Play Free

What is Play Free?

Play Free from the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center 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.

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.

Why do kids need Play Free?

Play Free supports children who need opportunities to play in a safe, caring environment. Through no fault of their own, these children have experienced the pain and confusion of separation from a mother or grandmother. Play Free allows these children to gather outside the prison walls for a day of  normalcy in a challenging time.

Every child deserves rich and diverse museum experiences. Play is particularly important for children who have experienced trauma. Having an incarcerated family member or an absent caregiver have been identified as adverse childhood experiences (ACE) that later increase children's risk for violence, alcohol or drug abuse and poor health (CDC-Kaiser, 2008). Programs to promote healthy bonding between children and their incarcerated caregivers make a difference in the lives of children, strengthening the attachment that makes children more resilient.

With than 1.7 million children having a parent in state or federal prison (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008), Play Free is more important than ever.

How did Play Free develop?

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 Chicago Children's Museum has since created another program serving this population. As advocates for children across the country, it is our hope that more children's museums develop programs like Play Free.

How can my family participate?

Referrals are accepted from Topeka Correctional Facility. For more information about Play Free, please contact Dené Mosier at (785) 783-8300.

How is Play Free funded?

Play Free is supported by generous individuals and businesses. To allow more families to access Play Free, donate now. 

Play Free makes a difference for families.

“My daughter said: ‘this is the best day ever!’ It was wonderful to experience such a memory.”

“If I stay out of trouble, I can look forward to this again.”

“My favorite part of the day was bring able to walk on the trail and just have one-on-one time to talk.”

"It meant everything to me. I felt like a real person again and my son and I could just have time. I don't have the proper words to express how wonderful it was."

"This 6 year old child needs to see his mother. Have fun together. Try for both of them to make the best of a bad situation."


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