This week we had the pleasure of popping to Little City – West Suffolk (there are other Little City’s available) for a playdate with a friend and her little girl. We decided to meet up at this play group for under 5’s as it was something different to where we usually go. Little City is a role play session where children can play and explore everything from being a Fire Fighter to running a bakery. It’s basically a real life ‘Biggleton’ (but not actually linked to Biggleton – just in case I get Little City in trouble). I will just add here that this is not an ‘ad’. I paid full price for our space…and at just £5.50 for 1 hour 15 minutes, I was more than happy too (booking essential as session do sell out).
There were ten different play areas, plus an Ice Cream stand. There was plenty of room for children to explore, and to extend their play to the space around the hall. There were ride on cars, fire engines etc which were linked to the different city zones, and plenty of room for these to be ridden without causing traffic accidents. I took along my 4 year old who is Autistic. His play skills are a bit delayed due to his ritualistic/obsessional play routines. At home he plays Lego, Star Wars and arranges his small world figures into different scenarios. I can’t say he doesn’t have imaginative skills, because he does. However they are based on recreating events rather than making up his own ideas. He bases his play on books, movies, TV series and real life. Things have to be ‘right’ and he is rigid in his thinking so trying to get him to open up to other ideas is challenging. I thought Little City would be a great place for him to expand his play and access new toys and resources.
This was J’s favourite area. I will admit that we are a ‘café family’. We love to have a catch up in local cafes with a drink and a treat. This is pretty much a routine for J. It’s predictable and he knows what he will eat and drink (same every time). The bakery was set up with a counter displaying amazing cakes and biscuits (Sadly, all wooden so not edible), coffee machine (which we were amazed how well many children used it) and card payment machine.
There was also a table for customers to sit and eat. J even invited me in to sit at the table and enjoy some cake which he helpfully cut up for me (great for his fine manipulative skills – using one handed tools and control to split the velco with the knife). Unsurprisingly we spent a long time in this area and revisited several times.
This area had foam bricks, tools, walkie talkie, wheelbarrow etc. Everything a builder would need. There was a fantastic little dressing up set which I actually managed to get J to put on (Briefly). He insisted he wore the whole outfit, googles as well to complete the look (and because he likes things to be ‘complete’).
This is a pretend play J isn’t as familiar in. I encouraged him to use the tools and he did quickly drill some holes, but then had more interest in the walkie talkie…maybe more of a foreman than a grafter, haha. This area was on the end which was great as it meant the space was more open so children could build and spread out their creations (and not knock each others towers down).
J has a love-hate relationship with the hairdressers. It’s taken a long time to get him to a stage here we don’t have a meltdown when having his haircut (still not a fan but he will do it – for a magazine and lollipop). He was a bit sceptical going into this booth but he found a spray bottle and had fun pretend to spray the doll head, and used the play scissors to cut. He then quickly left.
The dolls heads were like the model ones so were sturdy and had lovely long hair to fiddle with. There were mirrors, pretend scissors, section clips, hair dryer…all the tools of the trade. There were two dolls heads so children didn’t argue over using them.
This section had fire fighter and police dress up outfits and accessories. There were ride on toys too for when they had a ‘call out’. This area was probably the ’emptiest’ as I noticed the children tended to dress up then go off on the ride ons. J was happy with this as he sat and was talking into the walkie talkie (he loves a bit of tech). Another thing I liked about Little City was that although there were ICT resources such as tills, walkie talkies etc they were pretend. The children had to use their imaginations to make them work, make the noises themselves etc. Too many toys these days use batteries and do most the work for children, so this was a great opportunity.
Sadly, J knows the vets all too well as we had a lot of issues with our cat at the beginning of the year. He avoided the vets section. I’m not sure if it was because of the emotional aspect or if it just wasn’t in his ‘play skills set’. My friends little girl explored it well. She looked great dressed in the vets outfit and giving the poor animals lots of injections. I did find myself singing ‘Bobby the Vet’ (sorry, another Biggleton reference). This area had pet carriers, examination table, various vets tools and soft animals to care for.
This area was complete with a tool station, buckets with sponges, dress up outfit and ride on car to work on. J was focused on pretending to wash his car, and then his friends car. He then went for a ride on his shiny clean car around the hall. It gave him chance to practise skills such as gross motor development (large physical skills), spatial awareness and control.
I loved the fact that boys and girls were accessing all the areas, and the resources. Stereotyping can start at such as young age, but it was great to see children exploring a range of roles and playing with different types of toys. Hopefully this will stick with the children and they can grow up knowing anyone can be anything (it’s definitely a lesson I try to instil into J).
This area had a table with letters and scales, a postbox that children could open and close, and a dress up outfit – complete with postie bag to carry the letters around. The ‘mail’ was laminated envelopes/card with addresses on the front. Durable and easy to clean resource which gave children an interactive experience. It’s another thing I liked about Little City. The resources were clean, good condition, realistic and mainly wooden (which I find are much nicer).
J had a quick go as Postal Worker. He enjoyed organising the envelopes and putting them in and out the post box, opening and closing the door. J is also happy when he can put things in order. There wasn’t really any pretend play to this but he was having fun.
This area was a lot more simple. It had a range of dressing up outfits, shoes and accessories and a mirror to admire themselves. There was a mixture of Princess, superhero, book character costumes. J wasn’t interested in exploring this area but then again he’s not a big fan of dress up in general unless there is a purpose.
As you can imagine, having a lot of children in one hall meant a lot of resources being played with and transported around the room. Kate, the leader did a fantastic job keeping things organised and tidy, and more importantly, safe throughout the session – whilst also being friendly, chatting to adults and children, serving drinks etc.
This section had table and chairs, tray with various doctors bits, babies to use as patients and dressing up outfits. The images on the walls were related to the theme and could also be used in play eg: having an eye test by reading the letters. J and his friend liked transporting the babies around – maybe a job as a porter is in his future.
Grocery shopping is another routine that J is used to. He knows the shop, he knows the food we buy and he knows the layout, sounds etc. It’s very much about routine and feeling in control of the situation. Similar to the bakery this was an area he spent more time in, and was engaged in his play. I loved the shelves, the wooden baskets, wooden food and props, reuseable shopping bags, baskets and a trolley. There was a till area to then pay for the shopping at the end.
J filled up his bag, and later the trolley and went to walk off. Once reminded he had to pay he went to the till and was handed a card b y the boy behind the till. J took it and then handed it back. The transaction was complete so off we went.
Ice Cream Stall
There was an additional stall with various ice lollies and ice creams (wooden). J liked putting bits together to create his ice creams and would give some to me and our friends to eat. He also gathered his favourites and put them in his trolley. When we tidied up the items from his trolley at the end, J liked sorting out the ice cream stall. It had ‘sections’ to organise the ice creams and lollies so he was in his element.
For us, the session was a success. J showed me how he can recall and use his experiences to recreate play. The hall was spacious enough that he could find space to have his own time or to have his own space when his favourite areas got a bit crowded. There was no pressure to keep resources in their designated place. Kate was very understanding of J when he was having a bit of an overload (due to a children trying to put handcuffs on him when he didn’t want too) and made sure we were ok.
There was no background music playing which meant it wasn’t overly sensory stimulating. The walls had images printed on them but it was basic and not distracting or again visually over stimulating. There was a disabled toilet available on site and you are welcome to come in and out the hall so if we had felt we needed some time out, then we could. We didn’t need to leave the hall at all as J was able to find his own space away from others when he needed.
Towards the last half hour J had become more anxious and his difficulties were showing more. He was spinning, doing his hand movements, couldn’t maintain any form of eye contact with me and began to race around in circuit. I was never felt made to feel uncomfortable about this, and J was not made to stop (obviously I helped to keep him and the other children safe during this time). Once J had had some ‘chill out’ time after the session ended he told me that he ‘loved it there’ and wants to go back. So I’m now looking at more summer holiday dates for him to attend (usual sessions are up to age 5, however in the holiday it extends to age 6). Overall I am very impressed with the set up, the idea behind it and the way the session was run. Very much recommended.
DISCLAIMER: I was not paid or gifted our session. I paid full price. All views and opinions are honest and my own.