In the past two years, Family Grounds Café, Day Frog and Fantasy
Kingdom have stepped out of the once cluttered indoor park
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
Nearly every toy inside is made out of wood rather than plastic,
and most of them were created from recycled or sustainably made
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
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.
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