Indoor playgrounds are fun but…

We love playgrounds, both indoor ones and out.

In tropical Singapore, air-conditioned indoor playgrounds are obviously a godsend to caregivers of active children.

Ahh, but only if these caregivers are the sort who are responsible enough to run, crawl, climb and swing along after their children at playgrounds to prevent their young wards from hurting themselves and other children.

My biggest gripe about indoor playgrounds is the poorly enforced rule that all children must be supervised.

Some caregivers have mistaken indoor playgrounds for day care centres, and therefore expect venue staff to play a supervisory role. These caregivers then leave their wards to play while they go run errands or whatever, or sit in a corner and bury their face in their smartphones.

Most caregivers watch their wards closely, without having to hover, but are ready to intervene quickly should a potentially dangerous situation presents itself.

Unfortunately for these actively involved caregivers, the nonchalant ones can make the whole play experience sour. 

Many months ago at an indoor playground, Titus had his toy snatched away by an older girl after he had waited patiently for the previous user to be done with it. He was inconsolable but I couldn’t snatch the toy back from the offensive girl to appease my son. I had looked around to see if her caregiver had seen the situation and could step in to correct her rudeness. No such luck unfortunately, as she had a careless caregiver who was seated in a corner.

It made me mad enough (I was mad at myself too, for not being able to defend Titus and to explain why he had to wait and play nice when others didn’t) to keep Titus away from indoor playground for many months.

Today, at another indoor playground, we encountered two little girls – probably five or six years old – playing rough in the toddler zone.

 They sat in the ball pit and threw balls at every toddler that came in. To make it worse, they threw those balls at close range. 

Most parents chose to withdraw their tots. There was one mother, though, who gently but sternly told the girls that they were hurting the little ones. She then removed her toddler son from the pit.
Soon, the pit was empty, save for the two tyrants.

It was none of our business until Titus decided right then to get into the ball pit. As soon as he climbed in, the two girls waded over to him and started to throw balls at his face. Hard.

For a split second I thought I would take Titus out and not let him get hurt. But right away I knew he would be upset with my action, obviously not understand it was for his safety. And why should he be deprived of fun again when he didn’t do anything wrong? 

So I reacted this time.

I told the girls that they were hurting Titus. They ignored me and continued hurling balls at his face.
I shielded Titus’ face and asked them where their parents were. They ignored me still.

Pushing Titus to a farther corner, I raised my voice now and told them to throw balls at each other instead if they insisted on playing rough. 

“Have a taste of your own actions. Make sure you throw at each other really hard,” I said sternly.

Oddly, they obeyed and went about their new activity with great fervour. So much so they soon grimaced in pain. 

Finally one girl shouted that she’s done and angrily climbed out of the ball pit.

I thought she’d go running to her caregiver, which would allow me to identify and speak to the adult, but she didn’t. She dashed off to the big kids area and disappeared.

Later, I learnt that she was with an elderly man who spent all afternoon sitting in a corner at the entrance, watching something on his smartphone.

That same afternoon, Titus was ‘forced’ off his trampoline when three much older kids jumped on suddenly.

There were only two trampolines and they came with a warning that only one child on each trampoline at any one time. It was obviously for a safety requirement because can you imagine what would happen when two or more bouncing kids smash into each other?

Without staff supervision and with their caregivers absent, those three kids were oblivious to the safety warning. This time, I chose to pluck Titus out of the situation. The big kids can have the trampoline, and learn a painful lesson.

Although I recognise that indoor playgrounds are not a day care centre and staff aren’t obliged to watch customers children, I feel that some staff should still be deployed to accident-prone play areas. Areas like the trampolines and ziplines.

This is painfully lacking in indoor playgrounds here in Singapore. When we visited several such facilities in Seoul, there were attentive supervisors everywhere. They had mics on and would call out rough kids to play nice.

A great play experience for all is possible if everyone is alert and responsible on behalf of their children. 

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