Play Free Prison Program Hosts Kansas Wardens
The Kansas Children's Discovery Center's Play Free program hosted all wardens from Kansas prisons, alongside Secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections Jeff Zmuda, at the July session of the program. The wardens toured the museum, talked with participants, and heard about opportunities to partner with the Discovery Center in support of children with incarcerated parents.
Play Free is a play-based education and exploration program for children with an incarcerated mother (in some cases, grandmother). The program invites children to come to the museum for a full day of fun with their moms, encouraging educational play and family bonding to increase resilience. The program had 35 children and 19 women attended today's event, which included sharing two meals, enjoying museum exhibits and spending time in our 4.5 acre outdoor adventure area.
Play Free was inspired by a similar program at the Children's Museum of Manhattan in partnership with Riker's Island. The Discovery Center contacted Topeka Correctional Facility, the only women's prison in the state of Kansas, in early 2018 to create opportunities for women to bond with their children at the museum. Play Free in Kansas works with the Women's Activity Learning Center (WALC) program at the prison to provide this opportunity to families. The program is made possible through generous donors and grants.
On Play Free days, children and their custodial caregivers arrive in the morning, as the mothers are excitedly waiting. Since there is only one women’s prison in Kansas, families sometimes travel from as far away as eight hours to attend. Once the family has had the opportunity to catch up and transition at the child’s pace, moms and children share breakfast and begin a full day together. Participants play, participate in science programs, make art, explore the outdoors and share another family meal at lunch. A photographer takes photos of each family, printing copies for the mothers and children to take with them.
Custodial caregivers return in the afternoon to spend time talking with the children’s moms and receiving resources about supporting children with an incarcerated parent. Children are intentionally picked up before their moms are transported back to the prison to promote more positive transitions.
To learn more about Play Free or hear from participants, check out the video below.