Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Hands -On Adventure in Ann Arbor

We took a road trip with our kids this weekend to Ann Arbor to check out their children's Hands-On Museum.  The museum has a focus on teaching children about the science behind everyday life through more than 250 exhibits that let kids touch, feel & experience demonstrations & experiments.  Admission is $10 per person for both children and adults.   It is located on Ann Street tucked away along a nice neighborhood in downtown Ann Arbor in close proximity to 2 parking decks and numerous restaurants.  The museum is divided up into 9 areas covering four floors: the "Concourse", "All About You", "Preschool Gallery", "Legacy Gallery", "Michigan Nature", "World Around You", "Lyons Country Store", "Light & Optics" & "Media Works".

The "Concourse" is the main floor of displays for the Hands-On Museum.  Some of the fun and interesting things they had on display were whisper dishes at either end of a hall that reflected sound waves so that you could hear someone whisper to you from one dish to the other, the Building in a Building that shows you how things like a toilet, furnace, insulation, and electricity work inside your house, Google Liquid Galaxy that provided a 3-D computer generated view of the world around us as if you were exploring the Earth from a visiting space ship, the Tornado Generator that recreates miniature tornadoes in front of your eyes, along with an area where you can play with huge building blocks, water tables, and an original World War 2 flight simulator.

The "All About You" area of the Hands-On Museum has a real ambulance on display where you can climb aboard and pretend you are on an emergency run.  They also have machines that you can interact with that let you hear your heart beat and do other things to explain health topics and let you examine your own physical fitness.

We spent the bulk of our trip in the "Preschool Gallery" that had a huge exhibit that demonstrates how physics work by shooting rubber balls through a metal obstacle course in addition to water tables, a fish tank with a real life Finding Nemo clown fish, a building blocks room, a play house and a miniature fire truck.

The "Preschool Gallery" is designated for children 5 and under.  It is a shame that the museum doesn't have the another physics display like the one in this area for older children to have access to because I believe it would be entertaining and educational for most grade school kids of any age.  It's nice to have a space for younger children to enjoy without being overwhelmed by "older kids" but this was one of my son and daughter's favorite parts of the museum and they'll be too old to experience it again if we go back again as they will be turning 5 in a few months.  My 4 year old twins did have a blast in this area though during our trip!

The "Lyons Country Store" is an early 20th century general store that shows store goods and toys from this time period.  What is most interesting about this display though is the 21st century tech it demonstrates ... there is a realistic 3 dimensional hologram that tells you about the store in the exhibit.  This probably was the Geek Daddy's favorite part of our visit. I wish I'd gotten a good picture to share with you but unfortunately all my photos just show a blur.

The "World Around You" had a really fun exhibit where you walked inside a circular area and pulled on a chain.  This action raised a screen around you that created a bubble film screen around you.  I hadn't seen this type of display before, based on the same premise as blowing bubbles in the back yard, and it was fun to play with.  The area also had a bee hive, a piano you could walk on and play like the one in the movie "Big" and some pipes that you banged on with a sandal to make music.  There also was a fun climbing wall for the kids along the back wall of the room. This was another interesting and amusing part of the museum.

The "Legacy Gallery" had some interesting mechanical displays including an awesome exhibit called the Magnetoscope which allows you to manipulate magnetic fields to create amazing patterns in fluid.  It also had an interesting maze display that shoots metal balls through it to explain how the Internet and email work.

Unfortunately, I have to say that the last three areas of the museum were somewhat lame and could use some work, even though our kids did have some fun in the "Media Works" area dancing in front of a screen that re-displayed their images on a big screen as colorful images that vibrated to their motion. That being said overall it is a very nice facility with friendly staff and we had an enjoyable experience with our visit.

If you live in Southeastern Michigan or may be visiting and have preschool, kindergarten or young grade school kids, I'd recommend stopping by the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.  For families with older children, you may want to consider a trip to the Imagination Station in Toledo though.  Check out my post from our family's visit there: "Our Trip to the Imagination Station."

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