MARQUETTE - Every week day at 11 a.m., Jim Edwards is hard at work, telling stories, painting pictures and helping parents and children learn how to play together.
"I have had a unilateral mission in Marquette for the last 19 years in encouraging parents to be a part of their children's lives," said Edwards, the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum general programming manager. "Basically, that comes down to playing. We want parents to play with their kids."
In an effort to help bolster that fun-loving aspect of a parent-child relationship, the museum created Mr Jim's Toddler Clubhouse, which takes place weekdays at 11 a.m.
Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum General Programming Manager Jim Edwards prepares for Mr. Jim’s Toddler Clubhouse to begin. The clubhouse runs every day at the museum, beginning at 11 a.m. (Journal photo by Matt Kesier)
Two-and-a-half-year-old Henry Blacksmith plays with one of the exhibits at the museum Tuesday morning. Blacksmith was there with his mother, Allison Blacksmith. (Journal photo by Matt Kesier)
A sign for the museum is pictured. The facility offers a wide variety of programming for children of all ages. (Journal photo by Matt Kesier)
It's a somewhat unstructured play time for children and their parents, Edwards said, with a main focus on helping parents learn how to play with their kids.
"We do stuff depending on who's here and what they need," Edwards said. "I want them to enjoy playing. It's open ended. I don't really mind what they do. It's more about how parents and children play together."
In the past, the program had a regular structure, with a different theme each day - painting on Tuesdays, percussion on Fridays and the like.
But Edwards said the set-up was sometimes too confining and patrons wanted the program to be a little more loosely structured.
Now, Edwards said he plans a few activities for each day, but he often lets the children who come give direction to that day's toddler clubhouse.
"Now and again we get crazy, but most often its sitting at the table with glue," Edwards said of the various activities that take place every day as a part of the clubhouse.
And because the program runs daily, parents can bring their kids as often or as little as they'd like. Entrance into the class is free with a $5 admission to the museum and free for members as well.
Edwards said it's all too often in the hustle and bustle of daily life that parents are sending their kids off to play on their own or with other adults. As a result, he said their own interaction with their kids is dwindling.
"Have we lost the ability just to play or do we program our kids, send them off, tap our hands and then say 'Now you look after them?'" Edwards said. "When parents come to the museum, I don't want them to sit... I say, 'Go, run around.'" I want them to pretend, to enter into game, enter into story."
Because the children participating in the program are toddlers, the activities become the important part of the day, not necessarily the finished product, Edwards said. For kids, it's more important to learn how to use scissors than to be able to cut in a straight line right away. It's more important to learn the names of colors than to be an expert painter.
"The outcome here isn't important," Edwards said. "It's the process."
The class also uses donated goods for many of its activities, especially when they center around arts or crafts.
Anyone with questions about the program or who would like to make a donation to the program can call the museum at 226-3911.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.