When my sister’s dear friend, Jennie Monness started her blog Mo’Mommies, I was thrilled for her, as she dedicated her life (pre-parenthood) to studying childhood development, and was probably the most prepared mother-to-be I knew. I loved the philosophy behind her play-based methods, and her blog helped her create an actual physical space for babies and children to come learn. Union Square Play is a new play-space which offers drop-in classes throughout the day where children are encouraged to explore the environment and find activities that foster their curiosities to expand their development. There is a beautiful community of parents that have found each other through their children in USP, who have created a very nurturing and supportive culture, that is unique and special. Jennie has also brought on one of my personal favorite activities, playAGAIN with Lisa Zaretsky, who now has a permanent space within USP, so go say hello for me!
How many years have you been in business in NYC?
Union Square Play opened the Summer of 2018 for our “soft launch” and our Grand Opening Block Party was January 2019.
How did you get your start and what was your initial inspiration?
I have studied and worked in early childhood for about 12 years. I first started the blog, Mo’ Mommies at around 9 months pregnant with my first child. I realized that with all of my experience, there were going to be many things that would come more naturally to me. I wanted to share my knowledge and guidance with other moms as a resource, while also going through it alongside them. At first, the blog was a way of showing what I was doing with my young baby to encourage curiosity and confidence in her through open ended play. Then, once I became a mom myself, I quickly realized how none of us are immune to the overwhelming feeling of becoming a mom and not knowing what to do at times. Even me who thought I knew it all! So my blog turned into an honest and open account of motherhood in addition to being a resource on play. A Mo’ Mommies mom tribe was formed via instagram, moms that all felt similarly about thoughtful, intentional play and just being real about motherhood. I quickly discovered that I needed a physical space to truly bring all of this to life in person and to bring all of these moms together. So when I met a mom in one of the classes I was teaching at the time, and she said she was starting a play space under her Kellogg’s restaurant, I knew it was meant to be. She asked me to come see it, and the rest is history.
What do you feel differentiates you from others in your field?
At Union Square Play, we give babies the opportunity to be who they are. We created a place where the environment is thoughtful and where the classes are engaging. Our classes are truly unique where children can be dressed down to diapers and explore creative materials such as paint, flour, and water. These classes embody the philosophy that we all believe in; exposing young children to things that spark wonder: The Dough Project, BeBox Kids, and playAGAIN to name a few! We want to know, educate and support each family who walk through our door. Not only by showing them what young babies really deserve but by also welcoming them in with open arms to be able to spend time with one another. That’s what built our community which is what makes our play space different from any other that’s out there. Everyone who comes in feels like part of our “village,” you see people who you know and you stop and chat and grab coffee together. You come yourself to feel part of a tribe, or you send a caregiver with your child and confidently know that they’re getting the best experience. In NYC, having a “home away from home” where there’s plenty of open space and having a place where families can connect with one another during an otherwise isolating time, is everything.
What do you feel gives you longevity in this big city with so many options?
Because we built Union Square Play with the children in mind first and foremost. We didn’t think “oh what will win the parents over” we thought “what would be best for the children” and I believe that’s the starting point that differentiates us. If parents see that their children are happy, engaged and busy, it makes them happy. We believe that children deserve the best; a beautiful space, not an overwhelming one, engaging classes, not just entertaining, overstimulating ones, and respecting children as people, not as incapable and helpless. I don’t really think that mentality exists in enough spaces. That mindset also doesn't go “out of style” which is why I know that USP will always evolve and be the most thoughtful for young children and families.
How do you positively impact your clientele?
By really knowing them. My partners and I tell my staff to always be generous, warm and make them feel like family. If we see a parent struggling with a stroller, we don’t ask them if they need help. We tell them we're helping them, we walk them to the car and show them how to install it. We don’t judge, we support. Of course there are always growing pains with a new business and we're continuously troubleshooting and working through them, always putting our families first.
One noteworthy aspect of our structure is flexible booking. All of our classes are drop in, no commitment or membership fees, and you can cancel at the last minute. We know how hard it is to predict a young child’s schedule between illness, naps, traffic, and just #mombrain - we get it.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I’m truly living my dream. I get to be around babies and young children everyday. I make sure I still teach every week, to stay inspired by them. They are born kind, pure, and curious, and to be able to help preserve and foster that, is the most rewarding role I could ever ask for.
What is your favorite secret NYC spot?
The Materials Center. It’s a haven of repurposed materials on the top floor of Beginnings Nursery. It’s been curated and displayed for the public to come in and purchase treasures that inspire so much in young children, and that ordinarily would have been thrown in the trash.
How do you benefit mamas?
By opening them up to seeing their babies. Reminding them to take time to just watch them, learn about them, see them for who they are right from the start. This, alone, is so incredibly powerful. You get to know who your child really is, you start to know what to do as a mom, the more you get to know them. It’s all about empowerment.
Union Square Play stays true to this philosophy too, which helps bring like minded people together and in turn, builds a village to support mommies. I also like to think of USP as being that “basement” of awesome space that we all would have had in the suburbs that we don’t have in NYC.
I have so much more in store that will continue to benefit moms everywhere, we’re just getting started!
What is the most memorable feedback a client has given you?
One of my followers/friends on instagram told me that everyone compliments her because her daughter is so independent and self assured in her play and interactions. She thanked me and said that even though knew how she wanted her baby to learn, that Mo’ Mommies and Union Square Play gave her the guidance, support and confidence that she needed to achieve it. That’s what it’s about. Empowering parents, not just by being their guru, but by giving them the tools to become their own experts.
Pay it forward and name your top colleagues in the same field or related field.
My partners in Union Square Play and more: Sandra Di Capua and Anthony Rudolf of Co Create.
My soul sister, Lisa Zaretsky, of playAGAIN who reminds me to stay true to the philosophy we believe in.
My mentor and RIE Associate, Johanna Herwitz who taught me how to trust myself.
My creative crew, Chelsea Milkman of The Dough Project and Brooke Jensen of BeBox Kids who inspire so much exploration in young children and myself!
What is the best advice anyone's ever given you? Or what is your "mantra" / words to live by?
My staying sane partner, Arielle Haspel, taught me how to approach each task with intention. I ask myself all the time “what is my intention” before doing something. It’s an amazing way to stay grounded and to remember what it’s all about.
As moms, the day can escape us, what is your best time-saving trick?