In a little more than a year, KidsPark Tampa (located just off of S.R. 56, east of I-75, in Wesley Chapel) has registered nearly 1,500 families — totaling 2,800 kids — looking for the support and flexibility that no-reservation, drop-in childcare gives them.
“The numbers here have blown away all the other KidsPark centers,” says Amanda Justus, the owner of KidsPark Tampa. “In May, we received the ‘Shooting Star’ award for fastest growth within a year among Kids Park centers nationally.”
KidsPark also has been nominated for the 2017 Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce New Business of the Year.
KidsPark is a national franchise, with just three locations in Florida (two are in Jacksonville). There will soon be four, as Amanda has recently signed a franchise agreement for a second location. While she’s still looking for the perfect place, she expects it to be close to downtown Tampa and hopes to open in the summer of 2018.
She says the growth is because KidsPark meets an important need for families.
“If you’re a mom, you get it,” says Amanda. She explains that KidsPark is available for children ages 2 through 12, for drop-in childcare. “We offer hourly childcare on days, evenings and weekends, with no reservations. For date nights, meetings, grocery shopping, appointments, anything… you just drop your kids off.”
“My first experience with hourly childcare was when I was living in North Carolina and my husband was in the Marines,” Amanda says. “Hourly childcare saved my life. Sometimes, it was the only way for me to get to the store or clean the house.”
Amanda and her husband Ricky now live in Wesley Chapel with their two children, Camryn, who is 11, and Gavin, who is 7. Amanda worked as a microbiologist at Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel before leaving her job to focus on opening and running KidsPark. While her undergraduate degree is in microbiology from the University of South Florida in Tampa, she also holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) degree from nearby St. Leo University, which she earned in 2013.
“I’ve always wanted to own my own business, and I knew this was something the area needed,” she says.
KidsPark’s full-time director, Heather Perez, has 20 years of experience as a preschool director in Pasco County.
“Heather has been a huge help for me,” says Amanda. “My background is in science, so it’s great that Heather understands all of the licensing and requirements.”
KidsPark has something for all kids, from dramatic play to air hockey, board games and puzzles, as well as karaoke, Wii dance, Wii sports, and Xbox. Kids Park also has a private, enclosed outdoor space so kids can get some fresh air.
While visitors to KidsPark get time for open play, there also are scheduled activities. “We try to make sure every child takes home a craft or art project,” Amanda says, “so parents can see what they’ve been doing.”
KidsPark serves lunch at noon every day, and dinner at 6 p.m. The meals are catered and cost just $4.25 per child. Snacks are provided at no additional charge at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.
“It’s huge to know that you always have child care,” Amanda says, “and — unlike what might happen with a babysitter — that they aren’t just sitting there watching TV.
Preschool & VPK, Too!
In addition to hourly childcare, KidsPark offers both Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) for four year olds and preschool for ages two and three.
KidsPark has two VPK classes, one from 9 a.m.-noon and one from 1 p.m.- 4 p.m. These classes, which are currently filled, are for families who use a voucher and pay nothing out-of-pocket for this time. On any day, whether the parent is running late or would like additional childcare, they pay just the regular hourly rate for any extra time.
“Buddy Preschool” also is held each day from 9 a.m. to noon, but parents have the flexibility to choose which days they attend and pay hourly just for the times their child is there.
“It’s such a different concept,” says Amanda. “You don’t have to wait for the next school year to start.”
“We try to make it so everyone can afford child care,” Amanda says. The hourly rate is just $8 for one child, or $12.25 for two siblings. Additional siblings are $3.25 per hour. A “preferred customer rate” is available for anyone who pre-pays $100 or more (in $50 increments, up to $250). Ten percent is added to your prepayment, so if you pre-pay $100, you actually get $110 credited to your account. There also is a day rate, so the price is capped at $56 for one child and $85.75 for two, per day.
There is a $25 registration fee per family (not per child), which is a one-time fee, as long as you come at least once a year. Also, once you’ve paid the registration fee at any facility, you can use all KidsPark facilities across the country when you’re traveling.
Amanda also offers discounts to hospital employees and to anyone in the military.
On Sundays, before and after KidsPark is open, the staff hosts birthday parties and other private parties.
“For a private party, you have the whole center to yourselves,” says Amanda. “You choose a craft and a game, and the cost includes face painting, two staff members to keep the kids busy, and also includes invitations, paper products and even decorations.”
Samantha Weaver is a Wesley Chapel mom of three boys. “I have two who are old enough for KidsPark, and I have my one-year-old, who I desperately wish I could drop off at KidsPark!”
She says her two older kids, ages 2 and 4, love KidsPark. “It’s their favorite thing to do.”
As if on cue, one of her boys immediately interrupts. “Mommy, can we go to KidsPark?”
Samantha says her kids are introverted and usually take a long time to warm up. “The first I took them there, they didn’t want to leave,” she says.
Samantha also is a military wife, who says her husband is gone all the time, working. And, she’s a photographer. If she has a shoot in the evening, she’ll drop the kids off at KidsPark.
“I take them there because I know they’re going to have fun, they’re going to be fed well, and they’re going to fall asleep,” she says.
She says she also uses KidsPark instead of the gym daycare, which her son hates. “I’d rather pay to know my son is happy and having fun than to think that he’s miserable at the gym daycare.”
Samantha continues, “Especially for people in my situation – moms who do it on their own, or single moms – I can’t imagine a better scenario than what KidsPark gives me.”
At one of her first few visits, Samantha says she had a family emergency and had to drop the boys off, flustered and in a hurry. But, she says, the way she was treated was helpful, generous, and reassuring. At that point, Samantha says, she realized, “I’m not alone. These are my people. This is my tribe.”
The staff at KidsPark feels the same way. Heather says Samantha’s family has scheduled a birthday party there, and she thinks the entire staff is planning to attend. “We’re so attached,” Heather explains. “We all love this family.”
KidsPark is located at 26240 Golden Maple Loop, just south of S.R. 56 (and just east of I-75). The center is open Monday–Thursday, 7 a.m.–10 p.m., 7 a.m.–midnight on Friday, 10 a.m.–midnight on Saturday, and 1 p.m.–6 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call (813) 803-4972, or visit KidsPark.com. Mention this story for half off of your registration fee!