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Friday, April 12, 2024

Children's Museum delights young, old

Upon stepping into the Madison Children's Museum, one hears an infant's screams of delight coming from the left. Next, a wobbly toddler sprints by at full speed, followed closely by one of his or her parents. To the right, more parents struggle to bundle up their youngsters and coax them out the bright red door, which means the visit to the museum is sadly over. 




Four early childhood specialists'Kay Hendon, Caroline Hoffman, Jeanne Vergeront and Alan Everhart'founded the Madison Children's Museum, 100 State St., in 1980. At the time, increasing evidence indicated that learning and intellectual growth in the first few years are key in brain development and learning ability for the rest of an individual's life. 




Nancy Francisco-Welke, director of development and marketing for the museum, said learning is a cooperative experience at the Museum. 




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\The Children's Museum is a place where parents and children can learn together,"" Francisco-Welke said. ""We're not teaching. The children learn by doing'they teach us a lot of things."" 




A five-year veteran of the facility, Francisco-Welke speaks highly of the parent-child learning experience. 




""Sometimes I still wonder if some people don't know what the Madison Children's Museum is about,"" she said. ""It's a place for children and families. We're proud that it's somewhere they can come and interact with their kids. There are not a lot of places like that."" 




When people think of a museum, they often think of 'Do Not Touch' signs. Francisco-Welke said at the Madison Children's Museum, the motto is more like 'Please DO Touch.' 




For children, the museum is all about fun. There are so many exhibits that it seems tough for many children not to run jubilantly from one to the other, which they often do.  




Francisco-Welke also said children often come away from the museum with a sense of success and accomplishment. 




""One of the most important things that children can come away with is a sense of self-achievement,"" she said. ""We want them to be able to say, 'I had fun, I did that thing, and I was good at it.' We hope they are inspired, and they feel like the world is open to them."" 




One of the current exhibits at the museum includes a playroom filled with textures, colors and shapes. The exhibit, called First Feats, is designed using input from early childhood experts from the Madison community. All of the features are carefully planned for maximum entertainment and educational value to children. First Feats includes two observation decks from which older children can 'study' the younger kids playing below.  




Like First Feats, most of the exhibits have features for younger children to play with, while still incorporating interesting activities for older children. 




The target age range is from birth to eight years old, Francisco-Welke said.  




""We say zero to eight because we have activities that even 4- to 6-month-olds can participate in'as soon as they're aware of the world around them, they will get something out of the museum,"" she said. 




The Children's Museum also conducts special programs ranging from nutrition and safety classes for parents to programs for children over 8 years old.  




The museum's future looks increasingly bright. Jerry Frautschi, who donated $100 million for the Overture Center project, has earmarked $5 million of his donation for the Children's Museum. With that money, the museum plans to move to a larger space in 2004 or 2005, anticipating 120,000 visitors per year. 




Josh, a 4-year-old visitor of the museum, decided that he like the dinosaurs and juice bar exhibit the best. However, as was evident when his parents tried to put his coat on, his least favorite part of the museum experience was leaving.

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