As with most major life changes, becoming a parent has its ups and downs. What can be a joyful experience can also be isolating, especially during New England’s cold winters and humid summers. Longtime Somerville resident Alison Hook experienced all of that a decade ago when she had two children in the city.
“Without mom’s groups, I don’t think I would have made it,” said Hook, who added that after the formal meetings were over, the group often wanted to keep hanging out. “But there was nowhere to go. So I started thinking about a place like this,” she said, looking around at the PlayPlace (15A Elm St.), which she opened on June 22.
The PlayPlace is an indoor playground geared toward children ages 0 to 5 years and their caregivers. It’s a bright, colorful community space that Hook has been thinking about since her own children, now 10 and 11, were small.
After working as a pre-school teacher, running playgroups and transforming the basement of the Somerville Recreation building into a play area, Hook felt it was finally time to strike out on her own. When she found the space the PlayPlace now inhabits near Porter Square, it was dark and unfriendly. Now it’s light-filled, colorful and bursting with toys.
“I saw it, but my husband thought I was crazy,” Hook said of her vision for transforming the building. “I signed a lease in March and for three months I was in here every day. I thought very carefully about how I wanted to lay it out.”
Upon entering the PlayPlace, shoes are removed to keep the floors clean for the hands and mouths that may come in contact with them. Kids then enter a world made just for them. With stations for dress-up, a market and kitchen, dolls, giant LEGOs, a ball pit and reading area, there’s something for every age group and interest.
There’s even a large arts and crafts space in the back where “we can just make a big mess, which I love to do,” Hook said.
In addition to catering to kids, the PlayPlace aims to be a space where caregivers, be they parents, nannies or others, can connect and relax a bit.
“Nobody should have to do it alone,” Hook said of parenting. “It’s safe, your kid’s not going to get in trouble. You can sit and have a conversation and not worry about the big kids in the park.”
In addition to dropping in to play during the week, the PlayPlace is also hosting birthday parties on the weekend in two-hour time slots. The PlayPlace can plan and execute the party from beginning to end, including focusing on a theme like a carnival or pirates, or the parents can bring everything in themselves.
“We want to be flexible and work with parents,” Hook said. “I want to be what parents need.”
Hook also hopes to add classes and special events to the PlayPlace’s calendar in the near future. Look for nanny networking events, time slots geared toward parents with kids of certain ages and opportunities to connect with a sitter.
“There’s a huge increase in families that I’ve seen. They’re everywhere now,” Hook said of the changes she’s noticed since having her own kids in Somerville 10 years ago. “The amount of space we have is not sufficient. Even if you have space in your house, there is something about getting out.”
Indeed, in a city where every square inch comes at a premium, having a safe, fun place to go with small children seems like a natural fit.
“It’s bringing the community together,” Hook said. “It’s more than putting toys in a room. Toys aren’t enough. It’s not the toys, it’s the whole thing.”