Online learning opportunities for our youngest crew members

Capt Scupper's Songfest Multiple Dates

Maritime-Themed Music, Movement, and Reading Children’s Program Returns to Museum

The National Museum of the Great Lakes is gearing up for another summer of family-friendly fun! On Saturday, June 15, the museum welcomes back Capt. Scupper’s Songfest: Maritime Music and Movement. These engaging events will take place at 10:30 a.m. on three Saturdays (additionally July 20 and August 17), with activities and curriculum designed for children up to 6 years old. Each session invites little ones and their caregivers to dive into classic maritime songs with 30 minutes of music and movement, followed by a period of discovery in the museum’s interactive “Port of Play.”

Ellen Kennedy, the NMGL’s Director of Museum Operations, expressed enthusiasm about the return of this popular event. “We are thrilled to welcome back Risa Beth Cohen from Sing into Reading as our lead instructor for the Songfest sessions,” said Kennedy. “Parents and children alike adore the blend of music, movement, literacy, and maritime themes. It’s a delightful way to introduce young minds to the wonders of the Great Lakes.”

Risa Beth Cohen, the Founder and Creative Director of Sing into Reading, brings her extensive experience in early childhood education to the program. Since earning her M.S.Ed. from Bank Street College, Cohen has specialized in music and movement education, enriching the lives of children across the country, including New York City public schools and West Side Montessori in Toledo.

Space for each session is limited to 20 children with their caregivers. Class is $5 for NMGL member children and $15 for non-members, which includes museum-only admission for one adult and one child. The program free to eligible participants of the Museums for All program. Due to limited capacity, early registration is highly recommended.

For more information and to register, please visit

Kids Book Club: Mail by the Pail

Welcome to our Captain Scupper’s Kids Book Club. We will be recommending some of our favorite Great Lakes children’s books. Each of these books highlights different and important parts of the Great Lakes experience.

written by Colin Bergel
illustrated by Mark Koenig


Mary lives in Manistee, a port on Lake Michigan. She wants to send her father a birthday card, since he won’t be home for his birthday. Her father works on The Big Laker, a lake freighter that delivers iron, stone and coal to ports on the Great Lakes. Because her father is on a lake freighter, Mary’s card can’t be delivered the usual way, instead it will be sent as Mail by the Pail.

First published in 2000, Mail by the Pail uses the story of Mary and her father to show a unique part of Great Lakes history, and life today, working on a Great Lakes freighter. Sailors still get mail by the pail, delivered by the J.W. Westcott II, as they sail through the Detroit River.

BUY THE BOOK: Purchase your own copy of the book at our online store here and proceeds go to support the National Museum of the Great Lakes.

FREE RESOURCE: Learn more about the J.W. Westcott II in this October 6, 2016 video from Great Big Story.


Mail a message to a Great Lakes freighter. Depending upon the time of year, you could send a holiday card, a letter or a postcard. The crew members always appreciate getting mail. You can address your letter to:

Great Lakes Freighter
Marine Post Office
Detroit, MI 48222

If you use the address above, the J.W. Westcott II will deliver your letter to any freighter passing through Detroit. If you would like to choose a specific boat, visit to see which boats are sailing. You can filter by type of boat, and you want to pick a freighter. Just replace the words “Great Lakes Freighter” with the name of the boat in the address. Don’t forget the stamp!

Schoonmaker Scavenger Hunt

Who’s Spiffy?
Spiffy is a dog that helps us take care of the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship over the winter, with the help of his assistant Flip the Ferret. Spiffy is named after a dog that belonged to the Wilcox family. They were the winter caretakers on the Schoonmaker for many years when it was still sailing. The Wilcox family sometimes had ferrets on board as well. Lake freighters sail during the spring, summer and fall, then layup in one place over the winter, with a caretaker to watch the boat.

Where’s Spiffy?
While they were taking care of the Schoonmaker, Spiffy and Flip traveled all over the boat. Explore the Schoonmaker during a visit or use our virtual tour ( and see if you can match the images below with their location on the Schoonmaker.

Kids Book Club: Paddle-to-the-Sea

Welcome to our Captain Scupper’s Kids Book Club. We will be recommending some of our favorite Great Lakes children’s books. Each of these books highlights different and important parts of the Great Lakes experience.

written and illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling
Suggested Interest Level: Ages 5-11
Suggested Reading Level: Grade 3


Near Lake Nipigon, north of Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada, a young First Nation* boy carves a figure of a man in a canoe and carves these words into the bottom “PLEASE PUT ME BACK IN THE WATER. I AM PADDLE TO THE SEA.” He then places his “paddle person” in the snow, knowing that the melting snow will carry the paddler to a nearby river that will carry it into Lake Superior and eventually all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Paddle-to-the-Sea, originally published in 1941 and a Caldecott Honor Book in 1942, remains a classic Great Lakes children’s book. Paddle’s journey leads him through different Great Lakes ecosystems and industries. He encounters a sawmill, commercial fishing and narrowly misses being run over by a lake freighter. He also see s a beaver pond, a northern marsh and even takes a long fall over Niagara Falls. Holling’s book is written in 27 brief chapters, each one accompanied by a compelling color illustration. Through these chapters, Holling leads the reader through the Great Lakes waterways and gives an excellent overview of life on the Great Lakes in the 1940s.

HISTORICAL NOTE: Holling uses the term “Indian” to describe the young man who carved Paddle-to-the-Sea. The terms used in Canada today are “First Nation” or “first peoples.”

BUY THE BOOK: Purchase your own copy of the book at our online store here and proceeds go to support the National Museum of the Great Lakes.

FREE RESOURCE: In 1966, the National Film Board of Canada produced a film version of Paddle-to-the-Sea, directed by Bill Mason. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film.


Using one of the maps provided below, trace Paddle’s journey as you read Paddle-to-the-Sea. Increase your difficulty by using the blank map and writing in the names of the lakes, rivers, states, provinces and countries.

Be an At-Home Underwater Archaeologist


Divers measuring a shipwreck. They can even write underwater!

You may be asking, what is an underwater archaeologist? Underwater archaeologists study shipwrecks as a way to learn more about the past. They have many methods for studying shipwrecks, but one of those methods is to create a scale drawing or site plan of the shipwreck. We can learn a lot about a shipwreck and it’s history based upon the artifacts found on board and where they are placed. It takes a long time to take measurements and create a site plan of a shipwreck. Our underwater archaeologist trains volunteers to help. In the activity below, we will show you how to create your own “shipwreck” at home and then how to create a scale drawing of your shipwreck.

This is an example of a scale drawing or site plan of the shipwreck Anthony Wayne. Not all of the shipwreck was visible above the lake bottom, some was buried.


Building Your Shipwreck

For this activity, you will want to find an empty space in your home or outside to build your shipwreck. We built ours about ten feet long, but you could build bigger or smaller.

This is our shipwreck, showing the different parts of the ship.


Bow – the front end of the ship.

Stern – the back end of the ship.

Port – the left side of the ship if you are facing the bow.

Starboard – the right side of the ship if you are facing the bow.

Baseline – a measuring line that archaeologists place through the center of the shipwreck from bow to stern. It stays in the same location the entire time they are measuring, so they have a stable reference point. The zero end is usually at the bow of the ship.


  •  2 Tape Measurers
    • We used 1 tape measurer for our baseline and 1 for our measurements, but there are a lot of creative alternatives. For a baseline, you could use a jump rope and tape off every foot. You could use a long piece of yarn with knots at every foot. You could use the same thing for your measurements. If you don’t have any kind of ruler at home, you could use the length of your foot or the width of our hand as a measurement.
  •  Painters Tape
    • We used painters tape for the outline of our shipwreck, but you could used something you find around the house, like a sheet. You could also skip the outline altogether, the outline is not clear on all shipwrecks.
  •  Artifacts
    • Be creative you could use anything from your house to create your artifacts. Use a variety of sizes and shapes.
  •  A Diving Buddy

    Carrie and Kate are dive buddies. One diver stays at the baseline and the other diver stays at the artifact.

    • When measuring a shipwreck, divers always work in pairs. You can do this activity alone, since you won’t be diving, but it’s more fun with a buddy. Divers use hand signals to communicate because they are wearing SCUBA masks. See how much of the measuring you and your buddy can do without talking.

Measuring Your Shipwreck

There are two methods for measuring your shipwreck, offset measuring and triangulation. Both methods begin at the baseline, but offset measuring uses one measurement from the baseline and triangulation uses two measurements, creating a triangle. You can print the handout to record your measurements or use a blank sheet of paper.

Underwater Archaeologists often divide a shipwreck into quadrants to make it easier to know where they are measuring. They have to be careful that they’re in the right place. For our measuring examples, we will be measuring the location of a point on the outline of the ship and then we will be measuring the location of an anchor. Both of these examples are from the starboard bow quadrant of the shipwreck.

Before you begin taking measurements, draw a rough sketch of the shipwreck and label the points you are measuring (for example, A, B, C, etc.) Underwater Archaeologists will do this before a dive so that the diving buddies both know what they’re looking for.

Offset Measuring

Offset Measuring uses two measurements and a right angle to find the location of an object. For our example, we will measure from the baseline to a point on the outside edge of the ship. Underwater Archaeologists take many measurements of the outside edges of a shipwreck, so that they know how large it was and if artifacts are inside or outside of the shipwreck.

For offset measuring you are recording two measurements for each point. A point could be an artifact or a point on the exterior of the vessel. Some artifacts might be big enough that you want to measure more than one points.

You will record the measurement from zero along the baseline and you will record the distance of the artifact from the baseline. The measuring tape should be at a perfect right (or 90 degree) angle from the baseline or your measurement won’t be accurate.


The second method for measuring a shipwreck is more common and more accurate. For this method you are taking two sets of measurements from the baseline to create a triangle. The baseline is one side of your triangle and when you measure the other two sides, you can recreate the triangle and they will always meet in the same place.

Step 1: For the first step, you will choose a point on the baseline that, when connected to the artifact, would make one side of a triangle. You will record the measurement from zero along the baseline and then record the measurement from the baseline to the artifact. Because the anchor is large, we picked a point in the middle. Be sure the measure to the same point both times.

Step 2: For the second set of measurements, pick a new point on the baseline, that when connected to the artifact would create the other side of the triangle. You will record the measurement from zero along the baseline and then record the measurement from the baseline to the artifact. Make sure to measure back to the same point you used for the first set of measurements.

You can continue to take measurements for all of your artifacts if you would like. Divers usually only take a few measurements during a single dive, because they have to be careful about not diving for too long. Measuring a whole shipwreck takes a lot of dives!

Draw Your Site Plan

A site plan is a scale drawing of a shipwreck. A scale drawing uses the original measurements and converts them into smaller measurements, so an accurate drawing can be made, just in a smaller size. The site plan of the Anthony Wayne, shown above had a scale key, so that anyone reading it could figure out the original sizes.

For the examples, we used a scale of 1/2 inch = 1 foot. That means, if an original measurement was 5 feet, we would draw it at 2 1/2 inches. If the original was 10 feet, we would draw 5 inches. There is a drawing page included in the handout available above, but you can also use blank paper.

Supplies for Drawing

  •  A pencil
    • You will be erasing some of your marks on the final drawing.
  •  A pen
    • For the marks you aren’t erasing, it is nice to use a pen or marker, because you can erase the pencil and these marks will stay.
  • A ruler
    • You can use a tape measurer, but a ruler is easier. If you don’t have any measuring tools, you could measure using the width of your index finer or thumb (use the same finger each time).
  • A compass
    • A compass is really helpful for drawing your triangulation measurements. If you don’t have one, you can tie two pencils together using a piece of string. Make sure you have a longer piece of string, so that you can re-tie the pencils for each measurement.

Offset Sketching

Now we are going to draw the measurements from our earlier examples in a smaller scale. In the example here, we measured 2.25 inches from zero on the baseline and then, holding the ruler at a right angle from the baseline, measured 2 inches up to find Point B. If we measure multiple points along the outside edge of the shipwreck, we can then draw a line through those points to show the outline of the shipwreck.

Triangulation Sketching

Triangulation sketching is a little more complicated. For this method, you use the compass. We already drew the outlines of the shipwreck and now we want to draw in the location of the anchor.

Step 1: For the first set of measurements, we measured along the baseline from zero 2.5 inches. We then set the compass points 2.75 inches apart. The point of the compass should be on the baseline and then use the pencil to make a circle around the baseline point.

Step 2: For the second set of measurements, we measured 5 inches from zero along the baseline. We then set the compass points 3 inches apart. We placed the point of the compass on the baseline and drew a circle around that point.

The place where our two circles intersected is where the anchor was. We marked the point with an X in pen and then erased our pencil circles. We can sketch the anchor around that point. To be more precise we could measure multiple points on the anchor.

For your shipwreck, you can use these methods to create a site plan for your whole shipwreck! Have Fun!

When Underwater Archaeologists are finished measuring their shipwrecks, they leave everything where they found it. You should probably clean yours up.

Color the Colonel: Coloring Pages

Our coloring contest is closed, but you can still put your artistic talents to the test with our coloring pages! You can “Color the Colonel” or impress us with our original art. Submissions are closed, but you can still download the coloring pages below and see who won.

Nicholas, Age 10, drew the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship. What will you draw?


The Categories

Best Coloring

Show off your coloring skills! “Color the Colonel,” AKA the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship, featuring the Museum Tug Ohio. Download and print the coloring page drawn by artist Don Lee. 



Best Original Art

Be creative! Draw the Col. James M. Schoonmaker Museum Ship, Museum Tug Ohio or your favorite Great Lakes subject. You can use our special frame provided by artist Don Lee or a plain sheet of paper. If you need inspiration, click here to take a virtual tour of the Schoonmaker.


And the Winners Are . . .

Best Coloring Page – Fizza, 6

Best Original Art – Waylon, 4


The contest is over, but we would still love to see your art! You can share your art to Facebook or Instagram and tag us @NMGLToledo. Be sure to use #ColortheColonel.

Maritime Communication Kids Activity

Have you ever wondered how ships communicated before radios and cell phones? Join us for some at-home history and a hands on activity.

Prior to the introduction of radio, maritime communication was generally limited to line-of-sight visual signaling. Mariners have always tried to communicate using more than the human voice. They waved their arms or lanterns and used mirrors to reflect the sun. Later, they devised an elaborate flag alphabet system to communicate ship names and locations, as well as temperature and barometer readings. Communication by sound was also used. Whistles, bells and other devices could signal that a ship was nearby or in distress—especially useful in fog or blizzards, when visibility was poor.

But visual and audio cues had limitations, particularly in communicating over long distances. The introduction of the wireless telegraph in the early 20th century allowed ships to communicate with each other and with the shore even from hundreds of miles away. Shortwave radio, cellular networks and satellites all expanded the range of communication and now mariners can talk to anyone in the world, from anywhere in the world.

Signal Flags from the International Code of Signals.

Megaphone from a Great Lakes Schooner, 1910. This megaphone was used to talk to other ships. The cone shape makes sound louder when you talk through the narrow end.



Make Your Own Signal Flag Message

In 1857 the International Code of Signals standardized the signal flag alphabet, making it easier to communicate between ships. These colorful patterned flags are easier to see from a distance than a flag with a letter on it would be.


  • Plain White Paper
  • Scissors
  • Markers of Crayons
  • Tape or String (optional)


  1. Decide what you want to spell with signal flags. It could be your name or a fun message you want to send to someone else at home.
  2. Count the number of letters in your message.
  3. Make sure you have a rectangle of paper for every letter. You can use a whole sheet, half sheet or quarter sheet.
  4. Look at the signal flag alphabet below and color each flag with the pattern that matches the letters for your message.
  5. Attach your signal flags in order using string or tape (or paperclips, staples or glue).
  6. See if someone at home can decipher your message!

Variations 1: If you have colored construction paper and glue, cut out the shapes for the signal flag patterns and glue them together.

Variation 2: Hang your message in a window and see if one of your neighbors can decipher it from a distance.

Extension: Make your own megaphone!
Use whatever materials you can find at home. Experiment and see what works best.

Featured in Toledo Mudhens Virtual School Day!

On May 14, 2020, the Toledo Mudhens launched their first Virtual School Day for elementary age students. We were honored to participate and show how signal flags can relate to baseball. Click here to learn more about Virtual School Days or watch the video below!

Kids Book Club: Miss Colfax’s Light

Welcome to our Captain Scupper’s Kids Book Club. Over the next several weeks, we will be recommending some of our favorite Great Lakes children’s books. Each of these books highlights different and important parts of the Great Lakes experience.

by Aimee Bissonette, illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen
Suggested Interest Level: Ages 6-9
Suggested Reading Level: Grade 2


In 1861, when she was 37-years-old, Harriet Colfax became the keeper of the Michigan City Lighthouse. She was one of the longest serving female lighthouse keepers on the Great Lakes and held the position for 43 years, retiring when she was 80. Lighthouse keeping was incredibly difficult, but vitally important to the safety of sailors.

Lighthouse keepers were expected to keep logbooks to document their activities, the weather and other events. Author Aimee Bissonette uses these primary sources to tell the story of Harriet Colfax in her own words and highlight her unwavering spirit in the face of an incredibly grueling job. Illustrator Eileen Ryan Ewen creatively depicts the difficult work of lighthouse keeping in the 19th-century.

FREE RESOURCE: In 2018, author Aimee Bissonette gave a lecture at the National Museum of the Great Lakes. She talked about researching primary sources to write children’s books. You can see the full lecture provided by WGTE’s KnowledgeStream here.

BUY THE BOOK: Purchase your own copy of the book at our online store here and proceeds go to support the National Museum of the Great Lakes.

Additional Reading:

Author Aimee Bissonette uses Harriet Colfax’s logbooks to tell her story. This is called primary source research and it is what historians do to reconstruct history. Lighthouse keepers used logbooks to keep track of daily events, weather, supplies and other details.

For example, on August 28, 1871 Harriet Colfax wrote:

Thunderstorms toward morning. Cool day with occasional showers. Heavy fog about midnight — shutting out the Beacon St. entirely from the Main light. Went down to investigate & found the lamp burning all right. 3 arrivals.

Image from the U.S. National Archives

On October 13, 1872 she wrote:

Gale perfectly fearful by nightfall. Waves dashed over the top of the beacon. Reached the beacon at imminent risk tonight as the waves ran over the elevated walk. Watched both lights with closest attention all night.

These logbooks give an insight into the daily life and struggles of lighthouse keeping on the Great Lakes.


Spend a week keeping a daily log of your activities and other daily events. What information do you think is important to include? At the end of the week read your entry from the first day. Did the log help you remember that day?

Great Lakes Word Searches

We love a good word search and we hope you do too. We have 3 new word searches at different difficulty levels: easy, medium, and hard. Expand your vocabulary and learn some new Great Lakes words. You can download the word searches individually or as a packet. Have fun searching!