Iowa City Needs More Early-Morning Play Options

On a Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I texted a mom friend to see if she wanted to meet up at Dodge Street Coffeehouse. It opens early, has great coffee, and has a small play area, so it’s in steady rotation with my kids. She replied, “sounds lovely, we’ve been up since 6 a.m.!”

Girl, same.

My kids are early risers. They always have been.

A few years ago my husband’s cousin mentioned his toddlers slept in until 8 a.m. and I was like, “children can do that?!”

It absolutely blew my mind, because in my house 6:30 a.m. is a luxurious morning of sleeping in.

Iowa City Needs More Early-Morning Play Options: Here's one at Dodge Street Coffeehouse.
Breakfast before playtime at Dodge Street Coffeehouse

On many mornings, one or both of my boys will come into our bedroom shortly after 5 a.m. On weekdays, it’s rough but because my husband and I start our workdays at 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m., we’re up early regardless. On weekends, however, we move slower and congregate on the couch in pajamas, zoning out on PBS Kids or Disney+, waiting for our day to start.

Part of the wait is because there are few places open early on weekend mornings.

In warmer months, there are more options. On a Saturday, we may grab breakfast at the Iowa City Farmers Market, hang out on the Ped Mall playground, and head to the Iowa City Public Library when it opens at 10 a.m.

In the winter, however, there is little to fill the four hours between my kids waking up and the library opening.

Most of our favorites have similar Saturday hours: Coralville Public Library opens at 9 a.m. and the Iowa Children’s Museum opens at 10 a.m. Sundays are often out for us to do something all together because 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. openings run too close to nap time.

The early morning choices tend to be smaller. I almost hate to mention them here because I love when my kids have their run of the place.

Coral Ridge Mall opens early for walkers before stores open, so it’s a great time to hit up the play area (I’ve been there on weekend mornings as early as 7 a.m.). Dodge Street Coffeehouse opens at 7 a.m., and Sidekick Coffee & Books opens at 8 a.m.

Iowa City Needs More Early-Morning Play Options: Here's one at the play space at Coralridge Mall.
Pre-store opening at Coral Ridge Mall play area

There are so many very practical and logical reasons behind setting a business or organization’s operating hours. I’m sure our indoor kid-friendly spaces open at a time that makes sense for their staff, supports their bottom line, and meets community demand. I’m just saying that if my kids get more weekend morning screen time, you may be able to hear their brains slush around when they jump off the couch.

Iowa City entrepreneurs, listen up. Open an early morning indoor play space and I will give you my money.

For full disclosure, I have poor entrepreneurial instincts. I thought Facebook was a passing trend and still don’t understand why the Kardashians are famous. That being said, I’m fairly confident I’m not alone.

Your target demographic is out there and we want to get the kids out of the house.

Here’s a few Chicago-suburb-inspired suggestions: the former Lucky’s location in the Iowa City Marketplace could be a great location for a set-up like Little Beans Cafe (located in Chicago and Evanston, IL). A vacant storefront in Old Capitol Town Center could function similarly to Northbrook Play (Northbrook, IL). Or, perhaps one of our local parks & recreation departments could take a look at the Exploritorium, run by the Skokie Park District (Skokie, IL).

I think it’s worth considering. Just please — for the love of coffee — open early.

Where do you take your kids to play early in Iowa City?

Susie is a mom of two, book-lover and frequent challah baker. In addition to working at The University of Iowa, Susie is a PTA volunteer and sorority advisor. She loves date nights in the Ped Mall, catching a show at the Englert, and most of all, cuddling her family on the couch.


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