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What Kind of Play Do You Enjoy?


“For a happy life, it’s not enough to have an absence of bad feelings — we also need sources of good feelings. And to master good habits, we need to feel re-charged and cared for — and nothing is more energizing than having fun.”–Gretchen Rubin

For the full article, click here:

You're Invited to a Grown Up Play Date!

Click here for tickets! 

Ideas to play at home!

We’re kicking off the new year with a month of healthy and active programs!  While we would love for you to come play with us everyday, we also know sometimes you want ideas to try at home!  Check out the GRCM January 2015 Play Kit for some indoor physical play activites, some messy play suggestions, and art projects to try!

And be sure to visit the calendar to see what we have planned here at the museum!

Embracing Recess

“Learning and play are like a superhero duo to a child’s development; shun one, and we may have some problems.”

For more, check out the full MLive article here!

Why Play is Never a Waste of Time

“Kids need to play, there’s a purpose for it…The biggest thing to realize is play is not a waste of time.”

Click here for the rest of the article!

Because I'm Playing While I'm Little

Why the Recess Bell Should Keep Ringing

“Whether it’s about learning how to deal with the complexity of the unexpected, improving communication skills, or just having a good old time, play is a necessity. Be a goofball. Go explore. Learn something new. Get excited when there’s so much room for activities. Have fun.”

–”The Importance of Play: Why the Recess Bell Should Keep Ringing Long into Adulthood”, by MLive writer Bradley MacDonald

Click here for the full MLive article!



Doodling: Time Waster or High End Engagement Technique?

by Jack Woller, Associate Director of GRCM

It feels disrespectful. A figurative slap in the face to others in the room, and it’s something
I can’t help. Doodling. In every meeting I attend and every college class I ever took, I collected page after page of doodles. It helped me. Though it may have appeared that I was off in another land, it was quite the opposite. With the action of doodling, my attention was kept more on the subject matter and those around me Instead of, say, how many ceiling tiles were in the room or that bird outside the window. Long thought to be the work of the disinterested and unengaged, recent research in neuroscience, psychology and design has shown the true benefits of doodles.

The true beauty of the benefit of doodling is its multifaceted outcomes. Research has shown doodling can help individuals stay focused, grasp new concepts and retain information. A designer may be doodling and have the doodle inspire an even more creative design within their brain. A student may use doodling as a release of tension and prevent boredom, thus allowing them to participate in a classroom environment. Allowing your brain some space to stretch out via pen and paper promotes increased creativity and collaboration. It can also be the first step in idea refinement. Let’s look a little bit more at some of these “facets”.

Memory- In a 2009 APPLIED COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGY study by Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth UK, forty participants were subjected to a monotonous voicemail message of a list of names of people attending a party. Half of the group was randomly assigned a “doodling” condition in which they shaded printed shapes while listening to the call. The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test.

Engagement- It was long suspected that what one doodled provided a window into the psyche. A hypothesis not upheld by a 2011 study by The Lancet Medical Journal. Instead it appears that it engages the “default networks” region of the brain that maintains a baseline of activity in the cerebral cortex when outside stimuli are not present, allowing the brain to be engaged and not “Day Dreaming”.

Retention- Similar to memory but in this case we are talking about retaining broader ideas, theories and issues. Doodling can provide an alternate path to learning for some people. When I doodle in a meeting there may be some meeting specific words interspersed amongst organic waves or vines. Then when I go back to that doodle later, my brain pulls the entire meeting together and I’ve retained much of what I heard in the meeting.  It’s my brain’s default networks allowing an alternate path to learning, and more importantly retention.

Communication- An ever present challenge for everyone. In a 2014 study by Gabriela Goldschmidt, a professor emeritus of architecture at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. A doodle can spark a “dialog between the mind and the hand holding a pencil and the eyes that perceive the marks on paper”. Doodles are also able to express emotions too complex for traditional communication venues. Ten doodlers in a four-week study were asked to share their sketches on social media. Many of the doodle posts expressed complex emotions they wouldn’t normally have shared via posts or texts. In these cases doodling gives just another method of complex communication.

So, does it matter what you are doodling? Sometimes. Doodling is a subjective, individually driven thing that cannot be done wrong. Doodling puts your brain in a state of readiness (the afore mentioned “default network”) and keeps you active and engaged. So in your next meeting or class give your brain a literal blank sheet of paper, a pen and get doodling.

Citations and Further Reading

Andrade, Jackie. “What Does Doodling Do?” Applied Cognitive Psychology (2009) 24: 100-106

Schott, GD. “Doodling and the Default Network of the Brain.” The Lancet 378.9797 (2011): 1133-134.

Shellenbarger, Sue. “The Power of the Doodle: Improve Your Focus and Memory.” The Wall     Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 24 July 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

A Handful of Fun!

“Children are wired to receive and utilize sensory input from day one.  This is why children will dive in hands first, exploring a new substance.  The senses are their most familiar, most basic way to explore, process, and come to understand new information.”

For more, check out the full artcle and see why sensory play is important for preschoolers!

Kids ArtFest 2014!

Thanks to all our sponsors, volunteers, performers, artists, and YOU for a great afternoon celebrating the arts!

Mid-Morning Show: ArtPrize at GRCM!

"5 Everyday Activities That Enrich Your Kid More Than You Think"

We found a blogger at that created a list of things your child can learn through daily activities!

1. Let your child take their time getting ready in the morning.

2. Bake with  your child and enjoy your baked goods at a picnic!

3. Add some games into your daily errands.

4. Create art. 

5. Get outside. 

For the full article, click here!


Play is important!


“When you asked me what I did in school today and I say, ‘I just played.’ Please don’t misunderstand me. For you see, I am learning as I play. I am learning to enjoy and be successful in my work. Today I am a child and my work is play.” Anita Wadley, 1974.

Read more 

And see more about the importance of play in this vidoe: The Importance of Play

Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain

“The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” says Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.”

For the full NPR Ed article by Jon Hamilton , click here!

Fun is Essential to Your Health!

“[P]lay makes us feel better. Experts suggest that the lift in mood we get from play could be because it gives us a much-needed break from the worries and tasks of our everyday world.”

Check out the full article here:

Make your own ice cream!

Making Ice Cream from Adrienne Brown on Vimeo.

Pretend Play!

“Pretend play allows the expression of both positive and negative feelings, and the modulation of affect, the ability to integrate emotion with cognition (Jent, Niec, & Baker, 2011; Seja, & Russ, 1999; Slade and Wolf, 1999).”

Read more here about the need for pretend play!

Summer Fun!


Looking for some fun ideas to play at home this summer?  Here’s a list of “101 Fun Things to Do with Kids This Summer“.

We’d like to add one more to this list and make 102) Play at the GRCM!



Our beekeeper stopped by to clean our hive and mark the queen bee!

Bees! from Adrienne Brown on Vimeo.

Down Syndrome Association Family Night at GRCM

By Aaron Byrne, GRCM Facilitator

In May, the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan (DSAWM) partnered with us to bring a night of fun for DSAWM members and their families! I worked this event and was lucky enough to be able to play with my cousin, Gavin. Sometimes I forget that my job is–well, a job!

For those who do not know, Down syndrome is a health condition that is caused by the abnormal way in which chromosome 21 is copied (Mayoclinic). The extra copy of chromosome 21 results in people with Down syndrome having abnormalities both physical and mental. If you would like to know more, click on the link below.

All in all, the night was a giant success. And I am sure that I am not the only one who thought so. My aunt mentioned that this was the happiest she had seen Gavin in a while. This didn’t surprise me because it was the happiest I had been in awhile too. Gavin and me had a lot of fun. At times, I could hardly keep up with Gavin. One moment Gavin would be tackling me in the fort exhibit (remember, kids, no rough housing in the museum) and the next thing I knew he was all the way at the opposite end of the second floor. Also, Gavin showed me something I never knew before about GRCM; that the elevator is an exhibit in of itself. We easily went on the elevator over 20 times. My favorite part of the night was when Gavin held Ashley (a GRCM facilitator) captive on the elevator. Ashley is too nice and fun for her own good; hence, why Gavin did not want her to exit the elevator. I can still recall Ashley laughing while saying, “Gavin, I have to get off the elevator because my break is over.” I am glad this event took place, and I hope it happens again next year. Thank you DSAWM and volunteers for help making this event happen.

Try dancing to be more productive!

“We all want to be smarter and easier to get along with. So when it comes to maximizing our performance and that of your team, here’s my advice:  Try dancing.”

Read more:


10 Things Your Child Knows About Play!


Play is powerful!  Check out this article from Crookston Early Childhood Intiative with 10 benefits of play!

Insight to Play

Insight to Play, From an Outsider

by Kelsey Jurgens, GRCM Events Intern

I started interning at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM) at the beginning of the year. On my second day, I was introduced to the idea of play. Play was something that GRCM knew was important in everyone’s lives; not just children. This idea of play was new to me, and slightly confusing, as I do not have young children in my life.

While helping research, plan and implement events at GRCM, I started to understand play more and more. I also learned how it was beneficial to my health as a young adult to incorporate play during my day, even for just fifteen minutes.

What constitutes as play? I thought enjoying the talk shows on my morning and evening commute counted. I thought scrolling through interesting articles or social media applications on my phone counted. But it really didn’t. Play is much more serious than that.

In a twist of fate, I met Dr. John Kilbourne, movement science professor at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) during a meeting at GRCM that second day. His wife, Elizabeth Kilbourne, creativity professor at GVSU, was also present. Little did I know that Elizabeth Kilbourne, would be my professor for my creativity class.

Through various readings and study in class, and seeing the real-life play at GRCM, everything started to make sense. Play is so healthy, for the mind body and soul. Dr. John Kilbourne came to class one evening to explain play. Through a story about his daughter’s journey with play, he taught us what makes play play.

Below is the list of things that constitute the activity of play from Dr. Kilbourne’s novel Running with Zoe. (Running with Zoe was an easy transition to understand what play is.) It has been my own interesting journey learning how to incorporate play into my day. I can honestly say that I feel better each day that I have play in my day. I make time to explore new hiking trails, play with my dogs or take recess at GRCM and play with the play experts; children.

The Wonders of Play

One – Play involves movement of the bodily being.

Two – Play is a voluntary activity (free).

Three – Play involves risk.

 Four – Play involves imitation of other humanbeings and the environment.

Five – Play involves pretending (make believe).

 Six- Play involves bonding between other humanbeings and the environment.

Seven – Play involves alternation and change.

 Eight- The product of play is only play (play isnot done for profit or material gain).

Nine – Play involves a solution or resolution.

And, despite what outsiders might think or say, to the participants.

TenPlay is a very serious activity.


So I challenge you: put your phone on the table, go outside and play. Even if it may be for 15 minutes; go play. Explore your backyard, play fetch with your dog or create an activity all of your own.

Do this often, and I can promise you that you’ll reap the benefits. Play is good.


Earth Day

Earth Day Blog

By Jake Bouck, GRCM Exhibits & Fabrication Manager

The last time I contributed to our blog for Earth day, I discussed our recycling and composting programs here at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum.  I am happy to say we are still fully involved in recycling our plastics, cardboard, paper, and metals as well as composting our food, paper, cardboard, and wood waste.  We also have been working with local companies to take care of our light bulbs, batteries, and electronic waste.

This year, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss something a little more serious.
If you have been to GRCM you have probably seen our much beloved bee hive.   It is an observation hive that allows you watch the bees making honey or the queen laying eggs.  Our staff and guests love the bees but some may not know how essential bees are to the environment and our agricultural system.  What makes them so important is that honey bees contribute greatly to the pollination of wild and domestic plants.  Bees are responsible for the pollination of about 90 percent of wild plants and about 30 percent of our fruits and vegetables that we eat every day.  Almond farmers are actually 100% dependent on bees to pollinate their trees and here in Michigan, blueberries and cherries are about 90% dependent on bees for pollination.  The serious issue I wanted to talk about is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).  In the last 5 to 10 years, beekeepers all over the world have seen large losses of their bee colonies at around 30% yearly and it’s getting worse.  Bees, like most organisms, have always been victims of various bacteria, viruses and parasites throughout history but none alone could explain the larger than normal losses from CCD.  The most recent theories are that the combination of fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides that are sprayed onto our crops are killing the bees themselves and/or making them more susceptible to disease and parasites. Those chemicals also make their way into the honey, plants, and animals that we eat.  It is a scary notion that if Colony Collapse Disorder keeps getting worse there is potential for the bees to die off, which could have serious environmental and agricultural implications.  This would cause a myriad of problems for beekeepers and farmers that work so hard to provide us with the food we eat.  I have all the faith in the world that humanity has the capability to develop sustainable and eco-friendly ways to maintain and improve food production without harming the environment and ourselves in the process.

As always, we are here to provide, through play, a safe and fun learning environment for children.  Teaching kids to respect and love the natural world is very important to me and I’m hoping we can be an inspiration to our guests as well as to other organizations.  We need to leave a better world for our children and teach them to leave one for their children.

I will be here at GRCM on April 19th from10am to 2pm for An Earth Day Celebration talking about bees! So come on in to play and to learn more about bees!  Also, you will be able to plant a seed to take home, create some recycled art, see some animals from John Ball Park, try a clean water obstacle course with 20 Liters, and the Swanson Foundation will be giving away a limited amount of tree saplings!

Also check out these links to learn more about bees.


Rainy Day Play

They say April showers bring May flowers, but playing in the rain can help your kids grow too! Here’s a list of some fun ideas to enjoy some outdoor play on a rainy day!


Recess is more than just a time to escape the classroom, or the best part of every third-grader’s day. Recess is important for all aspects of a person, whether child or adult. The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum has known that child-directed, open-ended play is important for a child’s development since its beginning, but lately the staff of the GRCM has been learning about the importance of recess for everyone, not just kids.  

There has been a lot of research on the benefits of play and recess in recent years. As I understand it, recess is a period of time an individual takes away from his or her usual (or work) activities to interact with his/her environment (including other people) in an unstructured manner. Scholarly research is showing that this kind of play promotes physical, social, and cognitive development. (

I, for one, would appreciate better physical, social and cognitive function.

Playworks is a non-profit organization that brings recess activities to schools in low-income areas. They state, “we believe in the power of play to bring out the best in every kid.” ( This is an interesting concept: it is play that allows a person to be their best self. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation–an organization that has been working for over 40 years to improve the health of Americans– supports the work of Playworks because it “teaches children to resolve their own conflicts that arise at recess and carry over to the classroom, restoring valuable teaching and learning time and preventing bullying.” (

If recess can prevent bullying in schools, would it be such a stretch to imagine that recess for grown-ups might better the way we interact with our families and co workers? Smart parents take recess all the time in order to have better interactions with their little monsters: drop the kids off with grandma/grandpa for an hour and head to the library to read graphic novels in silence. For a parent, this fulfills the requirements of recess: away from work (kids, noise, homelife), and unstructured (the librarian isn’t going to approach you and tell you which books to read and then present you with a quiz). After this small space of time, a parent is ready to return to “the usual” with a refreshed brain, i.e., their “best self”.

You probably experience recess without even knowing it. That break in the middle of the finance meeting that you spend with your co worker googling pictures of cats stuck in furniture? Recess. Turning up The Police and dancing like crazy people in the middle of cleaning out the garage? Recess. Folding your thesis drafts into an origami menagerie? Recess.

See? You do it already. Wouldn’t life be great it you had more recess? Now that we know how great recess is for everyone, individually and as a collaborative, we at the GRCM are making time to take recess ourselves!

Envision your best self, and imagine getting there by taking time out to play.

-Lauren, Floor Manager at Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

Just Fort Fun

Last week the GRCM unveiled our newest exhibit, Just Fort Fun!  Along with our guests, we’ve been creating all kinds of unique spaces using the furntiure, pillows, tablecloths, sheets, poles, slides, and more.

Want to know what skills you’re developing while having fun making a fort?

-Large motor skills: lifting, streching, pulling–no matter how big or small you make your fort, you have to work all your muscles to create it!

-Cognitive Development: goal setting and critical thinking are part of the fort building process.

-Social development through cooperative play: working with others to create a fort provides an opportunity to develop team-building skills as well as practice effective listening and speaking skills as ideas are shared to build unique spaces.

Learn while playing at the GRCM

Thanks to our friends at eightWest for sharing the fun of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum!

Mid Morning Talk Show, Episode 3

Mid Morning Talk Show, Ep 3 from Adrienne Brown on Vimeo.

Making the most of playtime with baby.

“Playing is serious work for baby.  It helps to learn how objeccts work and what they’re called and gets ready for motor milestones.”

Watch this video from for some tips to help get the most of of playtime with your little one!  And come in and practice in our Wee Discover area, designed specifically for ages 0-3 years!

School ditches rules and loses bullies

“Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. ‘You can’t teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn’t develop by watching TV, they have to get out there.’” (Grant Schofield, ONE News, New Zealand)

Check out this article to see how one school has changed their recess time and the impact it’s having on their students!

Mid Morning Talk Show Ep2

Gus tours the Blandford Nature Center, takes peek at the Natural Art Class and looks at what’s coming up at the GRCM!

MMS Ep. 2 from Adrienne Brown on Vimeo.

This is not a box.

From our friends at KaBoom!





Playing Out in the Snow is Good for You!

(Photo from KaBoom!)

It’s easy to say “let’s play outside” when the weather is sunny and warm, but playing outdoors during winter months is a also very benefitial!  Here’s an article highliting just some of the great things you and your child can get out of some wintery playtime in the snow!

Why Children Need to Play Outside-Even in Winter Months,  from

Mid-Morning Talk Show with Gus! Ep 1

In this episode: Gus welcomes Program Manager Jessica Barton, shores the fun of the new pizza oven, and looks at the fun events coming up in December at the museum!

GRCM Mid-Morning Talk Show! Episode 1 from Adrienne Brown on Vimeo.

Teach Kids to Daydream

“[Daydreaming] may just be the hidden wellspring of creativity and learning in the guise of idleness.”

Here’s an article by Jessica Lahey that looks at the benefits of some mental play!

Mulitple Intelligences

The GRCM is always looking for new experiences to add to the museum or ways to improve current offerings.  While we are brainstorming, building, and researching, we are always looking at the theory of multiple intelligences to be sure we are addressing the needs of all our guests.  What are multiple intelligences?  It’s the idea that everyone learns in different ways–some are more math oriented, others verbal; some may be very visual, others musical.  For more about mulitple intelligences, click here

Introducing GUS and the MID-MORNING TALK SHOW!

The GRCM is excited to share a new project!  We will be posting a video blog to share exciting things happening at the museum and we went searching for the best host of our new show.  Watch to see who turned up for our Mid-Morning Talk Show host auditions! 

GRCM Mid Morning Show Auditions! from Adrienne Brown on Vimeo.



New GRCM Theme Song

This is and example of the fun that comes when a group plays together!

MVI 2404[1] from Adrienne Brown on Vimeo.

Preparing your child for success

Preparing your child for success

Non-cognitive skills are every bit as important in life as innate intelligence, and quite possibly, they are a far better predictor of how well we will succeed in life – whatever your definition of success might be.

Click here to read full article, Preparing Your Child for Success, from Robert Dean, GRCM Executive Director



The Importance of Art

We’ve been seeing artwork popping up around the museum and we are getting ready to welcome a lot more!  This year for ArtPrize (an annual international art competition), we have 8 artists showing at the GRCM, with pieces ranging from portraits to  book carvings, a giant mural to a 30-foot interactive sculpture!

As our artists start putting up their displays, we are excited to see kids getting interested in excited about art.  This is very encouraging because the arts are actually a very important part of child development.  Here is a link to a PBS article demonstrating all the developmental benefits art eduation can offer.

good advice

Here’s some good advice left by one of our young guests.

We agree with Calvin!

Grown-ups DO need play too!


You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.


Sweet Sixteen!

Yesterday the GRCM celebrated 16-years of play!

To commemorate our Sweet Sixteen, we had a party–a big party out on Sheldon Avenue, with mini-golf, face-painting, carnival games, and sno-cones.

And rain. Lots of rain.

But despite the rain, we still had hundreds join us and celebrate!  Having so many come down and enjoy this event regardless of the weather really showed us how loved we are and we just have to say thank you.  Thank you for 16 years of discovery, learning, laughter, smiles, joys, and (of course) PLAY.




Ways to Encourage Free Play & Inspire Your Kid's Imagination



“Spontaneous play is so much fun for kids. It’s always great to let your kids try out their own ideas. They open up new possibilities and get to express their own special style.”

For some ideas to encourage free play, visit

Make learning contagious


If You Want Your Child to Get into the Best College, Play.

If you have followed the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum for any length of time, you know that we stand for the importance of play in the healthy development of children. Frequently, we meet good intentioned parents who say, “But I need to start teaching my kids to read, to do math and to understand science at the earliest age if they are going to get into a good college. There is no time to play”  Read this article written by two Harvard experts about how play is the some of the best college preparation you can give your child.

Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children

“In an effort to resurrect free play, we should enthusiastically promote it on its traditional merits—that playallows children to experience the joys of movement, creativity, and friendship”

Why your kids need to play in mud!

(Photo via let the children play:

On June 29, the World Forum Foundation is encouraging children around the world to get muddy in honor of International Mud Day–and in case you need more excuses to play in the mud, click the link to see 5 reasons playing in mud is actually good for you!

“Why your kids need to play in the mud this summer”

Doc's Day 2013

On May 3, 2013, the GRCM hosted the 12th annual Doc’s Day–a day for kids to work (and play) alongside doctors, nurses, radiology technicians, and more to explore the medical field.  Here’s a video from Spectrum Health with highlights of this year’s event!

How to Have Fun

“Fun is an attitude. Fun is an option. Fun is a decision. If life has become routine for you, if your days lack laughter and joy, it’s time to increase your delight, joy. Life can be light and easy. It’s never too late to change.”

Here’s 13 tips to add more fun to your day!

Have you seen a happy bee?



Ever watch our GRCM bees and wonder how they’re feeling?

Get Serious about Goofing Off



“Research has found that play reduces stress, improves recall, and enhances self-regulation. It teaches cooperation, negotiation, conflict resolution, and self-advocacy skills.”

For more, check out this article from “Healthy Child, Healthy World”,

An Earth Day Blog

If you have been a guest to the museum in the past year you may have noticed some new recycling and garbage bins in various locations.  We are trying to be more Green here at GRCM and these bins are part of a new recycling program to leave a smaller footprint on our planet.  As part of this program the bins were donated by a local company Recycleboxbin (   We also started composting our food, paper, cardboard, and wood waste with a local company called Spurt Industries ( turn all of this biodegradable material into black dirt for farmers, landscapers, and gardeners.   And this is no ordinary back yard composting process, at home when you compost, it is commonly recommended that you do not put any dairy, meat, bones, wood or cardboard in your compost because of foul odor and length of composting time.  Spurt‘s composting process is what I have heard called mechanical or industrial composting where any biodegradable material can be put into their bins and a large machine mashes it up.   After it is mashed up they let the material break down over a period of time until you get the final product of rich black soil.  So, at home, a person is limited to mostly vegetable and paper waste but here at the museum we put all of our food waste, our paper and cardboard waste and even our wood waste from our exhibit building shop.   This has been an amazing project to be a part of and it always feels good to recycle at home but to have a whole organization composting and recycling makes one feel like they are having a real impact on the world.

We have been impressed with how many of our guests have been appreciative of our recycling program and we will continue to push to offer more and better recycling options.  That being said, I feel like there is still a lot more we could do here to be more ecologically friendly, such as; have a community garden in the park across the street, make our building more energy efficient or have an accessible green roof, among many other things.

As always, we are here to provide, through play, a safe and fun learning environment for children.  Teaching respect and love for the natural world to kids is very important to me and I’m hoping we can be an inspiration to our guests as well as for other businesses.  We need to leave a better place for our children and teach them to leave one for their children.

Thank you,

Jake R. Bouck

Exhibits Coordinator and Floor Manager


How to make recycled paper!

 This week at the GRCM we made recycled paper during one of our programs. If you missed it you can join us again on Wednesday April 24th from 10:00 to 12:00. We had a lot of fun and got a little messy! If you’d like to try it at home, here’s what we did!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Two empty picture frames (we used two frames for 5 inch X 7 inch pictures)
- A piece of window screening cut to 6 inches X 8 inches (or one inch larger than your frame)  NOTE: screening can be purchased in a roll at a hardware store OR cut out a piece of an old screen you no longer need.
- Duct Tape- a wide bucket or deep cake pan (the picture frame should easily fit inside

- old paper (newspaper, magazines, letter paper…etc)
- Warm water
- Blender (optional)
- Towel
- Sponge
- some fabric or newspaper to lay the paper out to dry
To create the “Deckle”:
Take one of your picture Frames and the cut piece of screening and duct tape the screening to the frame on the back side of the frame (the flatest side).
To create the pulp:
Tear up pieces of paper and put them in warm water. The more paper/less water the thicker your paper will be. You can put this in a blender to speed up the pulp process or you can leave it over night in the water and the paper will break down.
To make the paper:
1. Take your “Deckle” (the two frames, one with the screen, one without) and lay the screened piece on bottom and the empty frame on top with the two flattest sides together.
2. Holding both pieces together, lay the frames into the pulpy water and cover the screened part in pulp.
3. lift it out and lay it on the towel.
4. Press the sponge into the paper pulp and carefully draw up water. Do this a few times to soak up as much water as possible.
5. lift up the top frame.
6. Slowly flip the frame onto a piece of fabric or news paper and lay it out to dry. (In the sun the paper will dry quickly, otherwise just leave it out to dry for a couple of days)
7. Do this over and over again!

Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson

Several of our staff and friends heard Sir Ken Robinson speak last night for the Fredric Meijer Lecture Series at GVSU.  Sir Ken is the author of “The Element”  and presenter of the most viewed Ted Talk,   Http://

His message is that within all of us is a vein of creativity that is just waiting to be discovered.   He advocates for a radical transformation of education systems to nurture, rather than quell creativity.  Everyone is born with imagination, creativity needs to be cultivated.  Imagination is the raw material, creativity is what you do with it.  According to Robinson, “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”  He encouraged the audience to follow their passions, embrace the unintended consequences of life’s twists and turns and be open to risks.

Regular readers of this blog know that play is a critical means for exploring imagination and exercising creativity.  Play can lead children to discover their passions and prepare them for a rich and fulfilling life.   Thank you to GVSU and Sir Ken Robinson for an engaging evening.


Pretend Play




“Children are naturally drawn to role play—the magical art of imitation and make believe.  But role play is more than fun…it’s a key component of learning. ”

The Magical Benefits of Role Play!

Symposium on Play

On March 1, 2013, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum took a major leap.  Maybe you heard about it or maybe you were there for our very first Symposium on Play.

This symposium was the first step in our goal to lead West Michigan in becoming an even more playful community.  By collaborating with Grand Valley State University, Aquinas College, Spectrum Health and others, we presented a day of internationally respected speakers on the benefits of play to all of us.  Almost 200 attended.took a major leap.  Maybe you heard about it or maybe you were there for our very first Symposium on Play.

Play benefits the cognitive, social emotional development of children.  You’ve read that here in this blog before.  But, did you know that play develops trust, teamwork and improves communication within business organizations, according to Mary Jane Pories, CEO of Fishladder, Inc.  Play speed recovery, reduces the need for pain medication, and reduces fear, says Rhys VanderMark, Child Life Specialist at Helen DeVos Hospital.  Play is how young children learn, assured Dr. Nkechy Ezeh from Aquinas College.  Dr. John Kilbourne and Elizabeth Kilbourne (GVSU) showed us the deeper value of play in all of our lives.  Chief Belk and Kevin Clark presented how play is even a factor in reducing crime and helping offenders find a better way in life.  Marcie Brogan, from Brogan and Partners in Detroit, showed how play can, and should be a part of every work day.

The highlight of the day was the keynote address from Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBoom!, and author of the best selling book, “Kaboom! One man’s effort to save play”.  Darell has a remarkable live story, growing up in a group home in Chicago with his seven brothers and sisters.  A tragedy he read about in which two children died because they had no place to play, inspired Darell to create a non-profit company which has since created over 2,300 playgrounds in this country.  He told us that 52% of schools in this country no longer offer recess, and how this trend is both short sighted and damaging to our students.  He made a compelling case for play, exploring brain science to education to life changing stories of transformation.

Darell is the country’s foremost authority on the importance of play.  We were honored to have his message at our Symposium on Play.   Darell shared a study with us which found children laugh in excess of 100 times a day.  Adults average 20.  He challenged us all to bring back the child in our lives.

The conversation will not end here, it is just starting.  The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum will lead the way.  Share your efforts to make West Michigan more playful with us on Facebook.  Follow us on Twitter.  Use #PlayGR to further the conversation.

Written by Robert Dean, Executive Director, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum

Local Experts say Children Need More Playtime

“Play is a free activity. You should never be forced to play. Imitation, pretending, alternation and change, taking risks, bonding with others in your environment. In pure play there is not profit. The profit from play is only play,” Dr. John Kilbourne, professor of Movement Science at GVSU.

The history of the Ball

“Play is a way that we learn about the world as young people, and it actually shapes our brains and develops our cognition so we can interact in the world around us,” explains author John Fox.

Find out more in this interview with Kai Ryssdal.

Adventure Map!

We made Adventure Maps this morning!

Top 10 Skills Children Learn from Studying the Arts.


When kids are coloring or painting, they’re doing more than creating works of art to decorate the fridge!  Here’s a list of just some of the skills art helps kids learn.

What fits in our elevator?

A Children’s Museum for Newtown Connecticut

from Robert Dean, GRCM Executive Director

On the afternoon of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, I received a phone call from the 9 year old son of our board president.  He asked, simply, if there was anything we could do to help.

I received many of the same questions in the days and weeks that followed from staff, board, family and friends as they struggled to find a way to respond to such unspeakable tragedy, with unrelenting compassion.  I know people were thinking that words of condolence undoubtedly helped, but we all wanted to look to the future and make it a better one in some way.

The day after the tragedy I was overcome with sudden emotion when I saw our Facebook posting.  There, next to our logo, which brought to mind such innocence and joy, was a link to a site that offered advice on how to talk to your children about the shooting in Newtown.  It was a simple and understated posting, but the contrast was overpowering.

We had a board meeting a few days later.  “What could we do that would have a lasting effect?” challenged one.  Another spoke about how this event reminded her how much we all need children’s museums and other places where kids can just be kids.  We talked about the powerful healing which comes from play.  If we could give them what we have, then maybe it might help, at least some.

At that point in the meeting another board member said, “They don’t have a Children’s Museum in Newtown Connecticut, but they are trying to build one” and pointed us to the EverWonder Children’s Museum website.  We read about their passion to build “a bright spot for children and families” and their efforts to raise funds to have a permanent home.  Until they have that home, they are providing science and art programming around the community.  “They sound just like us, about 20 years ago” observed one or our original founders.

So, it was decided.  We would do what we could to help the EverWonder Children’s Museum have a permanent home, and give the gift of play to a town so deserving.  We will devote a $1.00 of every admission on January 26, 2013 to donate to their building fund.  We will post a link on our website directing people to their donation page.  We will be using our media contacts, donor connections and social networks to encourage others to support the EverWonder Children’s Museum.  Our humble efforts alone will not build them that museum, so we are enlisting the help of our colleagues.  The Association of Children’s Museums and the Association of Midwest Museums have informed their members of what we are doing and encouraged the network to help. In Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Art Museum  will also be donating $1.00 of each admission from January 26th and we are connecting with many more organizations in West Michigan to be a part of this special event.

Please join us and those throughout the country who understand the immense healing power of play, and support the EverWonder Children’s Museum’s drive to have a home. 

New Year's Early Eve video!

The GRCM celebrated the New Year with our annual New Year’s Early Eve event on December 31, 2012!  Here’s a glimpse of all the fun we had that night!

Special thanks to Hybrid Media for putting together this video for us!



Recess is key element to child's well-being

This was sent to us by our friend Dr. Scott Lancaster from Advanced Radiology Services.

Recess is key element in children’s well-being

photo by Joshua Lambert

Legos and Open-Ended Play


Legos and open-ended play, a note from Bob Dean, Executive Director of GRCM

At the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, we concentrate on “open ended play”.  When I am giving someone a tour of the Museum, I always stop at our Lego table to explain what that means.  When Legos first came out, they were just a box of bricks in different sizes and colors.  A child could make a car, then tear it apart and make an airplane, then a castle, or a ship or whatever.  The outcomes were infinite – or completely open ended.    This is the kind of play which does the most for developing imagination, various thinking skills, and several other key developmental assets.

Then Lego started coming out with themed kits in which you followed specific directions to make a specific item.  One year, we bought my son a Millennium Falcon kit from the Legos Start Wars collection.  He spent Christmas afternoon making it, and now it still sits on his shelf, untouched, fifteen years later.

I am sure that there are some important skills which develop through the process of following directions and making a pre-determined outcome, but developing imagination is not one of them.  Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way:

“Has Lego sold out?”  New York Times, Sunday December 23, 2012

By the way, my favorite story about our museum and our Lego table (which is just  loose bricks, fostering open ended play) was when a couple of parents tried to encourage their son to leave what he was working on and move on to something else. “Come on, we have Legos at home that we can play with.”  The little boy gave a nod to one of our staff facilitators playing with him and said, “yeah, but we don’t have her at home.”

Note: Lego does still sell the loose brick kits:  I just checked and they are all sold out on the web site, so maybe people have re-discovered the joy of open ended creative play.

Why is pretend play important?

Did you know that pretending is actually helping your kids learn?  Here’s an interesting article about the need for pretend play.

The History of the Museum

The Story of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum at 15 years and going…

The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is celebrating their 15th Birthday in 2013. Since 1997, they have been providing cherished memories and innovative play experiences for children (and their adults).
The museum started as an idea of four women; Georgia Woodrick Gietzen, Alyce Greeson, Carla Morris, and Aleicia Woodrick. They were inspired by their children and grandchildren and they intuitively knew that regular, creative, hands-on play was inherently good for children. Founded on the beliefs that children learn best when they direct their own learning, these women set about to create a place with a sole focus on young children.

The prequel to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, a “Museum Without Walls,” debuted in August 1993 at Woodland Shopping Center. Several exhibits which demonstrated the concept that play is a child’s work dotted the walkways between stores. Children looked forward to accompanying their parents on shopping trips. The “Museum Without Walls” was such a success that the founders imagined the next step; housing the museum in a more permanent location in downtown Grand Rapids.
The four founders knew it would be difficult to convince the community that a special place dedicated to play would be worthy of the substantial charitable contributions needed to make it a reality. They envisioned an environment in which children would learn, develop and grow through the activity of playing. For a community, like many others, facing problems of economic development, poverty and homelessness, convincing people of the value of play was a challenge. Their passion and very hard work, carried the day.
Near the eastern entrance to downtown Grand Rapids, the Monument Square building was built in 1916 from a design by Osgood and Osgood, Architects. These architects had designed several other significant Grand Rapids structures. The building was known for its exterior walls of white glazed brick laid in black mortar joints. Tenants had included Daane and Witters Grocers, a stationary and fine gifts shop, the Steele Shop selling the latest fashions from Paris, London and New York, the W.T. Moore Sporting Goods Store and Oosterhof & Company, tailors. In 1980, the building was gutted by fire, leaving only the architecturally significant white exterior intact. The building remained vacant for 17 years.
In the winter of 1994, the Monument Square Building at 11 Sheldon Avenue was purchased and generously donated by Bob and Aleicia Woodrick and Jim and Shirley Balk to become the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. After much renovation, the Museum opened its doors in July 1997. The journey was documented through the perspective of a displaced pigeon, in “Penrod’s New Home”, a children’s book written by the four founders.

In 2009, a mosaic mural entitled “Imagine That” was added to the outside exterior and won second place in the first Art Prize competition. The mural has become a familiar Grand Rapids icon.

The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is celebrating their 15th year anniversary from July, 2012 through July 2013. In these 15 years, over 2,288,000 people have played at the museum or in one of its outreach events, making it one of downtown GR’s leading attractions.

The museum has been awarded the Art Serve Michigan’s Governor’s Award, the Service to Children Award from the Child and Family Resource Council and was recognized by the Association of Children’s Museum as one of the most innovative Children’s Museums in the country.
This award for innovation underscores probably the most important asset that the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum has brought to West Michigan. All museums bring valuable culture and learning opportunities to a community, each in their special and characteristic way. The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is unique in that it concentrates entirely on the activity of play and the rich cognitive, social emotional and physical benefits which are derived through play. Play nourishes the mind, the body and the spirit. Abilities learned through play build skills critical to success as adults. The museum’s exhibits and programs are hands on, interactive and open ended. It is a one of a kind space in which children can safely be in charge, imagine without limits, discover and learn.
In a period in our culture where schools are increasingly cutting recess time in favor of class time, outdoor play areas are disappearing, and parents are overscheduling their children into structured activities, the message of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is ever more important. Free play diminished in our society by 25% just between 1981 and 1997 according to a study by the University of Michigan. At the same time examples of bullying, childhood obesity, depression and anxiety are on the increase. A recent Newsweek article warned of a loss in creativity among our nation’s workforce. Many blame the decline in play for the rise of such problems.
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is the expert in play. We closely follow the emerging scientific research on brain development and the positive impact of play. We turn this research into captivating exhibits and programs which engage children. The findings are conclusive that play can lead to the development of thinking skills, problem solving, improved interpersonal skills, communication, impulse control, creativity, and planning abilities, to name just a few of the beneficial outcomes. These are all critical skills of the workforce for tomorrow. The impulse to play is inborn to most animals. Now, it turns out, that play is remarkably beneficial for those who take the time to do it and for the communities which foster it.
The museum has followed the original vision of the four founders for these 15 years. Visionary founders, a historic building, generous philanthropy and a critical mission – that’s what made the first 15 years of play happen in Grand Rapids. Written by Bob Dean, Executive Director.


The Benefits…

Sometimes roughhousing gets a bad rap. Parents might feel that roughhousing between kids, or between a parent and a child just leaves the child too excited and hard to calm down. A recent book, The Art of Roughhousing” by Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen,(Quirk Books; May 17, 2011) however, illustrates the many benefits of roughhousing. The authors claim “Play – especially active physical play, like roughhousing – makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likeable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful”.
Roughhousing builds resilience, helps cognitive development, builds social skills, teaches morality and keeps your children physically active. But, as you might imagine, the book begins with a disclaimer cautioning all to use adult common sense when roughhousing to assure safety. Have fun, but keep it safe.

-Bob Dean, Executive Director, GRCM.

Overheard at the magnet table...

Our message here is that play helps children develop their minds, and apparently the message is getting through. Recently a Mom asked her son what he was building at the magnate table. Dad answered, “His brain” He gets it.

Museums Free 4 All

Sunday was an extraordinary experience at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. Thanks to the generosity of Amway and Fifth Third, 2,429 adults and children visited the museum for free!

That number may not be the highest number in one day ever at the museum ( staff member recalls a 2,600 day), but that would have been an eight or twelve hour day. Yesterday we were open for five hours. There were lines out in the cold from 45 minutes before opening to after 4:00. Some waited an hour in the cold. That means we operated at our 600 person fire code capacity until just before closing.

Rather than try to describe the entire day, here are a few lasting impressions:

Staff – every time I saw one of them, either they were smiling or they were making someone else smile.

Complaints – none

Funny moment – I talked to two little girls, twins, who looked about four years old. As they waited in line I asked them several questions. They answered each one in perfect unrehearsed unison.

Thank you’s – In spite of the crowded conditions, nearly everyone said thank you as they left, along with multiple comments about how much fun they had.
There were a lot of first time visitors to our museum, and a lot of families taking in at least one other museum downtown during the day.

To Amway and Fifth Third, those 2,429 thank you’s, go to you.

-Bob Dean, Executive Director, GRCM.

Tag, You're It.

An article in the current issue of The American Journal of Play discusses the possible evolutionary reasons of why play behavior developed in humans and in just about every mammal. Early humans who knew how to cooperate with others, how to control their impulses, and how to communicate effectively had a better chance of surviving than those without such skills. Play develops these abilities. Monkeys and rats who were deprived of play at a young age grow up without adequate social skills and are prone to misread normal interactions with others in their species, as aggressive acts.
An interesting finding was when adults were asked to remember back when they played tag, did they prefer being chased, or being the chaser? Most people prefer being chased to being the person who is “it”. Apparently it was pretty important for our ancestors to know how to run away from wild animals.
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Bubbles for Bob

Every once in a while, the staff at the GRCM will hold an “Emergency Play Drill” for any guests who happen to be visiting at that time. Today appealed to my ego, at least for a moment or two. The staff printed off 30 some copies of a recent picture of me, then hid them throughout the museum. They announced to the guests that if anyone found a picture of “Bob” and turned it into the front desk, they would get a prize, a small bottle of bubbles. They soon figured it out and many went scurrying around to find my pictures hiding in the farm, on the mirrors or in the Cafe. As I stood near the front desk to thank the kids who found me, I saw a little two year old girl who had found my picture and had given it a kiss. A very touching moment, until the staff explained that she could get a prize in exchange for the picture. She wasted no time thinking. She threw my picture to the floor, stepped on it and eagerly accepted the little bottle of bubbles. Kids are wonderful at keeping one humble.

Post written by Bob Dean, Executive Director at the GRCM.

Play is Not Just for Children

The most recent issue of The American Journal of Play (Vol. 3, Number 3, Winter 2011) has a couple of articles about the value of play to adults. The first is an interview with Ruth Codier Resch, a psychoanalyst who suffered a stroke that robbed her of her ability to speak. Ruth regained her ability to speak, went back to work, and developed a whole new outlook on life through her rehabilitation using play. This illustrates how remarkably changeable the brain can be and how play can lead the way in making this change. Play, effectively, helped her brain develop new pathways to express herself and opened her up to understand how the non-verbal side of the brain communicates.

Playing with Ideas: The Affective Dynamics of Creative Play by Pat Power, explores the value of play in adulthood by studying the neurology, emotion and cognition of play. The author suggest eight essential qualities of play: lighthearted, humorous, imaginative, open-minded, transformative, enigmatic, interactive, and dynamic. She concludes that play enhances our sense of quality of life and therefore “positively confers a plethora of long-term health benefits including a tendency to live a longer and happier life”.

Playing in the Mud – A great article on a great website, about the joys and value of playing in the mud. Did you know it can even help your immune system?

Overheard at GRCM

Through the Eyes of a Youngster

While standing in front of the distorted mirror that makes one look… well… short and wide, we overheard a young person say, “Hey, we look just like Grandma!”

Playing Without Seeing

Many parents and children enjoyed participating in a multidimensional “visual art meets music” workshop with husband and wife duo, Ed and Adriana Mallett in a recent GRCM program. The Malletts conducted three workshops in which Adriana guided children through the creation of several visual art pieces, while listening and responding to live music performed by Ed. It was a wonderfully creative and holistic arts experience for children (and grown-ups!) of all ages.

Perhaps, however, one of the most appreciative visitors did not want to create her own works of art, she just wanted to explore the musical instruments themselves. A GRCM staff member noticed a 9 year old visually impaired girl hanging out near the workshop listening to the music. Her mom indicated that she has had a long time interest in music and is very musically gifted, but doesn’t often have the opportunity to explore “real” instruments. Between two of Ed and Adriana’s workshops, the staff member asked if the girl could come in and feel the various instruments. Ed spent the next half hour with the little girl showing her each of the instruments, showing her how to play them and making music with her. This was a truly unique opportunity for the family and the heartfelt impact of this impromptu music lesson was revealed in twin smiles shared by mother and daughter.

Prize-Winning Grandma

A Grandmother was just observed in our Happy Animal Clinic, where kids pretend to be veterinarians. She was wearing one of our turtle costumes. She was crouched down on her hands and knees and, was telling her two grandchildren about her turtle symptoms, while they checked her over with stethoscopes and ultrasound.

The New GRCM Play Blog

What is the GRCM Playblog?

This is the inauguration of a new website and a new blog for the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. We hope it becomes a regular stop for you. Our objectives with this blog are many and varied, but in short, we want it to extend the mission of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum beyond our doors and into yours.

In this blog we will pass along the latest research on play and the beneficial impact it has on cognitive, social emotional and physical development. We also plan to pass along practical ideas on how you can stimulate your children with open ended, child directed play, at home, on vacation, virtually anywhere. Finally, we also hope to share with you the daily joy of being at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum by posting pictures and telling stories. This is a truly magical place doing an important job and we don’t want to keep it to ourselves. We welcome your comments and ideas. Enjoy.

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