U.P. Children’s Museum teaches the basics first hand

MARQUETTE – A scaly world of reptilian adventure is available to kids at the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum, for those daring enough to learn about animals that aren’t necessarily warm and fuzzy.

The museum has all manner of reptiles, according to museum director Nheena Weyer Ittner, from turtles to lizards to iguanas.

Ittner said the museum uses the animals to engender a love of and respect for animals of all types in the kids who visit the building.

“What we’re trying to teach the children is the fact that they’re living creatures and they’re to be respected,” Ittner said. “We try really hard to teach the kids about the delicate nature of these animals – where they live, how best to handle them, how not to handle them. If you poke a creature in the eye, it’s going to get defensive. We try to help kids understand that…

“We, invite out guests to touch and hold the animals, but it must be done under supervision.”

All staff members are trained on how to properly hold the animals, as well as the basic care and maintenance of the animals and their cages. And all of that work is an effort to help foster a love of learning about animals in kids at a young age.

“We’re raising a whole generation of kids that have a respect for reptiles,” Ittner said. “Some of the older parents are like, ‘Oh, I can’t stand snakes,’ but these kids, they don’t have a fear of snakes. They’re taught that. They learn that. We’ve got kids who will hold snakes and are very comfortable doing that.”

Ittner said the museum could be adding to its reptilian repertoire in the near future, with the possibility of housing two new boa constrictors and a new iguana, all of which could be making their way to the museum due to the relocation of their current owners.

All of the animals in the museum have an extensive history of handling and are good-natured, Ittner said.

“All of our animals are under the care of a licensed veterinarian too, so we can make sure they’re safe and healthy and entertaining and teaching kids,” Ittner said.

The animals are always available during museum hours, and are accessible seven days a week.

They are also currently undergoing a home renovation of sorts. New cages are being built a little lower to the ground so some of the younger kids can see inside.

“We want to have them so little kids can see them. We don’t want it so only tall people can see them, because we’re all about the little ones too,” Ittner said.

And as the animals undergo a home renovation, the museum is undergoing a bit of a renovation as a whole.

Two heating systems – which date back to the early 1990s – are in need of replacement in the museum, Ittner said.

“They are old, clanking kind of things and they’ve been there forever,” she said. “They’ve been doing good things for us, but it’s been a couple of years. The one only heats and the one only cools, so we’ve had to put big tubing from one gallery to the next to bring hot air in one and cool in the other.

“We’re playing a dangerous game, because they’re going to break. They’re just barely clanking along right now so we have to get them replaced.”

The museum has received a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, which provided $5,216, or half the cost of replacing both systems.

The museum has raised $1,868 on its own and also received $300 from the Ishpeming Community Foundation.

Ittner said, as of Monday, the museum still needs $3,046 to round out the cost. The installation of the new systems must be completed by Sept. 31 to comply with guidelines provided in the state grant.

Ittner noted the museum was not planning to host a formal fundraiser, but was asking for donations.

“We’re looking at it, more or less, just generous people who wanted to help with that specific project,” Ittner said.

Anyone wishing to donate can make their checks payable to the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum, and be sure to state the money should be used for the heating system.

People can also donate money through the museum’s PayPal account, which can be accessed to logging onto the museum’s website at www.upchildrensmuseum.com. Any donation should say it is meant for the heating system.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.