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The Children's Museum of South Bend at 1: Open play hours and new admission options

South Bend Tribune logo South Bend Tribune 8/11/2022 Alysa Guffey, South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — When the Children’s Museum of South Bend opened in June 2021, director Emilie Utigard felt like she was breathing life into it.  

But now, with upwards of 15 regular volunteers, the museum feels like it is bigger than herself. 

“It finally feels like it’s been made into a community endeavor,” Utigard says, “And it took me stepping away for a second to realize it.” 

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The museum, located at 2632 S. Michigan St., recently celebrated one year of giving primarily kids ages 1 to 8 a space to learn, play and create. After opening in the middle of the pandemic, the museum still has yet to hold a grand opening, or ribbon-cutting ceremony, to be extra cautious of gathering in a large group, Utigard says. 

South Bend mother Cassie Rolf has been volunteering at the museum since the beginning of this summer. She brings her three kids ― ages 4, 3 and 5 months ― every Friday during her shift. 

Rolf, who hosted her daughter’s fourth birthday party at the museum, enjoys seeing new families walk into the museum for the first time. 

“It’s just great to see (new parents and kids) take in the space,” she says. “It’s a really beautiful space, and I think beautiful spaces are really important for kids.” 

The museum has primarily the same exhibits as it did when it first opened ― because Utigard wants the original activities still in use for the grand opening ceremony ― but has transitioned to open play hours and partnered with a national organizer to provide reduced admission to some families. 

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New ‘open play’ hours 

Originally, the museum was open only through a reservation to rent out the entire space due to COVID-19 precautions. A timed reservation system was then implemented for families who wanted less of a commitment. But this spring, the museum switched to an open play system, just in time for summer break, when the museum sees an uptick in older children visiting.  

“We really want people to just be able to drop in and not plan it out,” Utigard says. 

Because the museum relies solely on unpaid volunteers to fill shifts, hours are still limited. But with the onboarding of new volunteers — an ongoing process for the museum — hours will be extended. 

Masks are still required for all visitors older than 3, due to the low availability for COVID-19 vaccines for children younger than 5, Utigard says. She envisions dropping the mask requirement in the near future but would still want to keep one day a week where masks are required.  

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Frequent volunteer Monica Garvey says that although some people don’t love the mask requirement, there’s families who are grateful for specifically that rule. 

“We have people who tell us that this is one of the only places they go because of the masking,” Garvey says, “So it works for people who are at a higher risk.” 

More accessible admission  

Admission is $5 per person for a day, with free entry for “lap babies,” if the child is too young to run around and play. Volunteers are able to bring their children with them for free when they are working. 

In addition, with the museum’s partnership with Museums for All, families receiving food assistance through SNAP benefits or in the WIC program can visit for an admission fee of $1 per person by simply presenting their SNAP EBT card.  

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The museum joined Museums for All in January, which was part of a long-term plan to make the space accessible but could not be done during the reservation-only period. 

“That was excluding a lot of families, and we really weren’t comfortable with that,” Utigard says, “So we were really anxious to get to the open play phase and really open the space up to people.” 

For a long-term pricing option, the museum offers a year-long membership that costs $75 per family. 

What’s next 

Even though the Children’s Museum wants to expand to make a space geared toward older children, Utigard says, there’s no rush as the museum celebrates the milestones and progress of the current site. 

Over the past year, Utigard says, she’s appreciated seeing the museum come to life: “It’s been great to get kids in here and see them reconnect with each other.” 

Garvey shared a similar sentiment, adding that she is glad her kids, who were around the site during the transformation of the space from an office to a museum, can appreciate the museum.  

“When they walk into a space like this, they understand that a lot of work went into a space like this,” she says. 

The Children's Museum of South Bend

Where: 2632 S. Michigan St., South Bend

● Open play hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays

Admission: $5-$1; free for lap babies

Other: Socks required; masks required for ages 4 and older

For more information: Call 574-222-2044 or visit

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: The Children's Museum of South Bend at 1: Open play hours and new admission options


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