New play group for kids

Staff Writer

Hyde Park parents have a new option for having fun with their kids.

Last weekend, Chicago Playpen opened its doors as an environment where children from 6 months to 8-years-old can learn through play.

“We specialize in sneaky education,” owner, Anika McNeill said. “A lot of times when kids are in school it’s drill, drill, drill, so everything is focused around tests. Our premise is learning by play.”

McNeill said she was inspired to open up Chicago Playpen, 908 E. 47th St., after caring for her three children; the oldest is three and the twins are one. The Woodlawn resident said she liked taking her kids to places like My Gym or Kid City, where parents and kids have free range to play indoors. But taking her three children up to Lincoln Park and other North Side neighborhoods was challenging.

“It’s just not always feasible to take them to the park,” Anika said. “Especially when you’re taking them for potty training. … I knew that we all needed this on the South Side since having to go all the way up north is just a problem.”

The open play space includes places for children to imagine and learn. McNeill gave the example of a play-grocery store. Children can learn math and sorting skills along with health and nutrition through play.

McNeill said she spent 12 years as a teacher at West Side school.

“I came from a school where we didn’t have recess because a lot of times … parents didn’t want their kids going outside for recess because of danger in the neighborhood and everything was focused on academics. We’re hoping to create an atmosphere where people can just play and learn.”

For a monthly membership, $35 for one child and $6 for each additional one, members get unlimited access to the play space and discounts on clothing, books, toys and birthday parties they also get access to members-only events.

Nonmembers are able to join open play for $12 per day.

There will also be mommy-and-me-style classes.

For more information, visit