Inside Indoor Play: A Brooklyn Play Space Tour

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A review and run down of indoor playspaces for kids in Brooklyn.


Klub4kidz

(editor's note: As the temperature drops, these great reviews seem more apt than ever, so we've decided to put them front and center!)

 

When the temperatures get too frosty, the ground too slushy, and the afternoons too dark, we enter what my family calls the fifth season—indoor playground season. I think it’s primarily an urban phenomena caused by too-small apartments, downstairs neighbor complaints, and same-old-toy/same-old-play-partner fatigue. The season started early this year with a cold December, so my son and I started checking out available spots offering drop-in play times.

 

As we traveled, we learned that we have different criteria for what makes a great indoor play area as opposed to a great outdoor playground. Admission fees, admittedly, make us pickier, but the nature of the indoor, commercially-run settings creates for more factors to gauge in measuring success: cleanliness, toy and play equipment selection, hours of operation, crowding, baby-proofing and proximity to transit.

 

Below, a run down of spots we’ve visited in our order of preference:

 

Klub4Kidz

159 North 4th Street

(Between Bedford & Driggs)

877 543 9558 • klub4kidz.com

M-F 10-6, Sa 9-noon

$12+tax includes full-day use for child and caregiver/parents, $20+tax for two kids

 

Transit: L train to Bedford Street

 

Pros: Most like a playground, extremely clean, coffee bar

Cons: Pricey, limited open play hours on weekends, not a lot of toys

 

True confession: This was the club I looked most forward to visiting because I’d heard about the on-site café! But as much as I love and depend on coffee, this place won me over with its incredibly designed play space that’s ideal for active kids. The four-level play structure at the heart of the “klub” features a tight-maze of padded decks, webbing and tunnels that at the top lead to two sets of slides—a double, undulating one and a twisting tunnel one. All the decks feature net walls to keep kids in and maintain visibility, and some of the decks feature padded obstacles like swinging boxing-style bags, rolling tubes and padded hurdles. Think obstacle course for the 3 and up set. Kids younger than two will love it too, but will likely need some spotting to get up the levels. And that might be the one hitch here: Squeezing your adult body into the structure is hard work. (Signage discourages parents from entering, but there were several of us worming our way through to retrieve kiddos hiding out at the top in an effort to forestall leaving!)

 

There is an open play space at the base of the structure that’s good for infants, but doesn’t really offer enough toys to occupy toddlers. When my son was ready for a break, he skipped this area and headed straight to the café where a large-screen TV was airing PBS Kids’ shows. After 3 exhausting hours here, my son fell asleep in his stroller within 5 minutes of leaving.


 

Brooklyn Children’s Museum

145 Brooklyn Avenue (@ St. Mark’s Ave)

Brooklyn, NY 11213

718-735-4400

http://www.brooklynkids.org

$7.50 per person; no time limit

Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm

 

Transit:

A, C, 3 trains to various stops

 

Pros: Inventive toys/exhibits, water table, museum as a whole

Cons: Can get really crowded and really messy, especially the sand table.

 

Everybody loves the watertable at the BK children's museum

 

Inside a truly fun museum is a great play space. The Totally Tots area is designed for the 5 and under set. Imagination is the main theme here—hub-caps have been repurposed as drums, washers on threaded poles trill like bells, and someone’s old kitchen pipes are doing great work as a fountain atop the giant water table. (Be sure you take advantage of the smocks—the table can get very splashy when kids start playing with the bath and pool toys!) There is also a reading room complete with a comfy chair and a stage area with a bevy of costumes and props for kids to use in putting on impromptu theatrical performances. A sand table, slide and block-building area provide spots for more physical play, while an enclosed area featuring soft toys provides a safe spot for babies to roll and crawl. The space isn’t the vastest, so all of the gear can be a bit of sensory overload and lead to wee-one traffic jams that result in jostling and accidental knock-downs. And as I tried to tail my son to be sure he wasn’t tripping or getting tripped, I found myself bumping other parents who were trying to do the same with their kids.

 

Power Play

432 3rd Avenue

(Between 7th & 8th Sts.)

718-369-9880 • powerplaykids.com

M-F 10-5, Sa-Su 10-4

$10 for 1 kid & 1 caregiver/parent for 2 hours

 

Transit: N or F train to 4th Avenue

Pros: Very playground like, proximity to Four & Twenty Blackbirds for pie!

Cons: Located on 2nd floor up very long flight of stairs, too much gear for the space

Power Play is primarily a gym for learning gymnastics, rock climbing and dance, but it features a sizable play space that’s available to students and non-students alike. This space does a great job of recreating an outdoor style playground indoors. There are ladders to climb, slides to zoom down, and even a big sand box filled with beach toys and cars. There are also several areas devoted to exercising the imagination, including a play stage, several small play houses and a giant playhouse with a well-stocked kitchen featuring tons of plastic vegetables that always seem to enthrall my son more than the real ones. The biggest surprise for us was discovering two “roller coaster” like tracks that kids ride by mounting little cars. If this sounds like a lot of equipment, it is and really probably a bit too much for the space. My son had a blast, but nearly ran over some kids when he was roller-coastering and nearly got run over by other tots on push trikes. He didn’t mind, but it did make playing here a bit more stressful for me. However, he loved it, so we’ll probably try it again.


New York City Explorers

399 Atlantic Avenue (At Bond Street)

718 797 3707 • nycityexplorers.com

M-W: 11am-6pm; T, Th, Fr, Sa, Sun: 9am-6pm

$10 full-day use for parents/caregiver & child; extra $5 for additional child

Transit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, N, R, F, A, C to Borough Hall & Jay St./Metro Tech complex

 

Pros: Lots of natural light

Cons: Hard to find, dirty, the same Ikea toys you probably have at home, small

New York City Explorers

261 Underhill Avenue (Between Sterling & St. John)

718 399 6923 • nycityexplorers.com

M, W, F, Sa, Sun: 9am-6pm; T, Th: 11am-6pm

 

$10 full-day use for parents/caregiver & child; extra $5 for additional child

 

Transit: 2,3,4 to Grand Army Plaza; B, Q to 7th Avenue

 

Pros: Beautiful space, well-organized, Blue Marble Ice Cream on-site (yum)

Cons: The same Ikea toys you probably have at home, Blue Marble Ice Cream on-site (tough to say no!)

 

The two play spaces operated by New York City Explorers are like night and day. The Underhill Avenue location is an inviting setting of wood floors, exposed brick wall and plenty of shelf space to keep unused toys out of the way. The Atlantic Avenue location is, I’m guessing, a converted basement office space with linoleum tile floors, white walls and toys spread all over the floor. If you have the option, head to the Underhill location and skip the Atlantic Avenue one.

 

While we liked the Underhill location much better—and not just because it’s attached to a Blue Marble Ice Cream store—both spaces rely a bit heavily on Ikea toys, which are already a major staple in our own home. So the novelty factor was dimmed a bit. Underhill did offer a dress-up area with costumes to encourage imaginative play and  also had an abundant selection of books and seating for more relaxed fun. Unfortunately, there weren’t any other kids on hand when we were there, so my son lost interest after about an hour of playing with trains and putting 15 baby dolls to bed underneath a giant caterpillar.

 

Oddly enough, the smaller Atlantic Avenue location has the more active toys. Two rockers, a rocking boat, a see-saw, a ball pit and a sit-n-spin type toy are all available—and if they were all in use, would probably cause a few bumps due to proximity. My son loved the sit-n-spin toy, but to use it I had to position it just so between a side table and a train table to avoid accidents. And, though my son didn’t care, the space was dirty. Another boy found an ancient cheese puff and had eaten it before his parents could retrieve it. Several electric outlets were uncovered as well. Though my son had fun here, he did, oddly enough, ask as we left, “Can we go to the indoor playground now?”

 

Caroline