WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
PHOTO | THE GRAND RAPIDS CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
A beloved destination in the heart of downtown, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum made its debut as a museum “without walls” in August 1993 at the Woodland Mall. The museum featured two exhibits, “Funstruction” and “Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles!” which were a huge success and exposed over 30,000 children and their families to hands-on exploration and learning. The museum is approaching its 25th birthday next year!
Today, the relocated museum boasts two outdoor murals. The first, painted by Alan Compo, is in the alley between the museum and the Apartment Lounge as part of the Women’s Way Initiative and honors the life and legacy of Angeline ‘Naw Kay O Say’ Yob. The other is prominently displayed on Sheldon Avenue, a beautiful mosaic titled “Imagine That!” created by artist Tracy Van Duinen.
Inside the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, guests are delighted to find two colorful floors brimming with hands-on interactive exhibits and daily drop-in programs that encourage discovery and learning through play.
A brand-new exhibit to explore is the fully accessible, three-tiered Spin Zone. Kids interact with the power of centrifugal force as they experiment with physics and enjoy the ride. There is also an exhibit called Kristen’s Corner, honoring the life of Kristen Paradiso and her love of sharing music with children. Guests can experiment with all sorts of instruments, such as an oversized floor piano that children play with their feet!
Visitors can view a working beehive, with bees flying in and out through a tube in the wall. Visitors watch through an observation hive as bees busily build a honeycomb and fill it with honey. Young guests can create in the makerspace and read We Are LIT books in a reading nook in the Wee Discover exhibit. They can even go grocery shopping in the Little Meijer exhibit, with checkout lanes that are fully interactive with real scanners.
“Finding normalcy amidst a pandemic has shown us just how critical the need for play continues to be in our community,” stated Maggie Lancaster, CEO of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. “This winter, we are excited to present winter-themed programming like spiced playdough, snowflake art, snow painting, and more.”
“Since our late-June reopening, we no longer require preregistration, although we still limit our overall capacity at the museum. Masks are required for everyone ages two and up for the safety of our youngest guests,” she continued.
“We launched a brand-new member benefit during our reopening: digital membership cards. We automatically extended all memberships that were active on the day we closed our doors in March 2020. These digital membership cards reflect new expiration dates for our returning members,” Lancaster stated. “We’re really excited to return to ‘normal’!”
To continue outreach to the community during the pandemic, the Kids Can! van popped up at various locations to provide access to safe play activities, distributing over 6,000 Play@Home kits filled with supplies to encourage open-ended play. The kits included watercolor paper and paints, a ball, a water bottle, playdough, chalk, bubbles, sensory-bin ingredients, and recipes as well as links to additional recipes and videos.
Also, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Activity Kits were delivered to area families. Children in the Early Head Start program received a watering can set and the book Lola Plants a Garden/Lola Planta Un Jardin. According to Lancaster, children in the preschool programs received a gardening tool kit and the book Farmer Will Allen and His Growing Table.
“We connected to our audience via social media and the Play@Home and Resources on Race sections of our website. We created hundreds of virtual videos with recipes, how-to videos, and play prompts. For example, on National Crayon Day in March, we shared instructions about making your own upcycled crayons,” Lancaster concluded.
Become a museum member to receive one year of unlimited free admission to the museum, exclusive access to members-only hours and exhibit openings, and more. Members enjoy the Cultural Membership Exchange, which provides free admission to other venues, such as Lakeshore Museum Center, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Blandford Nature Center, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Impression 5, and more.
Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
11 Sheldon Avenue NE
Grand Rapids MI 49503
(616) 235-4726 l GRCM.org