Bloomington is known as a playful city, but it isn’t always easy to find spur-of-the-moment activities for small children, especially when you need an indoor option. 

“The best play is genuinely kid-powered,” says Hilary Key, owner of The Toy Chest in Nashville, Indiana, and a professionally certified play expert. “Parents think they need to be constantly playing with their kids.” Actually, sending kids off to play by themselves is a better option. “Any safe space where you don’t have to constantly intervene for the child’s safety is great,” Key says. 

Claire Mansfield on the treehouse slide at Kids Play Gym. Photo by Jillian Davenport
Claire Mansfield on the treehouse slide at Kids Play Gym. Photo by Jillian Davenport

To help our readers, Bloom compiled a list of some of those safe play spaces. Most require children to be accompanied by an adult. Many require parents or guardians to sign a waiver. For more information, check the websites.

Monroe County Public Library, 303 E. Kirkwood. “Giving kids a place to play is an important part of a library’s mission,” says Lisa Champelli, the library’s children’s strategist.  The children’s section includes a large play area, and it’s one of the city’s most popular play spaces. It’s all free; you don’t even need a library card unless you want to check out toys or other materials.

The Warehouse (see story page 72), a 90,000-square-foot center at 1525 S. Rogers St., houses an indoor playground plus sports and arts facilities, all provided free of charge by Realife Media, a faith-based nonprofit organization. A 20,000-square-foot play area for children 5 and under is open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays; the entire facility, including a skate park, climbing walls, and sports areas, is open 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays for all ages. Dress appropriately; in winter, the cavernous space can be chilly.

WonderLab Museum of Science, Health and Technology, 308 W. 4th St., has an assortment of preschool offerings and lately has focused development efforts on programs for toddlers, says Emmy Brockman, director of education. The hands-on exhibits have been re-arranged and new wind and bubble attractions have been added. Admission is free for members, $9 for non-members ages 1 and up.

Kids Play Gym, 2010 S. Yost Ave., offers multi-room play spaces for younger children, catering to kids with a wide range of needs and abilities. Owner Kat Rader is committed to providing a nurturing experience to fit every child’s mood and sensitivities—quiet or rambunctious. It’s one of the only facilities in town where parents can arrange to leave their children for up to three hours of break time ($10 per hour plus regular admission fee of $8–$15).

Other options:

• BUGS Gym, 2741 Kegg Road, the home of Bloomington United Gymnastics & Soccer, has many organized activities but also open gym sessions, including one-hour Tumble Tots sessions for kids 6 and under.

• Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park, 3603 W. Ind. 46, is a trampoline gym with a gymnastic obstacle course, and a tamer space for kids 7 and under.

• Hoosier Heights, 1008 S. Rogers St., is an indoor climbing gym with bouldering and rope-climbing facilities suitable for adults, teens, and kids as young as 5.

• Jump-N-Joey’s, 108 N. Curry Pike, a party and play space with a raucous arcade feel but with tamer attractions for toddlers.

• YMCA of Monroe County (Northwest, 1375 N. Wellness Way; Southeast, 2125 South Highland Ave.) Swimming—free for members; $7 for non-members ages 18 and under—is available year-round in the indoor pools. Both offer toddler splash areas with interactive water features.

Cora Mansfield plays with the water table vortex tornado at Kids Play Gym. Photo by Carmen Siering
Cora Mansfield plays with the water table vortex tornado at Kids Play Gym. Photo by Carmen Siering