Open Wed–Sun 9am–4pm, plus late on Thur til 8pm. • Get tickets.

Open Wed–Sun 9am–4pm, plus late on Thur til 8pm. • Get tickets.

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Welcome to a world of wonder. Madison Children’s Museum up-cycled a defunct former parking lot area into an awe-inspiring, four-seasons, outdoor play space.

Wonderground: now open year-round with regular admission

And—of course, because this is Madison Children’s Museum—the whole space is made using local, natural materials in conjunction with largely upcycled materials, objects, and artifacts, and created by MCM staff and artists from the community.

What are kids learning in the Wonderground?

Kids need physical play that challenges their bodies and engages their minds. The Wonderground’s Thicket climbing sculpture encourages running, climbing, and balance, but not in predictable ways. Kids have to think and adjust their bodies as they grip tree limbs of different thicknesses, or climb a wiggly net or uneven bars. Differing textures provide sensory stimulation.

Many elements of the Thicket, provide opportunities for “risky” play. Kids need the chance to do things that seem scary, which teaches them both how to not be paralyzed by fear and also how to assess real or imagined risk. Elements that are safe but feel scary (like the swaying rope bridge or the enclosed ladder up to the birdhouse) provide kids opportunities to experiment with risk in safe ways.

How is the Wonderground sustainable?

Sustainable design is built into every aspect of the Wonderground.

The massive trees that hold up the Thicket climbing sculpture are black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), a species that’s known for its durability but is also an invasive species in Wisconsin and were removed in such a way as to improve the local habitat. Using wood derived nearby is also a building technique that removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Many other aspects of the Wonderground are made of upcycled materials. The round, pine-cone like hut that houses the smaller of the two slides uses tiles made from old fire hoses, which are durable and water-resistant. Look for other upcycled elements in the design and decoration of the Wonderground.

The Wonders of the Wonderground

  • The Thicket climbing sculpture – A 23-foot-tall climbing sculpture takes center stage, weaving together natural structural wood elements into a playful new adventure. The climber tests kids’ agility, strength, risk assessment, and climbing prowess while increasing their connection to each other as helpers and friends. Below the Thicket is an Understory area for additional imaginative play.
  • Cocoon Climber– Even kids too small to clamber up the thicket get their own natural climbing and exploration zone. Little kids can build their balance and proprioception along a series of climbable natural tree structures and other obstacles designed to stimulate their senses and practice coordination.
  • The Orchard, Cabin Yard & Gardens  – The museum’s historic 1830s cabin returns, now relocated onto a small knoll overlooking the rest of the exhibit space planted with native vegetables, fruits, and grasses. The cabin area includes artifacts for historical exploration, educational programs with food and urban gardening, and a quieter resting area. 2021-22 Log Cabin exhibit improvements and activities are supported by a grant from Wisconsin Humanities.
  • The Down Under – Protected from the elements by the museum’s school-group entrance above, the Down Under is a place for rest, respite, and special programs. Beautiful mosaic columns give the space a magical, imaginative feel. Small mini-exhibits from MCM’s past are planned to rotate throughout the space.

Fast facts about the Wonderground

  • Demolition started April 24, 2021 with construction continuing through the spring and summer. Installation of the Thicket climbing structure began in July 2021.
  • The Wonderground opened to the public with a two-day celebration on October 2 & 3, 2021
  • No special tickets are 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. The Wonderground may close due to severe weather.
  • The Wonderground is the museum’s single biggest expansion since we relocated to our current premises over ten years ago. The construction needed to create the space and the climbing sculptures are the most complicated projects the museum has endeavored in its forty-plus-year history.
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