Play Free Reaches Milestone
The Kansas Children's Discovery Center's Play Free program hit a milestone today, February 6, 2023, surpassing 1,000 women and children served. 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 45 children and 25 women attended today's event, which included sharing two meals, enjoying museum exhibits and spending time in our 4.5 acre outdoor adventure area.
The Discovery Center was also honored to have Lt. Governor David Toland and Secretary of Corrections Jeff Zmuda on site for today's event. These Kansas leaders toured the museum with President/CEO Dené Mosier, speaking with staff, volunteers, and participants about the program.
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.
Play Free is continuously evaluated to best meet the needs of mothers and children, and participants complete surveys to share their thoughts. Their comments show the critical importance of the program.
“I genuinely felt humanized in this program," wrote one mother, "It was a breath of fresh air. My children and I had so much fun and we appreciate having the privilege.”
Another mother wrote: “[Play Free] gives us the ability to interact with one another on a personal level, and reminds us that this time apart will not last forever.”
Custodial caregivers also complete surveys, and one grandmother wrote “This program allowed my daughter to provide some much-needed one-on-one time with my granddaughter. My daughter prior to her arrest was a very involved, attentive, caring parent. The program was brilliantly designed. Providing a relaxed time of transition from the caregiver to the mother over a meal shared. [The program allowed] my family to assume some kind of enriching normalcy during the time of separation, making memories on which to cling until the time of reuniting permanently.”
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.