Museums aren’t just for grown-ups. These Wisconsin-based children’s museums provide numerous ways for families to laugh, learn and play together.
Baraboo Children’s Museum
What began as a pop-up museum debuted in a permanent space in Baraboo Aug. 3. The exhibit lineup includes a STEM lab, an art station and a room all about trains—including a giant wooden model kids and adults can ride.
A circus exhibit honors Baraboo’s history, including the Ringling Brothers’ legacy, with carnival mirrors, costumes and interactive displays. The area’s agricultural history is woven into a farm-themed exhibit that includes a garden to harvest, play food to sell and tractors kids can pedal from place to place.
1212 8th St., Baraboo, baraboochildrensmuseum.com
Black Earth Children’s Museum
Located in sleepy Black Earth, about 25 minutes west of Madison, this interactive kid’s play place is housed in a historic building that was once home to The Patrons’ Mercantile Co-Op, the first cooperative in the U.S.
The wide-open museum is easily navigable with separate rooms and areas arranged into themes—all directly related to Wisconsin. Toddlers will enjoy the Bambino Barn filled with soft blocks and stuffed animals, the Native American habitat with instruments and baby dolls, dramatic play area and mini mart grocery store. Slightly older kids can get their energy out in the elevated tree house with slide and cargo-net bridge, climbing wall, a simulated two-story marsh lookout and fishing pond. There’s even a block of science exhibits that appeals to older kids about gravity and mass, constellations, Wisconsin caves and more.
1131 Mills St., Black Earth, blackearthchildrensmuseum.org
Building for Kids Children’s Museum
Located in downtown Appleton, the BFK makes learning a blast with games, activities and pets such as a bearded dragon. These are just a few of the reasons it attracted 116,000 visitors in 2018, says marketing director Katy Compton.
“Our fire truck is an all-time favorite for a lot of families,” she says. “It’s a real fire truck that was modified to include two steering wheels and a ramp so kids with disabilities can come up and steer, too.”
The Innovation Lab—a hub for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)—offers different programs each week, all of which encourage kids to discover how things work. Outsmarting a dragon is the quest at Castle Adventure, a game featuring mini golf, and helping toys feel better is the doll hospital’s mission. The littlest visitors flock to Babies & Toddlers Around the World, which has rain sticks, a mountain slide and a wavy walkway that’s oh-so-fun to crawl on.
100 W. College Ave., Appleton, buildingforkids.org
Children’s Museum of Fond du Lac
Creativity abounds at this sprawling collection of exhibits and hands-on activities. In addition to serving a wide range of ages, the museum offers noise-reducing headphones and other tools to create a sensory-friendly experience for kids who need it.
The Great Toddler Reef captivates the youngest visitors with suspended jellyfish, a seashell island and bubble mirrors, while older kids become innovators at Wagener’s Workshop, a makerspace filled with Imagination Blocks, LEGOs, Strawbees and other building materials, plus two friendly robots. Elsewhere in the museum, children can produce a radio broadcast or a Broadway show starring puppets.
Need some fresh air? The 10,000-square-foot WinnePLAYgo space offers opportunities to race around a Trike Track, customize a scarecrow and enjoy a picnic lunch.
75 W. Scott St., Fond du Lac, cmfdl.org
Children’s Museum of Green Bay
Just three children’s museums in the United States have exhibits outside, and this is one of them, according to event specialist Heather Heil.
“We do some really fun activities in our outdoor space, which we call the Discovery Center,” she says. “Jaire Alexander of the Green Bay Packers did goat yoga there with us, and we’ve also used it for flying kites and a touch-a-truck event.”
The Discovery Center is also home to a sensory trail families can explore with their eyes, noses and ears.
“One feature of that is a sensory wall where kids play music and make noise with pots, pans and tubes,” Heil says. “In addition to learning about sounds, it’s a chance for them to work on their fine motor skills.”
Inside the museum, kids can explore the digestive system in an exhibit with a giant tongue that doubles as a slide. There’s also a 1950’s-inspired diner complete with jukebox and hula hoops, a vet clinic featuring medical instruments and a microscope, and a garage filled with car parts, tools and opportunities to play mechanic.
1230 Bay Beach Rd., Green Bay, gbchildrensmuseum.org
Children’s Museum of La Crosse
Children’s Museum of La Crosse has not one but three floors of interactive exhibits, including a dinosaur maze, a construction crane and an Imagination Playground stocked with giant blocks.
Be sure to visit the Luckey Climber, a work of art featuring close-up pictures of 60 different animals’ eyes. Custom-designed by architect Spencer Luckey, it’s made for kids to clamber up as they learn about nature. Another highlight is a Mississippi River exhibit where children can drive trains, float boats and direct the flow of water with dams and locks.
This museum is also a good choice for children with disabilities. Most exhibits are wheelchair accessible, and guests can request backpacks filled with timers, ear mufflers, fidgets and other supplies for kids on the autism spectrum.
207 5th Ave. South, La Crosse, funmuseum.org
Madison Children’s Museum
This colorful building on Madison’s Capitol Square is a beloved gathering place for both kids and adults. With a rooftop featuring a garden, a windmill, a fossil dig and some very friendly chickens, it’s a must-visit if you’re downtown for the Dane County Farmers Market or a performance at Overture Center.
Inside, Possible-opolis teams science and technology with collaborative problem-solving in a “city” of puzzles and games. Kids can sprint in a human-sized gerbil wheel, move a cow with pulleys and scramble up a two-story climbing structure, among other adventures. From Coops to Cathedrals invites children to explore the farm Frank Lloyd Wright called home as a child. Activities include making an architectural blueprint, assembling a stained- glass window and racing iceboats across a lake.
Don’t miss the Wildernest, an exploration space where tiny tots scamper across a bone bridge, curl up in a reading nest and visit activity huts where they can play music and rock baby dolls. There’s even a water dome where toddlers can dump, pour and splash like it’s going out of style.
100 N. Hamilton St., Madison, madisonchildrensmuseum.org
Northwoods Children’s Museum
A popular destination for lake-bound families, this Eagle River attraction is a fun place to learn about colors, numbers and, of course, fishing.
The fishing pond is a big draw, but visitors are just skimming the surface if that’s all they explore in this 24-exhibit playland. A grocery store gives pint-sized shoppers a chance to push carts and make nice with vegetables, while an oversized Lite-Brite wall, a bike-powered turbine and a wind maze teach kids about energy. Kids can practice eagle calls or build a nest in a bird- themed exhibit. There are also spots for the littles to play dress- up, play with shadows and surround themselves with giant bubbles.
346 W. Division St., Eagle River, northwoodschildrensmuseum.com
This article originally appeared in the 2019 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.