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Playcare! A Look at Seattle Drop-off Day Care Options

A new set of businesses is emerging and leaving parents with a sigh of relief: Quality play centers that offer flexible, hourly care. It's what the owners call "playcare." With no long-term monetary commitment, and a schedule that works with theirs, parents are finding time to get things done while their children get the benefit of a fun, social environment.

The reasons for using playcare run the gamut. Some like to run interruption-free errands, others take a yoga class or use the time to get some work done. There has been a shift lately in the need for flexible care, which explains why more and more drop-off play centers are popping up.

"It's not just the mom who needs time to herself now; we are seeing more and more parents who can't pay full-time child care in this economy, or don't have a set schedule for work, and are looking for something flexible," said Marybeth O'Neill, owner of Whirlwinds, one of the first playcares on the scene. "There is a definite need for this type of care. It strikes a chord with people. It's a treat for the kids, and parents feel good they are leaving their child in a happy, positive

The idea is catching on: The five locations or programs in this story all opened within the last year in King County. Getting started with these groups is pretty straightforward. As with other child care settings, a registration form is required. Some have an initial fee of $20 or $25.

Parents may register their children ahead of time, or just drop-in the day they are in need. The maximum stay for children is four hours. Depending on the location, kids need to be at least 2 or 2 ½ and are not required to be potty-trained.

Loretta Kennedy, family services coordinator at Child Care Resources, a nonprofit offering support and referrals for families seeking child care, suggests visiting the playcare and getting their daily schedule ahead of time. Most have engaging monthly themes so the activities are fresh and fun. "Go over the schedule with your child beforehand so he or she can get excited about the activities and know what to expect."


Blossoming Buds Cottage

Blossoming Buds Cottage, the sister facility to Blossoming Buds Preschool, opened in July. Both are located in the Bryant neighborhood in Northeast Seattle. The Cottage is an inviting drop-off play center with a preschool atmosphere. It follows a schedule, repeated twice daily, with free choice, circle time, snacks and storytime. Parents can drop off whenever it is convenient, but arriving at the beginning of the two four-hour sessions – 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. – gets children there at the start of the routine. In sticking with the preschool design, kids are encouraged to explore monthly themes through singing, games and art. Blossoming Buds Cottage is bright and pristine with lots of toys to explore. The 3,000 square foot space includes a wonderful art studio, reading nook, playhouse, puzzles, blocks and more.

The Details: Blossoming Buds Cottage accepts children ages 2 ½ to 5 years old for two- to four-hour sessions.
Cost: $8.50 an hour for one child, $4.50 an hour for siblings (children who are not potty-trained are an extra $1 per hour, but the Cottage provides the supplies).
Hours: Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact: 7501 35th Ave. N.E., 206-525-0795; www.blossomingbudscottage.com.

Seattle Learning Center Playcare

The Seattle Learning Center's new Playcare program, which opened in September in Queen Anne, has its own niche in the market. Utilizing a 1,600 square foot martial arts studio, most of the three-hour Playcare is spent in active play, developing the gross motor skills and athletic confidence of children. Kids have a blast with martial arts master Jason Purcell, who teaches age-appropriate martial arts and physical fitness activities. The obstacle course is great for kids with a lot of energy. Happening in the hours after Seattle Learning Center's morning preschool program and before martial arts classes, this afternoon Playcare has a nice mixture of structure and free choice, with arts and crafts, toys, books and, of course, lots of climbing and jumping.

The Details: Seattle Learning Center admits children between the ages of 2 and 5, as long as they don't need a nap during the three-hour session. Parents must pay for the full three hours but may come and go during this time as they please.
Cost:: $30 a day, $120 a week or $300 a month; the sibling discount is $5 for each attending child and discounted punch cards are available.
Hours: Monday through Friday from noon to 3 p.m.
Contact: 340 W. Nickerson St., 206-799-2845; www.seattlelearningcenter.com.


With an already-thriving location adjacent to University Village, a second Whirlwinds opened in South Lake Union in December. Both spaces are set up the same, with approximately 2,000 square feet of open space, cheery walls, high ceilings and toy after toy for discovery. Out on the floor of the new location there is a climbing structure, mini roller coaster and ride-on toys for active play; puzzles and toys for manipulative play; and dress-up clothes, kitchen set and dollhouse for pretend play. There is also a handy snack and art room and a cozy little alcove upstairs for reading. Depending on what the kids are up for, Whirlwinds has a loose routine the teachers repeat three times a day with storytime, singing, activities, snack and art projects. The staff makes customer service a top priority, getting to know the families individually and having an open door policy so new families can get acquainted.

The Details: Whirlwinds accepts kids ages 2½ until their sixth birthday with a two-hour minimum and four-hour maximum stay.
Cost: $8 an hour for one child, $12 an hour for two and $20 an hour for three, with a $20 minimum per family per day. The South Lake Union location has a bring-in-a-friend-for-free deal running through the end of February.
Hours: Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact: 4530 Union Bay Place, Ste. 208, 206-729-9463 (University Village); 1310 Mercer St., 206-623-6666 (South Lake Union); www.whirlwindskids.com.


Dizzy's Bus Stop Drop & Go

Already a staple in the indoor play business, Dizzy's Bus Stop added a Drop & Go program one year ago. This program utilizes Dizzy's great space for structured, drop-off play. From circle time in the lobby, to the work room with Play-Doh, puzzles and art, to the tumbling room with monkey bars, trampoline and slide, kids have much to engage their attention. The Drop & Go children even pay a visit to the outside bus, the gym-on-wheels that travels around the greater Seattle area. The half-hour "Tumblebus Time!" at 1 p.m. each weekday is especially fun, when the Drop & Go kids meet up with the preschool kids to learn a new tumbling skill. Parents appreciate this family-run business, the enthusiastic teachers and the safe environment it provides.

The Details: Dizzy's admits kids from 2 to 6 years of age for as little as one hour and as many as four hours.
Cost: $10 for the first child, $5 for siblings; pre-pay for 15 hours and receive a discount.
Hours: Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (after 3 p.m. by appointment only).
Contact: 3205 148th Ave. S.E. Ste. E., Bellevue, 425-564-8287; www.dizzybus.com.

The Nest

This new drop-off play and learning center in Woodinville is an Eastside gem. Designed with the best of children's museums in mind, The Nest has 4,000 square feet of appealing space filled with "migration stations," or themed rooms. The Exploration room offers blocks and toys to stack, sort and build; the Exhilaration room get kids moving with a tree house, teeter totters and balls; and the Fascination room encourages pretend play with dress-up clothes, a small stage and kitchen gear. There is even a Relaxation room for children to pull up a cushion for quiet time or work on a puzzle. All of these bright and colorful areas open up to a large central hub, adorned with a life-sized tree, where kids have snack and circle time. The Nest offers a good combination of teacher-led activities and free-time fun, and kids are always welcome to roam around playing with whatever tickles their fancy.

The Details: The Nest accepts children ages 2 to 6, with no minimum time requirement and a maximum drop-off time of four hours.
Cost: $8 an hour for the first child, $5 an hour for each additional child; frequent customer discounts are available.
Hours: Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Also, check out The Nest's Parents' Night Out program each Saturday night from 4 to 10 p.m., for children ages 2 to 9. The cost is $25 for one child and $15 for siblings. Contact 17530 132nd Ave. N.E. Ste. B, Woodinville, 425-415-6378; www.thenestkids.com.

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