Oklahoma City family fun is always in season for families, rain or shine, through snowy or summery days.
Annalisa Douglass, owner of Okie Kids Playground at Fretz and 15th in Edmond, knows that first-hand. The energy children use to learn and play doesn't always fade with the sunlight on these gray afternoons.
The business just opened at 321 W. 15th on Jan. 27 and it's a new place dedicated to an old concept: hands-on play.
I asked Annalisa how she came up with the idea, which includes an indoor playground and imaginative spaces like a fire station, a farmers' market, a school and a playhouse that are perpetually ready to go despite Oklahoma's extreme temperatures.
"Yes, I can tell you exactly how I came up with the idea. It was during a long and really intense ice storm last year while I was trapped inside with my four year old triplets that I realized we really needed a place to go play. I felt like I was going to go insane because they were bouncing off the walls and there was just nothing to do," she said. "We saw different indoor playgrounds later in Texas and toured areas that had elements that I've brought here but none of them were all in the same place. I kept thinking, 'Why doesn't Oklahoma have these?' and just decided to do it myself."
Annalisa is present in her family-owned business every day, along with her two-month old. Her triplets attend school but still try out the venue's newest features.
That first-hand perspective shows in the venue's design, which is primarily for children ages 6 and under.
Here are five reasons to plan your next playdate at Okie Kids Playground.
- Old-fashioned play: We're living in the golden age of the silver screen. Sometimes, it can feel like there are schools of thought divided by our beliefs and permissions related to screen time. There's a time and a place for screens but this shared space is all about community. Annalisa explained that Okie Kids Playground is "screen-free with zero TVs or tablets, no coin-operated games and no toys that make sounds or have artificial lights." She considered installing a lifesize Lite Brite, for example, but found out while learning about her own daughter's mild special needs that light of that sort overstimulates some children; the wall became a pegboard instead for the same fine motor skill development. Research also shows that story apps, talking toys and noise-generating games can actually impede speech. Play is hands-on and kinesthetic; that experience is fostered by a cow kids can milk, scarves and balls to feed into an air maze, a jungle gym structure where children can slide and climb and other diverse areas throughout the premises.
- Perks for parents, including coffee: Those schools of parenting thought I mentioned above are less important in real life than where they really stand out, loudly on the internet. As a parent of three small children, I think fewer instances of division would exist with more in-person conversation; it's easy to be dismissive or insulting from the safety of your phone's keyboard. The online community is great and I'm glad to be parenting at a time where an echo chamber of advice and resources is so available but I do feel a void for person-to-person experiences. I can see this playground being an ideal place to meet up with other parents, in part because of its cafe, a Perk Place. That's ideal for your wallet too because although a menu for children that includes items like juice boxes and fruit is also posted, it's not the same as when you visit a fast food place and your child already knows to expect a kid's meal. Lattes are for grown-ups, end of story. Perk Place's coffee supplier, Grounds 4 Compassion, is local; it operates out of Bethany and donates a percentage of its sales to families in need in our state as well as in Haiti and Honduras. If I'm going to order something to drink while my kids play, I personally feel a little bit better about that purchase if somehow it does good beyond me as a consumer, in support of a local business, and those humanitarian ties make it all the more appealing. Although play is parent-supervised, i.e. there's not a childminder on-site to make sure your children are playing in ways that are fair and safe, I could comfortably see my sons from the cafe area. There are other non-coffee items, like smoothies and teas too.
- Cleanliness: Because obviously, the flu is raging. In general, though, you just want the place where you're taking your children to maintain a certain level of hygiene. That's a reasonable expectation but it often falls by the wayside at family venues. Annalisa explained that they have a dedicated employee who tidies up throughout the day but the real cleaning happens each night. Every item, every surface is wiped down, including within the play tunnels and other hard-to-reach spots; the building closes and then the real work begins, which takes about two hours to complete each evening. A professional cleaning service also comes in twice a week and the entire facility is sprayed with an antimicrobial foam used in hospitals twice per month. I saw a child put plastic play food in her mouth and an employee whisked the item away. There's a socks-only rule so bare feet and shoes don't track in what I wouldn't want my toddler to sample. The single-stall restrooms also have those toddler seats where you can strap in your children while you're changing a baby's diaper and they're unisex, which is a plus when your children are the opposite gender you are and still need assistance (mom of three boys here).
- Siblings can play together and it's open when your school isn't: Okie Kids Playground follows Edmond Public School's closings calendar and expands its age ranges from just for 6 and under to up to age 12 when schools are out due to inclement weather. There are select Friday afternoons every month where big kids can come play and summer will also include certain designated playtimes for that wider range. Sibling play can happen there even if your kids aren't all that close in age; mine are 10, 6 and 3 and all three played happily. Check directly with the venue for a calendar of when to plan your visit if you have older elementary children. I'm almost eight months pregnant, a life stage that doesn't make me want to climb jungle gyms, but I was still able to reach my children inside the play structure, which is unlike others in that way and especially convenient when you need to round everyone up to leave.
- Cost: Admission is fixed, as in you won't have to pay extra for activities or tokens: $8 per child. Babies under age 1 are admitted without charge. Parents aren't charged either.
What I like about Okie Kids Playground overall is that it addresses some current parenting challenges to make going out with your child or having a playdate a more pleasant experience. Parents know when something is well thought-out and created with kids in mind.
I appreciate that a real family hosts a business intended for families and that the selection of available toys will continue to grow and change along with the children who use them.
Sure as the next winter day, we'll be back soon.