KENWOOD — A new play area for kids in Kenwood kicked off its grand opening with a wizard of sorts performing a magic show for neighborhood kids and Batman.
At Chicago Playpen in the Sutherland Apartments building, 906 E. 47th St., grade-schooler Joseph mysteriously went missing when Batman appeared to help magician Edd Fairman finish the trick that turned three scarves into an American flag.
“I’ve never been to a play space like this where you don’t have to be a member,” Fairman said Saturday between acts of spinning plates on his face and juggling. “It’s a lot like the Children’s Museum up on Navy Pier, but a lot more affordable.”
While memberships are available at Chicago Playpen, which officially opened Monday, anyone can bring children to take part in free-play sessions from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily during the summer at a cost of $12 per child. Caregivers must stay with their children.
Chicago Playpen is the brainchild of Anika McNeill, a fourth- and fifth-grade math and science teacher for Chicago Public Schools.
“We know a lot of kids are sitting at home on the computer or playing video games in isolation,” McNeill said.
She said that in her role as a teacher she’s seen free play slowly be taken out of the schools as kids increasingly move to screens for entertainment. She said when she became pregnant with the first of her three kids, she started brainstorming ideas for a play area kids could go to in the neighborhood when the weather was too cold for the park.
“I was really nervous about this at first,” McNeill said, adding that three kids, two cars and one mortgage in Woodlawn seemed like an impossible barrier to starting a business.
She said she spent years talking to parents in neighborhood parks and fellow teachers about the idea.
When her colleagues at other elementary schools started looking for extra work as layoff notices went out from CPS and offered to teach classes and run free-play sessions, she said she thought it was time to make the idea a reality.
All arts and crafts classes for kids and even the mommy-and-me yoga and exercise classes are taught by licensed Chicago teachers.
The play space also offers birthday parties and field trips for daycares.