So as you know, last week was Oscar’s third birthday. I don’t know where the time has gone either! Anywho, we planned a party for him and all his chums for the Saturday after his birthday, but wanted to do something actually on the day, just the three of us. It’s something we’ve always done. For his first birthday we went to Marwell Zoo, which worked out well, as he was still happy to be carried around in the baby rucksack thing. Last year we went to The Aquarium at Southsea. Whilst a great idea in theory, it really didn’t work in reality. It wasn’t busy, but it just wasn’t him and we left not long after we arrived. So this year we wanted to do something he would enjoy, and be able to cope with. Unfortunately his birthday fell in the first week of the Easter holidays, meaning the possibility of ‘attractions’ being busy was high. This might not have been an issue (you never can tell), but we wanted to find somewhere that would give him a sporting chance of having a good time.
Then I read a blog post from AutismMumma about Thames Valley Adventure Playground in Taplow. It’s an enormous indoor and outdoor play facility for children (and adults on a Friday) with all types of Special Needs. You can read more about them on their website. The numbers accepted each day is limited and booking necessary, meaning the place could never get too busy. It also offers a myriad of things which I knew Oscar would love, from space to run, swings, climbing equipment, soft play and an understanding environment for both of us. It looked ideal, so we decided it would be worth the hours drive to Taplow to give it a go.
It’s a really big site and houses all sorts of clever and fun play spaces. The first thing Oscar saw when we arrived through the locked gate was a huge Thomas the Tank Engine, so he was happy straight away. We played for ages in the fully secure, gated and locked outdoor space. All the areas were clearly defined but flowed into one another. He found the giant sand pit straight away and discovered a love of the bucket on the pulley.
We followed his lead where possible and let him go from place to place in his own time. He chose when to go indoors and seemed happy to discover the soft play. One thing I noticed was although the outdoors was practically empty the inside space was quite busy. I wondered if this would be a problem, but it didn’t seem to faze him in the slightest, and he happily found some toy trains to play with and a buggy to push around.
It was the first time for all of us at an SEN, well, anything really. It can be daunting taking a step into this new world and don’t get me wrong I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. But as it turned out I felt no different than I do when visiting any other play place for the first time. Quick to scope out the safety and aware of where he might get into difficulty. The children all seemed to be having a rare old time and my only concern for Oscar was that he seemed to be the youngest there. It made me see just how small he still is, rather than the big ‘man child’ I see most other days! And the only place this became a real issue was in the bike park. The (fenced and security minded ) playground full of trikes and bikes and things to run with. He would have loved it, but it was full of children much older than himself, whizzing around and so we left that for another time. As for safety, I was really interest to see thoughtful touches here and there that clearly catered for not only the children but also the carers, such as cubby holes for bags, high off the ground, toilets that were easily accessible from the outside, should a child become trapped and a carers/staff toilet with a door handle way out of reach of any child.
Oscar had a wonderful time and there was so much choice of things to do, he was able to move from one thing and back again as comfortably as he liked. I loved the fort and the slide and I particularly liked the wooden rockets and play houses. So much thought and effort had gone into them, some of which were clearly handcrafted. I also really loved the sensory garden, although Oscar wasn’t that bothered. I could have stayed in there all day playing on the chimes and the drums! My favourite piece though, was one I thought was unfinished, until I looked more closely.
The only problem we had was leaving. We’re working on transitioning more smoothly and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. He was having a great time, but was also getting really tired. So when it came time to leave he had a bit of a melt down. Not that anyone else blinked an eye and we actually left at the same time as another child doing exactly the same thing! The look of understanding was appreciated. Anyway he wailed for about five minutes, then passed out. The sign of a good time had, I think.
Would we go back? Definitely. I wish it was a bit closer, but he’s a good traveller and he had a ball, making it totally worth the trip. The whole time we were there I just kept thinking “oh his friends would LOVE this” and TVAP do run integrated play days every Saturday for children with and without Special Needs. Hmmm, maybe I’ll have to arrange an outing one day.
Happy Birthday Oscar and thank you Thames Valley Adventure Playground.