A sneak peek of the new Madison Children’s Museum

Earlier this week, Maggie, Tiffany and I were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the new Madison Children’s Museum. Although there’s still a lot of work to be done, what we were able to see made us that much more excited for the opening on August 14 when we can try out all the exhibits ourselves! I mean … so our kids can try them out!

We loved so much about the new museum, we decided to do two separate posts so as not to overwhelm you. If you’re looking for general information about the new museum – including hours, admission and membership prices, parking, and info on the grand opening celebration – you’ll find it all in this MCM Info post.

Before we talk about everything we saw on the tour, let’s talk about what makes the new museum so different from the old one:

-Sustainability: The museum uses local materials, builders and craftspeople. All building materials are natural, many reclaimed from Wisconsin buildings. The faucets in the bathrooms are even solar powered! It’s hoped that MCM will become the first LEED-certified museum in Wisconsin. (This was actually one of my (Kat’s) favorite parts of the tour – hearing about the reclaimed material used for the floors, walls, ceilings, etc. Not something I would have thought to take the time to notice once the museum opens! We were told that they’ll be offering a green tour that points out the museum’s green features once it opens. Definitely something to check out!)

Can you believe someone removed this beautiful mural from their condo ceiling?

-Size: With a capacity nearly 5 times that of the old facility (1,000 visitors!), saying the new museum is bigger is an understatement! There are more bathrooms (complete with little potties). There’s a lot more room for coats, bags and strollers (definitely something to cheer about!). The elevator is large enough for entire groups to ride in together. The museum has five floors (the fifth being the rooftop, which we’ll get to later) – the fourth floor is part offices, part unfinished, and the third floor is completely unfinished, so there’s even more room for the museum to grow over the next few years!

-Parking: Available on site, exclusively for museum visitors!

-Expanded audience: Ages birth through 12 (formerly birth through age 8).

-Bean Sprouts Cafe: Bean Sprouts is a hip and healthy kids’ cafe featuring yummy, good-for-you food that appeals to kids, parents, and even babies! Bean Sprouts is the only cafe in the country to serve 100 percent organic baby food alongside its family menu. With its flagship cafe and cooking school located nearby in Middleton, Bean Sprouts also teaches MCM cooking classes, and caters museum birthday parties and events. You can learn more about Bean Sprouts at beansproutscafe.com.

-Eliminating financial barriers: Along with the continuation of their subsidized admission fees and memberships for families on public assistance, the new museum also offers a free DeAtley Community Concourse features exciting interactive exhibits, ball runs, video pieces, and public art! (Tiffany – I love having a safe, kid-friendly place that I won’t feel guilty about running in for a potty break or a clean place to take a break when I’m downtown doing things for the day.)

Dahlia trying out the new interactive front desk.

So why else are we so excited about the new museum? The exhibits!

Erin Moore Photography

Wildernest: designed to serve children ages birth to 5

-a new version of the super cool “baby” area that existed at the old museum with a soft, padded floor and enclosed activity area for baby to roll/crawl/explore.
-non-toxic young kids area. Floors, toys, walls, everything is 100% safe for your baby to lick (and you know they will!).

Erin Moore Photography


-notable features of The Wildernest include the Bone Bridge; a raised platform and tree house; a slide to enter the area (It looks like so much fun!); a water dome that allows for pouring, dumping, and painting; a horizontal climbing wall; a safe, comfortable infant play area; and the Cozy Cottage, a parent resource room filled with early learning materials where visitors can calm a child or feed a baby (complete with cozy chairs, sink and fridge!).

(Maggie – I loved that the area for toddlers and preschoolers on the first floor is also slightly recessed. Sure, the few steps up won’t deter older children, but for my rambunctious toddler they’ll create at least a momentary impediment to running off and destroying the fabulous historical Montgomery Ward window display.)

Erin Moore Photography

Possible-opolis: for ages 5 and up

-uses more than 90 percent recycled, reclaimed, salvaged, and repurposed materials.
-kids will enjoy the Wayback Machine, an interactive electronic playground; Hodgepodge Mahal, a two-story climber made from salvaged and repurposed materials; the human-sized Gerbil Wheel, which harnesses kid power to demonstrate the amount of energy generated through physical activity; and the Cow Hoist, which employs pulleys along with block-and-tackle rigs and a harness to raise and lower MCM’s beloved cow, Gertrude, from Possible-opolis to the first-floor Community Concourse. (We especially love the last two exhibits and how they encourage active behavior with the cause-and-effect type of play. Honestly, it was difficult for us to resist trying them out ourselves!)

Jim & Susan Bakke Art Studio

-a drop-in area where children can create original works of art using different media and interact with visiting artists on community-based projects. There’s also a separate art activity room for more structured classes and special events.

Fridge doors where your kids can display their artwork until it's time to head home!


-highlights include an interactive paint wall that gives kids a chance to paint directly on windows and then wash their work away when they’re finished; and the return of the Shadow Room, where children can capture their shadows and sign their names with illuminated pen writers.

Bottlecaps painted by Madison school children and sorted by color make beautiful art pieces like this one!

-many local artists contributed to the museum, including Kevin Henkes (author and illustrator of “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse”) and wife Laura Dronzek. You can read more about their mural in this article from madison.com.

Erin Moore Photography

1838 Log Cabin

-an authentically restored, late 1830s log home recovered from a Walworth County homestead.
-furnished with historical household artifacts and replicas, the cabin offers young visitors opportunity for dramatic play. Children will cook meals on the open hearth, write with quill pens, play historic children’s games, churn butter, try their hands at quilting, and learn about the tools and skills that made life possible for these early settlers. Outside, children will do laundry, haul water, harvest vegetables, try a two-man cross-cut saw or a draw knife, and learn about pioneer medicine in the herb garden.

(Unfortunately, we weren’t able to explore the log cabin on our tour. But the history-buff in me is really excited to see it up close!)

Rooftop Ramble

-the gift of Pleasant T. Rowland, it’s a fully accessible four-season exhibit, programming, and community space.
-highlights include the Clubhouse, a classroom that also includes a greenhouse, solar oven, live-animal terrariums (including turtles and snakes), rotating urban ecology exhibit, and kids’ nature collections; the children’s garden, with a chicken coop, homing pigeons, and herb and salad gardens; and alternative energy demonstrations.

(I think we all agree that this is one of our favorite parts of the new museum! It also offers a gorgeous view of the city.)

Dahlia looking out over her city.

(Maggie – my absolute favorite area was the Rooftop Ramble. This is surprising, since I usually have a severe fear of heights, but the glass walls that ran along the edges were tall and extremely sturdy. (Although as someone who has sliding glass doors in my apartment, I foresee a lot of sticky handprints around the bottom!) The rock waterfall was just lovely, and aesthetically blended well with the cobblestone path. It’s just a great place for children to frolic, with beautiful views of Lake Mendota and the Capitol building. There’s also a worm compost heap in the Clubhouse that will be a really great learning tool for teaching kids about the cyclical nature of energy – an idea that really does run through the whole museum with its use of recycled and reused materials.)

Thanks to the Madison Children’s Museum for allowing us a sneak peak! We are beyond thrilled with the museum, and can’t say enough good things about everything we saw. You’ll all just have to check it out for yourselves!

The Madison Children’s Museum is located at 100 N. Hamilton Street. The Grand Opening Celebration takes place August 14 and 15!

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One thought on “A sneak peek of the new Madison Children’s Museum

  1. Pingback: Madison Children’s Museum general info « Raising Madison

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