Fun & Learning Collide at Children's Museums

By Erica Wacker

Kids have plenty of places to play this fall, from zoos to indoor waterparks to parks and playgrounds. Also high on this list are Minnesota’s children’s museums, which can be found in Duluth, Grand Rapids, St. Paul, Bloomington and Rochester. New exhibits, special events and hands-on activities will delight kids of all ages—and even teach them something in the process.

Childrens museum girl_DSC6492.jpgMinnesota Children’s Museum, St. Paul & Rochester

Often touted as one of the best of its kind in the country, the Minnesota Children’s Museum in downtown St. Paul features 65,000 square feet of fun and welcomes more than 400,000 visitors a year.

This fall’s big draw is “Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails,” a hands-on STEM exhibit that lets kids climb inside his train, suit up as a conductor and plan routes on a giant train table. The world-premiere exhibit, developed by the museum itself, is open through Sept. 21, when it will head to its next stop in California.

Opening Oct. 4, “Adventures with Clifford the Big Red Dog” will excite little fans of the classic series. Other highlights include “Healthyville” (opening Sept. 20) and various permanent exhibits about the world around us. Admission is $9.95 for visitors ages 1 and up; the third Sunday of every month is free.

A satellite location of the St. Paul museum opened in Rochester in 2012. A version of the “Clifford” exhibit will be there starting Sept. 4, and the Imagination Playground encourages kids to play and build things together. The museum is open Thursday-Sunday; admission is $5.50.

Duluth Children’s Museum

Thanks to an increasing number of visitors and members, the Duluth Children’s Museum moved from the Duluth Depot to its current, temporary location in 2012. The 10,000-square-foot space features a dinosaur dig area, an engineering lab, an interactive bank and stock market, a magnetic wall and more, in addition to special exhibits.

Other highlights include two real field jackets: plaster casings that paleontologists use to safely transport fossils and other delicate specimens. The museum is focused on furthering its STEM education opportunities, in addition to appealing to the younger set.

General admission is $12.50, which includes any special exhibits. The first Friday of every month is free from 4-8 p.m. and features special programming.

Works Museum.jpgThe Works Museum, Bloomington

Future scientists and engineers will find many ways to stimulate their brains at this interactive Twin Cities museum. In the Design Lab, families can make their own catapults, experiment with circuits and learn about wind power. The Sensor Zone lets kids explore light, sound and thermal energy.

Don’t miss the new K’Nex Ball Machine, a giant kinetic sculpture built by a University of Minnesota student. Standing 23 feet tall and incorporating more than 100,000 K’Nex pieces, the lobby structure runs all day transporting plastic balls around tracks, down ramps and chutes, and up elevators.

The Works is open Thursday-Monday; admission is $8 for ages 3 and up. Special events this fall include Electric Car Day (Oct. 11) and Tech Take-Apart Day (Nov. 8).

Children’s Discovery Museum, Grand Rapids

This northeast Minnesota museum lets kids dig for dinosaur fossils, learn about geography, navigate a maze and operate a replica dam. It’s open on Fridays and Saturdays in the fall, and the $8 admission includes access to the attached Judy Garland Museum. There, “Wizard of Oz” fans can see memorabilia from the classic movie, including a new 3,000-piece exhibit and the carriage from the Emerald City scene.