In the past two years, Family Grounds Café, Day Frog and Fantasy Kingdom have stepped out of the once cluttered indoor park category.
But Chicago Public School teacher Cynthia Valenciana, the mother of two young children, was confident her new South Loop spot, Sod Room, would attract kids from across Chicago.
That's because it's the first truly green play space in the city.
Nearly every toy inside is made out of wood rather than plastic, and most of them were created from recycled or sustainably made resources.
The original flooring was salvaged, mixed up and reused as flooring for the party room and lobby floor. Lumber taken from the existing walls were repurposed into the retail shelving unit and the railing in the play space, low VOC paint was used throughout, the faux grass in the baby area is actually FLOR eco carpeting, the cubbies were created from repurposed milk crates-and the list can go on and on. Even the large train table and doll house were repurposed from old shipping crates.
Valenciana and her designer, Jen Talbot, managed to take the eco-friendly idea one step farther with its nature theme. Large windows and a skylight bring in the sun, while a low swing covered in felt flowers sways gently (or not so gently when little children climb aboard). A faux grassy area lines the infant spot, and a massive grassy knoll bean bag was transformed into a delightful climbing toy when the South Loop Moms n Tots Meetup group christened Sod Room in early March, a week before it opened to the public.
The spot doesn't have as many toys as many of the other play spaces (it's lacking all the big plastic baby toys and loud mechanical playthings, but it makes up for that because each toy and each piece of furniture was well-thought-out.
A rock climbing ramp leads to a slide for the older group, while the babies and toddlers like the wooden dollhouse and wooden train set. Small wooden bikes, wooden shopping carts and wooden food were also popular.
Now that it's finally open, Valenciana hopes the Sod Room will attract children daily with its open play hours, private birthday parties (starting at $395) and music or storytime sessions (dates and pricing TBD).
Danielle Braff lives with her two daughters and husband in downtown Chicago.
See more of Danielle's stories here.