In Columbus, we often have to deal with weather that is too unpleasant to be out in. Summer is hot and muggy, so little kids can’t be out for too long. Winter is cold, cold, cold, and again kids can’t be out for long. Usually we get about a dozen good days each year where the temperature is moderate, and it’s actually not raining.
Because of this, many of us here depend on indoor play areas. There aren’t a lot of them, but one of the rites of passage for a Columbus mom is finding where in the world she can take her kid to play and get out of the house.
There are the costly ones, of course. Gymboree, Little Gym, and local knock-offs. Even our local children’s science museum (COSI) has an awesome play area for the under-5 crowd. COSI’s play area is worth the annual membership alone.
But for those unwilling or unable to afford these options, Columbus has one other alternative: the mall play areas. They are usually large, have lots of brightly colored objects to climb over, under and through, and best of all, they’re free.
Three of our local malls have large play areas for kids, and all three are generally packed around lunchtime on a weekday. The edges are lined with strollers and moms chatting on their phones or reading books. The inside is pure chaos, with little legs racing around the area, jumping from structure to structure, and happy screams echoing through the mall.
The closest to us is Tuttle Mall, and yesterday was a day to get out and let Cordy run out some of her energy. We were both sick of being in the house, and she was clearly in need of a large area to run around in.
The Tuttle play area has a space theme. Lots of planets to climb on, a shuttle to crawl through and slide off of, and a floor covered in stars.
The only problem I have with this place is the lack of thought that went into the entrances/exits.
Soft, foamy floor to break falls? Check.
Climbing toys that are rounded and soft, with no sharp edges? Check.
Three wide, easy to access exits spread across the space? Hey, wait a minute!
Yes, the play area has three wide openings to allow people to enter and exit. One entrance is a ramp, the other two are made up of 2 stairs. In other words, nothing that would even stop a crawler from making an escape.
There are no gates at any of these entrances. And two of them are slightly hidden behind curves in the play area. While there is ample seating along the edge of the play area, I find I cannot enjoy this seating because Cordelia is fully aware of each exit and enjoys making a break for them any chance she gets.
This usually results in me breaking into a sprint to get across the play area to grab her before she gets too far outside the area. Then she will throw a fit when I grab her and turn her around to put her back in the play area. After about 5 of these attempted jail-breaks, I decide it’s time to go home, and she howls in protest, because now she actually wants to play in the play area.
While it annoys me that I’m constantly chasing my daughter and forcing her back into the play area, I also think these three entrances are a huge safety problem. The play area is slightly recessed, and there are fake plants surrounding the area. It would be very easy for someone to lure a child out of the area and take them, before anyone would notice. Columbus is a fairly safe city, but kidnappers and sickos are everywhere, and all of the sad stories in the news are proof that you can never be too safe anymore.
Even when I watch my daughter at all times, she occasionally slips behind a climbing structure and disappears from view. A child could easily get out of the play area and get lost in the mall. There’s a large anchor store nearby, plus several small stores with bright lights and colors to attract small eyes.
Why are designers so dumb to make a play area with so many exits? And if they feel that people need access from three sides, why not put gates up to keep the kids inside?
And why am I asking all of you this? I should be sending this to the folks at Tuttle Mall. I think I’m going to do that right now.