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New exhibits planned at Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum

Mya Pieffer, 5, of downstate Boyne City, plays with a toy grocery cart Wednesday during a visit to the Upper Peninsula ChildrenÕs Museum. Projects for some new major exhibits are underway at the museum. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

By CHRISTIE BLECK

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — The Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum is getting even brainier.

Executive Director Nheena Weyer Ittner talked about two exhibits in the works at the museum, located at 123 W. Baraga Ave., Marquette.

Her “exhibits guy,” Landon Stelwagen, is working on the major undertakings, one of which is the “Body Exhibit.”

It depicts just what its name says: a human body.

“He’s finishing the head right now,” Ittner said. “He’s got the stomach done. He’s got the skin wall done.”

When the head is completed, then the “cerebral” part comes, and that’s the brain, which Ittner said will be an enormous structure in the middle of the room.

“Kids will be climbing into the brain from other body parts, sliding out of the brain into other parts,” Ittner said. “The concept is to understand that the brain is connected to all of your body, even though the body is not going to look like a real body lying down. It’s just going to have elements of your body bigger than life.”

As with everything the museum does, the exhibit is about educational fun.

“Kids learn by playing,” Ittner said. “That’s what they do, but parents have unexpected moments of learning.”

So, Ittner said that one of the goals of the Body Exhibit is to let kids have fun with gross motion skills and learn about human anatomy.

The other goal is to help parents understand how to be good stewards when it comes to their children’s health.

“Sometimes you know the best foods to go in that person’s stomach, but we hope to be able to show parents in unexpected ways that they can help their children to grow,” Ittner said.

The Body Exhibit will be located near the popular “slide down intestine.”

Ittner said the former body display was taken down because the belief was it wasn’t following the museum’s idea of learning.

“With children, you really want to foster imagination, problem solving, creative thinking — and we just felt this other exhibit was more like ‘push a button and walk away’ kind of thing,” Ittner said. “Kids love buttons.”

The new one, she said, will make “kids squeal to go to that part of the exhibit.”

Size also is a factor.

“Little kids relate to things that are tiny or ginormous, so this is going to be just ginormous,” Ittner said.

The time frame for the Body Exhibit to be completed, she said, is: “ASAP. Exclamation Point.”

Ittner said another undertaking is the “Air Phone.”

She got the inspiration for the exhibit after listening to an episode of the radio program “This American Life.” The episode was about a man in Japan who lost a family member in a tsunami.

“He was very grief stricken, so he put in his backyard a phone booth, and he called it his ‘air phone,'” Ittner said.

The man used that phone, which wasn’t hooked up to anything, to tell his loved one about his day, which made him feel better.

Word of his air phone spread throughout Japan, resulting in people who had lost loved ones standing in line to use his device.

“I loved the idea of being able to communicate, even just having a place where you can, even though it does not connect to anything,” Ittner said.

Another intangible kind of connectedness, though, could be possible.

“When you lose someone who is so special, this might be one way you can help deal with your grief and feel close to that person who’s gone,” Ittner said.

The exhibit will resemble a phone booth where, she said, a visitor can talk to a grandmother or even a battling neighbor, where words can be spoken — just not in person so the situation can be handled in a non-confrontational way.

“You can sit and talk to Abraham Lincoln if you want,” Ittner said. “It’s up to you who you want to just sit and chat with.

“And how is it going to be received? We have no clue.”

The hope is that the Air Phone will be ready in September.

The museum also hosts many events, such as the Second Thursday Creativity Series, and is home to a reptile exhibit, model train and other attractions.

Mya Pieffer, 5, of downstate Boyne City, visited the UPCM Wednesday.

She worked a toy cash register, put on theater costumes and pushed a miniature grocery cart, among other activities.

“It’s just so real,” Mya said of the toy kitchen area with fake but realistic food.

For more information about the UPCM, visit upchildrensmuseum.org, call 906-226-3911 or look it up on Facebook.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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