The Mitten Children's Museum

Wendi Onuki, executive director of the Forever Curious Children’s Museum, stands in front of the Conger House at 246 Broadway Ave., which will become the home for the Mitten Children’s Museum in South Haven.

A new museum dedicated to children is slated to be added to South Haven’s list of cultural attractions.

Affiliated with the Forever Curious Children’s Museum of Fennville, the museum in South Haven will be at 246 Broadway Ave., in the historic Conger House.

The new attraction will be called the Mitten Children’s Museum, in honor of Michigan’s nickname as “The Mitten State,” and will cater primarily to children between the ages of 1-10.

“The exhibit spaces will all be Michigan-themed,” said Wendi Onuki, executive director of the Forever Curious Children’s Museum. “We plan to have a Great Lakes exhibit, a Motown music exhibit, car exhibit, inventions exhibit – Michigan is home to a lot of inventors – and other exhibits related to our state.”

She said each of the exhibits will have stationary displays and hands-on activities.

The Motown exhibit, for instance, will contain displays and information about the role the popular Detroit record label and its recording artists played during the 1960s and early ’70s. It will also have a stage and costumes for kids to dress up and perform as their favorite Motown singer.

Finding a way

Onuki, who lives in South Haven, has spent much of this past year spearheading the formation of the museum.

The idea for a local children’s museum began in 2019 when the Fennville museum board opened a temporary “pop-up” museum in downtown South Haven for the summer months.

“We were exploring how a museum might work here,” Onuki said. “The pop-up museum was small, but very popular. After we closed it, people asked if we had plans to come back.”

But with the dawn of 2020, plans to find a permanent space for a museum in South Haven were paused due to the start of the pandemic.

As vaccines were rolled out and steps were put in place to control the spread of the virus, the Forever Curious Children’s Museum Board of Directors pushed forward to start a South Haven museum.

“We have long wanted to have a children’s museum in South Haven for the families who live here and the visitors, especially during the summer months,” Onuki said. “We already partner with the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, the South Haven Center for the Arts and other groups. The sky’s the limit here.”

Branching out

Most of the 350 children’s museums that exist throughout the United States are located in urban areas, but the growth of the Forever Curious Children’s Museum in Fennville has shown that museums geared toward youth can prosper in rural areas, Onuki said.

“In 2019, the Fennville museum had 4,000 visitors,” she said. “There’s no such museum right now in Van Buren County geared toward children. We think this will be a good opportunity for not only families, but for the community, overall.”

Onuki said the activities offered at children’s museums help youngsters develop fine motor skills, social skills, and engage in play with others.

“It’s play-based learning, but kids don’t know that – they’re just having fun,” she said, while touching on the economic impact. “... Research has shown that people who go to children’s museums spend an additional $35 outside of the museum.”

A fundraising goal of $60,000 has been set to help fund exhibits for the museum.

To donate, visit the Forever Curious Kids Museum website or Facebook page, or mail donations to Forever Curious Kids Museum, P.O. Box 1101, Fennville, MI 49408.