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Where to release your inner child

Grown-up monkey bars, giant inflatables and dessert-only restaurants – Florence Derrick discovers how kids’ pursuits can make us better people

Considering the number of adult colouring books, ball pits and Judd Apatow blockbusters of the past few years, it’s hard to deny that prolonged adolescence is a fact of millennial life. But while watching ThunderCats and eating Coco Pops for dinner has previously been seen as a refusal to grow up – the inevitable off shoot of rising living prices making it harder to buy property and start families – psychologists have changed their tune.

“Nostalgia has often been portrayed as regressive and reactionary,” says Dr Tim Wildschut, “but on the contrary, evidence suggests it makes people more creative and optimistic about their future.”

Now, the official line from the experts is that regular trips down memory lane are not only acceptable, but advisable – whether that’s swinging on the monkey bars in oversized playgrounds or tucking into jelly and ice cream. So, you might want to swing by the luxury Café Royal hotel in London to sample its just launched ‘dessert-only’ menu, based on favourite childhood sweets and snacks.

Order a grown-up Milky Way, made with goat’s cheese and honey, a pimped-up Jaffa Cake with glossy dark chocolate layered over mandarin confit or an Alice in Wonderland-esque field of miniature white-chocolate mushrooms.

This kind of fantasy food taps into a renewed interest in the importance of play to our adult wellbeing, which, according to Dr Stuart Brown of the National Institute for Play, is “critical not only to sustaining happy relationships, but in remaining creative, innovative people”.

Cue bars like Zéro de Conduite in Paris doling out board games and whiteboards to doodle on, and adult-sized adventure playgrounds and obstacle courses popping up across Europe. Berlin’s Mount Mitte, for example, has tyre bridges and swinging rope ladders; Ibiza’s Ocean Mania is a floating inflatable mecca for big kids; and London’s helter-skelter sculpture in the Olympic Park, is set to become the world’s longest tunnel slide this month.

So why are more of us seeking out the childlike glee that comes with play? Wildschut says the impulse has always been there, but social media is fast-tracking it: “The internet makes it easier to share nostalgic material, so more people are connecting with things from their past.” In other words, we no longer have to dig out that shoebox of mementos from the attic to remember the good old days.

According to Wildschut, adults could even need play more than kids: “It gives a sense of continuity, creating a happier, healthier society.” Which is why, if you need us, we’ll be outside building a den.

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