Nestled in the heart of Downtown Ann Arbor is a parent’s dream land. We spent the day today at The Ann Arbor Hands on Museum. I have a difficult family to please and day trips rarely go well, I will admit that right off the bat. I have an 11 year old son, who is too old for most “kid activities.” Having a child heading into middle school means a lot of normal outings will be a drag for him. Next, I have to try to consider the needs of my six year old developmentally disabled son. In over-stimulating or chaotic settings, “on-the-floor-tantrums” are a common occurrence. Then, I have a three year old daughter. She is also a very spirited three year old, always on the move. Finally, there’s me. I don’t like flashing lights or excessive noise, I hate being bored, and chaos makes me nervous. So, to say I was apprehensive about my decision to make the drive from Stockbridge all the way into Ann Arbor with the entire family is an understatement. I found comfort knowing that “Hands ON” was written right in the name of the place.

The Ann Arbor Hands on Museum offered the perfect level of stimulation for everyone in my family. Children were engaged in thought and exploration everywhere I looked, mine included. The exhibits were spaced far enough apart that there was room to breathe… room to stop to tie a shoe and give a hug. There were even places to sit on every floor.

We started off in the Preschool Room, where the older boys got badges appointing them a “sibling helper.” That tiny detail was brilliant, because instead of standing around whining, wondering why they had to visit the Preschool Room, they had a job. The highlight of the room was a brand new exhibit called “Engineers On a Roll.” I know it was meant for Preschoolers, but even my husband and I were enthralled watching the mechanics of the giant exhibit that shot, dropped, pumped, and chugged hand sized plastic balls through a wonderland of mazes and levels.
There were noises and lights, but none of it was too much for any of my children… or me. Every noise and light had a purpose. The flashing red lights of the genuine Huron Valley Ambulance that was parked inside the museum only enriched the experience of crawling around inside of it. Children weren’t yelling; they were too busy learning to yell.


When I heard there was going to be bubble exhibits, I was planning on avoiding those displays, because I didn’t want to ride all the way home with my children covered in soap. The bubble exhibits ended up being my favorite parts. They had one exhibit where the child stepped inside and was able to raise a hoop by pulling on a rope, making a huge wall-bubble that they were inside.
I also really liked the room that explained how the inside of a house worked. I was able to explain to my kids how plumbing worked, and why I was right when I said that stuffing toilet paper down the bathroom sink was a poor choice.
The Michigan Wildlife Room was really interesting to the entire family. Seeing the timeline on the tree slice helped my children understand the value and beauty of the trees in our own yard. We were even able to finally figure out which kind of bird had been responsible for the odd squawks we had been hearing in our yard.
I found the convenient locations and cleanliness of the bathrooms to be a relief. My daughter won’t pee in a bathroom that is, as she says, “nasty.” She’s three; she’d rather just pee her pants. Besides how clean the bathroom was, you would think the bathroom itself was an exhibit because of the miniature sink that furthered my child’s feeling of independence and worth.


When I asked my children what their favorite exhibit was, each of them stated in their own way that they loved everything. As we ate our meal at a café down the road, my children were calm. You could see they were still pondering all of the wonders they had just experienced. At the end of the day though, it really wasn’t about any particular exhibit. It wasn’t even about if they learned something new, though they learned so much today. It really was about “everything.” For our family, in particular, it was a day where all of us came together and finally found common ground. The Ann Arbor Hands on Museum explains the wonders of the world around us. I can’t think of more common ground than that.

Dawn Papple is a lifelong Livingston County resident and freelance writer who also writes for the Everything Birth natural parenting community. 

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