a lurking puddle of wee somewhere that I have experienced at other venues.  In fact the staff seemed older and more responsible altogether, and very clear on safety and hygiene. When my nudity-loving Boy attempted to shed his socks and go on the run a member of staff was on him before The Man could put his coffee down and, whilst it was a bit disconcerting to have a staff member swoop in and pick up my child without checking with me first, I do appreciate their vigilance to maintain hygiene (and their fitness – The Boy is a fast runner).

The Man worked his way round the outside of a Bakewell tart and a coffee whilst I sat in a daze and fed the milk beast – I mean my daughter.  All this time The Boy ran around in a happy mania, well entertained, and unable to escape as the staff operated a strict sign-in/sign-out system with a staff-operated lock on the gate.  Even more handily The Treehouse is situated close to a big Sainsburys and a number of other high street favourites, which means you can hit the shops after a session – or even sign your little darling up for an hour’s ‘Drop and shop’ which sounds like an excellent idea.

Even better, for the technologically minded or self-employed amongst us, they have free WiFi, so you can take your laptop/phone/tablet along and make the most of your free time.

The only downside? It’s maybe a bit loud and airless, but quite frankly what do you expect with a screaming horde of under-tens having a whale of a time. Take some headphones and block it out, it’s still better than listening to a bored three year old whingeing!

Highly recommended.

The Treehouse Play Centre can be found at:
Off Broadway and High Street,
OX11 8AE

The great TV ban – or why I cut off my nose to spite my own face

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I recently had a baby.  Nine weeks ago our daughter came into this world and has made our lives richer in so many ways and (so far) our three year old son is also one of her fan club.

But (and there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?) he has not been unaffected by her arrival.  For several weeks previous to the birth, and in the nine weeks since, he has been horrifically violent – to almost everyone but the baby.

Now, a good part of this is undoubtedly just being three. The sheer ‘three-ness’ of a three year can be horrifying in itself (if you’ve had one, you’ll understand what I mean. It is an animal unlike any other).  However, a good part of it was just so unlike his usually sweet nature that we, and his preschool, were taken aback. Biting, hitting with objects, pushing, shouting – he was like a mini Hulk.  Preschool blithely put it down to the impending arrival of his sister, but I wasn’t so sure.

Last week I suddenly decided that he had been watching too much TV. We spent a few days at my parents’ house, which made it easier to break the habit because it was a different environment and there were more people to help entertain him and when we got home I decided to make it a blanket ban through the week.  He didn’t go easily. Whingeing is already down to a fine art, as is nagging and determined-ness, but fortunately he hasn’t quite mastered all the ins and outs of the TV and as long as I leave it tuned to a radio station he’s stuffed!

Playing with Brio

Playing with Brio

Within a week his behaviour had calmed down. He rediscovered his beloved Brio (and associated cheap knock-offs). He found it easier to get to sleep at night and was more likely to use his words instead of lashing out.  I’m not sure why the TV had such a profound effect on him, it’s not like he was watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or anything – I really doubt Mr Bloom and the veggies could incite a toddler to violence (not the same for parents, but that’s another post entirely!) but it is possible that all that passive mental stimulation got him worked up without tiring him mentally and definitely without tiring him physically.  I’ll have to do some reading up, but he has never watched so much TV as he did whilst I was exhausted from pregnancy and after Modom arrived, we may have kept using the digital babysitter more than was good for him.

We’re blessed, where we live, to have all sorts of outdoor entertainments within easy reach – most of them free. From several good playgrounds to a splash park, toddler groups, parks and open spaces and a steam railway to wooded walks, forest school, minibeasts, art groups and messy play. I am glad the weather is mild (mostly) and dry (on the whole) as I am  trying to make the most of these opportunities to wear out his body and his brain at the same time.  If the weather is really foul we either waterproof up and brave it anyway (baby in sling to keep warm) or try and do something ‘improving’ at home, like baking or colouring or pretend play.  It’s hard bloody work, but that’s why childminders get paid – because actively engaging with children like this is a fulltime job.

So, although I am now relied upon for entertainment far more than previously – and just as I have another small person needing my attentions – I am still glad that we have reduced the part TV plays in our life down to one or two special programmes at the weekend – which we all sit down and watch together.  I hated seeing my boy hitting and hurting others, very little makes you feel as ashamed as that, except, possibly, knowing it was parking them in front of the telly that exacerbated it.

Lesson learned… until next time. Because if there’s one thing we can be sure of as parents, it’s that we’re learning just as much as our children are, just maybe not as fast!