By SOPHIA BAUER
MT. PLEASANT — “I love it here,” Eleanor announces before she dashes off to climb inside a beehive. Ordinarily, that would be a dangerous idea, but here in the Discovery Museum, it’s a way for Eleanor, 8, to learn, completely without realizing she is doing it.
At the Mt. Pleasant Discovery Museum, subtly teaching children is one of the key components of the museum’s philosophy. That’s why there are no informational signs posted about the exhibits.
“Our philosophy was that we wanted open-ended play instead of straight teaching. We wanted to foster an interest in kids,” museum board member Jennifer Fields explains.
The museum creators wanted the exhibits to be a hands-on reflection of the natural world. Instead of instructing children on what they are learning or doing, the exhibits skillfully introduce concepts such as physics and fractions to young kids who simply think that they are playing, in hopes that this knowledge will be triggered later in life.
Each one of the eight exhibits allows children to explore and learn. The Eat Right Smoothie station in the Farmer’s Market introduces fractions when kids “cut” wooden fruits and vegetables, held together in sections by Velcro, in order to follow recipe cards or make their own pretend smoothies.
At the Exploratorium, physics is introduced when kids build rockets out of PVC pipe, paper, and tape, and then use the rocket launcher to try to get their rockets through hoops suspended from the top of the netted rocket cage.
In the One World exhibit, children are exposed to the culture of Japan while they try on kimonos and Geta shoes, pretend to make sushi, practice their calligraphy skills, and play in a Zen garden.
The Beemazium, a three-story maze designed like a beehive, educates children about science and encourages them to think about pollination while they pretend to pollinate flowers in the maze. They have no idea that they’re learning, but if they want a more obvious educational experience, the museum offers classes on bees.
Alongside these exhibits are the Water Works Inc., a water play station modeled in the shape of the Chippewa River; the Baby Carrots exhibit, an area with a painted pond and a felt garden where children can pretend to fish, canoe, plant vegetables, and climb a tree house; and a quiet nook with books, beanbags, and play tables filled with beans and measuring cups.
All the exhibits are located in one large room, allowing parents to sit almost anywhere in the museum and see their kids at all times. The room is filled with light, a result of the museum creators’ effort to ensure that sunlight reaches everywhere in the museum.
The December 2012 opening of the Discovery Museum was the result of a five-year project. It started out small, with a group of people with young kids recognizing a need in town for a children’s museum, and from there it grew bigger than anyone imagined.
Fields, an adjunct instructor at MMCC, along with other board members visited more than 20 museums all over the world for inspiration, researched what the community could support, and did extensive fundraising. The Morey Foundation donated $1 million to the museum, and they weren’t the only ones. More than 600 donors contributed to the project, from a class of second graders who donated pennies to local businesses that donated time and labor.
Community involvement has been a huge part of the project. A local quilting guild made I Spy-themed quilts based on the original sketches of the exhibits. Over 250 members of the community made self-portraits, which hang in the halls of the museum.
A board of directors, a director, and an administrator run the museum. It also has a youth volunteer advisory board, comprised of kids from ages 7-17. The advisory board helps keep the museum kid-centric. The museum also offers various volunteer positions for people of all ages.
The Discovery Museum offers birthday parties, field trips with classes on their exhibits, and membership opportunities. In order to ensure every child can enjoy the museum, a Visitor Scholarship Fund is in place, which anyone can donate to in order to help children enjoy the museum.
Even after five years of planning, the museum isn’t done. Currently, they are fundraising in order to build a giant rocket ship to place in the silo of the museum for children to climb on. Future plans for the museum include a pretend oven and bakery in the Farmer’s Market, a live beehive to accompany the Beemazium, and an outdoor play area.
“It’s never going to be done. That’s the beauty of it. There will always be new exhibits and new things for children to explore,” Fields says.
4 types of volunteering
1. Educational programs
2. Behind the scenes
3. Special events
4. Museum exhibits and floor
Volunteers receive community service credits, a chance to network with staff and volunteers, and a chance to be a part of early childhood education and reform
Find an application at www.mpdiscoverymuseum.org or contact administrator Heather Frisch at firstname.lastname@example.org or (989)317-3221.
The Discovery Museum offers various membership packages, ranging in price from $75-$100. Packages can be customized to include more children, passes for visitors, and even caregiver access. All memberships include unlimited access, discounts on parties, classes, and programs, and admission to events and museum hours reserved for members.
1-12 kids – $125 for nonmembers, $112.50 for members
13-25 kids – $175 for nonmembers, $157.50 for members
26-36 kids – $225 for nonmembers, $202.50 for members
Parties include daily admission, face painting, and a private room rental with tables and chairs
Discovery Museum at a glance
5093 E. Remus Road
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5:30 p.m.