Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Review: Panda Play Cafe

Lovely little touches jazz up the room in Ballsbridge

Spot the messer

Caffeine addiction in full swing

This year I made one of the best discoveries that has changed my whole attitude to being a Stay at Home Mom (SAHM for the uninitiated). Panda Play Cafe. I can't imagine being without it, and am only sorry I didn't find it sooner. It's a cafe with loads of toys and play equipment for children aged 0-5 years. There is one in Old Belvedere Rugby Club, Ballsbridge and one in Terenure College Rugby club.
Having a new baby and a 3 year old, the winter posed it's fair share of dilemmas. Stay home and try to fill the long days at home, trying to limit the amount of tv watched, and entertain the 3 year old was not easy. Playgrounds are too cold / wet / windy, and you can only manage about a half-hour in the cold weather before you all need to get indoors. Shopping centres involve walking, constant supervision of 3 year old, and I spend way too much money. Most of my friends are in work, so there were few playdates available. Parent and toddler groups seem to be for the under 2s, and Charlie needs to really stretch his legs and run everyday, as all kids do. So the discovery of Panda Play cafe could not have come at a better time. I have met friends there, both bouncing a baby on our knee and chatting, while the older kids have a ball. I have gone alone and got some great writing done in the spare moments Noah was asleep, and I'd a lovely "date" there with Barry, catching up on each other's news without the constant "play with me" we hear at home.

There is a 6 euro entry fee, and you can stay as long as you like. So you could literally arrive there at 10am when they open, and stay until 4pm, playing, eating and drinking, reading, working on your laptop, and your child is entertained. Some parents told me they were able to go to collect an older child from school, and return here, without paying the entry again which I thought was very reasonable. 
I like that the age limit is 5 years. I've been to other play zones (see my post called "Incarcerated" for a description of the horror) and they are open to all ages, even teens are pushing past toddlers on the equipment. Also a large enclosed play frame does not lend itself to supervising your child. If your child is calling your name in one of those places you will never hear them. They are great for older children, but I never felt really secure letting Charlie in there alone.
Having the parents right there in Panda Play cafe means your little darling is not going to get accosted by any pre-school vigilantes, as the parents are all there to keep an eye out, and they do. Also the clientele seem to be very well behaved. Altercations and tantrums are kept to a minimum, and are usually from children who are protesting at being brought home. 
I have met so many lovely parents there, some who only discovered it in the last few weeks, some who are faithful customers since the opening last year. A lot are part-time working parents, on their day off, bring the kids and the laptop, and usually delighted to have a chat. 

What I love is the variety of equipment at both venues, it's similar, but different, so Charlie has just as much fun, but is never bored at either venue. 
For the under-ones there is a fantastic selection of baby seats / bouncers, play mats, things you may have at home, or wish you'd the space for. I'd never thought of putting Noah in a baby activity centre, we don't have the room for one at home, plus toys that make noise are very limited in this house but he loved it!

Noah in sensory heaven! Ballsbridge
There is open free-play all day every day, no need to book. 
Both venues have tables and comfy chairs for parents, with a great selection of magazines. Terenure has two lovely sofas in the baby corner, and Ballsbridge has armchairs in their baby corner. You are of course free to take the baby equipment anywhere in the cafe for your use, but it's also nice to have a little group of washed-out new mothers with babies on comfy seats. 
Both venues have a large ball pool, with great walls for jumping off. I've seen parents happily sitting in the ball pool, everyone seems to love them, and these are huge. Both venues also have a great selection of ride-ons for toddlers and pre-schoolers, all are foot-powered so no huge acceleration causing traffic accidents. They have lovely reading corners, with childrens books in a bookshelf, and comfy little colourful sofas. Both will give you paper and crayons to colour with too. All the equipment is clean, in good condition, age-appropriate and colourful.
There are a lovely range of soft toys, from giant animals to roll around with, to dolls to dress and cuddle.
Some of the differences between the venues are: 
Terenure: Little Tikes house, workbench, ball pool, train table, colouring table and little stools, pirate ship play table. 
Ballsbridge: Little Tikes castle with slide (and a secret door!), wooden dolls house, wooden kitchen, giant building shapes (see photo), play tunnel.

There is a huge amount of FREE parking at both venues (huge bonus!) and they are enclosed, so no traffic while you are getting the children out of the car is always a plus in my book.
There is a "no shoes" policy, which I am delighted to see, this is for cleanliness and also gives a nice homely feel to the places, you can't be a stuck-up snob without your shoes. Well, for those not sure about leaving off the heels, there are blue plastic shoe covers you can wear. Some children bring their slippers, which is a great idea, some wear socks, others wear slipper socks. 
I do not worry about what Noah puts in his mouth, as I believe the more he's exposed to normal "germs" the better for his immune system, but more protective parents will be glad to hear the plastic toys and equipment are sterilised regularly, and the soft toys / costumes are washed and dried, dolls, teddies etc. I was impressed to see the staff wiping down equipment early one morning, as we arrived in, sweeping and polishing in the quiet times. They also do some tidying throughout the day, keeping toys easily reached and balls in the ballpool, as we all know the main point of being in a ballpool is to throw the balls out!

There's a loyalty card where every euro spent on food or snacks gets you one Panda stamp. Ten stamps gives you free entry for one child (worth 6 euro), 15 stamps gives you free entry for two children (worth 10 euro) and so on. It's a lovely touch, and we've had a couple of free entries at this stage, which is great as we're all watching the euros these days!
We all love a bit of fantasy role-play. But apart from our own private lives, there are great costumes for the kids in Panda Play cafe. What I love most is the costumes are in their own wooden box, complete with full-length mirror, so that children can enjoy the effect of the costume without you having to bring them into the ladies and lifting them up to the mirror to see. A great selection of superheroes, princess dresses, high heels, hats, tiaras, firemen etc.
The toilet facilities are brilliant too, they have thought of everything, and this is where you see that Panda play cafe was designed by a real mother, not just someone with a good business idea. There is a baby-changing table, kiddies toilet seats that sit into the normal ones, plastic step stools for toilets / washing hands. 

Anyone who remembers the good old days of Belvedere teenage disco will arrive with a smirk, thinking back to the walls dripping with condensation, the bouncers talking to you to assess your level of sobriety on entering. Now there's just a child's gate to be negotiated, and the only bouncers are for the under-one's. No sweaty walls here either, just some sweaty little toddlers taking turns on the castle's slide.
Terenure Rugby club was not a "haunt" of mine in my maidenhood, and this venue is light and bright, with beautiful big windows facing west, showing the sunset in all its glory.
The coffees are great, the food is great. There is lovely soup and bread, wraps and sandwiches for grown-ups, a toddler snack plate including beadsticks, also a great selection of fruit, Liga biscuits, crisps, chocolate and scones with jam. Everyone's tastes are catered to, from baby to great-granny! 
All the parents I've seen here on our visits seem to be really relaxed. There are groups of young mothers with babies, lone parents with books. Some grandparents, nannies, friends, people are meeting each other here, as it's one of the only places you get to chat to your friend without your child saying "when are we going, I'm bored!" as they do in a normal cafe.
On leaving you get a Panda stamp on your hand, a real badge of honour for any kid, Charlie hates washing his off.

Panda Play cafe was set up by Siobhan O'Neill a mother of two. She was looking for a safe environment for her daughter to play, where she could also relax. There was nowhere, so she set up the Terenure branch first, then Ballsbridge. She is looking to expand again, so if you would like one near you please get in touch with her!
Their website is brilliantly designed, and very easy to find what you're looking for. Both venues have a singalong on a Monday morning, and they theme arts and crafts classes for every holiday. There is a storytime regularly where you may be lucky enough to meet your favourite children's author doing a reading from one of their books! Their Facebook page is full of the latest news with competitions, giveaways and info on their upcoming events so keep an eye on it!
Last week Noah got his first kiss in the ballpool in Terenure, from a lovely older lass, a 16 month old. He looked quite happy. He had instigated the conversation, hanging over the edge of the ballpool, all louche-like, saying "Aaaagh, aaaah", she joined in the chat, tapped him on his head and then kissed him. So the old haunts are still working their magic on the next generation.  

This was a sponsored post, however all opinions are my own. I will only endorse products and services that I fully support and / or use / would recommend to a friend.

1 comment:

  1. WOAH! This seems a must visit place, specially the mouth watering soft play equipment. My 16 months old son loves to play with these stuff.


A lovely comment makes my day, please share your thoughts! xx