top of page

Live a little life, not a lonely life

Our experience

Hooray - A town scaled to size for my toddler where she can touch EVERYTHING. And it's free! (On Wednesdays...)

Jump to: the Museum details · the sign up instructions

I took Charlotte to this big play room designed like a little town, called the "Children's Neighborhood Museum" in the Round Lake Area Park District. It was a hit! The park district was pretty easy to find right next to the library. We walked up to the entrance. After signing in and getting our wrist bands, we found our friends that we go to the library baby classes with, Asher, Lilly, and their moms. We made our way down to the gym to wait for the doors to open. Charlotte watched interestedly as kids aged 1-6 raced around the gym and climbing the bleachers calling after each other, "are you so excited to go in?" At 9:30am, the staff member opened the door and we filed in.

The doors looked like it would lead to a storage closet, but instead we entered a large space, with two separate rooms filled with activity zones. Right inside the door, there were little cubbies to leave our jackets and diaper bags, just like at school. Looking around the room, we saw a food truck, bakery, construction zone, food market, doctor's office, body shop, picnic area, school house, a street to drive cars, and more. It really was a mock town filled with Melissa and Doug shopping carts, Little Tikes cars, and tiny furniture. In the hour we were there, we didn't even get the chance to explore everything...

The food truck had salt and pepper shakers that made noise and Charlotte was excited to be the first to shake them! It was quite a lot to take in initially and I could see the other moms we came with cajoling their tentative kids to try out all of the stuff. I walked Charlotte from station to station while her big eyes took in all the commotion of play and the new environment. Even while they ran around, the bigger kids were respectful of their distance and no one got plowed over or ran into with a car. Regardless of the respectful kids, Charlotte still clung tightly to my finger just in case...

In the school house, a jolly toddler close to her age, but much more substantial in size, waddled over and gave her a smile that said "I'm so happy to see you!" He patted her belly and tried to hand her a few toys, but she just stared at him. He wasn't disheartened and trotted off with a cheery wave.

We trampled over the modular mats shaped like a caterpillar that is a zone for 'crawlers only' and found a house with... STAIRS, our favorite! We went up the stairs of this tiny two-story house into a tiny living room complete with matching couch and chair, entertainment unit, and dog bed with toy dogs. We peered out of the little window and spotted Dad. We pointed and spluttered and he waved back eagerly. He disappeared from view and just when we thought we lost him, his face popped up in the window behind us! We chuckled at each other while we went up and down the stairs a few more times before making our way to the second big room. Charlotte banged her hand on a toy fire hydrant and a charcoal grill and a few other things on the way out and she thought, "Huh, I really can touch all this stuff? Whose is it anyway?"

This second room was pretty cool. I didn't think it would be able to compete with the first one, but as we entered, we thought, they should have started with this one. It is a smaller room that I called, 'the performance room'. There's a dressing area with costumes, a table and cube seats that light up and change color, a DJ booth, and this cool contraption with a ball on the wall. Charlotte felt pretty at home in this quieter, less busy room with just her friends from the library. I actually thought this was a great idea to have so kids could go and sit down to relax.

Dad looked at animal x-rays and color paddles on the lit up table, bent over and scrunched up on the tiny cube, but looking totally content. Asher played with a bead maze that once he showed it to Charlotte, she decided it was hers now... Lilly gave a wide-eyed smile as she pulled out magnatiles. Our friend from the schoolhouse wandered in jovially like the town mayor, his blue eyes crinkled in a big toothy smile. He sauntered over to the wall where there were two long tubes with holes in them anchored to the wall on an angle. He dropped a ball with bells inside into one of the holes. It rolled down the first tube, dropped into the second tube and then dropped into a little wooden box where he could retrieve it. We walked over to join him and stood right next to him to watch the ball go again. This time, when it fell through the first tube, it rolled along the top of the second one instead of falling inside it and plopped onto the floor. Surprisingly, Charlotte picked it up. I thought for sure she would try to hold it out of the little boy's reach and try to climb into my lap in panic when he went for it, but instead she handed it back to him so he could put it in the tube again. From the look of anticipation on her face, I could tell she thought: "You're better at it anyway. We should work together so I can see this thing go again." The little boy's mom popped in, with one eye on her two kids in the main room and one on her son who Charlotte just made friends with. To help her out we exclaimed, "He's right at home with us!" to reassure her that we had made friends. She smiled and thanked us, going between the two rooms.

Just then, the staff member came in to let us know that in 10 minutes, the museum would be closing so that they could clean up and restore the town for the next group. We hustled over to the doctor's office to hold the babies before it was time to go.

Dang, we were just warming up to everything, too! But, it was definitely time to leave. Charlotte and her friends were ready for their naps and in need of some snacks while their brains processed all that new stuff. There were some very minor tantrums as we left, but we would definitely be coming back.

The deets on the Museum

The Museum is part of the Round Lake Area Park District, however, you do NOT need to be a Round Lake resident to go. To get in, you can pay to be a member ($10-14/mo) and have access to member-only hours, or pay a drop in fee ($5-7 daily for 0-13 years; $2-3 daily for 13+ years) to come during regular admission hours, or pay to rent the space for parties (around $250 + $50 deposit for about 2 hours).

However, Wednesdays are free admission days. As long as you sign the waiver online, you can enjoy the museum 12:30-2:30pm. We went on opening day, so the timing was a little different. I will say, though that it is hard to get in if you do not have a membership. The museum gets filled to capacity pretty quickly.

They say it is for children ages 1-6, but on other parts on the website, it says 1-7, and then in the admission section, it basically says any age as long as there is at least one child under 6. I doubt they would deny entry to anyone, but the Museum is definitely geared towards little ones. Charlotte is 15 months right now and she really did love it. Some of the older kids (around 5 or 6) were having a great time, too, since they were able to drive the cars, put puzzles together, and engage in more imaginative play.

They also do say there needs to be one adult for every child, but I did see at least two separate adults in there with more than one child. Again, they don't seem like sticklers to the rules, they just want to make sure everyone is in charge of their own kids' behavior and safety, because the staff aren't patrolling or life guarding during play time. As long as you are mindful of your children and don't have a group of kids, I doubt they would make a fuss.

There are capacity restrictions and when it is reached, they do enforce it. Online it says, once capacity is reached you have to wait for someone to come out for your turn to go in. We were only there for an hour, but I didn't see anyone leave early. You definitely do need to show up early if you do not have a membership.

Sign up instructions

They say you do need a waiver on file, but they didn't check for us. I originally posted that you could sign up for the waiver for about $0.56 online, however, after the first month, they started automatically billing me for the full membership amount. So, if you are going to do the free drop in Wednesday, I would plan on getting there at least 30 minutes before and just checking at the desk if you need a waiver and see if they can help you.

Below is the instructions on how to enroll in a membership.

  1. First, you need to create an account at the park district.

  2. Add the Children's Neighborhood Membership to your cart by clicking "Enroll now". The cost is $10 for residents and $14 for non-residents.

  3. + Additional pass holder(s) It did not let me check out at first because it said it could not verify my age. It was a weird error, but I just had to click "+ Additional pass holder", then "+Family a new member" and add my child then I was able to advance. It says you can have up to 5 additional passes.

  4. Add to cart and check out The website requires a credit card payment AND an alternate credit card, which is basically a back-up form of payment for re-occurring membership payments in case the first credit card is declined for any reason.

  5. Confirmation I saved a PDF of the waiver confirmation and I did receive an automated confirmation email that I kept on file. No one looked mine up in the system or asked me for it when we went, but maybe that's because it was on opening day.

Final thoughts

I definitely was impressed and enjoyed the experience. The park district overall seemed well-kept and the staff was very friendly. Apparently, it used to be a bit worn down, but since it's re-opening, I was very impressed.

The Museum was very cool with a lot of fun things to explore. I liked that it was an opportunity to play with toy versions of things that my child will encounter, like a store, a schoolhouse, a doctor's office so that it hopefully seems a little familiar when she goes to the real thing. There were a lot of kids there, who were all playing really nicely and respectfully, I didn't see or hear any fights or disagreements. I like to find opportunities for Charlotte to play with other kids since she isn't in a daycare setting and the socialization is nice to incorporate. I would recommend visiting and after the initial waiver, Wednesdays are free with zero-commitment. Have fun in a little town your size, little ones!



Commenting has been turned off.

The Last Refuge of Sound

This is Our Blog
This is Our App
The Last Refuge of Sound is turning around

To face the pack

bottom of page