Learn to Expect the Unexpected at the Hands on Museum in Ann Arbor

By: Kurt Buesching | May 25, 2012

Parents strive everyday to introduce the world to their children in new and exciting ways. However, coming up with interesting and fun examples to teach things like math, science and technology to your kids is not always easy. Enter the Hands on Museum in Ann Arbor. This extremely unique but equally entertaining museum takes a whole new approach to help teach children about the world around them through science, technology, mathematics, engineering and health.

When talking about the Hands on Museum, it really does not do it justice to just call it a museum. It is so much more than that. It is a place that fosters the education and growth of children’s minds in a carefree, informal setting. People of all ages are encouraged to explore the world around them through interactive exhibits, programs and demonstrations.  As Mel Drumm, Executive Director, explains, “It is a lifelong learning adventure all under one roof”.

The museum is composed of different exhibits and demonstrations that teach patrons about how things work. From an exhibit that demonstrates how a combination lock works to one that outlines the path an email takes once it is sent out, there are so many different learning experiences available for kids of all ages.  The museum is age appropriate for anyone, whether you are 2 years, 22 years or 102 years old. However, the most common age group frequenting the museum is preschool aged kids up to around 8 years of age. There is even an entire preschool area, almost a museum within a museum, available for the younger kiddies.

The spark that started the Hands on Museum ignited back in the early 70’s. At the time, there was nothing like it anywhere. Museums were all pretty much the same, exhibits behind glass that people went to look at. However, a small group of people in Ann Arbor wanted something more. Headed by Cynthia Yao, a group of physics professors and local business people got together and began a push for an interactive, hands on museum to teach children and their families about the sciences. This was no easy task. However, through dedication and perseverance, they sought funding and convinced the city of Ann Arbor to allow them to use a decommissioned firehouse to set up the museum. The grand opening of the Hands on Museum was in 1982, the 100 year anniversary of the firehouse itself.

Since they opened, the Hands on Museum has seen almost 4 million visitors come through and experience the amazing exhibits they have created.  The museum is run by a dedicated staff that is passionate about providing an outstanding educational experience for all who visit. They make it fun to learn. Mr. Drumm speaks of how often staff members witness parents and their children learning together.  “It is a social based learning system,” he says. “You see parents talking to their kids about an exhibit and then you witness the moment where the child understands and it is just amazing”.

Kids at HOM

More than just the museum in Ann Arbor, The Hands on Museum also has an extensive outreach program that goes into the community and surrounding counties.  Through generous donations, admission and program fees, you can find the Hands on Museum running programs and demonstrations in local libraries and schools all over the area. In addition, they have a Discover Science Assistance Fund that is set up to help less fortunate students who might not have the means to visit the Hand on Museum on their own. Through this fund thousands of students, from multiple counties, have the opportunity to experience the museum and learn from the exhibits.

Set in a community that puts a high priority on education and learning, the Hands on Museum fits in perfectly. They receive plenty of support and volunteers from the surrounding community. Many of the students from U of M help by designing exhibits and volunteering their time. Businesses and other locals also volunteer their time and resources and have helped make the museum what it is today… an establishment that proudly fosters learning and fun at the same time.

The Hands of Museum is open year round, only closing on major holidays. The hours of operation are Monday thru Saturday, 10 am until 5 pm, with Tuesday being an early day, opening at 9 am and Thursday being a late day, closing at 8 pm. The museum is also open noon to 5 pm on Sundays.  Admission is $10 per person for all those over the age of 2 years. Since the museum is privately funded, the operation costs are covered by donations, programs and admission fees. To find out more about the hands on museum, information on having the museum come to your school or how to make a donation, please visit www.aahom.org.