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Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

March 3, 2015

  • 220 E. Ann Street
  • Ann Arbor, MI 48014
  • (734) 995-5439
  • Website

You all get it.  It’s been a loooooooong couple of months with the never-ending snow and cold.  Like many people in Michigan, we were starting to get a little bit of cabin fever and needed to get out of the house.

While looking for something to do last weekend, I stumbled across a website for the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.  It’s been a while since J and I took a trip to Ann Arbor…and L has never been there.   The sun was out and the drive would be pleasant, so we decided to take our first day trip in several months.

The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum opened in 1982 inside a historic firehouse.  The building is in downtown Ann Arbor on Ann Street between 4th and 5th Avenues.  The downtown location makes parking pretty tricky.  They have some handicap spots right in front of the museum, but after that, it’s kind of a free-for-all.  They suggest parking in a ramp a block and a half from the museum.  Not a problem in the summer, but even though the sun was out, it was bout 5 degrees on the day we visited.  A block and a half is an eternity with a slow walking 3 year old.  We drove around the block several times looking for something closer before finding a Washtenaw County lot that is free and open to the public on weekends.  That got us a little closer, but we still had about a half a block walk.

I’m pretty sure all of Southeast Michigan had the same idea to get out of the house because the museum was pretty packed when we got there just before 1:00.  J was actually trying to time it a typical toddler nap time hoping some of the morning crowd would be leaving and the afternoon crowd wouldn’t be there yet.  It actually looks like she was on to something because by the time we left at 3:00, it was almost impossible to move around the building.  There were so many people there and so many more waiting to get in.

The admission cost is $12 for anyone over the age of 2.  It really comes out to $36 for our child to play because you know J and I are just standing around watching.  I want to play, but there were so many kids,  I didn’t want to get in the way or take anything from them.  

After  hanging our coats up, we headed up to the Preschool Gallery on the second floor.  While all of the exhibits are something L could do, the preschool gallery is made for kids under the age of 4.

Right away, L was drawn to the Engineering on a Roll exhibit that takes up a good part of the space.  The highly interactive exhibit uses plastic balls and a series of lifts, ramps, switches, and other tools to send the balls around a metal track in the ceiling.  L found a little plastic pail and loaded it up with balls then headed to one of the landings to put them in a spiral rail that sent them back to the beginning.  She did this for the better part of an hour.  She didn’t want to do anything else and got mad when we suggested so.  Collecting the little plastic balls and sending them down the ramp was all she wanted to do and since this day was for her, we let her for quite a while.

The Preschool Gallery actually does have other exhibits including a Duplo table, a clubhouse, an infant area, and a water table.  Once L was done with the balls, she set her bucket down and headed to the clubhouse where she climbed the stairs and looked out at us through the railings.  There was a kitchen area in the bottom of the clubhouse with a couple of stoves and right next to it was a wooden fire engine that included little fire coats and Chief helmets.

Other than the Preschool Gallery, we didn’t explore as much of the museum as I would have liked to.  The concourse area has a large water table that we never made it to plus a neat little play house that I think L looked in and didn’t find interesting enough at the time.  She did have some fun building with foam blocks but there was one kid….more like one dad, who was hogging all the blocks and building a giant fort for his daughter was trapped on the inside.

The other big hit for us was in the All About You Gallery.  They have a full-size ambulance from Huron Valley Ambulance.  They have a lot of the buttons and switches still in the ambulance so you know the kids loved that.  L hopped in the back and took a seat in the jump seat and just kind of people watched.  She kept saying she was ready to go for a ride.  We had to tell her the ambulance wasn’t going anywhere and that it was just to look at.

We tried to get her to check out some more of the exhibits, but after that, it was back to the Preschool Gallery to play with the balls at the Engineering on a Roll exhibit.  There are a couple other neat exhibits that I would have liked to have seen including the MediaWorks which is all about the science of television and telecommunications.  There’s also The Lions Country store (a trip back to a 1930’s store) and the DTE Energy Foundation Light and Optics which looked neat to me, but probably a little too old for L.

All told, we spent about two hours playing in the museum and it was time to go just as the afternoon rush was getting there.  We had a lot of fun at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.  L loved it.  We got a little bit of a fit once it was time go because there was still more playing to.  We didn’t get to see everything they have to offer, but the interactive we did spend some time with were fantastic.  It’s definitely a day trip we will look forward to again sometime in the future.

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