Like an Interactive Child Museum
When asked to describe what was meant by a “playseum,” owner Gina Seebachen was stumped. She could not find the words to succinctly describe her little business idea that started in October 2009 in Bethesda, flourished and expanded into a second Playseum in Annapolis in November 2018.
“We are similar to a children’s museum,” says Seebachen. “We want kids to create memories with their parents. We offer a pretend city with interactive areas to get parents to do stuff with their kids,” notes Seebachen.
More than just a museum for children, the Playseum encourages children and their caregivers to play together while seeing, touching, hearing, smelling and tasting. To ensure children are actively engaged with their parents or caregivers, the Playseum discourages drop-offs and cell phone usage.
According to its website, the Playseum Bethesda location offers more than 15 charming cityshops while the new Annapolis location features 24. Cityshops are miniature kid-sized rooms complete with furniture and props to simulate adult experiences such as grocery shopping, visiting grandparents, buying pets at a pet store, playing musical instruments and working at a hospital or fire station. There is also ample opportunity for imaginative play through dress-up with costumes, uniforms, fancy gowns and authentic clothes from historical times.
Making Memories With Your Children
Seebachen was adamant in saying that the Playseum was “not just a place where kids can play.” As Seebachen thought about how to engage parents to play with their children, the idea came to her from her personal experiences.
“Every day we should be producing memories,” she says wistfully, recalling how a dark period in her life motivated her to create a business that would have a positive effect on children and the special relationships they have with parents and caregivers.
“I built this [the Playseum] off my mom passing away when I was very young,” says Seebachen. My kids don’t have memories with their grandmother,” adds Seebachen. Instead of dwelling on the sad reality that her children would not have special bonding time with her mother, Seebachen fueled her spirit with a self-fulfilling prophecy of cheerfulness and gratitude. Feeling strongly about creating memories with her own children, Seebachen began to slowly introduce her son and three daughters to the business of operating the Playseum. Her four children have worked intermittently at the Playseum through the years and today. Seebachen’s daughter is in charge of the Annapolis location, a fact that makes the mother of four beam with pride.
According to the website, people ages 1 – 100 pay $9 for admission to the Bethesda and Annapolis locations. Guests may roam throughout the cityshops and engage their five senses through imaginative play. Children can take turns filling their grocery carts with pretend boxes of pasta, produce and meats, while others work the cash register and ring up customer orders.
In a separate room are live animals, including birds and bunnies. Children are encouraged to look at the animals and, during special moments, may hold and feed them. In another room, children are whisked away to an age of yesteryear when phonographs played upbeat songs, while the fashion trend was for men to wear top hats and ladies to wear long flowery dresses and pearls.
After experiencing the interactive rooms, children and their caregivers can take a break in the company of Playseum staff, who are ready to do fun activities for extra fees. With fees ranging from $1 – $10 per activity, children may have their fingernails painted, decorate cookies and cupcakes, create an art project or make homemade lip balm or shower gel. Guests must pay for these activities with Playseum dollars, special currency that costs $1 per Playseum dollar. The Playseum offers guests $25 in Playseum dollars upon admission when guests pay $20.
When Gina Seebachen first opened the Playseum in Bethesda in October 2009, her goal was to provide a place for children and parents to create memories together while simultaneously “helping a child far away.” Seebachen started off small, with a goal to donate 10 cents for every dollar she earned to LifeBridge Ministries to support their work in ending human trafficking in India
Over the years, Seebachen’s efforts have helped 85 children who were previously trafficked and then successfully placed in loving adoption arrangements. Her efforts also spilled over into other international projects. Per a recent newsletter, “Every day you go to the Playseum, you help provide funds for the education, care, housing, food and clothing for children in both India and China and the provision of wells to communities that need them.”
In 2016, her charitable international efforts picked up considerably after a fateful visit from a Chinese delegation of educators handpicked the Playseum. They said, it was “the most personal and family-friendly children’s museum” they had seen in the United States. That visit led Seebachen to receive a commission to design an American-style mini restaurant and other kid-friendly rooms in a children’s museum in Chengdu, China.
After the initial trip to China in 2016, Seebachen has been invited to return to China each year in October to speak at an early childhood conference. She considers it an honor to be asked to continue her mission of creating memories for children and their caregivers internationally.
Thanks for the Memories
Seebachen spoke candidly with Washington Parent, explaining that the building where the Playseum has been located for the last nine years has been sold and the new owners have decided to demolish the building once the Playseum’s lease is done. This real estate decision means the Playseum is moving at the end of September 2019, just one month shy of its 10-year anniversary. Seebachen does not know where the Playseum will go, but she firmly hopes to stay in the Bethesda area due to the strong diversity and international vibes.
As Seebachen plans the future site of the Bethesda location, while working with her sister, Pepper to open a Playseum in Nebraska, let’s call upon Bob Hope’s famous closing song, “Thanks for the Memories,” as we thank Gina Seebachen for giving us almost 10 years of memories with our children at the Playseum, and for the opportunity to create new memories at the Annapolis location.
For more information, visit: playseum.com.