Polka Dot Place: A Space for Kids to Play and Parents to Kick back

"Polka Dot Place is a welcoming environment for kids and grownups. It’s like a cross between a cosy living room and a carnival for babies ... there’s even a bouncy castle for toddlers."

The adrenaline rush that accompanies childbirth is intense. I was like the energizer bunny bouncing around most days on less than five hours sleep. It lasted almost a year but recently, I crashed.

It happened around the same time my quiet sleepy baby turned into a wild and rambunctious little boy; he even started growling. My puppet shows and other desperate attempts to entertain were no longer as appealing as the fireplace and every other dangerous thing in site.

His attention span was dwindling as every room in our house became boring and the regular excursions became lame. And then I learned about Polka Dot Place. A space decked out with foam mats and soft toys from wall to wall, couches for parents, and coffee … lots of coffee. Perfect!

The play cafe is the brainchild of mompreneur Nadine Smith. She opened Polka Dot Place with her toddler Ozzy last fall. Not unlike myself, Nadine needed a place to have adult conversation, and Ozzy needed a space to explore with other kids.

“The whole idea is to let parents or caregivers come, sit down, relax a little bit, socialize themselves with other people and let their children play,” Smith says. “It’s a nice, safe place to let their children run wild and social.”

Smith says the structured programs designed for new moms didn’t work for her family because they were scheduled at times when her son was sleeping. So she often spent her days walking around local book stores or hanging out at the mall.

“I felt kind of isolated from people and also kind of scared because I didn’t have people to ask questions to.”

Smith says she needed an outlet.  “Mentally as a parent, you need socialization. When you have a child, they don’t have a schedule. They don’t get the memo that life is based on schedules. So, when you have a place like this that you’re free to come to whenever you want to, it takes the pressure off making it to a lot of things.”

Polka Dot Place is a welcoming environment for kids and grownups. It’s like a cross between a cosy living room and a carnival for babies … there’s even a bouncy castle for toddlers. It’s a fun place to connect. The kids are sharing toys, the adults are sharing parenting advice and everyone is making new friends.

“We want to make sure all the caregivers that come in here are comfortable to ask questions. We’ve started our own little community,” Smith says. “We’ve had people form playgroups from meeting here, we’ve had grandparents who come in here who have formed playgroups. We have a dad playgroup that has formed here…just from coming in and being able to socialize.”

Smith says she wants the centre to be accessible to everyone. It’s open seven days a week and it costs less than $10 to play for the day. Grownups are free.

Smith says she hadn’t planned on being an entrepreneur. Before Ozzy, she helped facilitate programs for ex-offenders with the John Howard Society. After joining a few Facebook parenting groups, she realized there were other parents who needed something like Polka Dot Place, too.

With support from the town of Paradise and entrepreneurial assistance programs like ACOA, she was up and running just a few months after her maternity leave ended.

Smith says she’s had a lot of help from the business community and it’s reflected in her company’s success. In less than a year she’s built up a significant clientele, she expanded her services to host birthday parties and offer short term childcare and there’s even talks about opening another centre in the East End of St.John’s.

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