Monday, May 11, 2015

Grand Rapids, Michigan: Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Last year my family purchased a years membership to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.   Since there is so much to see and do at the gardens I thought it would be best if I wrapped it all up into one blog post!   Here is all the fun that we had (plus some other mentionables):

Map of the inside.
The art inside is always changing and usually very interesting to check out.  Even for someone like me that doesn't always understand what makes one thing art versus trash...  Here are a couple of my favorite's from the past year.

Very colorful!

Perfectly shaped and made out of feathers!

It's such a great place to visit during the winter when you want to take your mind to a warmer place.

I also discovered that they move plants around during the year so you always see the best of each.  For example:  a flowering plant would be displayed during the time it blooms the best.  We also enjoyed seeing things like banana trees and pineapple plants with a variety of fruit growth stages.

Hide and seek - there are always a variety of birds flying around.  It's a fun game to see how many species you can find in a visit.

Butterflies Are Blooming:  This is a great experience that is offered every March and April.  It can get very busy so plan your visit accordingly.  We visited on a holiday that I thought might lesson the amount of visitors.  And - I was right :-)

They have a system set up to help make the wait entertaining.  It all starts by leading you through a section of the greenhouse where you learn all about caterpillars.  

Once we had explored the caterpillars we were ready to enter the Tropical Conservatory (where the butterflies are free to roam).  FYI - strollers are left at the gate.  At the entrance you walk through two sets of chain curtains that are there to prevent butterflies from leaving the conservatory on visitors clothing.  

Learn more about cocoons and even witness some of them hatch.

I thought this one was interesting with its crinkled wings.
Touching the butterflies is not allowed.  Now and then we would see one that appeared to be hurt.  There are plenty of volunteers around so we made them aware.  The volunteers provide all the care to ensure that the butterflies have a safe place to roam.

Nectar hidden in bowls with rocks.  We saw a lot of butterflies at these stations.

Year round they provide cut fruit for the birds that live in the conservatory.

Camps:  A friend of mine signed her daughter up for a camp at the gardens for spring break.  She had such great things to say about it!  So, I found a camp that fit each of my kiddos.  I have to agree that they were pretty great!

My daughter attended "Dynamite Drawing Camp" (half days, in the morning, 4 days out of the week).  She loved it, made some great friends, and came home with some form of art every day.  This was my favorite - chalk art picture drawn from a live dog model they had on site.

My son attended the "Amazing Animals Camp" where he explored animal habitats through out the gardens and created some fun art projects about what he learned.  He also loved his camp and it ran for 4 mornings in one week.

Map of the exterior garden area.
The camps that I signed my kiddos up for were not on the same week.  Each day, while one was at camp, I let the other bring a friend to explore the gardens with us.  This worked out perfect because I purchased a family plus one membership (our family plus one other person).  

One day - it rained...  So we discovered a lot of things that we never explored before.  One is an area inside where kiddos can play.  This was great for the toddlers but also provided a few minutes of entertainment for my son and his friend.  

Now to head outside!  Every day you will see volunteers grooming and planting to keep the gardens magical.  I also noticed that some of the art pieces are on loan and are switched out now and then for new pieces.  

This is the first big art piece that we saw every time we headed outside.  I think I took a picture of it with every kiddo that visited there with us.  It's hard to tell by this picture but the head has a frown face.  We had a lot of discussion about why that might be.  The majority thought that she was not happy with her birthday party or present.

Part of the entrance to the children garden.  Every kiddo had to go through the "jail door" - LOL!

Another great art piece.  I found the story behind this to be interesting.  It's not a parent and child (as most think it is)!  It's actually a brown bear and black bear.  These two bears do not normally get along but at the children's garden - they are all friends!

Ah - I have seen many break this rule (including me until I finally noticed it).

What - no food except on the back patio???  Another rule I broke many times until I actually read this sign.  

Thankfully, the restrooms and patio area (on the back side of this building) are right near the entrance!

Amazing flowers and smells to discover!

And I love how they are all "labeled"!

The cabin!  A great place to hide out during the rain!  But, it also houses some vintage toys.  During our visits the kids liked to discover what old toys were made out of and how they were played.  I think they all agreed that they could get boring pretty fast.

Giant checkers!

A vintage toy that they enjoyed trying to get to work correctly.
Most of the toys have instructions with them .

Discovering animal prints along the walk.

Tons of educational experiences that are fun.

There are often little stands set out where volunteers will teach you a variety of things about animals.  This particular stand was about animal prints.  

The fun places to explore are endless!  This was a fun little house full of animal puppets.   They often host story time in this area too. 

Learning how to make yarn.

Learning how to make yarn.  At the end, they turned their yarn into a bracelet to keep.  It was a fun and FREE activity!

The tree house is full of adventure!
It looks small in this picture but it is actually a pretty big area filled with bridges and areas to explore.

Tea Time.

Beaver den.

I love this!  It was only out one of the many days we were there that summer but I love the idea!

This one you can sit on :-)

Digging for dinosaur bones.

This sculpture is huge and can be seen from very far away!

Boys will be boys!

And I guess girls will be girls...??  LOL

These two spent a big chunk of the day rolling down these gorgeous hills!

Lets get wet in the great lakes!  You can't climb into them but they provide boats to play with and the splashing that takes place usually ends with everyone getting wet.  Bring extra clothing if you have a little one that doesn't like to stay wet!

Off to the left of this picture is another opportunity to get a little wet.

There are two tram opportunities.  This one is mostly for the older group (or the patient child).  It will take you around the gardens to explore the sculptures.  These are also areas that you can walk to but I would have had no idea what there was to see if I hadn't taken the tram ride first.  This tram does not stop at the sculptures (to get on and off) but is very educational.

We actually walked to this section to take a stroll around the pond.

Wood?  No!  There is a great story to this that you will hear during the tram ride.

This area is where most of the weddings take place.  It is a much larger area than what this picture shows.  It is amazing!  They are also plenty of fish that come up to greet visitors.

Do you see the musical notes in this sculpture?

There are many great stories behind all the sculptures but some can be a little scary looking.  

The Japanese Garden that will open during the summer of 2015.  That will have to be another blog post.
We had the option to exit the tram at this point (or ride it back to the "station").  We decided to get off here to explore more.
The farm.  I had no idea that this existed!  I am glad that we explored this area of a trail that we were on.  It is pretty cool!  They offer a lot of fun events and educational opportunities too.  Once the Japanese Garden is open the farm will be more visible for visitors.  There are also a lot of great trails to walk in this area!

This tour option is very kid friendly!  Pick up is directly at the entrance to the children's garden.  I found out the hard way that this tour does not run on rainy days...  But, we did have one opportunity to take the tour.  The tour is great but was really for younger kids.  I had two girls with me that were going into 3rd grade.  They are pretty flexible with checking out activities but it was a little childish for them.

Pocket for the song guides.
It is a sing-a-long tour so be ready with your singing voices!

For this tour - you do get off and on at many of the sculptures.

Notice how the shape changes as you move around this piece?  We discussed the many different looks:  bull, dog, ...

The sculptures are cleaned and polished often!

Time for some exercise.

Some of the art is not so kid appropriate.  There were a few nude sculptures we had to pass to get to some of the more kid friendly pieces.

Food and shopping:

There is a gift shop near the ticket stand.  You do get a discount there if you have a membership.
There are vending machines in the restroom/snack area of the children's garden.
There is also a cafe with great food options near the ticket area (no member discount).  

Summer Concerts at Meijer Gardens:  These are highly talked about and enjoyed.  However, it is nearly impossibly to get tickets to any of the good concerts.  Thats is even for the members who get early access to tickets!  

Tuesday Evening Music Club:  These concerts offer a variety of musical interests.  At the time of writing this post I am unable to locate a price for these concerts.  The name is not one that I am familiar with but I believe these are concerts that are free to garden members (just a different name from what I remember them being called last summer).  

You can bring your own lawn chairs.
Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World:  Another one of my favorites!!!  There is so much to explore and learn!  They also offer a large variety of events!  On certain days you can visit Santa, ride a horse drawn carriage, and listen to carolers!  We visited twice this past year.  Once for Scout Night (with my sons Cub Scout troop).  That event was held at night and was amazing!  The next time we went with friends to see what the event was like during the day.  During that visit we didn't have the magical experience of the Christmas light but we did see more of the details of the exhibits.  Both visits were amazing!  We did not go during the Santa visits (I hate large crowds) and we did do a ride in the horse drawn carriage (kind-of expensive).

Picture opportunity.

Really needed a flash for this one but still super cute!
Each tree is decorated for the region/country that it represents.  Not all have Christmas trees as part of their celebration so those trees are decorated with items you would likely find on a tree (if they had one).  Next to each tree/display they have a sign that describes the culture and celebrations for each.  It really adds to the experience!

One of my sons favorites!

The tree toppers were also very interesting!

I loved these so much that I made them for a gingerbread house decorating party.  Of course - mine were edible ;-)

Sample of the signs that provide educational information about the area.  My kids and I took a picture of each of the signs so we could refer back to them.  

Scout Night:  Scavenger Hunt

Found it!

A craft that had a story to go with it.

The greenhouse area was decked out with moving train sets and sculptures of buildings/locations in the area.  This was MAGICAL at night but I really enjoyed seeing more detail during our day visit.

Recognizing other religious celebrations.

Recognizing other religious celebrations.

We loved our membership so much that we renewed it for another year!

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