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

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Madison Children’s Museum is a capital attraction for kids and families

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


The view from the top of the four-story Madison Children’s Museum offers vistas – at the building’s rear – of Lake Mendota from a perch on a crow’s nest. And of the Capitol building from the triangular-shaped front of the structure, a former Montgomery Ward store that existed at the site from 1919 to 1942 and was later converted into a state office building.

Between the two lookouts is a rooftop garden with herbs and vegetables, a sandbox, a clubhouse for making art and learning, a chicken coop, a pigeon roost and a two-headed metal structure called “Lovebirds.” Created by Tom Every, who who lives near the Sauk County village of North Freedom and is one of the Midwest’s best-known metal sculptors, the big bird’s round belly was once a cheese-making kettle.

“We start on the lowest level with an A word and then go all the way to a top with a Z. In the center of the stairwells is a beautiful hand-crafted, circular metal climbing sculpture that kids can use to ascend and get on and off at any level. Their parents can walk beside them on the steps, all the way from the first floor to the top, round and round.”

(Alas, only a very small adult could fit in the climbing sculpture, so I didn’t get to try it.)

A second active stairwell is called “Stair Trek, Core to Cosmos,” which is billed as an “interactive journey through the universe, from the depths of the Earth’s core, through caves, forests, tree canopies, sky, and to the remote reaches of outer space.”

The walls of this stairway have hundreds of drawings from children. It was designed by artist Jojin Van Winkle and features the voices of local children, who describe the sounds, smells, textures, and feelings of each environment in poetic and playful ways.

The museum moved from a location on State Street eight years ago and tripled its space, thanks in large part to the generosity of philanthropists Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland. It now draws more than 220,000 visitors annually and is filled with hands-on exhibits that kids touch, manipulate and climb around, over and through. It’s focused on the region surrounding south central Wisconsin, its people, stories and traditions, Baker said.

While the museum’s “sweet spot” is children around age 8, Baker said the museum attracts everyone from newborns up to great-grandparents.  First-time parents can get a free membership that lasts until their child is 18 months old.

“We cover the whole spectrum,” she said. “We even have something called ‘Adult Swim,’ with evening programs for an audience 21 and older. We also have weddings here and retirement parties, too. We like to think we cover the whole life cycle.”

The museum doesn’t have one particular theme, Baker said. But it emphasizes sustainability, while focusing on culture, arts, science and technology with an interdisciplinary approach. A giant buoy from Lake Michigan is part of the “Hodge Podge Mahal” climber, and the floor leading to a new Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit about his childhood called “Coops to Cathedrals” came from a gymnasium in Oak Creek.

“Our goal is to help kids develop a love for learning and exploration,” Baker said. “Our exhibits are constantly evolving. But no matter what the topic, we want to better the lives of children in our community.”

Getting there: The Madison Children’s Museum,, 100 N. Hamilton St., is just off the Capitol Square. It is 80 miles west of downtown Milwaukee via I-94, Highway 151 and East Washington Avenue.

More info: Visit or call (608) 256-6445. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.  Admission is $9 for adults and children.

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