Where are you going to play today? When your living room loses its luster (your kiddos can only bounce off the walls for so long), check out a neighborhood play space. With indoor jungle gyms, pretend play areas and tons of toys, the options in Chicago and the ‘burbs have something for every kind of kid. Plus, many have cafes — with coffee! — for parents. Click through to discover options you have to head to.
The Abode Chicago
Chicagoan Jennifer Robinson, Montessori teacher turned business owner, just opened a gorgeous new space that offers parent-infant/child classes, as well as drop-in playtimes for ages 8 wks.-3 yrs. The welcoming and comfortable space was designed to encourage kids to move, socialize, cuddle, explore or challenge themselves, as their personal needs dictate.
1323 W. Wilson Ave., Sheridan Park/Uptown (773-412-4261 or the-abode.org).
Known as a “kiddie campus,” the open structure allows children to explore a variety of interests without declaring a major. Dabble in art, music, dance, gym, enrichment and preschool classes. Without a doubt, this is the ultimate play space for kids that want to work their gross motor skills. The large padded room offers a trampoline, swings or just a place to literally bounce off the walls. But kids can explore their artistic side, too. Music classes are led by an actual live band and puppets. Be sure to check the schedule at their website, since free play spaces are open around classes and hours vary.
1030 W. North Ave., Lincoln Park (312-344-1815 or kidville.com).
Purple Monkey Playroom
Muraled walls fill this place with character and cheer. This spot has become a hub for parents in Bucktown and beyond. Best suited to kids ages 0-4, it's intimately sized to allow little ones free range to gain independence while you keep tabs on things. The focus here is imaginative play; it has a hut-style house including a play kitchen as well as a nice stock of dress-up clothes. Gross motor skills can be developed on the balance beam or small toddler slide.
2040 N. Western Ave., (773-772-8411 or purplemonkeyplayroom.com).
Little Beans Cafe
Little Beans Cafe was one of the first and remains one of the most popular play spaces in the city. The play area is designed as a mini city, with a fire house, repair shop, grocery store and more. What really makes this space unique is the pretend play structures outline a wide open space in the middle. So, there is more than enough room to run, jump or ride one of their many riding toys and let it rip! There’s a small fenced in yard to protect crawlers from all the action. Many parents spend an entire day here, since it’s one of the few play spaces that offers a full menu. In the summer, you also have the option to play outside on the deck while enjoying a treat from the ice cream shop.
1809 W. Webster Ave., Lincoln Park (773-251-1025 or littlebeanscafe.com).
430 Asbury Ave., Evanston (847-807-3731 or littlebeanscafe.com).
Bubbles devotes most of its schedule to classes, preschool and parties, but they do offer open play times every afternoon. For new moms, they also have a 4th Trimester Village which offers support and guidance the first 6 months after baby comes home.
2184 N. Elston, Lincoln Park (312-944-7677 or bubblesacademy.com).
Toys, blocks and games are a-okay, but this Evanston play space goes beyond all that. It uses a large portion of its space to encourage creativity through arts and crafts. Go ahead and get messy with play-dough, glue, paint and chalk without worrying about cleanup. Don’t be fooled though, there are also opportunities other than art, including regular music classes.
602 Davis St., Evanston (847-859-2312 or meetatgather.com).
The C.A.K.E. Village
CAKE stands for Culture of Africa for Kids Everywhere and the mission is in the name! Children can come in for open play in the large room designed to resemble an African village complete with huts, a market and a stage. Older children can participate in cooking classes or arts activities inspired by African heritage. Hidden in an office building, CAKE Village is truly a hidden gem.
More good news: Want to bring a piece of CAKE to you? Ask about their outreach programs -- they take some of their lessons and classes on the road.
611 E. Main St., East Dundee (224- 699-9968 or thecakevillage.com).
Bellaboo Play and Discovery Center
Why venture to Indiana for a play space? Because this one, which feels like a hybrid of a children's museum and play space, is truly out of this world. Every aspect of Bellaboo’s is open-ended, play-based and unstructured, which means your kiddo really gets to use his or her imagination. With a circular layout, each themed area is actually an entire room. Have a blast in the blocks room, water room, arts and craft room, train room and more. A full menu in the cafe means you can make a day of it. Weather permitting, they offer an outdoor area as well.
2800 Colorado St., Lake Station, Ind. (219-963-2070 or mybellaboos.com).
This hidden-gem delights kids with hands-on exhibits about light, water, wind and more. Come wearing your thinking cap—or just romp around. Attractions include a giant “Lite Brite” peg board, musical instruments, and climbing tubes and tunnels that stretch two-and-a-half stories.
4701 Oakton St., Skokie (847-674-1500, ext. 2744 or skokieparks.org).
— Maria Chambers & Lisa Snart