Kids playing at new Seattle-area indoor play space Child Wonder the World. Credit: Natasha Dillinger
Recent cooler weather has reminded me that we’re rapidly approaching fall. And while our family loves a good rainy-day adventure outside, I’m stashing a few cozy indoor play areas in my back pocket for those days when our rain boots are too soggy for one more puddle jump.
My kids and I recently visited one such spot, a brand-new indoor play space called Child Wonder the World.
The owner, Giselle Fuerte, recently welcomed us to test out her globally inspired indoor playground (and children’s store) in Burien. While her kids introduced my kids to their favorite play structures, we got to catch up about her vision for the space — and the bravery of opening a new, kid-focused business during a pandemic.
Unique play structures with global flair
My 5-year-old barely had her shoes off before she clambered to the top of the sturdy climbing structure. The aesthetic here follows a Montessori look — there’s lots of natural wood that appears durable enough to handle children’s tough love. (We’ve been to a handful of indoor play spaces where the plastic toys have been destroyed by energetic play.)
You won’t find any run-of-the-mill play structures or “greige” paint here. Colorful mural-style decals with mountains and trees cover the walls. A play house inspired by a home you’d find in a Ghanaian village sits near a play kitchen. The kitchen features a clay oven reminiscent of an outdoor cooking space you might see in Mexico.
Fuerte credits her kids as the original focus group for testing the features of the play kitchen area. When they needed a place to “eat” all the tasty pretend treats they'd “cooked,” she added a Moroccan-style table and chairs to the space.
Japanese karesansui gardens influenced the kinetic sand table where my 2-year-old son joined his new friends to play. While my kids weren’t especially Zen-like, they loved using the miniature rakes to comb the sand before turning them into pretend tree trunks and birthday candles.
Thoughtful layout encourages child-led transitions
The front half of the space encourages active play with its climber centerpiece, farmers market booth and global village. All kids need time to chill out, however, particularly if they’re neurodiverse. During our two-hour-long visit, my kids naturally gravitated in and out of the quieter rear section of the play space at their own pace.
MP3 players with a kid-friendly interface and just a few buttons made it easy for my toddler son to listen to stories and songs in multiple languages. The headphones are comfortable and soft and would help block out noise for kids who need a break. My art-loving daughter sat and drew pictures with the giant box of markers and colored pencils. She could have spent an afternoon hanging out there, sharing ideas with one of Fuerte’s sons.
On nearby shelves we saw dolls, puzzles and books, and there was plenty of space on the carpeted floor for all the kids to play in parallel.
Mirrors and windows facilitate intercultural learning
As a queer Afro-Latinx mom, Fuerte understands the importance of representation. When she first dreamed of opening Child Wonder the World in early 2021, she wanted a space where children of color could build self-esteem and a sense of belonging by seeing reflections of themselves and their cultural heritage in their play environment. Diverse toys and books also provide “windows” through which children learn acceptance and empathy towards people who don’t look or act like they do.
Thoughtful touches throughout the space help kids learn about our diverse world through play. Fuerte shares embroidered treasures from her Panamanian heritage in a glass case near the reading nook — over time, she envisions working with local groups to curate exhibits from other cultures. Signs adjacent to many of the structures highlight the culture by which they were inspired, as well as some follow-up activities and questions to help parents prompt discussion.
Child Wonder the World is also a store. Curating the play space and shop from a variety of sources, Fuerte has brought in dolls in a rainbow of skin tones, books by #OwnVoice authors and other merchandise that financially benefits the original creators. She doesn’t think inclusiveness should be a check-the-box exercise, though. Dismayed by the stereotypical features she found on some Asian dolls, she’s opted to keep looking for the right ones rather than purchasing a token option.
Safe space for everyone
Opening an indoor play space is no small endeavor at any time, let alone in a pandemic. I appreciated the attention to making Child Wonder the World a safe space — masks are required for everyone over age 3, surfaces are cleaned regularly, an air purifier runs to help with ventilation and capacity is limited.
The posted rules for the play space also encourage inclusiveness and respect. Rules emphasize using gentle language, asking for consent and giving space to others.
Short bamboo mats surround the play space, keeping little ones safely inside while allowing parents to watch from the bright blue seating area on the other side. I couldn’t help but plop into the inviting play area, but I can envision a future visit where I catch up on emails — while my son builds sandcastles and explores cultures of the world.
If you go…
Open hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 10:30 a.m.–6 p.m.
Admission: $15 for the first child and $5 for each additional child. For families with SNAP or EBT cards, admission is reduced to $5 for the first child and $2.50 per additional child. Babies under 6 months and adults enter free. Bring socks for each kid, although there are extras available for $2 per pair.
Reservations: Reservations for open play are not currently needed, but may be in the future. Paying daily admission allows in-and-out privileges for the day.
Parking: There is a small parking lot, as well as free street parking throughout the neighborhood.
Facilities: You’ll find a single-stall restroom with a changing table (plan to take used diapers home) and a step stool.