With two weeks of unstructured time to drive aimlessly around Michigan, inevitably our family found ourselves seeking out fun in the name of education. From children’s museums to discovery centers and interactive natural history hybrids, perhaps our random adventure will make its way onto another family’s structured itinerary.
Children’s Museums in Michigan
Great Lakes Children’s Museum, Traverse City
Overlooking the West Arm of the Grand Traverse Bay, the Great Lakes Children’s Museum in Traverse City is true to the area’s nautical theme. Kids can climb a lighthouse, sail a sloop, or spy on siblings with the periscope. Teaching children about the balance of the fresh water ecosystem, be sure to also sail a magnetic boat down the scale model of the Great Lakes waterway (available if a birthday party isn’t in session). Crawlers and toddlers will enjoy soft toys and blocks in the “Toddler Beach” area while parents oversee the creative process at the nearby art pavilion area. A fun destination in the winter, the museum is cozy enough for a morning or afternoon (those of us with more than one child will appreciate the open, one story floor plan and central restrooms).
Recommended to us by the owners of the Gaylord Discovery Center, we had a hunch the Raven Hill Discovery Center in East Jordan would be worth the winding, country drive. Quite out in the country, plan to make a 45 minute jaunt off the main highway corridor (if you have the feeling you are lost, Raven Hill is just around the next bend and up a dirt road and two hubcap eating hills). Worth more than just a mention in this post, look for a more in-depth report of the Raven Hill Discovery Center later this fall.
From a 10,000 foot view, the 157 Raven Hill complex is split into three different areas that incorporate science, history and art: Main Museum, Jurassic Park, and Ancient World. In four-season friendly Main Museum, students of all ages are set free to discover the world around them (using lasers, magnets, musical instruments, rocks, tools, and even exotic animals). Bringing elements of the museum out into nature, the earth tones garden extends out onto the taxi trail, past the one room school house, woodland tree house, and short wetland boardwalk ending in the 30-acre ancient world (where a family can easily spend the better part of an afternoon learning about archeology and the for major cultures of the world known to us by mythology, carbon dating, and history books). Daily admission to Raven Hill is $8/person, but look for special events like Second Saturday Science (free admission) or purchase an annual family membership for $75.
One of the favorite finds of our entire summer, the Children’s Museum of Fennville is located on East Main Street in the heart of Fennville, a sleepy, rural community 15 minutes south of Holland (and about four miles inland from Highway 196 and the sandy shores of Lake Michigan). Large enough to keep different age kids engaged and small enough to let them roam, the Children’s Museum of Fennville partnered with Michigan’s educators in each of their interactive exhibits. From the toddler corner to the special abilities area, adults (ahem) were spotted in the bubble corner and attempting to re-assemble a human skeleton with a wildly misplaced kidney.
A popular birthday party spot, the Children’s Museum was luxuriously quiet during our Fennville debut. Between the wigwam, indoor climbing area, and pedal-powered lottery machine, 100% of the kids fell asleep en route back home. Affordable at $3.50/person, we used a local Groupon for 50% off our total bill. A favorite local gathering spot for Thursday toddler time, summer camps, and special events (see the museum website), consider an annual membership to the museum for $60.
Offering patrons free admission, the Lakeshore Museum Center in downtown Muskegon is a steal of a deal. With school field trip written all over it, museum exhibits change by floor and room. To see the giant beaver, visit Michigan: From the Depths of Time on the lower level, the body mass calculator (curse you, Wisconsin cheese curds) and healthy body exhibits are upstairs and to the back of the building. Exploring the entire building and gift shop, we made a quick jaunt down the block to the Fire Barn Museum and Skolnik House (also free) before heading home for the day.