Indoor Play Seeing Booming Business
It seems odd to say it, but kids these days need more playtime. And we’re not talking the kind of play that involves memory cards, video games or watching movies. We’re talking good, old-fashioned run-around, get-loud, move-your-body play. Some people call this free play or unstructured playtime. Which, unfortunately, seems to reflect the more recent notion that there isn’t a real benefit in allowing kids to play freely on a daily basis.
Parents have slowly pushed unstructured playtime down on their priority list, as they have become more focused on activities that will set their children up for academic and social success. Music lessons, sports practice and other afterschool activities have replaced time at the playground. In fact, parents have become so focused on developing their children’s academic and social potential, a recent Gallup poll found only 22 percent of parents
valued creativity as one of the more essential qualities their child needed to develop before they turned 10.
Many parents don’t realize creative play is essential to children’s development
for several reasons.
- Unstructured playtime gives children the chance to develop their imagination, physical and emotional strength and awareness of the world around them.
- When they get the freedom to run and explore, children use play to figure out how to interact with the world around them, often by mimicking what they’ve seen their parents do.
- Quality playtime helps children develop new skills, which ultimately makes them more confident in their abilities to take on and master future challenges. Children move through activities, trying new things and discovering what they are good at and, perhaps even more importantly, what they enjoy.
- Experiencing unstructured playtime alongside others teaches children about sharing, conflict resolution and how to stand up for themselves.
In light of recent concerns over rising rates of childhood obesity, playing has become a valuable tool to combat weight gain
because it encourages children to move around, rather than passively taking in entertainment. Unfortunately, too many children today gravitate toward more passive activities like watching television or playing video games. And, when they regularly engage in sedentary activities, they aren’t exercising their bodies and caring for themselves the way they should.
How to Encourage Play
Because so many parents have been conditioned to focus on providing organized activities for their children from a young age, it can be hard to know exactly how to change their ways and incorporate regular play into their child’s routine. But, with a few easy steps, parents can make some small changes
that can have big outcomes.
- Make room in your day for kids to decompress, play and process. Don’t be afraid to block off time on your schedule each day for unstructured play and exploration.
- Provide toys for your children that encourage them to use their imagination and creativity, rather than electronics. Also, make sure they get outside and explore nature when they can. The physical and mental health benefits of allowing children to explore and play outdoors are well-documented.
- Try to encourage more active play that gets them running, jumping and moving around. Look for ways they can burn energy, especially ones that allow them to interact with other children. Exercise plus socialization — two benefits at once!
- Let your child help pick their activities outside of school. Children are going to be more invested in their activity if they had some say in deciding what to do. For example, give your child two options: “Do you want to go to the playground, or would you rather play in the backyard?”
- Spend unscheduled time hanging out with your child. While children do need time to play without guidance from their parents, they need time to interact with them as well. As a parent, it can be tempting to seize a free moment to fold a load of laundry or start dinner, but next time, try climbing onto the swing next to your child or catching them at the bottom of the slide. Talk to them, encourage them and make a point to enjoy time relaxing together.
- Volunteer at your child’s school to get a better understanding of how much free play your child gets during the day. When you spend time in the classroom, you’ll have a better knowledge of how much time they spend at recess, P.E. and other creative pursuits. Then you’ll be better equipped to judge what they need when they’re at home.
- Check in with your child regularly to make sure they aren’t feeling tired, overwhelmed or over-scheduled. Don’t be afraid to ask your child what they need or how you can adapt your routines and schedules to help them flourish.
Even if you’re ready to admit your child needs more unstructured playtime, if you’re like many parents, you aren’t entirely sure how to make that happen. Not only can jam-packed schedules make it challenging to find time to play, but the weather is a huge factor for a lot of people as well. After all, if you live anywhere that experiences bad weather, you have firsthand experience of having to cancel outdoor plans when a rainstorm comes up or the temperatures drop too low to make outside play comfortable. In areas of the country that experience a lot of rain or severe temperatures, this may have happened many times.
It can be frustrating when you want to allow your child to play, but the weather seems to be working against you.
Enter the indoor playground.
The general idea behind an indoor playground is to create an environment where kids can run and explore just as they would on an outdoor playground, but without having the annoying interruptions of Mother Nature. Not only that, but an indoor play environment is contained, which means parents don’t have to worry about their child wandering off.
The indoor playground concept is loosely defined. Why? Because its design depends on the function of each unit. Some are large and elaborate. Some are small and simple. Some charge fees to play, and others are free offerings by local government or organizations. In general, at an indoor playground, you’ll most likely find a variety of equipment designed to encourage some combination of running, jumping, climbing and exploration. Some may offer toys, creative play options — such as dress-up and hands-on crafts and activities — and other entertainment experiences.
While some indoor play spaces do encourage parent-child interaction, most are geared toward establishing safe spaces for children to interact with each other. Since one of the most significant benefits to an outdoor playground is the social interactions that take place between children as they learn to play together, solve problems and take turns, this translates nicely into the indoor playground concept because there are typically several children of varying ages there at any given time.
The Indoor Playground Industry
While the concept of an indoor playspace isn’t new, its setup has evolved over the years. Indoor playgrounds fall within a category of businesses called “family entertainment centers,” some of the earliest versions of which featured things like ball pits, arcade games and climbing structures. While they were a hit with children, their focus was on entertainment, with little regard for kids’ development and need for activity.
However, in more recent years, indoor playgrounds have seen a rebirth, and they now incorporate all the development benefits of outdoor playgrounds, as well as the benefits of more unstructured play.
These centers now see significant growth as more and more families come to prefer indoor play options. Not only do these indoor options provide an activity that doesn’t depend on the weather, but because these places increasingly provide food, coffee and other services at the same location, they have become more appealing to parents as well. After all, isn’t a parent more likely to agree to take their child to a place where they know they can sit on a comfy couch and drink a cup of coffee or munch on a snack while their child plays? Add in some free Wi-Fi, and these places are quickly convincing parents they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.
There are several different versions of the indoor playground concept
, but they generally fall into one of two categories.
- Play & Discovery Centers / Open Play Centers: These indoor play spaces emphasize hands-on discovery and free play by providing customers with the toys and tools their children need to initiate creative and imaginative play. They may have play stations with cars and trucks, musical instruments, dress-up clothes and more. There may or may not be an actual “playground” structure involved. In addition to the emphasis on educational play, they also offer child-friendly entertainment, such as story hour or arts and crafts. These places also have features that appeal to parents, like a cafe with adult-friendly menu options, including coffee and grab-and-go food.
- Soft-Contained Centers: These play spaces are exactly what the name sounds like — soft, contained, multi-level structures that encourage children to run, climb, race and explore. It’s a more extensive, more intentionally designed version of what you’d find at a fast-food restaurant. Parents love this option because it encourages children to move a lot, burning energy and giving them the 60 minutes of daily physical activity the American Heart Association recommends.
It also isn’t uncommon to find a combination of these two types of centers, or a center such as these that also houses arcade games, rides and more. But, in its purest form, an indoor playground encourages free, unstructured play in a way that helps children grow and develop.
In addition to becoming popular with parents for their daily benefits, these centers are also becoming favorite destinations for birthday parties and other events. The self-contained nature of these play spaces makes it easy to keep track of kids and keep everyone organized. And, instead of trying to come up with games and activities that will appeal to every child who attends, children are free to choose from a variety of activities and find something that appeals to them.
Playing at Superior Play
At Superior Play, we’re always working to find more creative ways to get kids playing — indoors or out. Yes, we’re a distributor of playground and outdoor equipment, but what makes us unique is that we don’t want you to wait until you buy our products to enjoy their benefits. Whether a rainy day pops up, or you just don’t have access to a good playground, we know parents need somewhere they can take their children to play
. So why not spend the day running around our showroom? We don’t charge hefty fees or require reservations. If we’re open, we want you to be here.
There are several reasons we feel strongly about opening up our indoor play spaces for families.
- Test before you buy. If you’re in the market for a play structure for your yard or a local community playground, our indoor play spaces give you unlimited opportunity to check out our products. See if your children like them. Make sure they’re as durable as we claim. Talk to a member of our experienced sales team and get all your questions answered.
- Families need to play together. If you aren’t in the market for a swing set or playground of your own, don’t let that stop you from checking us out. We love encouraging families to spend time playing together, whether they’re sliding down slides, shooting baskets or bouncing on one of our trampolines. After all, shouldn’t grown-ups be allowed to play too?
- Safe, child-friendly celebrations. We LOVE hosting parties for children and their families. One of the greatest things about having your birthday party at an indoor play space is that it keeps kids contained — making things easier on Mom and Dad — but they can still run, climb and burn off all the energy they get after eating a slice or two of birthday cake. Besides having the opportunity to run and climb on all sorts of playground structures, which even include indoor swings, your children will get to play with our basketball hoops and experience Superior trampolines.
Superior Play is a playground equipment company with locations in North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia. In the indoor playground business since 1992, we’re proud to offer our clients high-quality, award-winning products that encourage active play among children of all ages. What sets us apart from others is that we turn our showrooms into playrooms by inviting families in to play on our equipment and make memories together as they run, jump and explore.
We’re always looking for new team members interested in opening locations because we feel so strongly about offering play opportunities to as many people as possible through our So Many Ways To Play®™ program. We are looking for single- and multi-unit operators who are as passionate as we are about creating opportunities for families to play together. If you’re seeking a new and exciting business opportunity, this just may be the place to start. Contact us today to learn more about franchise opportunities