Even in the middle of summer softplay is a saving grace when the weather turns – in the winter months it becomes a regular lifeline for entertainment.
Living near Brixton Rec I am very lucky to have access to a softplay area that the kids – mine are two and four – disappear into in the blink of an eye and come out (eventually), happy and hungry.
On a mission to find softplay in unusual places, I decided it was time to venture further afield. Once my little girl is dropped off at school, all my son wants to do is go on the train – having a goal makes the trip an all round adventure.
We headed on the overland (always good for watching real life zoom past the window), from Herne Hill to Victoria. The National Army Museum is a twenty-minute walk from the station (children in buggies), or you can catch the number 170 from stop V at Victoria Coach Station – next door to Victoria train station.
The first softplay session is at 10.10am – you cannot book in advance and it is really popular with people queuing from 9.30. We arrived just before ten and joined the line. Be prepared in case you don’t make the first session – we just missed out and bought tickets for the 11.20am slot.
Having never been to the museum I was pleasantly surprised by the child friendliness of it. We spent a happy hour running around the museum sitting on saddles, being mesmerised by the giant and tiny horses (not real!). Trying on soldier uniforms (there are only a few so good practise in sharing), colouring in pictures of horses and knocking down miniature skittles (that looked like part of the exhibit!).
There are also crossword puzzles linked to the exhibitions that older children could complete by following clues that take them around the museum.
The family friendly (action) zones are on levels 1 and 2, as well as the ground floor being a hands on interactive exhibition. All levels have great space and I never felt like it was possible to damage anything!
The softplay area was a great success. There were the usual soft blocks and cornered off baby area, a slide – that my two year old ‘forced’ me down – ‘ladders’ in various areas, and tunnels for climbing overhead with obstacles to get round and over. The children also loved the kitchen area and the car and train table – these sections made a nice addition and meant the kids could focus on something else and calm down a bit – until the next SAS mission started.
On the practical side there were plenty of chairs in the play zone for weary adults, and a buggy park. As numbers are limited to 30 children there was no overcrowding and it was easy to walk around to keep an eye on the kids. We left our buggies upstairs with no quibbles.
Sessions are 50 minutes long, plus ten minutes so staff can tidy up. The 12.30 sessions is usually quiet due to it clashing, for many, with lunch/naps, but all the others vary in popularity.
The advice given was to arrive in plenty of time before your preferred session, enjoy the museum, and small café, if a time filler is needed, or even pop to the Kings Road for a mooch around the shops. Peter Jones (aka John Lewis) near Sloane Square is good for family distractions, and throughout December there is a Christmas Grotto in the Duke Of York Square – if you dare plan two events in the same day.
Softplay cost is £2.50, but babies (under one) go free. Check the website for closure details in relation to party bookings and maintenance work.
There are also soft plays in South London at Bees Knees in Battersea Arts Centre and in East London at Mudlarks in the The Museum of London Docklands, Gambado in Chelsea and also Clown Town Soft Play in Finchley.
And watch this space for Grotto listings!