Many play spaces that we visit are a sensory overload: bright walls, loud music, TONS of movement and activity…and it can be a bit much. And if you have special needs, a place that is supposed to be fun can end up being the exact opposite. So if you are burned out on the “traditional” play space options in Chicagoland, you need to check out the innovative Hippo Campus, a sensory themed play space.
Designed by a former teacher and mom of three, Hippo Campus is a well designed play space that encourages learning through play for EVERYONE. All of the activities can be modified for learners of all ages and abilities, leaving all visitors feeling empowered…and ready for a nap! During our visit, there were babies, toddlers, and school aged children all enjoying the different rooms and enjoying the various sensory based play experiences.
There are five different rooms to choose from: Art Room, Light Room, Music Room, Volcano Room, and Shrinking Room. Each unique environment encourages different types of play and focuses on one of the five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and feel).
The Art Room is a haven for those who love to create. There are easels for painting, glass windows for drawing, as well as endless types of sensory bins (the water beads were a hit with my guys).
The Light Room, my personal favorite, is a room where your imagination can run wild. It is a dark room solely lit with backlights and other toys and tools that flash or light up. We quite literally had to pull our boys away from the fiberoptic displays and glow in the dark cars in order to go home.
The Music Room has just about every type of musical instrument that you can imagine, including a large piano just like in “Big,” which is a hit with both little and big kids alike.
Another popular room is the Volcano Room. This room is all about crawling, climbing, and overcoming obstacles through movement. There is a large volcano for kids to climb on, as well as tons of different tools kids can use in order to blaze their own trail.
Finally, the Shrinking Room is another creative room for play. It is based on the idea that the child has “shrunk” and all of the toys are huge versions of what they are used to. For example, there is a massive Connect Four game, large Jenga and Chess pieces, as well as life size stacking blocks.
Throughout the play space there are puzzles and other brain teasers that get you thinking, including a smell scavenger hunt and other rotating games. Those are some of the many ways that Hippocampus stands apart from a traditional play space—it encourages curiosity and exploration in ways that others don’t.
If you are a parent or therapist who works with children who have special needs, Hippocampus is a great place for learning and play because it has “Therapy Hours” during which the center opens just for those with special needs.
Some other tips when visiting Hippocampus:
*Take advantage of the punch passes and enjoy five visits for the price of four.
*Visit in the afternoon is you are looking for a quieter play time.
*Re-entry is allowed, so enjoy the flexibility of an entire day of play…even if you have to go home to nap in the middle!
*Outside food is allowed or you can purchase snacks and drinks from the play space.
*Take part in the festive “First Friday” parties. Each month there is a different theme for fun. Past themes include Science Night, Hippo Dance Party, Sensory Garden, etc.
*Call ahead to learn about special rates or offers if visiting as a group. There are also birthday party packages and field trip options that include age appropriate STEM activities.
*Don’t forget your socks!
Looking for other awesome play spaces? Here are some of our favorites.