A new play space to check out on Chicago’s South Side

A city-sized play space with a big personality, Chicago Playpen caters to kids who love to have fun.

Kids, typically ages 2 to 6, come to this Hyde Park storefront for open play, themed birthday parties, special events and afterschool care.

Inside they explore themed exhibits designed to look like a boutique, hair salon, vet clinic, kitchen, grocery store and construction zone. In the center of it all, they meet at a large interactive play mat, where my 2½-year-old loved popping virtual bubbles and chasing interactive soccer balls.

The mat is a big hit with most kids and a great spot for babies to play, says owner Anika McNeill, who opened Playpen in summer 2013. Living in the Hyde Park area with three kids of her own, McNeill got tired of driving to find a fun place to play so she decided to create her own.

Open play is noon-6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, unless a private party is scheduled. Play costs for the first child and for each additional child. Children must be supervised while visiting but with free Wi-Fi and seating areas, parents can take a needed break.

Whether they’re here for open play or a party, children can hand-stuff, dress and name a stuffed animal for .50 in the Playpen’s “create a pal” station. Outfits are each.

Special programs include dance classes, offered in 10-week sessions for 2½ to 4½ year olds; an afterschool program for ages 5 to 7; and a preschool readiness program for ages 2 to 4.

If you go

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