Two Moms Saw a Gap in the Play Market – So They Created Joujou
Amanda Wiebers and Jenny Johnson semi-joke their meeting was inevitable. The mothers (with five children under six at the time) were introduced in November 2020 by a mutual friend in the Smokey Row parking lot. Later, the women would discover their husbands worked together in college and other mutual friends would lend support to Joujou’s concept without Jenny and Amanda realizing their shared connection.
Jenny and her family recently returned to Des Moines after a decade in Kansas City. A stay-at-home mother, Jenny was eager to create a community in her hometown. COVID hit and the ability to connect with other mothers came to a screeching halt; Jenny felt alone in her journey. Amanda’s family has lived the last seven years in Des Moines, raising two young kids and working full time. After missing organized activities and connections with other moms in the same season, Amanda wondered why there weren’t more options for families with very young children.
Together, Amanda and Jenny brought Joujou to life. French for “toy”, “plaything”, and “little” – Joujou is an indoor play space for children ages 0-5 and their caregivers. In a Montessori-inspired space, Joujou has a dedicated infant area; an elevated book nook; self-care stations; a gross motor area; and shelves full of play options.
After eight months of planning and construction delays, Joujou will open its doors in the Roosevelt Shopping Center as a corner tenant in the 115-year-old building!
Local – through and through.
Amanda and Jenny were inspired to create their own unique concept for Joujou after researching and visiting several businesses across the U.S. The women engaged with local female experts (and mothers in many cases) in architecture, branding, furniture/interior design, artwork, industry knowledge, funding, and mentoring. A mission of sustainability led them to The Collective to use better cleaning products and reusable items inside Joujou.
Being located in Des Moines proper was important to Joujou. Activities and amenities for young families tend to be more limited than in the outlying suburbs, and Joujou’s location provides accessibility for families via bike, walking, car, and bus routes. At 2600 square feet, Joujou is more “cozy” and manageable for families with very young children compared to bigger activity hubs or older child activity centers.
What “Montessori-inspired” means at Joujou.
Montessori is an educational pedagogy (fancy word for “learning approach”) that focuses on a child’s natural interests and abilities, allowing them to experience a play (or “work”) completely and at their own pace. Basically, Joujou is for families to slow down and allow their kids to play in a way that is more intentional – while still being fun!
At Joujou, families won’t find plastic or battery-operated toys (nearly all toys are solid wood, mostly birch) and limited imaginative play (like play kitchens with food). Open-ended play is definitely important, but at Joujou the focus is on toys and activities with an endpoint so children know when they have “completed” their play.
Other areas, such as the book nook feature non-fiction and “real world” set stories, and a self-care station holds actual cleaning materials for little hands to assist in tidying up the space.
Play. Learn. Grow.
The unofficial motto of Joujou is “play, learn, grow” and Jenny and Amanda hope caregivers adopt it too. Comfortable seating and thoughtful prompts are located throughout the open play space, encouraging adults to observe and play with their children or engage with other caregivers. Classes led by local pregnancy, postpartum, and early childhood experts fill Joujou’s calendar to encourage caregivers to think a bit differently about how they raise children. Amanda and Jenny hope their parents themselves grow into gentler, more understanding individuals during their time at Joujou.
As Joujou grows, there are plans to increase accessibility to more families in both open play and classes through scholarship opportunities. Access to play spaces and education opportunities for young children and caregivers that feel welcome and comfortable should not be limited; Jenny and Amanda are passionate about opening the doors for all families.
Joujou is available Sunday through Friday for open play; hours vary. The opportunity to play can be purchased via membership or drop-in. Members receive discounts on classes, welcome gifts, unlimited play, and other fun things! Saturdays are reserved for private parties and events. Classes for children and caregivers are available during the day, weekend, and evening.
More information is available at joujoudsm.com or on Instagram or Facebook @joujoudsm.