Step inside Pinwheel Play, the new indoor park in Chanhassen just off of Highway 5 near Lake Ann Park, and it is clear you’ve entered a space dedicated to fostering play for young children. Shopping carts are waiting in the market corner, a beautiful wooden play set stands at the far end, an obstacle course is ready to test those gross-motor skills, the art room is prepared with a weekly project and a dramatic play area—complete with a stage—awaits its next performer.
Pinwheel Play, which opened last August, is an unstaffed, indoor play space for children ages birth to 6 and their caregivers—open 365 days a year from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Day passes are purchased online or at a kiosk onsite (for $8.50) and customers are given a code to enter at the door to gain admission to the park.
The idea for Pinwheel Play began to take form a few years ago when Lisa Smith noticed a lack of good indoor play spaces for little kids. At the time, her son, now 6, was intimidated by the other indoor parks in the area, which were overrun with big kids. “We really wanted to create a space that was geared towards the little ones; somewhere they could go that felt more like home,” she says. And with a little bit of research and a lot of hard work, that is exactly what she did.
Pinwheel Play is a home-away-from-home for many parents and kids in the southwest metro. The toddler seat in the bathroom, carpeted floors and protected sharp corners are just a few of the details Smith incorporated into her space.
Because of the thoughtful design, parents and kids are able to relax and get right down to the business of play—and reconnect as a family. “Pinwheel fosters quality time between us and our son,” says Amanda Beauvais of Eden Prairie, who brings her 2-year-old to the play area. “I truly find myself immersed in the experience and seeing fun from his eyes.” Beauvais loves that “the space is big enough for kids to run around, but not too big where you lose sight of them quickly.”
Christina Crowther of Chanhassen and her two kids enjoy challenging each other on the digital interactive playground or while playing indoor soccer in the sports area. “It’s become a huge part of our weekly routine,” she says. After a visit, “the entire family feels refreshed and recharged,” she adds.
Ask parents who frequent Pinwheel about their children's favorite activities, and you’ll get answers as varied as the personalities of the kids themselves. That’s because Smith has made a point to include many play options so that “every kid who comes in finds the thing that’s awesome for them,” she explains. And since Smith strategically rotates toys throughout the space, there is always something new for even the regulars to explore or engage with in a different way.
Parents in Minnesota know the winter routine: find an indoor place to play and let the kids burn off steam. But Pinwheel Play is more than just a place to run around. With a degree in elementary education, Smith knows that play is important for healthy childhood development. “If you watch children truly play, especially with open-ended materials, you often see many aspects of development happening at once: social engagement, large and small motor development, problem solving, language development and so much more,” she says. That is why Pinwheel offers high quality materials and toys, completely free of batteries. And if you look carefully, you may find a couple of fairy doors waiting to be discovered by curious minds. “We really wanted that open-ended, creative approach," Smith says. "Kids are using their imaginations when interacting with our pieces."