Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (11 Sheldon Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503) has come a long way since its first days as a museum “without walls” in Woodland Mall in 1993.
Today, the museum proudly occupies the space at the southeast end of Monroe Center, between Division & Sheldon Ave SE, and flanked by Veterans Memorial Park and Monument Park.
With its mosaic-mural facade and rainbow-colored street, the building beckons kids and adults inside with the promise of play.
Once inside, will you dress up as a favorite animal, pretend to run a restaurant or grocery shop at the kid-sized Meijer? Or will you head straight for the bubbles?
The possibilities inside of these four walls are only limited by your imagination.
Read on to discover how your family can dive into all of the fun waiting for you at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum – there are two floors of awesome just waiting to be discovered.
GRCM’s two floors are loaded with every sensory, hands-on experience you could imagine.
On the lower level, back by the lockers and bathrooms, is a Nursing Nook.
Mothers can sit on a comfortable chair in a secluded space and close a curtain for privacy. There’s a little table and lamp to make it extra cozy for Mom.
My kids love that there are “little potties” in the restroom.
Half the stalls in the ladies’ room have short toilets, perfect for potty-training littles. They also have a sink that’s lower to the ground and a stool to reach it in case those legs are still too short.
While the open staircase can make the museum feel like one large space, GRCM actually features two floors of fun.
GR Children’s Museum houses several permanent exhibits like Bubbles, Little GR, and the Ranger Station, along with several rotating exhibits. Past favorites have been Just Fort Fun, Boxes, and Kidstruction Zone.
Within each of these areas the museum and their facilitators are ready to play, from dressing up to building, and from experimenting to sensory play, there is sure to be something your child will find themselves totally engrossed in.
One of GRCM’s flagship exhibits, LIttle GR features mini versions of Grand Rapids businesses where kids can pretend in their own little city for hours.
You may have to pry your kids away from Little Grand Rapids. There is so much to do in this exhibit!
Favorites include a mini Meijer, complete with lots of play food, shopping carts and even a checkout.
Kids can also bank, get pizza, repair cars, hit up the post office and more.
Visiting the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum with a baby or toddler? If so, head straight for Wee Discover.
This is the hit destination for kids 3 and under.
This special toddler area is fantastic. It’s mostly closed off from the rest of the floor so the littles are safely contained from the bigger kids.
Kids love playing in the kitchen, perfectly sized for their shorter heights. When my little kids are in the obsessed-with-balls stage, they can’t get enough of the rainbow ball sorter. They love putting the balls in and then giggling hysterically when they pull the stopper from the bottom and they all crash down.
It’s great because you don’t have to worry about big kids cruising through and there’s only one way in/out, making it easier to keep an eye on little escape artists.
New! – The Spin Zone
Pint-sized scientists will marvel at this three-tired, fully accessible exhibit.
And honestly, grown ups will, too, as you play around with centrifugal force.
Kristen’s Corner & The Stage
Imaginative kids are drawn to this area, where they can dress up, act, explore music and more.
As of 2021, the GRCM has a BRAND NEW accessible train table with room for twice as much play!
Possibly the most well-known part of GRCM is the giant bubbles exhibit!
Kids can try making their own massive bubbles at the giant bubble table or even stand inSIDE a bubble at the bubble tower.
(Nothing is cooler than being enclosed by a giant bubble! It’s tricky for young kids to get the rope soaked in the soap and pull slowly enough for the bubble to form, but the giggles and grins as the bubble pops are contagious.)
Experiment with the different shaped bubble wands, too.
Pro tip: Save this exhibit for last because kids often want to play here forever!
To the Rescue and Ranger Station
Kids often dream of being a first responder of some sort when they grow up, and now they can practice some of the favorites at GRCM.
The kids love to put on the fire jackets, hats & boots and go down the slide.
Kids can also drive a fire truck, work in an ambulance or visit Smokey the Bear to learn how we can keep our world safe.
The Live Hive
Watch a real, live beehive hard at work at GRCM’s second floor.
But don’t worry, you can’t get stung! Watch bees build their honeycomb in a fully-enclosed case – and then fly outside via a tube in the wall.
Special Events, Museum Rentals & Birthday Parties
Throughout the year GRCM hosts two to three events geared specifically to adults. These events have ranged from murder mysteries to 90’s dance parties, and even a Carnival.
GRCM gives you space to engage with the theme as well with some of the typical exhibits they have (not going to lie, I love being able to build something and not have it immediately knocked down by an exuberant 2-year-old).
One of the most exciting ways to engage at GRCM is through a museum rental. You get the whole museum to yourself one one of the days they’re closed to the public. At least three staff are present to help, and you also have access to their two large conference rooms upstairs with tables and sinks.
If you’ve never experienced a Children’s Museum party, you’re missing out. It’s so fun to watch kids AND grownups exploring every exhibit with huge smiles on their faces.
There are no active giveaways with GRCM at this time. Check out some of these other current GRKIDS giveaways.
Why Does the GRCM Focus on Play?
Play springs up naturally in children and grows organically out of their imaginations. How many times has your toddler shown more interest in the box a shiny new toy came in than in the toy itself?
Play cannot be forced or coerced. The best way to let kids enter into the “work of play” is to give them a few options and let them figure out what to do from there.
A place like Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is a wonderland of play.
The best part is that all this play is so much more than entertainment.
Play is learning. As our kids pursue these delights, they are establishing strong foundations for the motor skills- balancing and climbing build gross motor skills, while deftly building with legos, and painting help to refine fine motor skills.
Play enriches a child’s imagination. It develops language skills, fosters empathy, and helps kids become ace problem-solvers.
GRCM promotes play-based learning because it’s great for our kids.
For children with sensory sensitivities, entering the Grand Rapid Children’s Museum may be a very overwhelming experience. With all of the lights, noises, colors, and busyness of the other children–they may feel overstimulated and unable to focus.
For this reason, some parents of special needs kids would simply avoid a visit.
But Grand Rapids Children’s Museum wants ALL children to be able to enjoy their wonderland of learning fun, so they set out to create a safe experience for all kids.
Most recently, GRCM added Sensory Resource Toolkits which are available for checkout at the front desk.
A Look Inside the Sensory Resource Toolkits
These backpack kits include:
- kid-size weighted compression vests
- noise-reducing headphones
- fidget tools
- weighted suspenders
- emotion recognition flash cards
- GRCM’s Social Story. (A social story is a first person account of a visit to the museum to help visitors feel prepared for the different exhibits.)
These toolkits help children with sensory sensitivities to feel more at home in the museum and allow parents the peace of mind that their children will have fun without the risk of sensory overload.
Tips for Visiting the Children’s Museum With Your Child That Needs Sensory Support
Rachel McKay, GRCM’s Professional Development and Inclusion Liaison, shared these tips for parents visiting the museum with children that could benefit from sensory support:
- Before you go, visit the museum’s website to check the schedule. On the homepage, you will find a calendar of when field trips or other large groups will be attending and you can plan accordingly to avoid high noise levels and large crowds.
- Review the Social Story at home. This explains all of the different exhibits to prepare your child and to know if there are some to avoid.
- Call ahead at 616-235-4726 to reserve a Sensory Resource Toolkit.
- Enjoy your time at the museum!
Even if you can’t make it to the Children’s Museum downtown, you can browse their site for ideas for games and simple crafts and projects.
Also, keep your eyes peeled for their new museum-on-wheels that will start touring soon, bringing play to communities all over Michigan.
Hours & Admission
No matter your age, play should be a part of your life. Grand Rapids Children’s Museum offers hours of it almost every day of the week!
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is located at 11 Sheldon Avenue, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.
There is limited metered parking in front of the building, but you can find metered street parking on neighboring streets. There is also a paid lot at GRPL’s main branch on Library St, just northeast of the museum.
They are open Tuesday 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM for members only, Thursday from 12:00 PM to 7:00 PM, and Friday & Saturday from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
Memberships are also available, and would delight the children in your family! (And probably you, too!)
Getting to the Museum & Parking
The children’s museum is so easy to get to, even for people like me who hate driving downtown.
There is street parking available in front of the museum or around the square. I can even park my Mom Mobile there without any trouble.
Parking on Sheldon Street in front of the museum has a three-hour limit and the other streets are two hours. Two hours is the perfect amount of time for my kids to play. They get to see everything but don’t have enough time to get bored.
Now that the meters run on the MOTU app, it’s so easy to keep track of your remaining time.
Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
11 Sheldon Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503