Why The Playful Space?
I'd love to answer that question by sharing the events that transpired in bringing me back to my hometown of Bakersfield, CA and inspired me to chase my dream of building a business focused on play, creativity, and bringing more JOY to the community.
In 2002, I graduated from Garces Memorial High School and set off for the special little coastal town of San Luis Obispo (SLO) to attend Cal Poly. From a very young age, I knew I wanted to work with children & families in some capacity. I wanted to be in the mix of children's insatiable curiosity, their "aha moments" when learning a new skill, and their wonder and zest for life. I studied Child Development and Psychology and worked for Parks and Recreation in SLO as a Director of summer camps and an Activity Leader during the school year. I loved this job so much that I would often forget to go pick up my paycheck. Ha! What a gig! I planned a wide range of art, movement, and sensory activities based on themes and interests and served as a mentor to elementary students. I had the freedom to try out what I was learning in my classes at Cal Poly and discover what types of activities children were really excited about! I also had a very memorable internship at SLO Montessori school, where I learned about the philosophy of "play is the work of the child" and how children crave REAL experiences and REAL materials. I wasn't aware of it yet, but I was slowly building my own curated philosophy by pulling from my own experiences and education from the greats such as Maria Montessori and Reggio Emilia.
In 2006, I graduated from Cal Poly and entered the real world! I decided to move to the Bay Area and give teaching a try! I taught Pre K at Google Kinderplex, an employer sponsored preschool setting for the children of Google employees. I learned so much about lesson planning, Kinder readiness, and building relationships with families. PLAY was always at the center of my work and was what always made everything more fun! After a few beautiful years in this setting, I was promoted to Program Supervisor at a new program in Berkeley serving children of Pixar Animation Studios employees. As you can probably guess, creativity ran rampant in this setting, and I was inspired daily
by animators and artists. In this new role, I trained teachers and facilitated workshops on play based learning and this environment sparked my interest in adult workshops incorporating more play and creativity into daily life.
The administrative side of that role took its toll on me. I needed MORE time for me to create, travel, and explore new interests. I wanted to find a way to continue to work with children but have more time for ME! In 2010, this desire led me to my next adventure: a nanny for a family in Menlo Park. The boys were in school part of the day, so I had flexibility to take art classes at local museums and colleges. A few of my favorites were: surreal collage, ceramics, and watercolor. Then my adventurous spirit and travel itch led me to Chicago in 2012, where I continued to work as a nanny. Boy was this California girl not ready for the cold! I discovered very early on that taking kids to the park in the dead of winter is not an option! I loved taking the kids to museums, exploring and trying interesting activities with them in this new city! This was the moment I discovered "play spaces": indoor playgrounds for kiddos! Chicago had a handful of these little gems chock full of toys and opportunities to move and get the wiggles out! (Shout out to Little Beans and Purple Monkey, thanks for the inspiration!) The kids had a blast at these spaces, but I couldn't find one that was "all inclusive" offering art and sensory experiences as well as movement, free play, and music. My idea for The Playful Space was born....
I dreamed of building a place that had it all! Imaginative play, art experiences, a play structure, a place for parents to relax and have a cup of coffee, music classes, movement, all of it! I even went to a small business workshop to get started! Well, it turns out the Chicago market was pretty saturated with play spaces at that time, but I always kept that idea and dream in my back pocket. Fast forward to 2014, it was time to move again! The family I nannied for moved to the burbs and quite frankly I did not want to live through another polar vortex winter in Chicago! My parents were retiring to Ventura and offered me my childhood home in Bakersfield. I jumped on the opportunity to start fresh (and I missed the sunshine), now would be my chance to build The Playful Space!
I got settled and began substitute teaching to make ends meet while I researched how to start my business. Being completely honest with you, I let fear hold me back from chasing this dream. I was too scared. I stayed in my comfort zone and decided to get my teaching credential after falling in love with a special education class I had subbed in(I also fell in love with a cowboy.) Good ol' Bakersfield for ya!
I married the cowboy, my wonderful husband Ben. We had a beautiful baby boy named Tommy and I coasted along as a Special Education teacher.
What I didn't anticipate was the postpartum depression after the birth of my son. It was a struggle to take care of my baby, my mental health, and my full-time job as a teacher. I enjoyed my work...I loved the hands-on approach, but it felt like something was missing. It was rewarding working with students with differences, but I felt pushed into a box of state standards and IEPs. I passed all the fun, creativity projects to my aides because I was swamped with paperwork and meetings. I had lost touch with the cornerstone of my teaching philosophy: PLAY and CREATIVITY!
I was very unhappy and depressed. I reached out to my friend Jessi and expressed thatI needed "a shock to my system." I went on a personal retreat to explore these feeling sat Stone Mountain Retreat in SLO where she tailored the weekend to what I wanted to work on. I had some huge breakthroughs regarding the lack of creativity in my life, my inner child, speaking my truth, and unhappiness in my job. It was the combination of this retreat and therapy that helped me discover I needed to make some big changes in my life.
I committed to : five to ten minutes of creativity a day, a daily gratitude practice and radical self-care. It was a game changer.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit....
I was forced to work from home and teach via Zoom with a 1-year-old and another baby on the way. You can only imagine what my classroom Zoom sessions looked like with ten 3-6 year old’s with disabilities. Pure chaos! To say I was "stressed" is an understatement. My hands-on approach was impossible through a computer screen, and it was time to go on maternity leave for my daughter's birth.
Being at home full time gave me the chance to slow down and focus on my babies AND myself. I made time for journaling, art projects, hikes on our ranch and cooking! I experimented with hands-on activities and art with my toddler. We PLAYED! As much as the "stay at home order" was difficult, it also gave me some of my most cherished memories with my son Tommy.
In July 2020, my daughter Suzy arrived...my angel, light bringer, warrior, pandemic baby! I felt a huge shift with her birth. I wanted my kids to see me chasing my dreams...I no longer wanted to coast along. I wanted to show them it is okay to take risks and follow your heart. If I fail, so what, I tried! The journey is the fun part. Isn't that what we all want for our children? I wanted them to SEE me playing and creating!
Fast forward to January 2021 and I hosted my first Create and Connect Retreat weekend with ten inspiring women. So many opportunities have been set into motion with all the love and support of this community...I am beyond grateful. Here I am...trying and stumbling, but putting my dream of The Playful Space into action. I hope some day to have that brick and mortar play space for children AND adults to express creativity and play here in Bakersfield. Stay tuned....