Adventures On Wonderland is a large-scale indoor play place located, as the name suggests, on Wonderland Road in London, Ontario. Adventures On Wonderland bills itself as the largest indoor play place in London, with a wide variety of activities available in the family entertainment complex. Many places offer a one-size-fits-all approach to building an indoor play-place, but Adventures On Wonderland offers areas for specific development periods, with an eye toward developing children’s imaginations. Located at 3198 Wonderland Road South, near the intersection of Wonderland and Southdale, Adventures On Wonderland provides a fun-filled family destination for the city of London and surrounding regions, especially the neighbourhood of Westmount.
The Importance of “Play”
Adventures On Wonderland deals in one thing over and above anything else: play. Play is an extremely important segment of the human experience, one that can get overlooked all too often. In a world where hard work and sacrifice are the keys to getting ahead in life, play can seem like an extravagance. This is especially true when you consider the way in which we play a lot of the time. Our play as adults is connected to hard work: when we do something as simple as get together and play a sport, we often justify it to ourselves in terms of fitness goals, or relative gains and losses of weight. “It’s okay that I spent four hours playing baseball the other night,” we tell ourselves, “because of all the calories I burned, or because of all the exercise I got.” Even sedentary pursuits can seem like more work than play; games, both video and board, sometimes seem more like the daily grind than the daily grind itself. Yet, despite this need to justify and frame and restrict play, it provides urgently needed, vital goods for the development of healthy minds and bodies. This is especially true of children in the 21st Century.
One of the topics that scientists, both natural and social, have been concerned about in recent years has been childhood obesity. Childhood obesity has been rising sharply over the past few decades. In 2013, 42 million children worldwide were classified as ‘obese’, and if the trends of the past few decades continue in their current direction this number will reach 70 million by 2025. This can be something of an invisible concern for most people, however. Children tend to carry a certain level of fat leftover from infancy (literally, “baby fat”) that they shed sometime during their adolescence. The concern behind childhood obesity, in the sense that it is a rising problem, is actually located on the habits and patterns established in early childhood that extend into adulthood. That is, researchers and organizations are looking at patterns that establish abnormal levels of obesity in children that contribute to rising levels of adulthood obesity, which is where the real quantifiable problem is. Obese adults have greater than average chances for premature illness, including heart disease and diabetes, as well as disability; the cost to healthcare systems is much greater for obese adults than for non-obese adults.
Canada is no exception to this. In 1978, 15% of children in Canada were considered obese. By 2004, that proportion had risen to 26%. At the same time, 59% of Canadian adults are considered obese, with cities often having higher proportions of obese people than the national average. The monetary costs of this are considerable; the total cost of obesity in Canada in 2005 was $4.3 billion, and the number of obese people has only increased since then. How has this happened? Childhood obesity, which is statistically linked to adult obesity and the problems contained therein, is at its root the result of poor diet and lack of exercise. This is, of course, something of an over-simplification. It’s not as though children are eating poorly and not exercising because that’s what children do, or because of some inherent generational factor, or any other pat, simplistic reason. The contributing factors to childhood obesity are both numerous and interrelated. These include biological, behavioural, social, psychological, technological, environmental, economic, and cultural factors. Scientists refer to the factors grouped together as the “obesogenic environment.” If your obesogenic environment encourages you to be sedentary and eat a lot of high-fat, high calorie food, then you stand a much greater chance of becoming obese.
This is also not as simple as it sounds, of course. People’s obesogenic environments are determined by all of the categorical factors and some of them are items that were determined a long time prior, or were the result of something completely out of the hands of the individual (ie genetics or economic background during childhood). Still others are determined by forces at work in the individual’s life that are hard to change. One example of this is work. Many of the more lucrative jobs today are sedentary: working on or with computers, sitting in meetings, long hours in research, design, and implementation. While these occupations pay well, they also encourage a negative obesogenic environment, leading to higher levels of adult obesity.
In terms of childhood obesity, it gets even more complicated. There is a certain level of “changing times” involved in it, of course. While it’s never a good idea to start a sentence with “Kids these days,” it is a fact that kids these days have a lot more entertainment options than simply running around outside. This has been true for decades, of course; elder generations have been clucking their tongues and stroking their beards about “the kids” parking themselves in front of the television since televisions became a big cultural deal in the 1950s. Since the dawn of the 21st Century, however, indoor distractions have become more than just the television. The internet, especially the form that can be accessed through tablets and phones, has become ubiquitous. There has been a definite rise in sedentary entertainment pursuits among children, which is one factor in the rise of childhood obesity. Other factors include: consuming large amounts of high-sugar, high-fat foods such as fast food, candy, pop, and sugar-fortified juice; living in an environment where healthy choices and exercise are not encouraged; eating to deal with stress; genetic factors; and lack of access to healthy food and exercise options. While some of these are lifestyle choices on the part of the parents and are changeable, the biggest problem is really poverty.
Poverty constrains choice, and this is evident for both food and exercise. Grocery prices are often a big chunk of monthly expenses for families below the poverty line. These types of families have to make decisions on food that are based entirely on their cost and not on their nutritional value. This problem is amplified by the growing concern over ‘food deserts’ – areas, often in denser, poorer urban regions, where there are no grocery stores within a reasonable distance of the area. These food deserts are a problem in many cities, and London is no exception; one of the key research articles on the phenomenon was written at Western University and deals with parts of the London city centre and the eastern part of downtown where very little access to grocery stores exists. Instead of buying healthy food in a grocery store, individuals and families living in areas affected by food deserts (and without the ability to travel to suburban areas to find such stores) have to instead get by on high-calorie, high-fat food (such as fast food) that is cheap and at least fills the stomach. Even when poor families have access to grocery stores, they are often constrained to the cheapest options, which are typically fortified by high-fructose corn syrup thanks to high American corn subsidies. As such, the option of simply eating healthy is one that is often not available.
Poverty also leads to less choice in exercise. In more affluent suburban areas, families traditionally have encouraged childhood exercise by signing their children up for sports, both individual and team-based. However, the growth of (especially team) sports as profit-driven big businesses has led to sharply increasing costs. In the 1970s and 1980s in Ontario it was quite common for families of all stripes to sign their children up for hockey, since it was both the unofficial national sport and it was great for exercise and for learning discipline. However, from the mid-1990s onward, both the cost of entry and the year-over-year cost of being a “hockey family” has increased exponentially. Now that costs have extended from the hundreds into the thousands of dollars yearly, poor families are effectively shut out of participating in hockey. The same is true for any number of sports; a Sport Canada study in 2013 found that the average Canadian couple with children spent $778 yearly on sports, an amount that is so far outside of the ability of poor families to afford that it may as well be $7 million. A similar study by KidSport in 2014 found that 90% of Canadians agreed that organized sport participation was becoming too expensive, and that 82% of Canadians knew a child who could not participate in organized sports because of cost. It’s cheaper, as it turns out, for children to pursue sedentary activities than it is for children to get out and exercise.
Indoor Play Places & Activities
All of this is just evidence as to why indoor play places like Adventures On Wonderland are so important. Indoor play places (also known as “soft modular play” spaces, for the academically inclined) have become a very popular business model in the past decade. Part of this is exactly for the reasons outlined above: organized sports are very expensive, and indoor play places offer a cheaper alternative that still provides more potential for exercise than having to sit around at home. An annual pass to Adventures On Wonderland is $250 for a child under 12, or $198 for a child under 4. Even the Family Pass option, which covers up to three children, is $500 – nearly $300 less than the average yearly spend on organizational sports. This is not to say that indoor play places are a replacement for organized sports, but it’s certain that they’re an inexpensive solution to what is becoming an increasingly more expensive past time. Another advantage of the indoor play place is that it is all-season; regardless of the weather, an indoor space will be in continuous operation.
Adventures On Wonderland features a number of different zones, each tailored to a specific kind of play. The Jungle Climbers are the main attraction, featuring the largest soft play structure in London. It’s a multiple-level system of tunnels, obstacles, ball bins, slides, web climbers, and moonwalkers; it’s a complex and varied play system that engages children’s imaginations even as it gets them exercising. Multilevel structures like the Jungle Climbers at Adventures On Wonderland have been shown to increase heart-rate in children to 77% of their measured maximum, indicating that these sort of multi-level play structures are excellent for promoting exercise in children (Whitehurst, et al, 1996).
Adventures On Wonderland also has options for smaller children, including the Wee Ones Adventure World. This space is separate from the Jungle Climbers but replicates the same type of experience, offering slides, interactive toys and games, a submarine, and a ball pit, which provide all of the fun and exercise potential of the bigger structure but with less of a potential for obstruction and injury. Adventures On Wonderland also features a Tiny Tykes area, where several play houses have been set up to resemble a small village; small seating areas are set up to give little ones a social area to sit and ‘take tea’ while the adults look on and swoon.
It’s the laser tag arena that brings together the aspects of the imagination and exercise. The Adventures On Wonderland Laser Tag Adventure Maze provides a fun, safe environment for children to run, play, and learn to think ahead as they play a futuristic game of tag. Laser tag is great exercise, and it also allows for a way to channel the more aggressive, wild aspects of childhood energy, making it an excellent outlet to ‘tire them out’ on long summer days.
Birthday & Event Packages
Like many such places, Adventures On Wonderland offers birthday party packages in case you need to tire out a whole party’s worth of kids. The Silver Package is $20 per child and includes time in the Jungle Climbers, a private party room, food and cake, and a goody bag for the birthday child. The Gold Package is $24 per child and includes ice cream with the cake and a goody bag for each of the birthday guests. There is also a walk-in package (which is unlike a lot of places), which for $15 per child gets you play time, a pizza, a pitcher of pop or juice, and a personalized cake. Seating isn’t guaranteed, but a deposit isn’t needed either, making it a great choice if you have a last-minute hitch in the birthday plans.
Fitness and imagination play are both incredibly important parts of a healthy childhood, and a healthy childhood leads to a healthy, productive adulthood. Adventures On Wonderland offers an affordable way for children to experience both the fitness and the imagination play, which lead to better health outcomes in adulthood. It’s well worth checking out if you have children, regardless of the weather or the time of year.