We were lucky to catch up with busy new mama Lisa Nowell, who started one of SF’s most popular kid destinations. Learn more about Lisa’s inspiration for starting Recess and tips on juggling life, career and baby.
Inspiration for Recess
We opened back in 2008, after a conversation with friends about how there should really be a place to go to get a cup of coffee and let your child run around. Our San Francisco apartments didn’t fit the bill.
The importance of free play in was emerging in the press around that time. My background is in childhood development, teaching reading and language processing, so I knew just what they were talking about! The American Academy of Pediatrics even came out with a report declaring that unstructured play is healthy and essential to a child’s development. This legitimized my feeling that the mythical space we were craving needed to exist.
Inspired by the research on free play as well as the need for space to let kiddos play and grown ups to connect, we took a leap of faith and created the first space of it’s kind in San Francisco: Recess! It is fundamentally dedicated to child-directed play (versus classes, or teacher-led activities), but also meets the needs of grown-ups (fitness classes, a natural aesthetic, seating for adults, magazines & wifi on hand and good coffee).
Advice for working parents
You don’t have to do it all. We’re lucky right now in the Bay Area to have so many services that are easy to use & can be huge time savers. Google Express, Munchery, Instacart, TaskRabbit, Handy, etc. By letting them make that trip to Costco, or fixing dinner, you get to spend more time with your family (and save some sanity).
Tips for first time parents
Seek out support, whether it is asking a friend to watch your child for a couple hours so you can go for a run, attending a workshop to learn about child development, or connecting with other parents so you feel a little less alone as you take on this new role. And have fun – try to do one thing each day that makes you happy. A walk around the block counts!
The hardest part
Wanting to be with your child every waking second, but needing to take care of yourself.
Local hidden gem
Outer sunset… Grab breakfast sandwiches at Devils Teeth Bakery, snacks at Noriega Market and head down to the beach (just 4 blocks away is a quiet section of Ocean beach). If you still have steam left after a day on the sand, head to The Pizza Place on Noriega. Super kid friendly, great pizza, and delicious meatballs.
Favorite parenting hack
Fitness ball. You probably had a large exercise ball before kids… and you used it for exercise. When we got home with baby, we realized she needed lots of movement to be soothed. The ball is like gold to keep her happy!
Biggest surprise when you started Recess
How hard it was for so many parents to just sit back and let their child play. While kids played happily, parents would ask “Well what am I supposed to do?” It was surprising how difficult it was for some folks to embrace child-directed play and watch them learn to be in a space without a particular prescriptive activity or goal to drive their time.
The “must try” activity at Recess
Parties. I’ve been to a slew of kids parties that weren’t very adult friendly – nowhere to sit and no time to chat with other grown ups. There are party options at Recess for 10-75 people, ranging from simple celebrations to elaborate parties. All options allow the children to engage in free play while the adults get an opportunity to socialize with other adults and enjoy time with the little ones.
Helping new parents find their community
We’re so excited to bring back New Parents Groups at Recess! Weekly short meetups for expectant and new parents to socialize, get out of the house, share snacks, and listen to a professional speak about different applicable challenges and milestones of a new parent. Speakers include pre- and post-partum physical therapists, doulas, lactation consultants, nutritionists, and more.