I liked Kefi, Buckhead’s new kids’ play space, more than my 3-year-old did

The high-tech, educationally-based spot settles in across from Phipps Plaza

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Kefi Atlanta kids play space
ToyTropolis, where children can play with favorite toys

Photograph courtesy of Kefi

I hate indoor kids’ play spaces. There, I said it. Call me a bad mom, but the bright lights, crowds, constant screaming, and blatant overstimulation make me want to curl up in fetal position. Don’t even get me started on the germs. So when I heard about Kefi, a children’s entertainment center created by a Buckhead dad dissatisfied with local play space options, I was intrigued.

Kefi promises to “rearrange play” by creating “magical, wonderous, amazing spaces” for kids, alongside quiet areas for adults, according to CEO and founder Drew Panayiotou. Prior to becoming a father to Xander, 5, Panayiotou worked for Disney. He also led global marketing for the Coca-Cola Co. In designing Kefi, he worked with toy company Mattel, educators, and early childhood development experts to create a place where children could play while learning to collaborate, create, and imagine.

Storycave features a puppy theme for the morning sessions.

Photo by Carly Cooper

Kefi Atlanta kids play space
Kefi Studios, the lobby/gift shop where kids can play with toys featured on-screen.

Courtesy of Kefi

Kefi opened on August 31 in Buckhead, just across from Phipps Plaza, and additional locations are planned for Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas. It boasts five distinct play areas along with two adults-only areas, a coffee shop with organic snacks, and an interactive gift shop. There’s ToyTropolis, a cozy kids-only play area with every type of toy a child could want—think trucks, dollhouses, dinosaurs, and more. In the Storycave, children train and design digital stuffed puppies on floor-to-ceiling screens. The Toy Testing Lab feels like a classroom with stark white walls, tables, and chairs. Each desk has a different toy on it, and children are encouraged to touch and maneuver to their hearts’ content.

In the center of Kefi lies a mound of gray blocks designed to look roughly like rocks, dubbed the Fun Field. Every so often, lava is projected across them, and kids rush to climb away from it. (My 3-year-old liked the rocks but was terrified of the lava.) There’s an elevated area slightly sheltered from this hubbub that’s billed as the “world’s largest crib.” It’s basically a flat play area with wooden toys for babies. When I went with my son a week after Kefi opened, the “crib” was empty.

Beginnings, the baby area at Kefi

Courtesy of Kefi

Kefi is focused on children under 12, but in the mornings, the experiences are targeted to kids under 5. In the afternoons, the exhibits change to focus on an older audience. Friendly, welcoming staff members, called Playsmiths, are everywhere. They provide guidance and assistance for each activity. According to Panayiotou, they observe each child and email the parents afterward with tips for continuing to play at home. I never got a follow-up email, so maybe this feature is still in the works.

Here are 6 things you should know before taking your child to Kefi:

  1. Buy tickets online. Kefi costs $21.99 per person for a two-hour visit. If you register in advance, you save $7 per person, which adds up quickly for larger families. Memberships cost $99 per month and include access to a drop-off program for ages 3 and older, for an additional fee. In a couple months, Kefi will begin offering “date night” programming with a Playsmith-to-child ratio of 1 to 12. Also, be aware that Kefi is closed on Sundays.
  2. Arrive early. Kefi is located on the lower level of the CVS/Container Store shopping center, directly across the street from the double-decker Target. It can take a minute to find. Once you enter, your child will want to watch the robots dance and play with the many interactive toys on display in the lobby/gift shop. You’ll need to check in, have your photo taken, and get fitted with sensor bands that ensure every child leaves with the guardian he or she came with. Then, everyone washes their hands in magical hand-washing stations that don’t require soap or faucets. To get the most for your money, you’ll want to do all of this before your two-hour session officially begins.
  3. Be ready to embrace digital. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than an hour of screen time for children ages 2 to 5, and none for those under 18 months. Kefi has a lot of screens. They are designed to be educational, but if you’re not keen on screen-time, this might not be the place for you. As a side effect, physical activities at Kefi are limited to the Fun Field. This is not a wear-you-out-so-you-nap-all-afternoon type of place. 
  4. Head to ToyTropolis first. The toys in here are positioned to look like a dream playroom. This was by far and large my son’s favorite part, and it’s limited to 15 children twice an hour. You have to line up to make sure you get a spot, and parents are discouraged from joining. (Children 3 and under can bring their parents inside. Everyone else can watch from outside the room.)
  5. Stick by your little ones. This may seem obvious, but I saw quite a few young children—under 3—crying because they couldn’t find their parents, they tripped, or someone took the purple truck. Kefi may be cleaner and more organized than other play spaces around town, but its activities also require more instruction. As much as the Playsmiths go above and beyond to help, they’re not Mom. Parents of older kids: Knock yourselves out sipping Counter Culture coffee, rocking out in the Listening Lounge, or knocking out some emails with free wi-fi. Lose your kid? Track them on a TV in the glassed-in work area or ask a Playsmith to track them via their sensor band.
  6. Prepare to be awed by the details. The toilets are child-sized. The sinks have stepstools. The cookies in the snack bar are vegan, gluten-free, and free of the top eight allergens. Everything is sterilized daily using Zonos machines. The lighting is soft and sounds are muted. There are Playsmiths everywhere. They bend down to talk to children on-level and engage them with questions like “Can you make a train that’s eight cars long?” It’s probably frowned upon, but this would be a great place to recruit babysitters.

In Greek, Kefi means experiential joy and happiness. I certainly experienced joy at the lack of screaming, germs, and migraine-inducing lighting; and I was happy about the security measures in place. But for the price, the digital focus, and the limited physical activity, I’m going to leave this spot for people with older children—and the occasional rainy day.

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