Madison Children's Museum is right next to the Capitol building

Museums aimed specifcally at the youngest among us can be amazing places that challenge children’s senses and engage them utterly. Or they can be big messy germ repositories full of battered exhibits that have seen better days. I recently spent an afternoon at the Madison Children’s Museum in Wisconsin, and I’m happy to report that it is one of the former.I don’t think I’ve ever seen a museum with so much on offer in such a small space. Everything there is made thoughtfully and well and is also cared for so although it is clearly a busy place, nothing is tired or worn out. Each area is carefully planned and laid out to make the most of the space within it. One thing I really liked is that ordinary objects are used to engage the senses – for example a series of different household cleaning brushes and sponges offer the chance for tactile experimentation. TravelingMom.comMy six year old and my three year old were equally happy. Whether they were using blocks to create an amazing cityscape, lifting bricks with an actual crane, driving construction vehicles through a gravel pit, or playing the bongos (which my older son did for a good half an hour) the first floor of the museum kept them occupied for so long we almost didn’t make it to the second floor. TravelingMom.comUpstairs there are even more hands-on activities including a giant tapestry woven entirely out of discarded plastic bags, a “polling station” where even the youngest among us could participate in democratic process, and a dig area where kids can chip away at dinosaur bones. But the top activity for my 3 year old had to be the “snow table,” a sand table that had been filled not only with snow but with small plastic houses, trees, and animals. There was something irresistable to him about playing with snow indoors and he stood there happily until his fingers were bright red.TravelingMom.comThe musem was crowded on this Saturday during the holiday break, but not unduly so. It is definitely a place that is manageable even for parents with babies. The area for very young children is large and airy, with lots of room for those who are learning to walk to roam, grab, and splash (there’s a great area for water play that is full of smooth rocks).  Unlike some other children’s museums, this area is not quite as segregated from the other exhibits and although my kids are a bit older, they loved hanging out there and experimenting with the large pulley system on one wall that allowed them to send a ball flying down a series of ramps and tubes. TravelingMom.comThere’s no place to eat at the museum itself, but since it is right on State Street, Madison’s main drag which runs between the University of Wisconsin and the Capitol, there are plenty of nearby noshing options including Ian’s Pizza, which has lots of yummy gourmet choices and the House of Wisconsin Cheese (where you can also buy a Cheesehead hat!) which are only steps away.It’s also easy when your done to cross the street and admire the beautifully restored interior of the capitol dome (and if your there at the holidays like we were, to see the state Christmas tree).For more photos of our family’s trip to the museum, please visit The Mother of All Trips.