Living River

exhibit son father dadJust inside the front door of the Museum is a “living river” projected on the floor. Watch the fish swim about, and see how the water moves when you step into it.

Great Lakes Activity Room and Navigation Wall

Our large activity space is ideal for programs, workshops, presentations, birthday parties, sack lunches, and more, with a great view of Grand Traverse Bay and our educational micro-dune landscape. On one wall is a large map of the Great Lakes with magnetic boats, so young captains can navigate all through the Great Lakes waterways. On another wall is a small table for a busy activity, and a large bin of building blocks at child height. Visit our fish tank, too, and learn about the freshwater species in it!

Great Lakes Freighter

Put on your life jackets and experience the world of Great Lakes shipping on our big freighter. “Start” the engine with a left-to-right series of buttons and switches, “pilot” the vessel with the steering helm and navigational dashboard, and load and off-load “cargo.”

Waves of Gravity

Clear, colorful plastic tubes are attached with magnets to a metal wall. Visitors can arrange and rearrange the tubes in different formations and combinations, and then drop a ball in the top of their creation, and watch the ball run the course. There are endless possibilities for solitary exploration, cooperative building, and even competition, as kids of all ages can see whose course runs the fastest – or the slowest.

Waves of Gravity was made possible through generous grants from the Worthington Family Foundation and the Lego Children’s Fund.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

Visitors can learn about the best ways to dispose of garbage in our watershed. Pick up a piece of game garbage, place it in front of the camera, then place it in the proper disposal bin — compost, trash, recycle, or storm sewer. (We NEVER put trash in the storm sewer!) When you get 3 tries right, the watershed connection lights up all around the room!

Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters bring a rich level of learning and a deep understanding to a “playhouse” environment. Children can learn about life in another era and the lifesaving role of the lighthouses and their keepers by dressing up in period-style costumes and enacting the daily life of the people who lived in and tended the lighthouses. Your youngster will want to serve you dinner prepared in the Lighthouse kitchen! The second floor of the Lighthouse offers a cozy book nook for a quiet alternative. The view from the top of the lighthouse shows tall ships in the harbor and Grand Traverse Bay!

Heritage Sloop

Raise and lower the sail and “steer” with the wooden tiller on our authentically reproduced, single-masted, gaff-rigged sloop, provided by our friends at the Maritime Heritage Alliance. Imagine living a swashbuckling pirate’s life!

exhibit sisters girls

Water Table

Who doesn’t like water????? (except maybe the cat). In this exhibit, visitors of all ages interact directly with flowing water, channeling and redirecting it in endless ways, investigating how changing direction affects flow rates, creating standing waves and eddies, moving water over and around obstacles, conducting races and much more. The water table provides excellent opportunities for inquiry-based experimentation, for solitary explorers, or teams who cooperate to achieve a goal or compete to see whose water course will be fastest (or slowest). Plus, it’s just plain fun!

(Bring along an extra shirt!  Waterproof smocks are available BUT some water-workers play with such enthusiasm that they get quite wet.)

The Water Table was funded by a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Toddler Beach

Our colorful, cozy, comfortable toddler gallery is designed to give children age 3 and under a vivid, interesting, safe area with large-motor activities like foam structures to climb on, special small-motor hands-on activities like a texture wall, age-appropriate toys and books, a mirror for visual exploration, and soft seating on the floor. Toddler Beach is separated from the rest of the Museum gallery by a half-wall, making it possible for children of different ages to safely engage in separate activities, while parents can easily keep an eye on them all.

Water Cycle

Children can “become” a raindrop in the water cycle as they climb the steps with motion-activated heat lamps to simulate the sun (evaporation), crawl across the “cloud” (condensation), then slip down the slide (precipitation). At the bottom of the slide, they can move through the translucent blue “water fingers” near the life-sized mural of a healthy wetland, and imagine being an underwater creature!

Periscope and Speaking Tubes

Our working periscope and speaking tubes (installed at child height) allow visitors (including those who use wheelchairs) to interact with those exhibits that are not accessible.

Through the periscope, you can look out the high windows at Heritage Harbor in Grand Traverse Bay, peek inside the top of our Lighthouse, and see a close-up view of specially placed objects up high in the Museum. Speaking tubes enable conversations from the ground to the clouds in the Water Cycle, and from the kitchen to the top of the lighthouse!


Our little rowboat, the Sarah M, sits beside the Water Cycle, where children can pretend to row about and go fishing with magnetic poles and stuffed cloth fish.

Art Pavilion

Our popular art pavilion offers a new “make it and take it” craft every two weeks, as well as water-themed rubbing boards and a beautiful pine-forest mural. Spinners, snowmen, wind socks, undersea critters, and hand-tracing leaves are just a few of the fun crafts we’ve presented.

Puppet Theater

Perhaps you have a flair for the theater!  We’re constantly conducting “auditions” for original plays using our inhouse troup and traveling producers (our guests).  The troup changes periodically so depending on when you’re here, the story is sure to be new and fresh and exciting.  The theater’s capacity is limited only by the imagination of the families engaging in imaginative play!

The Puppet Theater was made possible through grants from the Les & Anne Biederman Foundation and the Worthington Family Foundation.

Building Bridges

Balance tension, compression, gravity and load while learning about the major types of bridge designs.  The smallest guests can explore bridges via a wooden track and train set. Older guests will be able to try their hand at constructing a Roman Arch, perhaps reproduce different bridge types using K’nex, OR formulate and test theories about which structures are stronger given the background information available.  Guests can also reconstruct a “building block bridge” and walk over it.  The exhibit includes pictures of famous U.S. bridges (do you think you can identify them?) including the Mackinac Bridge in a 8 foot x 10 foot mural.  There are Mac Facts, and pictures of the Mac in various stages of its construction from the 1950′s to round out the display.

Building Bridges was made possible through a generous donation from Team Elmers, and inkind contribution of materials and labor from Paul Maurer General Contracting Inc. Volunteer artist Hesper Smyth created the Mackinac Bridge mural and volunteers from Cherryland Electric and Jeremy Selden helped with painting the exhibit components as part of United Way’s Day of Caring.

What’s In The Bay

Ever wonder what’s DOWN there as you float about on the surface of the West or East Bay?  What’s In The Bay is an interactive media display to give guests the answers to that question and many more.