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Cincinnati Models Sweden For Safe, Stimulating Play

Little Village, City Gospel Mission's free play space in Westwood, is open for business. Even parents whose kids have been coming a short time say they've noticed advances in their children's development.

City Gospel Mission has converted an old nursing home into a safe, stimulating, learning environment designed for children ages birth through five. Little Village is modeled after something similar in Sweden that Program Director Melanie Gomez experienced when she lived there.

Eighty percent of one- to 5-year-olds attend preschool in Sweden.

"Play is essential for childhood development and in so many neighborhoods they're aren't places that have easy access that are affordable for those in need," she says.

Gomez explains how at Little Village, parents and caregivers stay with their children and are welcome to bring older siblings. There's no age restriction. Gomez says it's all about purposeful learning, meeting neighbors and getting connected to community resources.

"Ninety percent of development happens before we ever hit grade school learning," she says. "Those early years are the most significant for rhythm setting, for foundational learning and it all happens through play." 

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Jordan Schneider checks out the sensory table in the science room.

Volunteer Michelle Schneider brings her three kids, all under the age of five, to Little Village. She worked with Gomez to open the play space. "We have been praying and dreaming and painting for a really long time."

City Gospel Mission says Little Village was made possible by a generous grant from Impact 100. The Andrew Jergens Foundation and the Ohio Children's Foundation also contributed.

Dramatic play is by far the most popular room at Little Village, followed by blocks and building. There are also rooms to read, play games and do puzzles; an art room; the science and sensory room; a place to tumble; and an infant room.

On Wednesdays Little Village has a Spanish sing and story time.

For mother Paris Cocrel it's a "calm place." There is a seating area with snacks for parents. She often brings her 14-month-old daughter Melody to Little Village and has noticed big improvements in her development.

"Before we got here she couldn't crawl and then she started crawling because she saw other kids crawl and then the first time she came here again kids were running around. She could only take 5-10 steps at home and then she started taking a good 20 and kept continuing on," explains Cocrel.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
This is a rare quiet time at Little Village.

Little Village is on Harrison near McHenry. Its hours are:

  • Tuesday & Thursday: 9:30 a.m.- 6:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday & Friday: 8:30 a.m.- 5:00 p.m.
  • Saturdays (2nd & 4th of every month): 8:00 a.m.- 1:00 p.m.
  • Closed Sundays and Mondays

Cost: free
To see more photos from inside Little Village click the photo at top. 

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.