For those of you who have only visited IKEA on the weekends when the aisles are jam-packed with shoppers, you are probably thinking that pitching IKEA as a destination for kid-friendly fun is a bit of a stretch.Â But, can you keep a secret?
I recently discovered that IKEA during the week is simply not the IKEA you know.
IKEA is known for its commitment to family-friendly shopping, but my past IKEA runs were usually on Saturdays.Â As a result of the sheer mass of shoppers, I had yet to see my kids enjoy the shopping experience.
When I arrived at IKEA mid-morning on a Tuesday with my three younger kids in tow to return an item, my expectations were low.Â But upon arrival, I was able to snag the very first Family Parking spot almost directly next to the main entrance.Â This was my first clue that I was in for a whole new experience.
I planned for my first stop to be “Smaland,” IKEA’s childcare facility, but they were not opening for another fifteen minutes.Â Instead we headed upstairs to the showroom, and this is where the magic really happened.Â We practically had the second floor to ourselves, and the endless chain of mock living spaces, each with its own creative flair, provided the perfect setting for my kids’ favorite activity, playing house. We ate an imaginary breakfast in our airy kitchen, had a slumber party in the funky studio apartment, and enjoyed a divine dinner party in our swanky NYC loft.
After almost an hour of playing house, we decided to give Smaland another try. I was pleased to discover that parents can check their kids into Smaland for up to ninety minutes on weekdays (versus forty-five minutes on the weekends). The service is free to shoppers, and parents are given a beeper in case of emergencies. Smaland was clean and well-staffed, and its creative design provided plenty of inspiration for imaginative play. My kids especially loved playing in the oversized shoe, and burning off energy in the ball pit. Smaland is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Children must be 37″ to 54″ tall and potty trained–no diapers or pull-ups.Â I was able to return my items and do some browsing, while my kids had an absolute blast and even met some new friends.
By the time I picked the kids up from Smaland, they had worked up an appetite. We ventured back upstairs to IKEA’s cafeteria-style restaurant. Again, it is clear that IKEA had families in mind when designing their restaurant and its kid-friendly menu. There were plenty of options for healthy kids’ meals starting at just 99 cents, including fresh fruit, pasta, Swedish meatballs, yogurt, low-sugar juice boxes, pb&j, and even a selection of organic baby food.Â I admit, we settled for the not-so-healthy macaroni and cheese meal with French fries, and found a seat in the children’s area, complete with brightly colored, child-sized tables and chairs. There were also plenty of high-chairs and booster seats on hand.
I have yet to stop raving about my favorite feature of the restaurant — carts that are designed to carry up to four full food trays neatly stacked and secure.Â As we all know, trying to juggle a full cafeteria tray while carrying a diaper bag and maneuvering through checkout with kids in tow is next to impossible. The carts made checkout and cleanup an absolute breeze.
As we exited the restaurant, we walked through the kids’ toy area on our way to the stairs. This may be perhaps my only gripe, as it is practically impossible to head out of the restaurant without walking through the oh-so-tempting toy area. On the other hand, there are some adorable and affordable trinkets that even I couldn’t resist (cute stuffed animals for as low as $1.99, and my kids’ new favorite toy, the BYGGU construction set for $9.99).
After all of the excitement of our adventure, the drive home was surprisingly relaxed since my kids were asleep by the time I reached the highway.Â This gave me plenty of time to daydream about my fantasy kitchen, furnished by IKEA of course.
IKEA Stoughton – 1 IKEA Way, Stoughton, MA 02072
Hours: Mon-Sun 10am-9pm
Directions from Providence:
Take 95 North from Providence. Take exit 12 to merge onto I-93 N toward Boston. Take the exit onto RT-24 South. Take exit 19B toward Central Street. Merge onto Dykeman Way/Harrison Boulevard. Turn right at Stockwell Drive. At the traffic circle, take the second exit onto Ikea Way.
Photo Credit: Puck at IKEA by Jaci Arnone