By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist
As the winter creeps up, my client families have been worried about their children not getting “their energy out.” It is a time when recess is moving from outdoors to indoors and fun trips to the park are being replaced with play at home. Not to mention with the sun setting after 4:30 PM, parents are a little weary of having kids play outside in the dark.
So how do we make sure that our kids get the needed movement, play, and sensory input when the days are too short and invariably too cold to go outside?
Besides indoor sensory activities that you can do at home (see previous post on Indoor Toddler Activities), here are a collection of indoor sensory parks in the Chicagoland area. These gyms have indoor swings, equipment, and sensory play that can help support your child in the winter months (or year round) when playing outside may not be possible.
These recommendations are based upon input from other therapists, clients, and online research. Sites have not been individually inspected on-site by the author.
We Rock the Spectrum
- What is it?: A “gym for all kids” that “is committed to providing a safe, nurturing, and fun environment to foster learning, exploration and safe sensory experiences.” We Rock the Spectrum is owned by a speech pathologist whose mission is to provide a safe space for all children to play and explore. We Rock the Spectrum is a large gym facility that hosts both open play times, respite care, birthday parties, and classes. We Rock the Spectrum is specifically designed for children with special needs, especially those on the Autism Spectrum! Open for children in infancy to 13 years old. All children must be accompanied by an adult and wear socks.
- Why an OT likes it: We Rock the Spectrum has a handy graphic of all their pieces of equipment and what sensory input they provide!
- Where: 553 East Dundee Road Palatine, IL
- Hours: Open gym typically runs 10am-7pm during weekdays, but hours may vary, please check website for details.
- Amenities: This gym has a lot of the same swings and equipment seen in therapy gyms- There is a zip line, swings, crash pit, weighted blankets, trampoline, tunnel, platform swing, hammock swing, monkey bars, and bolster swing.
- Pricing: There are drop in prices as well as memberships. $14/child, $12/siblings for open play. You can get membership cards (5 visits for $60, 12 visits for $120, etc.) See website for full conditions and price listings. Unlimited monthly packages are available too.
- Website: https://www.werockthespectrumchicagopalatine.com/
- Phone: 847-496-5674
- What is it?: Owned by parents of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ColorWheel Playhouse aims to be “a place where kids with all ranges of abilities could come together and find joy and smiles on our Color Wheel of happiness.” ColorWheel playhouse is a facility that has a large gym, can host classes and birthday parties. Classes include a variety of topics such as bully prevention, CPR, karate demonstrations, fire safety, and much more. This facility is specifically designed for children with special needs!
- Why an OT likes it: ColorWheel Playhouse has various different areas in which your child can choose what kind of input they are needing; there is an “Action Room,” designed to get your child the heavy work (push, pull, carry, climb, etc.) types of input to their muscles and joints that has a calming effect. There are various types of swings so your child can get the needed vestibular input (movement input from swinging back and forth, spinning, and jumping). Also there are arts and crafts/sensory bins available if your child needs a quiet moment to themselves. I also enjoy that the owners have a child with Autism, so the staff understands a child on the Spectrum and all potential needs and challenges. If birthday parties are challenging for a child, ColorWheel Playhouse offers themed birthday party packages at their facility.
- Where: Sandpiper Plaza, 2000 Army Trail Road, Hanover Park, IL
- Hours: Open play hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10am-6pm, Closed Sunday and Monday.
- Amenities: This facility has a rock wall, ball pit, monkey bars, log swings, rope climbing wall, cacoon swing, trampoline, zip line, an arts and crafts table, and sensory bins.
- Pricing: Open gym: $10/child, $9/addition child. Punch cards and monthly memberships are available as well; See website for full conditions and price listings.
- Website: https://www.colorwheelplayhouse.com/
- Phone: 847-284-9625
- What is it?: Ball Factory is an indoor gym that has specified areas for babies, toddlers, and young kids to explore and play. Children up to 12 years old are permitted to play with their parents present. Ball Factory aims to make play comfortable for all ages, they have equipment and toys suited for babies to 12 year old kids, as well as comfortable seating for parents and senior discounts available for when grandma and grandpa want to visit! There is even a cafe inside where you can grab a bite. This facility is designed for all children, of all ages and abilities.
- Why an OT likes it: I personally love the variety of equipment available at this facility- everything from ball bits, climbing structures, to push toys. I would recommend this facility for my clients that cannot get enough pretend play with cars and other vehicles, since there are kid-sized vehicles to drive around (and get vestibular and heavy work input as they pedal and push their cars around). I also love that this facility encourages family members not to just sit on the sidelines and watch their children play- but to get in on the action! Adults are allowed in all the play areas and there are comfortable seating options so that moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas can play with their children, then rest and recharge. After all, a place with fun equipment is great, but made into an amazing experience for a child when their loved ones join in play with them.
- Where: (there are 2 sites!)
- Naperville: 864 S Route 59
- Mount Prospect: 1042 S Elmhurst Road
- Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10am-7pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-9pm
- Amenities: Ball Factory has many fun areas for your child to explore that is age and abilities appropriate:The “Imagination Playground” has large soft blocks for children to play with, the “Tot Area” has padded equipment, cushioned toys, balls, and a small play structure with large, soft, Lego blocks. Based upon pictures from the website, there does not appear to be any indoor swings. However, there is a “Pedal Tractor Area” with pedal tractors with loaders, trailers, tractors, and fire trucks. There is also a pretend play gas station for all of the vehicles to refuel! Other pieces of equipment include a ball pit, maze, multi-story playground, ball blasting area (soft balls shot out of air-cannons), baby slides, interactive play floor, and super slides!
- Children over 12 months (Monday-Friday) are $12.95, Weekends are $15.95. Children 6-12 months (Monday-Friday) are $10, weekends are $12.
- Children under 6 months are free.
- The Ball Factory also offers 5 visit passes that are $55.
- They also have fun discounts such as “PJ Play” in which children cost $8 for the last hour of the day and “Happy Hour Play”, in which children are $10 after 3pm (Monday-Thursday).See website for full conditions and price listings.
- Website: https://www.ballfactoryfun.com/
- Phone: Naperville (630-640-2020), Mount Prospect (224) 244-9580
Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park (Naperville)
- What is it?: This massive facility has all kinds of activities such as go-karts, “Wipe Out” styled obstacles, ropes course, etc. This facility offers Open Play hours where you can explore the building’s fun activities- such as an indoor trampoline park and climbing gym. There are so many activities available for open gym play as well as special events such as birthday parties. This facility is not specifically tailored to children with special needs, but may be suitable for these children with adult supervision and support.
- Why an OT likes it: This facility would be perfect for some of my clients who love coming to OT to get intense crashing, pushing, pulling, and are “thrill seekers!” Some of my clients are obsessed with Wipeout and American Ninja Warrior- and Urban Air looks like a place where those “adrenaline junkies” could pretend they are competing in American Ninja Warrior themselves.
- Special Note: Some activities at Urban Air may be a little more intense than the previously mentioned indoor playgrounds. I think this facility would best suit children who are more independent in their play and need just supervisory support to engage in novel gross motor activities. While these activities certainly do offer opportunities for heavy work and vestibular input (especially trampoline course, ropes course, zip line, climbing structures, rock walls, etc.), children with motor delays and/or are sensitive to intense movement input may have difficulty engaging in all of the activities offered. That being said, there are so many activities at this facility, that you are bound to find something for kids of all abilities to be able to participate in. Please see the website for pictures to make your own assessment if these activities would be fun for your child. Consult your child’s Occupational Therapist if you are unsure if they would enjoy a certain activity.
- Where: (3 Illinois Locations)
- 1955 Glacier Park Avenue, Naperville, IL
- 67 Ludwig Drive, Fairview Heights, IL
- 19800 South La Grange Road, Mokena, IL
- Hours: (Varies by location, please see website for site specific hours)
- Naperville Open Play hours:
- Sunday-Wednesday (10am-8pm)
- Thursday (No Open Play hours)
- Friday and Saturday (10am-11pm)
- Naperville Open Play hours:
- Amenities: Urban Air definitely offers the widest variety of obstacle courses (rope wall, Wipe Out course, tubes playground, dodgeball, warrior course, ropes course, strapped-in zip line), bumper cars, go-karts, trampolines, and much more! There is a Kids Under 7 area with little-kid appropriate trampolines.
- Pricing: Endless Play Memberships are available as well as birthday party prices. See website for full conditions and price listings.
- Website: https://www.urbanairtrampolinepark.com/locations/illinois/naperville
- Phone: (331) 472-8799
I hope these ideas will help jump-start your planning for outings for the winter months! If you have any questions or concerns about any of the aforementioned facilities, please contact the facility. Also, ask your child’s Occupational Therapist about what types of activities would be most beneficial.
For more information on occupational therapy at Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley, visit http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html.