A fun place to learn

(Lylah Alphonse for The Boston Globe)
By Lylah M. Alphonse
Globe Correspondent / February 5, 2011

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Given the amount of snow we have had this winter, it is no surprise that indoor play spaces and bounce-house-filled birthday party venues have seen a lot of business. Imajine That has a twist on the typical play space: It has an educational angle that your children might not notice but that parents will really appreciate.

Located in a former industrial complex in Lawrence, the 12,000-square-foot space has plenty of room to let loose and learn. I would say it’s perfect for ages 3 to 7; the company doesn’t specify an age limit, but the creative spaces are geared to the younger crowd. Music and theater classes are available, some of them on a drop-in basis. The reading nook (actually much larger than a nook) has a PBS “Between the Lions’’ theme and books galore. “Peep and the Big Wide World,’’ another PBS favorite, makes an appearance in the clubhouse, where children can experiment with scientific concepts (music, especially drums, can be an entry point to teaching some basic physics). A special area for infants and toddlers is full of ride-on toys, those block-and-bead manipulatives, stacking toys, and other age-appropriate offerings.

On the day we were there, the dragon-shaped bouncy house was a hit, as was the dinosaur-themed climbing structure, which was so big I was tempted to crawl in, too. But the crowning glory for my little helper was a huge imaginary grocery store, complete with carts, baskets, and cash registers. He spent ages in there, selecting plastic meat, stacking toy apples, pushing a cart from one shelving unit to another, and examining the laminated boxes of brand-named snacks. It’s an adorable setup.

It’s no surprise that there is a strict shoes-off policy and an even stricter sanitizing regimen; costumes and soft toys are washed each night, hard surfaces see plenty of disinfectant daily, and hand sanitizer and boxes of tissues are strategically placed at child- and adult-level throughout the room. Imajine That has a well-stocked, reasonably priced snack bar and comfortable seating area, definitely a perk for parents. Another perk: It is located directly above Salvatore’s Restaurant, which makes Imajine That a natural for date night with built-in babysitting ($12.95 per child, with a discount for siblings; reservations are required, call or check the website for more information).

Imajine That, Riverwalk Mill Building, 354 Merrimack St. (Building 1, Entrance A, 2d Floor), Lawrence; 978-682-5338; Sun-Thu 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri-Sat 9 a.m.- 8 p.m. $8.95 for children 1 year and older, $2.95 for younger babies, and $1 for adults, who must supervise their children at all times. Memberships available.

Who: Globe correspondent Lylah M. Alphonse and her 4-year-old son

What: interactive, educational play time

Where: Imajine That, Lawrence

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