The first thing that strikes us when we walk through the doors of Apple Seeds’ new facility in the Gold and Diamond Park, is the overwhelming sense of minimalism, peace and order about the place. Considering this is a venue designed primarily to entertain noisy, messy and often riotous preschoolers, we admit we are are immediately intrigued.
But this is a centre with a difference – and not only because it insists on yearly memberships from its loyal clientele, rather than ‘play by the hour’ rates. Apple Seeds Dubai is only the fourth franchise operation of its kind in the world, (there are two in New York, and one in Mumbai) and the concept was created by a children’s museum designer.
There are strictly no beepy rides, there is no thumping music and a merciful lack of eye-searing décor. It is all incredibly tasteful and Zen, only without the tinkly water features.
There’s an on-site café too, that serves only fair-trade, organic produce, which is all freshly baked, juiced and sourced. No chocolates, sweets, popcorn or hydrogenated snacks to be seen either. Even the coffee is RAW.
Reem Farah, a mum of two and managing director of the Dubai branch, explains; ‘I’m originally Palestinian and I grew up in Abu Dhabi, so I’m very aware of the challenges faced by parents in this environment. I then spent some time in New York and it was there that I came across the Apple Seeds concept. I really liked the environment it created for kids and wanted my children to have the opportunity to experience it. So that’s why we brought it here.’
We wonder if Dubai, which is already well-catered to when it comes to indoor play facilities, really needs another venue for preschoolers?
‘Absolutely,’ Reem confirms. My own experience of parenthood here solidified that for me. Yes, there are a lot of areas designed to keep kids entertained. And some of them are very good. But there are also a large number that aren’t so good. A lot of the time, you find the play areas filled with the same kinds of toys kids have at home, or that you can easily buy in the shops. Only, the ones in the play areas are over-used, don’t have any batteries or are broken. What’s the point in taking your child to a centre where they play with exactly the same kinds of things that they have at home?’
It’s this point that leads us on to the Apple Seeds playground area. Only available to members, who have unlimited access to it, the 2,000 square feet zone is a far cry from the usual, neon-coloured bouncy jungle gyms we are used too. The colours are soft and muted and it is neatly sectioned off into several zones; one for Lego and construction, a New York Deli/shop, a yellow taxi cab for role play and a simple climbing area. It is very spacious and the toys are quite limited.
‘Why so few toys?’ we ask, privately thinking our own brood of little terrors would probably be whining in dismay within minutes at such an affront.
‘That’s on purpose,’ Reem explains. ‘This is a battery-free zone and all the items have been specially chosen to encourage imaginative play. The more toys we give our kids, the less they actually spend engaged playing constructively. You’d think the kids would get bored, but actually, the opposite is true – they get really engrossed. They use their minds.’
Hygiene is another important aspect, as we discover when we attempt to enter the play area with shoes on. We get told off because it’s a ‘socks only’ zone, and the toys also get put through dishwashers twice a day to maintain cleanliness standards. No hand, foot and mouth or other such nasties here.
But it’s not all about fun and games (even though the kids probably think it is). Apple Seeds also runs a special series of classes for preschoolers including sports, music, science, and arts and crafts, and you don’t have to be a member to partake of them.
One of the classes is even for little ones on the verge of nursery. ‘The Seedlings class is a two-hour session that runs twice a week.
‘It’s really been designed to help kids get used to the idea of separation from mum. Parents stay on site, either in the café, or they can attend one of our fitness classes,’ explains Reem.
Fitness classes? Now you’re talking! Fun for the kids, no verruca risks and ‘mummy time’ too. This gets better and better.
We think we’ve seen it all, until we venture into the ladies loo, and exclaim in surprise. There’s a tiny lavatory next to the usual-sized one. We are informed this is so that little ones can ‘go’ at the same time as mummy, thus encouraging good potty practices.
One thing’s for sure, it is a centre with a difference. After all, if an apple a day keeps the doctor away, we’re pretty sure Apple Seeds will help keep parental sanity intact once the weather heats up.
Apple Seeds offers annual membership packages from Dhs2,680-3,140, which can be paid on a monthly basis. All packages ensure unlimited use of the playground area. Members receive discounts on party packages, classes, special events and the café. Non-members can sign up for eight weeks of classes for Dhs1,040. Open Sun-Thu, 9am-6pm, Sat 10am-4pm, closed Fridays. For more information, visit www.appleseedsdubai.com (04 380 6064)