“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Picasso
It’s no secret that Chicago and the Chicagoland Area is ripe with kid’s playspaces. Go on the local mom groups and ask about where to host your next birthday, or what to do when the weather inevitably turns, and you’ll get an exhausting list of the where’s and why each where is where it’s at. … whatever “it” is, because I feel like half the time my toddler doesn’t care. Until now. Enter Gather. No. Literally, go enter Gather.
Gather is one of those playspaces that feels like a bit of a zen oasis in a sea of bright, loud, off the walls, (did I mention loud?) spaces for kids. It’s a space that just makes you feel good (that may be the free coffee for caregivers talking, but I’m pretty sure it’s ALSO the space). The size isn’t overwhelming, which is nice, because I feel like I can walk over to the cubby where our diaper bag is, or go refill my coffee up front without worrying that P will either disappear into a hidden corner, destroy herself, destroy another child, or destroy a toy while I do. You know, standard FTM concerns.
I really dig the setup of the space, too. When you walk in you’re greeted by tables set up with art and sensory activities, right in front of you is the front desk and around behind there, the imaginative play area.
I stress imaginative play because Gather doesn’t have any climbing structures or rambunctious playthings – though never underestimate toddlers’ ability to create rambunctious play anywhere – which is A-OK with me. Penny loves to climb, and we know where to go for climbing, but Gather offers something that is really special and that Penny asks for week after week: ART.
On our first trip to Gather, we had no idea what bounties awaited us. I had read about Gather last summer. I knew they hosted weekly science and art activities, but I assumed P was too young to fully enjoy the space. While that might have been true last year, I am so glad Bergen from Lilla Barn mentioned Gather as a meetup spot for a playdate a few months ago. Penny enjoys playing in the back pushing baby dolls around and playing dress up, but she LIVES for the art table, specifically the paint. EVERYTHING now is all about “paint”.
“I paint.” “Want paint.” “Paint, pweez.”
I’m a mom who loves encouraging creativity – I can’t wait until Penny is old enough for upcycled arts and crafts – but I’m ALSO a mom who still appreciates a paint-stain-free-couch (at least for now).
Covered in plastic and stocked with smocks and wet wipes for easy cleanup, the art table at Gather is perfect for guilt-free-mess-making-creativity-time. It’s also overflowing with supply options. There’s plenty of markers, pencils, crayons, and paintbrushes to share and experiment with. Penny enjoys coloring, but she ADORES the paint. She could easily spend the entire time at that table, and because the table ALSO has high chairs appropriately sized for tiny humans, she can.
If your kid – or you – are not as keen on the messy side of things, don’t worry, because the imaginative play area has plenty to offer, too. Please forgive my photo quality here: I definitely didn’t bring the right lens to showcase all the awesome, or show off how large the play area itself is.
The playroom area is stocked with Legos, babies, costumes, storefronts, puppets, a dollhouse, a kitchen, trains, and books on books on books. It’s also where they host their classes if your kid sits still long enough. Mine does not. Yet. But she’s REALLY fond of trying to push all the strollers and the shopping cart all at once (where there’s a will, there’s a way, amirite?). Penny is still at the stage where she likes to bounce from area to area quickly until she inevitably settles in at the Duplo table in the back room called “The Nest.”
After your monsters are fully exhausted or hungry there are plenty of delicious food options in the immediate vicinity, as well. The best part? Your admission gets you in and out all day. So if you have older kids (or a no napper like I do), you can go eat and come back. You can also bring food and snacks in, or there are snacks on hand for purchase, too.
I’m really trying my best to cover it all but it’s 2 am and my brain melted at midnight, so if there’s anything else you want to know hit me up in the comments and I’ll get back to you! In the meantime, I leave you with one of the most charming features of the Gather space: the giant community chalk mural. The mural “theme” changes every so often (weekly, maybe?) and kids and adults are welcome to add their own touch with the chalk setting out in buckets at the edge of the wall
In the meantime, I leave you with one of the most charming features of the Gather space: the giant community chalk mural. The mural “theme” changes every so often (weekly, maybe?) and kids and adults are welcome to add their own touch with the chalk setting out in buckets at the edge of the wall because at Gather, the art and the space really are for every member of the family no matter how big or small.