Another cold day with nothing on the schedule was the perfect opportunity to explore another indoor option for the toddler/preschool set. The Chinquapin Park Rec Center’s website has such an amazingly brief description of its soft playroom that my expectations were fairly low when I ventured to Alexandria with my 3-year old reviewer and my Mom. This experience just verified that you definitely should not judge a book by its cover.
Location and Parking
The Recreation Center is right next to TC Williams High School on King Street. Signs in front of the Rec Center parking lots make it look like you are not supposed to park there on first appearance, but they are actually just warning high school students not to park there. We parked in the upper lot and walked into the rec center. As you enter there are huge windows overlooking the beautiful pool. An information desk is in the center of the main lobby. We paid the attendant our entrance fee and he informed us that the playroom would close in 40 minutes for a private party. The website warns you to call ahead as the playroom can be reserved for parties or closed for cleaning.
After paying we headed downstairs and turned right. In front of us was a bench with space for shoes and the door to the playroom. The room looks to have been a racquetball court at one point. We walked in and were immediately surprised by this wonderful space. There is a space to the left with hooks for coats and an area for shoes. Beyond the coat/shoe area is a space that is quite unlike any other indoor play space that I have been. Every square inch is covered in colorful soft mats. These mats are quite a bit softer than typical gym mats. Other than the soft mats, the walls are padded and every other piece of equipment is made of soft squishy material. There are blocks, cubes, steps, slides, arches and a ball pit with a soft slide as its entrance.
My little guy took off for the soft steps leading to a slide and a ramp. There were about seven other children there when we arrived, but one women commented on how empty it was. She claimed it was usually pretty crowded. One of the dads created an entry way out of soft cylinders and an arch. The parents seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the children. The average age of the children in attendance was in the range of 18 months to 3 years. The website says the room is for kids 5 and under, but I think it is probably best for those 18 months to 4 years. I think the space might be a bit small for 5 year-olds.
My son used his time to build a tower out of soft wedges, crawl up and under the slides and steps and he then started sliding and leaping into the ball pit. My Mom and I played with my son and chatted. He made friends with another 3-year old while we were there. This would be a wonderful space for a playgroup to meet and not have to worry about the kids wandering off or getting hurt.
A few minutes before noon the attendant poked his head in the door and let us know it was time to leave. We put our shoes on and headed for the door, wishing we had just a few more minutes to play. It takes more than a half hour to get to the rec center from my house, but this space is so different and inviting that we will definitely be back.
Hours, Price and a Few Logistics
- The soft playroom is open from 9am to a 1/2 hour before the recreation center closes. Currently the rec center closes at 9pm Monday through Thursday and 6pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
- The rec center charges $4/half-hour for each child. Chaperones are free. You can rent the playroom for $50/hour for up to 16 people. Birthday party packages are available as well – see the website for more details.
- There is a maximum of 16 people at one time in the playroom and they request that only two chaperones attend per child during weekdays and only one chaperone per child on weekends.
- There is no food or drink in the playroom and diapers must be changed in the bathroom.
- Children must wear socks in the playroom.
- There is a lengthy list of rules on the website – I included a few of the more pertinent rules above, but please check the website for more details.
- The fee for the playroom does not allow you to use the other facilities at the rec center.
- There is a new toddler drop-in gym available for kids ages 4 to 6 (not sure why it is called a toddler gym) that is $5/hour and includes sports and gymnastics type equipment. Hours are from 10am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. Call the rec center for more information.