Brittney Pohlen is a first-time mom to 16-month-old Harper, and she found last winter to be challenging.

“We struggled to find places in our community to get her out to play. With the weather, our only options were to stay inside, and it gets old being stuck at home,” she said.

She’s doing something about that.

Pohlen is opening Blossom, an indoor play center for children birth through age 8. The center will be located at 201 E. Second Ave., across from the movie theater and will have a soft opening Saturday with a grand opening celebration planned for Monday.

Pohlen graduated from South Dakota State University in 2016 with a degree in Early Childhood Education. After being unable to find a teaching job in the Mitchell area, she worked an office job for a few years. Now she’s using her education and experience as a mother to start a business to serve local families.

The center will include a sensory room, a “Tiny Town” that imitates a small town Main Street, fine motor toys, and a playground area. Fee options will include both a day pass and an annual membership. Blossom is not a child care center; parents or caregivers need to be present while their children play.

Pohlen describes herself as passionate about the development of young children.

“I want our community to know that 85% of brain development happens by age 3. This is a huge piece of information that many people don't know, let alone have anything to support it,” she said.

Additionally, Pohlen said children learn so much through free play.

“Many people think that education means school, but there is so much more to it than that,” she says. “Young children are learning all the time.”

Pohlen says a big idea behind Blossom is Montessori, a well-known philosophy based on the work of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator. Montessori emphasizes children’s natural desire and ability to learn, supported by an intentional environment they can explore independently.

Most toys at Blossom will be open-ended, objects and materials that children can manipulate as they see fit. Pohlen says these types of toys are optimal for young children, along with the freedom to explore them.

“If you give a child something and say, ‘Do this,’ they will. But if you let them play on their own terms, they learn so much more,” she said. “That’s why kids are so excited to play with things like empty boxes. A box doesn’t have limits on what it can be, and kids love that.”

Pohlen describes Blossom as an opportunity for parents to observe their children but also to connect with others. A parents’ lounge area will be part of the space, where she joked there will be, “toys for them and coffee for you.”

In addition to a space for kids and parents to gather, Pohlen also plans to offer the center as a space for support groups and classes.

“I want Blossom to support parents with education, too. I’m excited to be able to use my degree and my passion to serve the community,” she says.

Pohlen also has ideas for future expansion. In the future, she said, she would like to be certified as a Montessori teacher to have more offerings for parents and children.

“But I’m starting simple because I want to see how things go,” Pohlen said. “I have my own ideas, but if people aren’t interested, it’s not that valuable.”