By Emily Harrington
This Midwest-summer weather is unpredictable. Either it’s oddly chilly or (more commonly) stifling. Maybe you need a break from the heat outdoors or a place to take your kids when the temperatures uncommonly dip low on the thermometer. I’ve got an indoor escape for you. A cool-clean place centrally located in Champaign at 2112 Sangamon Dr., next to Sholem Aquatic Center. This facility, the new Patricia H. Leonhard Recreation Center, is a far cry from the former space that’s just across the street. This center is spacious, bright and modern.
The indoor playground is perfect for inclement-summer days. Check with the front desk to pay and gain access to the play area. If you are a member or become a member (annual rates range from $140-$360 depending on residency and family size) you can use the playground as part of your dues. If you want a day-long pass, you need to pay $5 per “walking” child—parents are free. (This day pass offers access to anything accessible and age appropriate in the facility, like the gym area, if the timing is right. You can even leave and come back!) The playground is open if the facility is open. These lengthy hours provide a lot of flexibility considering they are open Monday to Friday 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. That’s a lot of time for playdates and family outings. There is even a space available upstairs if you want to pack a lunch.
The front desk attendant showed us to a room a short distance from the entrance. There was a farm-inspired piece of colorful equipment practically the size of the entire room as the showcase of the playground. My son is just getting used to walking so he was a little young to be unaccompanied through the twists, turns and levels of the equipment. We were the only ones there when we visited. That was OK with me since I ended up hitting my head on one of the enclosed tubes which lead me to saying some adult-themed words not OK for kids (especially not my own) to hear. The massive structure is basically a series of small hallways and tunnels that lead up three levels. (You will have to heave them up if they are not tall enough.) Throughout the levels there are bi-leveled nooks and crannies to explore. Each thoroughfare had hanging playthings. There are large-rubber balls, monkey bars, horizontal-roller bars and padded-cylinders to bang, bop and play with. Being in the obstacle course-esque contraption reminded me of a complex mouse trap mixed with the cheesy TV show Wipeout, but in a good way.
If your child is more of a spectator, there are games at the entrance to the equipment and on the walls. Seating, tables and books are also available. Cubbies are provided to hold your child’s personal belongings as well as a private bathroom with changing table.
We had lot of fun going down the tall-tube slide, playing in the pseudo tractor that is perched at the top level and just trying something new. These days I’m excited to go anywhere mulch and rocks can’t end up in my son’s mouth! Literally, there was nothing he could try to eat. In our world that is the marker of a successful outing.
Consider having your next birthday party here! There are exciting party options available. Also, exercise while your kiddo plays! Supervised play is offered for ages 3 to 12 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Must be potty trained. The service is free with a membership, or you can pay for a day pass.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie that left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job to be a 24/7 mom to a dreamy son. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Oh, and let’s not forget her other son, a degenerate canine named Heppenheimer.