Michelle Bryant-Smith works as the director of risk management for a law enforcement agency. On top of being a wife and mother to her 17-month-old daughter Maelle, she found herself unable to have a place to let her kid go play while being able to relax herself.
This is where the initial motivation came for Little Hoppers, the first play cafe in Beverly.
Seeing play cafes sprout up in the northern neighborhoods of Chicago, Bryant-Smith saw a void on the South Side.
“What I would like to see, and what I’ve already had people say to me is, ‘oh we don’t have anything like this in my neighborhood,’” she says.
The play space, which costs $12 for one child during the week and $15 on weekends, opened in August and encompasses different modes of play by means of sensory boards, pretend houses, Legos and a variety of toys that promote growth and motor skills as well as education. Already offering a discount for siblings and crawlers, classes are going to be introduced like music and movement, yoga, Zumba, crafts and story time.
Given that the opening came in the middle of a pandemic, Little Hoppers is putting safety above all else.
Bryant-Smith says that masks are required for kids 2 and older and staff keeps an eye out for toys that go into toddlers’ mouths, introducing a “yuck bucket” to keep communal toys clean.
“We have an open conversation with the parents in saying that their kids are required to wear masks and to please observe them and make sure that they’re keeping their masks on,” she says. “We joke that they’re superheroes, so we always tell them ‘superheroes wear their masks.’ If we observe a child who’s not wearing it or they keep taking it off we’ll remind them that ‘you’re a superhero, you gotta wear your mask.’”
In addition, the staff cleans, disinfects and wipes down all the toys, floors and tables three times a day. This includes a midday shutdown for an hour to ensure a proper walkthrough. Private playdates are also an option for those who are looking to have the place to themselves in relation to COVID-19 or privacy.
“Especially right now in this climate, kids need that socialization,” Bryant-Smith says. “They need to see other kids and do things, but they need to do it safely. And I feel like Little Hoppers provides that space for whole families.”
- Address: 2760 W. 111th St., Chicago
- Cost: $12, $10 siblings, $8 crawlers (daily rates); $15, $12 siblings, $10 crawlers (weekend rates)
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This article also appeared in Chicago Parent’s holiday 2020 magazine.