Play date: New business provides social outlet for kids and their grownups

2014-04-06T03:15:00Z 2014-04-11T15:00:07Z Play date: New business provides social outlet for kids and their grownupsBy ERIK OLSON The Billings Gazette

As a longtime nanny, Molly Bittrolff has always looked for something to occupy the kids under her care. In her new business venture, she’ll help others with little ones do the same.

Bittrolff, 25, is preparing to open Play-K-tion April 14 at 2010 Grand Ave., Suite 1, an indoor playground for kids up to 5 years old. It’s near the Carpet Barn in a strip mall.

“It’s definitely good for people who are home all day with the kids to get out and talk to other parents,” Bittrolff said.

A native of Boston, Bittrolff moved to Montana about two years ago. She wanted to be closer to her boyfriend, Billings native Kirk Dehler, whom she’d met at a Red Sox game.

She started working as a nanny in Massachusetts when she was 15, and she also worked at a day care center. In that region, indoor playgrounds were all the rage, and they were frequent gathering places for nannies and parents, Bittrolff said.

In Billings, Bittrolff found a job as a nanny for little Gabby Ryan, now almost 2 years old, whose parents both work.

“Spending a year with her, I decided, ‘Billings really needs a place like this,’ ” she said.

About 7,500 kids younger than age 5 live in Billings, according to the U.S. Census, giving Bittrolff an ample pool to attract customers. Play-K-tion can handle about 30 kids at a time, she said.

The cozy, 1,600-square-foot space houses dozens of toys and a seating area for parents and other adults. Bittrolff said she spent about $16,000 buying equipment and renovating the space, which was formerly a clothing store.

Inside, a 3-foot-high wooden jungle gym stands to the left, a place for kids to crawl over and slide down. At $6,000, the equipment is the featured piece of the playground, Bittrolff said.

Elsewhere, Play-K-tion has a chalkboard for drawing, a plastic race car track and a play grocery stand.

“I’m very into letting kids be kids without technology. This is for kids to run around and be kids,” said Bittrolff, who has a degree in exercise science from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Play-K-tion is not a day care, and kids must be accompanied by an adult during their stay. The playground has free wireless Internet so parents can get work done while their kids are having fun, Bittrolff said.

At $7 per child per session, it’s also an inexpensive way for children to meet others their own age. And when the weather turns nasty, it’s an alternative to remaining cooped up at home, she said.

“That interaction with other kids is so important. ... It’s a nice place for them to hang out and make a mess other than the house,” Bittrolff said.

Once Play-K-tion opens, Bittrolff will relinquish her duties caring for Gabby, but she expects the girl will visit and play at the gym. Bittrolff is the only employee, but said she plans to hire several more later this year.

Play-K-tion will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. Weekends will be reserved for birthday parties and other group gatherings, Bittrolff said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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