Madison Children's Museum
Kids step inside a gerbil wheel at Madison Children's Museum. By continuing to walk, they find out they are actually generating energy, as small LED lights in front of them start to light up.
(Source: Junko Yoshida)
This museum in Madison, Wis., is hands-down one of the best hands-on learning centers I've been to.
As sooner as you step inside, your kids are climbing, riding, grabbing, squeezing, touching, and steering objects, oblivious to you.
Exhibits include everything from wall-sized ball-bearing mouse traps to a gigantic gerbil wheel (where kids can walk inside to generate energy). There are "Way-Back" machines (one of which features Pong), and there's a huge community table full of wooden blocks (cars, trees, and buildings) so that kids can build a city of Madison on their own.
A kid sits in front of a big screen. The machine captures his face. As the kid moves his mouth, the machine generates different sounds – like a lion’s roar. (Photo: Junko Yoshida)
"Experiments, patience, and persistence"
One distinct feature of all the exhibits here is that each display bears no signs. It comes with no "how-to" instruction set, not even a brief "educational" tip for what this huge thing in front of you does and what it's supposed to teach you.
While adults get frustrated looking for a user's manual, kids just dive into the mystery trustingly, curiously. They start climbing up or rolling around, eventually finding every button to push and every lever to pull, lingering 'til they're ready for the next adventure.
"As in real life, we have to discover things by playing with it and fooling around with it," Debbie Gilpin, director of the museum, told me. Many exhibits here are designed to keep kids (and adults) guessing, trying, and thinking. "Experiments, patience, and persistence" are three fundamental qualities necessary to practice science and technology, said Gilpin. The Madison Children's Museum gives kids at younger ages a taste for it.
The kid city: Build your own “balanced” Madison. Kids, working with other kids, build an entire city of Madison on a big community table. For future engineers and architects, social skills -- learning how to agree on certain things with others -- are vital, according to the museum director.
(Source: Junko Yoshida)
— Junko Yoshida