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Minnesota Children’s Museum and University of St. Thomas Team Up to Advance the Power of Play

University’s Playful Learning Lab to Collaborate with Museum on Research and Hands-On Experiences

St. Paul, Minn. – Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas are joining forces to make play even more powerful for Minnesota families.

The two leaders in championing play will work together to create playful experiences at the museum and collaborate on research about the critical role of play in early childhood development.

Kicking Off This Summer

The partnership comes to life this summer as Playful Learning Lab students prototype a variety of brain-building activities and host hands-on workshops with museum visitors. The experiences add to the museum’s summer focus on special exhibits and programs that help children develop critical and creative thinking skills.

Dr. AnnMarie Thomas, founder and director of the Playful Learning Lab, will set up an office this fall at the museum. She will guide lab students as they work with museum staff to develop play activities and evaluate the learning that happens when kids play.

“Everyone knows play is fun,” Dr. Thomas said. “But not everyone knows that play is absolutely critical in helping kids develop the social, emotional and cognitive skills they need to thrive.”

One goal of the partnership is to help parents notice the power of play and learn more about what they can do to support their child’s playful learning. Ultimately, the partners aim to help reverse a decades-long decline in the amount of time the average child spends playing.

“When parents see how play helps their child flourish, they’re more likely to make play a priority in their family,” said Dianne Krizan, president of Minnesota Children’s Museum.

During the partnership, the lab and museum will:

  • Collaborate on exhibit and experience design
  • Establish a research program to complete studies and publish results
  • Seek grants to fund research, experiences and other collaborative projects

Code + Chords Workshops

Later this summer, the Playful Learning Lab plans to bring Code + Chords workshops to the museum. In an experience that blends computer science and music, museum visitors will participate while lab students use special computer code to turn voices into real-time visual displays.

The Code + Chords workshops complement the museum’s Think Big | Dream Big summer experiences, which aim to get kids thinking critically and creatively.

Summer Experiences at the Museum

Special experiences just around for the summer at the museum include:

  • Rube Goldberg™: The World of Hilarious Invention! – Activate wacky chain reaction contraptions inspired by original Rube Goldberg illustrations.
  • Cosmic Junkyard in Imaginopolis – Crawl through a black hole, play astronaut at the console of a spaceship and decode alien messages.
  • Creativity Jam in the Target Gallery – Make an adventure journal, contribute to a collaborative art installation and harness the power of daydreaming.
  • The Studio in the Target Gallery – Explore the six simple machines and use a variety of materials to engineer pulleys, levers, catapults and much more.
  • The Landing – Test theories and solve problems by tackling a variety of engineering and design challenges.

About Minnesota Children’s Museum

Minnesota Children’s Museum sparks children’s learning through play. The museum, a nonprofit organization, serves more than 550,000 visitors each year at its locations in St. Paul and Rochester. Through interactive exhibits and programs, the museum provides open-ended, self-directed experiences that cultivate critical thinking, creativity, confidence and other lifelong skills. The museum serves as a resource for parents to advance their children’s playful learning in the museum and beyond. Minnesota Children’s Museum is a leading producer of hands-on rental exhibits for children’s museums and discovery centers. Visit mcm.org for more information.

About the University of St. Thomas

Located in St. Paul, Minn., the University of St. Thomas is a private, liberal arts university that emphasizes values-based education and career preparation. With more than 10,000 students, it is Minnesota’s largest independent college or university. The university welcomes students of all ages, religions, races and financial backgrounds. Inspired by Catholic intellectual tradition, the University of St. Thomas educates students to be morally responsible leaders who think critically, act wisely and work skillfully to advance the common good. The university has three campuses: St. Paul, Minneapolis and Rome, Italy.

About The Playful Learning Lab
The Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas is a research group led by Dr. AnnMarie Thomas. The team of research students, affiliated educators, and collaborators work together to creating engaging, hands-on experiences for PK-12 students and educators, with a focus on fun.

About Dr. AnnMarie Thomas

AnnMarie is a Professor in the School of Engineering and the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas. She is the founder and director of the Playful Learning Lab, which explores ways to encourage children, of all ages, to embrace playful learning. She and her students created Squishy Circuits. She is the author of “Making Makers: Kids, Tools, and the Future of Innovation.”

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