Blog Archives

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

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!

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.


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

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 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.

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.
Read More

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?

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.

Home Tear