As former teachers, Cindy Alvear and Ana Schreiner consider themselves big advocates of free play.
That’s what led Schreiner, of Chicago, and Alvear, of Oak Park, to open Peekaboo Playroom June 1. The two – both moms of children under 5 – wanted to provide a bright, clean and safe place where children could use their imagination and parents could relax and interact.
The 2,000-square-foot space – filled with dolls, books, blocks and ride-on toys – is designed for babies and children up to 5 years old.
Daily entry is $12 per child, $8 per sibling and free for a third child. The fee allows parents and children to come and go all day. Non-crawlers get in free.
A monthly pass is $90 per child and $65 for a second child. Peekaboo Playroom also hosts birthday parties, Schreiner said.
Shoes aren’t allowed in the space, and socks are required for children and adults.
Schreiner and Alvear had been talking about the idea of a playroom for years. Alvear often took her son to Schreiner’s Chicago home for play dates; both experienced feelings of isolation as parents to young children with no family nearby.
Once they found the storefront on Marion Street, Schreiner and Alvear worked with a consultant to hash out their ideas for the playroom – like enough space for kids who like to run, and free Wi-Fi so parents can work if desired – and, from there, began outfitting the space with the toys, books and furniture they wanted.
Giving children the opportunity to be creative and imaginative in an unstructured environment, and work on social and emotional skills, can be just as important as academics, Alvear said.
“We really want to advocate for how important play is,” she said.
Plus, stay-at-home parents often want to give their children an opportunity to socialize with others outside the home, Schreiner said. That’s what she liked about similar places she and her son visited.
“It was nice for him to play with other children and nice for me to be able to see other adults,” she said.
As parents, they also kept in mind the things they’d appreciate, like a changing pad on a table in the bathroom, the use of organic cleaners and toys that are steam-cleaned nightly, Alvear said.
A long window seat at the front of the space allows parents to keep an eye on their children while letting them play independently. Alvear said they wanted to be sure parents could see their children no matter where they’re sitting or standing.
Childproofing company Safety Matters evaluated the space and helped Schreiner and Alvear make safe choices on furniture and other materials.
Snacks and drinks are available for purchase, as well as socks for those who have forgotten theirs. Outside food is permitted, though anything with peanuts is not allowed due to allergy concerns, Alvear said.
Peekaboo Playroom also offers arts and crafts time Wednesday mornings and story time Thursday mornings. Currently, School of Rock Oak Park’s Little Wing program is providing free music classes Friday mornings.
This summer’s fickle weather has led to steady business, like on days when it’s been rainy, cold or too humid to go outside, Schreiner said.
While her daughter, 4-year-old Vaughn, and son, 2-year-old Jack, played, Kristin Salvador of Oak Park pointed out that the toys are high-quality and durable.
Most importantly: after spending several hours there July 29, Salvador said her children hadn’t tired of the playroom.
Jill Salzman’s two daughters – 5-year-old Maggie and 3-year-old Roxy – visited Peekaboo Playroom for the first time July 29. She appreciated the space’s cleanliness and colorful, thoughtful decor.
“I’m really excited because I heard there was Wi-Fi and I could get work done while they’re playing,” Salzman said. “So far, so cute.”
Peekaboo Playroom, located at 206 S. Marion St., is open from 9:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. It is closed Sunday.
For more information, call Peekaboo Playroom at 708-848-4815 or visit www.peekabooplayroom.com.