By Kristin Boza
Kids of all ages have plenty to do as the weather warms up in Beverly/Morgan Park! Play dates are back in full swing, so gather up all the littles in your pandemic bubble and supercharge the fun in this edition of the Best of Beverly/Morgan Park: Play Dates!
Little Hoppers Play Space
Hosting play dates at your home can be, well, tough. Little Hoppers, 2760 W. 111th St., is a new play space geared to kids ages birth to 7 years old, and it’s the ideal location for a group play date — no clean up needed, plus the parents can have a cup of coffee with a pastry while supervising their little ones.
Owned by Michelle Bryant-Smith and her husband Maurice Smith, Little Hoppers was launched last summer. “The experience has been full of peaks and valleys,” Bryant-Smith said. “Initially, we were gaining momentum with a walk-in open play concept, but then the resurgence of COVID-19 forced us to close for open play.”
In response, the owners pivoted and began offering private 90 minute play times, which require reservations, to limit the number of patrons having the time of their lives at one time. Little Hoppers can also host three to four families at a time with three kids or less per family, giving a semi-private play date experience for 90 minutes.
Kids can enjoy a variety of pretend play and climbing toys, like a wooden house, a castle with a slide, jungle gyms, slides, kitchen sets, a Melissa and Doug diner and a grocery store. Little Hoppers also offers birthday packages with custom balloons and a themed tablescape.
“We’re very intentional about the toys we offer, and we focus on what’s fun for the kids,” Bryant-Smith said. “We’re here for the community and see ourselves offering more classes, events, and fun — but we need the support from the community.” The Little Hoppers owners lease was signed before the pandemic. Covid-related issues have affected their costs and revenues, requiring them to reach into their savings to fund the business. “It is extremely important for our longevity and success to have the community’s support,” Bryant-Smith said.
Reservations are required for either private or semi-private sessions, and temperatures and symptoms are checked at the door prior to admission. The space is cleaned and disinfected before and after every session.
For more information on parties, private, and semi-private play dates, visit TheLittleHoppers.com.
Munchiez Cereal Bar
Fueling up the kiddos with sugar is part of play date fun, right? Before or after a play date, head to Munchiez, 1803 W. 95th St., and experience all of the candy, cereal sundaes, and even some lunch items that your little one can dream of.
Munchiez opened in August and is owned by Qiana Allen and her sons, Keenan and Camron, and her boyfriend Dwain. The family intended to open their doors last May, but the pandemic pushed back their grand opening plans. Once the shop finally had clearance to open, they were pleasantly surprised to see a line around the block; clearly the neighborhood was eager to get their hands on some sweet treats.
“We have a variety of novelty candy and cereal. The front of our space offers packaged candy and weighted candy, but our main attraction is our cereal bar,” Allen said. “We create cereal-blended milkshakes from 33 different flavors, and our customers can build their own.”
In addition, Munchiez offers walking tacos (taco fixings mixed into a bag of chips), fried Oreos, and the latest craze, fried Pop Tarts. For those looking to grab some lunch, Italian beef, chicken tenders and pizza puffs are offered.
“Every child who walks by is amazed by the colorful candy in the window and they always force their parents to stop in,” Allen laughed. “Kids and parents alike love our store. We even offer small sizes for kids under 5, so they don’t have to get a full milkshake or sundae. We have a TV that’s always tuned into fun kids shows, like Cocomelon.”
Only 15 people are allowed into Munchiez at one time, in accordance with COVID-19 protocols. The tables are spaced apart, and patrons must social–distance while waiting in line. Hand sanitizer is readily available and the entire store is sanitized every night.
To learn more, follow Munchiez on social media @munchiez_store. Hours: Sun. to Wed., 12-6 p.m.; Thurs., 12-7 p.m.; Fri. to Sat., 12-8 p.m.
No matter where you live in our community, you can walk to a park or playlot. The best part is that playgrounds, parks, and more in-person options are available now that the city has loosened its COVID-19 restrictions! Each of these Chicago Park District destinations is a little different from the others. Parks with field houses offer a variety of athletic and arts options for adults and kids.
Ridge Park has tennis courts, three baseball fields, a newer playground, a walking path, and indoor pool and the popular woodshop, and ceramics cottage. The unique John H. Vanderpoel Memorial Art Gallery is housed on the second floor of the Ridge Park; the collection has more than 600 works of art by American painters and sculptors.
Kennedy Park has an outdoor swimming pool, playground and ball fields, skating and a variety of classes. Beverly Park has a small field house but a huge play space. Graver Park has outdoor water play as well as a gym and play areas. The Morgan Park Sports Center offers gymnastics, and skating – there’s a full size ice rink that accommodates figure skaters and hockey players. Find information about our local parks and playlots at ChicagoParkDistrict.com.
Dan Ryan Woods Nature Play Garden
The Dan Ryan Woods has an exciting playground made entirely out of natural materials, like trees, near the pavilion at 87th and Western. The Nature Play Garden has a definite woods-y feel and kids can safely explore and imagine what it would be like to be on their own in the woods.
Little ones will love the treehouse (that’s not too high off the ground!), musical instrument area, tunnels made from living trellis plants and willows, rope ladders, and adventure paths. There’s so much to explore, and when they get tired, head to the nearby tables and benches (known as the “Homework Haven”) and share a short story.
The team at Dan Ryan Woods hosts Open Nature Play Days to give kids opportunitiesa to gather and explore the natural playground on their own. Dan Ryan Woods Program Specialist Jessica Becker hosts the event and kids are encouraged to follow a story trail that incorporates literature into play and includes a take-home activity kit. Aside from the designated play date days, the playground is open to all from sunrise to sunset each day. Contact Jessica Becker at Jessica.firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.