We Free Hearts play space. Credit: JIaYing Grygiel
The day before we visited, a toddler tornado had apparently swept through We Free Hearts, a new indoor play space, leaving toy debris everywhere and kids crying — crying because they didn’t want to go home.
“It felt so good,” recalled Melanie Granger, owner of We Free Hearts, smiling. “Everything got destroyed.”
Kids at the play space know Granger as Ms. Mel, and she greets every visitor with her huge smile. She’s warm and sweet, and the play space embodies that same inviting feeling. Creating this play space, which opened a couple of months ago, was a move directed and inspired by the community, Granger said.
“That’s my sole purpose," she explained, "creating a safe and all-inclusive space for families. What’s a better way to express that than play and laughter?”
We Free Hearts sits at the heart of South Park, a working-class neighborhood in south Seattle just across the Duwamish River from Boeing Field. The play space is one giant open room — terrific sightlines! — in a historic 1926 building that formerly held a dance hall. Weathered hardwood floors, exposed beams wrapped in twinkle lights... instead of dolled up couples, now it’s filled with toddlers and preschoolers tearing joyfully about the room.
For kids, there’s a bouncy house, a taped-off race track, a reading nook with beanbags and bins of books, a pretend-play area with a kitchen and three-story dollhouse, plus child-sized tables stocked with art supplies and chunky puzzles. There is lots of room to run around, and tons of different toys to explore. Did I mention there is a bouncy house? Granger said she plans to rotate toys monthly to keep things exciting.
For adults, there’s a lounge area — the “parent staycation zone” — where grown-ups can relax while kids play. Seating throughout the room makes nursing super convenient. There’s free wifi, but during our visit caregivers mostly opted to chat with each other instead of staring at their phones. It felt very un-Seattle and very wonderful.
We Free Hearts welcomes kids from ages 6 months to 6 years. We saw a darling 3-week-old newborn there, too; babes in arms are welcome. The play space is up a flight of stairs and there isn’t an elevator, but Granger will help you carry your stroller upstairs. Remember to wear socks; no shoes and no bare feet allowed inside.
It’s perfectly fine to bring outside food but hold the nuts. Help yourself to complimentary coffee and popcorn. Snacks are available for purchase for $1 (think juice boxes and Goldfish).
I asked Granger her inspiration for opening We Free Hearts, and I got to hear the whole back story. When she was 23, Granger decided to become a foster parent on her own. It was a particular calling to try to be a positive influence on young kids. “My job is to show you there is a different way of life and you have choices,” she said.
The kids wound up changing her life more than anything. Her first placement was a 6-month-old baby, and over the next six years, she took care of some 30 kids in her 2-bedroom apartment. One of them was a 4-day-old baby who became her adopted son, who is now 7.
That foster care journey is what led Granger, now 33, to open We Free Hearts. It’s about making a space for families to be comfortable and to feel included, and to build community through meeting neighbors and making connections.
“One thing I definitely go by, I truly believe we are limitless. We are powerful as individuals, but limitless as a community united,” Granger says. “We can do a lot of things by ourselves, but it takes a lot of people around us to get us to where we need to be.”
If you go...
Find it: We Free Hearts is located in the South Park neighborhood of Seattle at 1253 S. Cloverdale Street. There is free parking in the lot or hop on Metro route 132; it stops nearby.
Hours: We Free Hearts is currently open for play Monday–Wednesday, 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Check Facebook or Instagram for updates and occasional changes to open hours.
Cost: $10 per child (plus tax), siblings $5. Babies under 6 months in age are free.
Drop-off care available: For potty-trained children ages 2.5–6, drop-off care is offered for $20/hour; siblings are an additional $5/hour. A one-time $20 registration fee per family is required to get started. Drop-off care is available Monday–Wednesday, 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Families can register and participate in drop-off care on the spot but do call ahead if you have questions or care concerns or if your child has some special care needs.
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