A CHAT WITH JESSICA ORTEGA - OWNER OF GIGGLES IN HIGHWOOD, IL
Hey Jess! Thanks for inviting me into your gorgeous space! My kids cannot get enough and ask me to come back daily! Let's dig in!
Can you tell me about the inspiration behind starting this play space and event location for young children?
Prior to founding Giggles, I was a nanny for five years and a preschool teacher for three years before that. In my first nanny position, I cared for two autistic children. I found that there weren’t many sensory friendly options in the North Shore and that most spaces focused heavily on gross motor offerings.
Through the years, my desire to create a space that reflected the child development beliefs I’d formed through my eight years as a childcare professional grew and grew. I dreamt of a space with clear lines of sight that was safe, calming, and built on community. It would be filled with open-ended offerings displayed in a beautiful place, very much inspired by the Reggio-Emilia approach and practice.
Giggles is exactly the space I dreamt about and what the North Shore has needed all these years and I am so grateful that we get to share it with you.
How do you create a sense of community and connection among families who visit your play space?
The simple answer: authenticity. Building a community starts with authenticity. I share our story, our goals, and our mission with anyone who’ll take the time to listen. Doing so helps to build the trust that’s needed to create a community. Oh, and also – understanding that our goal isn’t to connect Giggles to families. It’s to use Giggles as a way to connect families with other families, kiddos with other kiddos, carers with other carers, and so on.
E: Well, to your point I find you to be wildly authentic and I'm pretty sure we are already business besties.
Can you share some success stories or memorable moments from families who have experienced your services?
Giggles is a place truly built on connection. When I first started nannying, I created a Facebook group to try and meet other nannies in the area. The group never really got going and has sat quiet for the past six years.
On Giggles’ first day open, someone walked in and shared that another nanny had told her about our space. I searched for this other nanny and realized that I had connected with her only once before when I first started the Facebook group. I was in awe that someone I chatted with so briefly encouraged her friend to check out our space.
Fast forward to now, that someone who walked in on our first day open has become a Giggles member (once she came every day for a week, haha!!!) and is a cherished friend (who has even watched the store once when I needed to go on a break). If you’re reading this, love you Vorah!
E: I love that for you, as a largely one woman show it's important to both have people in your corner that you trust AND fit in those breaks when needed. Vorah you rock!
What kind of feedback have you received from parents about the benefits of your play space for their children's development?
I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from families complimenting us on how clean our space is, as well as how calming it is when they walk in. There are not many spaces like ours that are as cozy or that have the kind of offerings we do. Quite a few families say they feel like they’ve found the hidden gem of the North Shore and want to share with their friends, but not too many, so that it stays just the way it is <3
The true magic, in my opinion though, is watching children’s play expand as they continue to visit. In the beginning, with one of our member families, their little would cry any time I made eye contact. Fast forward to now, they come in at least three times a week and I enjoy when they come to play! Their little has gotten more and more comfortable and has grown in how he plays as well as his language development.
E: It's SO CLEAN and RELAXING! I second that sentiment. My kids are so calm when we come in. They play quietly and with intense focus, I love to see it.
How do you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and research in early childhood development to enhance your offerings?
It’s about reading and learning more and more about the tools, techniques, and actions we can take to help create an environment where children can thrive, as well as understanding that sometimes we get it wrong and all we can do is try to be better and make a change when we DO know better. I’d say the secret is to pretend you know nothing and learn from everyone and everything around you – not just reading articles or books.
Could you elaborate on any partnerships or collaborations you have with local organizations or experts in child development?
We have a very very close relationship with many organizations and companies in our small city, like the Highwood Library, the Chamber of Commerce, and Celebrate Highwood. I may have already mentioned this, but everything we do is rooted in intention and community. My fiance and I are local business owners and we just want to see our community thrive and help make it a better place to be and live, as well as do business.
One example of a close relationship would be our partnership with the Highwood Library. Since Giggles opened, our wonderful library has been going through renovations. We offered up our space to the library to host weekly storytimes during the summer and have since decided to continue the partnership and host at least one library event a month for our community. All of our events with the library are free and we are so grateful we get to give back in this way.
What do you find most rewarding about running a play space and event location for children in this age group?
I would say I love getting to meet families, nannies, and kiddos in the North Shore and connecting with them. I love hearing their stories and getting to pick their brains and learning more about them. There’s so much potential in stopping to listen – you never know what inspiration, ideas, or life lessons might come from these conversations.
Lastly, where can people find you? Physical location, socials, etc.
We are located in the heart of Highwood on Green Bay Road, in between Santi’s and VIP Stone & Tile. You can find us on most socials, all listed on our website - gigglesplay.com
Check Giggles out by clicking the links below: