A hands-on experience with an emphasis on fun for children and families, the museum offers an enriching environment where visitors are encouraged to discover and explore together.
From the moment visitors enter the 5,000-square-foot building, they are surrounded by interactive experiences built around the theme of water and its importance to all living things, especially to life in the Great Lakes region.
Inside this always-lively facility are more than 30 exhibits for young people and their caregivers, including a child-sized freighter, water table, Great Lakes lighthouse, a model of the water cycle where the child becomes a molecule of water, and much more. The GLCM also offers a wide array of drop-in and pre-arranged programs for children, and new programs and learning opportunities are regularly offered, all of which keeps Executive Director John Noonan and his staff extremely busy.
In the midst of all this, GLCM is hoping for expansion of its programs by obtaining space for a new, permanent facility on the Boardman River in downtown that can only be granted by a public vote this coming November. Northern Express had the chance to catch up with Noonan and hear how plans are progressing on that front, along with what it takes to engage, entertain and educate children on a daily basis
NE: How was 2003 for GLCM?
Noonan: The past year was just fantastic. We created two exhibits that helped children enhance their cultural literacy - “Sail Away to Mexico“ and “Sail Away to Ireland,“ giving visitors a small taste of everyday life in another culture, and a number of new programs were presented, from an after-school science and engineering program to a summer fly-fishing class. School programs were expanded and strengthened, creating new experiences that help enrich field trips. The first Children‘s Art Fair was offered in May 2003 and followed up with two more in August and November.
We‘re still a “new kid“ in town, and some people have yet to discover us. Even so, as GLCM moves deeper into the marrow of the community, we continue to find greater support and interest in the unique learning experiences that we offer here.
NE: What are the goals for 2004?
Noonan: We plan to continue to grow and build on our existing successes. I would especially like to get more children in the museum who have never had the opportunity to come visit. A trip to visit us is sometimes beyond the reach of many families and some schools in our community. I plan to continue to work to find ways to fund a trip to the museum for all of them.
NE: What are the new and different programs, features or exhibits that you have planned?
Noonan: We are working to add new exhibits and to embellish some the exhibits that we already have. After the “Sail Away“ exhibit closes in our temporary exhibit space, we hope to bring in a traveling exhibit that explores the principles behind some simple toys, called “Toy Tech.“
NE: What would you like the community know about future directions for GLCM, particularly in regards to the potential new facility and the public vote that could make that happen in November 2004?
Noonan: We are planning to construct a new facility to serve children, educators, and families in new ways that will be expanded to include both younger and older visitors. We hope to offer a special exhibit area for toddlers, as well as more exhibits for older children.
GLCM will be asking the voters of Traverse City for permission to convert a one-half acre downtown parking lot adjacent to the Post Office into a new children‘s museum facility, because the city charter requires a public vote for this. We are not asking for any public funding with this vote, and no millage or bond issue is involved.
NE: What do you see as GLCM‘s role in the community?
Noonan: First and foremost, we are an educational organization, with “education“ being broadly defined. Recently, education specialists have articulated the concept of the “learning family.“ The most influential learning environment for any child is created in the context of the child‘s family. Its importance in successful childhood development is well documented. This is where fundamental attitudes toward learning are formed and the motivation to become a life-long learner is most profound. Notwithstanding all of the great programs that we offer here, I still see our finest strength as being that we offer a place where families can come and explore new things together, reinforcing the importance of curiosity and inquiry for everyone.
NE: What do children and guests tell you about their experiences at GLCM?
Noonan: A third grader from Eastern Elementary put it this way:
“Dear Museum Friends:
Thank you so much for the amazing tour! You have a lot of interesting stuff in your museum. One of my favorite parts was transforming into water vapor and raining down the slide, but every part was exciting. The worst part was leaving. Even though we were learning things, it was very fun! The kids in my group seem excited about learning.“
NE: Are there special ways GLCM reaches out into the community, or partners with the region‘s citizenry?
Noonan: As you would expect, GLCM works closely with area educational and early childhood development organizations, such as area schools, Head Start, and the Way-to-Grow program. We work with science and environmental educational organizations, such as NMCs newly-formed Water Studies Institute and the Watershed Center. I see our organization as the beginning of a continuum of Great Lakes education that will go on with the Inland Seas Education Association and will be completed by the programs and research at the Water Studies Institute. The Museum is also an active partner in the Traverse Area Arts Council‘s Cultural Coalition, helping to strengthen the cultural offerings to that keep our community vibrant and, dare I say,“cool.“
NE: In more detail, how does GLCM work with area schools?
Noonan: In addition to offering a diverse menu of group programs to all area schools, we are trying to fund a pilot program that would bring all of the third- and fourth-graders from the Traverse City Area Public Schools to GLCM. This would provide all children in those grades with a culminating experience for a specific curriculum unit, helping make that subject matter more memorable. If we succeed with this program, we hope to expand it to all of the schools in the region.
NE: At present, what are you most proud of GLCM for accomplishing?
Noonan: I am most proud of how quickly the organization brought the museum to life. Before I came on as executive director, I worked for GLCM as a volunteer on the community design team. Looking back at the process and our continued evolution, I am amazed at all of the creative and talented people that this project has attracted at every step along the way.
NE: Five years from now, where would you like to see GLCM be?
Noonan: I want to be in a brand-new facility with new exhibits and room for more exciting programs. We will have more exhibits and activities for older children ages 8-12, and I‘d also like to see the community support us in such a way that we can reach out to more children who might not otherwise be able to afford to experience what we have here and open our doors to them.
Best Place to Take the Kids:
Readers‘ top picks from the Best of Northern Michigan survey:
1. Great Lakes Children‘s Museum
2. Clinch Park Zoo, TC
3. Kid‘s Cove, TC
4. Sleeping Bear Dunes
5. Great Wolf Lodge water park
6. Pirate‘s Cove, Petoskey/TC
7. Waterfront Park, Petoskey
-- Fun Country, Interlochen
-- To daycare
-- Traverse Area District Library
-- Tubing on the Boardman River
-- Cherrybowl Drive-In, Honor
-- Call of the Wild go-carts
-- Cooperation Park, Indian River
-- Around the block
-- Disney World
-- Hands On Art, TC
-- Young State Park, Boyne City
-- Cherry Festival
-- Anywhere -- just do it!
-- Civic Center, TC
-- Empire Bluffs
-- Sportsplex, Gaylord
-- Anywhere outdoors
-- Suttons Bay Beach
-- Downtown Elk Rapids beach