Fun & Learning Collide at Children's Museums

By Erica Wacker

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

Minnesota Children’s Museum, St. Paul & Rochester

Childrens museum girl_DSC6492.jpgOften 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. The museum is organized into different "worlds," which focus on topics including the environment, art, science and exploration.

Special exhibits and drop-in activities, like face painting and live animal demonstrations, are also included in the $9.95 admission fee. The third Sunday of every month is free.

A satellite location of the St. Paul museum opened in Rochester in 2012, where the Imagination Playground encourages kids to play and build things together. The museum is open Thursday-Sunday; admission is $5.50.

There's also a new "pop-up" play space at Mall of America, which will be open while the St. Paul museum is undergoing renovations through spring 2017.

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.

The Works Museum, Bloomington

The-Works-Museum,-Bloomington_1200px.jpgFuture 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 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.

Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota, Mankato

Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato
Photo courtesy Visit Mankato

This new museum in Mankato connects visitors to the surrounding area with hands-on exhibits about farming, quarrying, engineering and more. Babies and toddlers can romp on the Play Porch (inspired by the Betsy-Tacy novels by Mankato native Maud Hart Lovelace), while teens and adults can get a taste of STEM education in the Makers Space.

The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday year-round, with additional outdoor spaces open in the summer.

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 six days a week in summer and Fridays and Saturdays in fall and winter, 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 3,000-piece exhibit and the carriage from the Emerald City scene.

Find more kid-friendly attractions throughout Minnesota, including science and nature museums, zoos and aquariums, and amusement parks.