Now open for members, open to the public 6/24. Get tickets.

Tuesday–Sunday, 9 am–4 pm

Now open for members, open to the public 6/24. Get tickets.

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Tuesday–Sunday, 9 am–4 pm

The Wonderground

Welcome to a world of wonder. Madison Children’s Museum is up-cycling our defunct former parking lot area into an awe-inspiring new four-seasons, outdoor playspace.  The Wonderground is scheduled to open in late summer of 2021 and will create 10,000 feet of new space designed for play in all of its forms. Kids are encouraged to jump, climb, traverse, ride, play, draw, ski, look, squeal, role-play, plant, pump, roll, grow, observe, tinker, build, create, imagine, and dream.

The centerpiece of the Wonderground is a new climbing sculpture. The area will see the return of the Log Cabin, cabin grounds, and surrounding orchard, as well as offer a climbing wall, and assorted activity nooks, each providing plenty of opportunities for open-ended play in all of its forms for children of all ages.

And—of course, because this is Madison Children’s Museum—the whole space will be made using local, natural materials in conjunction with largely upcycled materials, objects, and artifacts, and will be created by MCM staff and artists from the community. Trees and native plants will create an urban oasis, expanding on the museum’s already-popular rooftop garden and former cabin garden. A whimsical, open-ended design aesthetic in conjunction with the use of natural and recycled materials is signature MCM, and celebrates the importance of caring for our earth.  The Wonderground’s eclectic amalgam is a spark for young children’s imaginations, inspiring a sense of non-prescribed wonder and curiosity.

The Wonders of the Wonderground

Planning continues for all of the features, play spaces, and artistic details included in the Wonderground, but here is a sneak peek at a few of the features we are most excited about:
  • The Thicket climbing sculpture – A 15-foot-tall climbing sculpture will take center stage in the new exhibit space, weaving together natural structural wood elements with objects from the museum’s past into a playful new adventure. The climber will test kids’ agility, strength, and climbing prowess while increasing their capacity to wonder and imagine. A 36-inch ramp will allow visitors of all abilities to experience the fun and be part of the adventure.
  • The Understory – Beneath the climbing sculpture in the Thicket’s Understory, stretches a serpentine balance beam just off the ground, as well as a loose-parts fort-building area, where kids can create their own enclosures with tent fabric, clips, and sticks. The Understory will also be home to additional objects to clamber around, including both a claw-foot bathtub and a large-scale, climbable sunfish boat, which will rock and move slightly, as if bobbing on gentle waves.
  • Activity and Resting Nooks – Parents can observe their intrepid explorers in the Thicket and the Understory while younger siblings stay engaged and learning in nooks surrounding the climbing sculpture area. Each nook offers both a place to sit and rest, as well as a dedicated activity focusing on literacy, numeracy, quiet and small motor activities, or STEAM-infused content—all geared toward the earliest learners. A colorful mural with abstracted botanical elements crated by Madison artist Mike LRoy will surround the walls behind the activity nooks. The mural will be created in a collaborative community process, in partnership with young museum-goers coming to the museum in early summer.
  • Dayton Street Cocoon Scramble & Sensory Trail – This forest-like area will provide both a small cocoon-inspired climber designed with the needs of younger visitors in mind, along with a stepping circle and sensory trail where little kids can test their balance along a series of small climbable natural tree structures.
  • The Orchard, Cabin Yard & Gardens  – The museum’s historic 1830s cabin will return and reopen on a small knoll overlooking the rest of the exhibit space and will be planted with native vegetables, fruits, and grasses.  A small orchard with apple and pear trees will sit on one side of the cabin, while a large shade tree will be positioned on the other, creating a  quiet spot for children and families to gather, take a break, and have a snack on picnic tables. For culinary education programming, the yard will be outfitted with a new outdoor kitchen and pizza oven. The cabin area will be handicapped accessible and also offer several ways to access the yard, including a ramp, stone stairs, and a series of upright log steps to traverse.
  • The Wormhole – Located beneath the stairs entering the space from the ground floor, the Wormhole will be created of a series of 10-foot-long culverts stacked next to one another. Children will play inside, crawling through one tunnel and into the next, making a satisfying loop. This will be a great place to cool down during the hot summer months, to read a book, or pretend you are underground.
  • The Grotto – Protected from the elements by the museum’s school-group entrance above, we’re creating a large gathering space for rest, respite, and special programs. The area will be highlighted by a gas fireplace along the Dayton Street wall (installed after we open) and flexible comfortable seating, including hanging tethered seat hammocks, comfy couches, and nursing chairs. Beautiful mosaic columns will give the space a magical, imaginative feel. Small mini-exhibits from MCM’s past are planned to rotate throughout the space. These may include the Up and Over Bridge from First Feats; the Punch Buggy; a three-way mirror exhibit; the circus train; and items from our collections exhibits, in addition to new carousel animals repurposed in playful ways.

Other planned features include:

  • kid-scale climbing wall from the cabin yard to the lower Urb Garden space. The climbing wall will be made from wood, rope, old tires, and other reclaimed parts and pieces
  • three-season small water play area featuring the work of artist Eli Kramer, water painting, a hand pump and more (parents may wish to pack a change of clothes)
  • bathrooms, warming areas, bike parking, and more!

More information and details will be forthcoming throughout the spring and summer. Additionally, families will be invited to observe the construction process from viewing spots once the museum reopens.

Fast facts about the Wonderground

  • Demolition starts April 24 with construction continuing through the spring and summer. We plan for the Wonderground to open to visitors in late summer.
  • Entrance to the Wonderground will be included in general museum admission or membership. No special tickets will be needed to play in the Wonderground.
  • The Wonderground is designed to be a four-seasons exhibit. Some features and special exhibits may change with the seasons and weather, but families are encouraged to dress in layers to play in the Wonderground year-round. (Covered space out of the elements is available in the Grotto along with warming stations for those caregivers not quite as immune to the elements as their kids.)


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