The Milwaukee Public Museum
And Other Family Friendly Destinations in Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Public Museum and Other Family Friendly Destinations in Milwaukee
By Rochelle Caviness - December 12, 2002
If you can only visit one attraction during your visit to Milwaukee, make it the Milwaukee Public Museum. Spread out over four floors, the Milwaukee Public Museum is a multifaceted facility covering just about everything from dinosaurs to the history of Milwaukee. The museum is located at 800 West Wells Street in Milwaukee, and their recorded information line can be reached at: 414-278-2702.
The museum offers an excellent audio tour of one exhibit - "Streets of Old Milwaukee" - which takes you on a tour down a Milwaukee street circa 1880. Docent guided tours are also offered periodically. In addition, specialized tours for groups of visually impaired individuals can also be arranged by calling 414-278-2721.
Because this is an educational museum, you may feel that it is 'just for kids'. It isn't. While kids will learn a lot here, it is an excellent place to visit for 'kids' of all ages, just be sure to bring your curiosity along. To 'do' this museum properly, plan on spending a full day - at minimum. When you enter the museum you will be given a color coded wrist band to wear. This enables you to leave the museum, such as for lunch, and return on the same day without additional charge.
This museum is spread out over three and a half floors, offering over 150,000 square feet of exhibit space. And, everywhere you look you will find something different to explore. Throughout you'll find video terminals that run short movies that will explain specific exhibits in more detail. Background music and sounds are also integral components of many exhibits. The museum is globally oriented. When possible, however, an emphasis place on Wisconsin's's natural history. The museum is divided into a number of themed areas, covering items such as Earth's geological history, dinosaurs, life in the Arctic (animal and human), Native American Cultures, Ancient Egypt (including mummies), Wisconsin History, Asian culture, and rainforests. There is also an exhibit where you can examine the lives of various scientist and the type of work they do, and why they became involved in it. The museum also hosts a number of traveling exhibits throughout the year.
You should also plan on visiting the Puelicher Butterfly Wing. This 'wing' is simply a room, filled with butterflies, which you can walk through. This allows you to examine the butterflies up close, and it makes for a really unique experience!
While this is a great museum, and one I highly recommend, it does offers some challenges for the visually impaired. First off, a lot of the exhibits are behind glass, and depending on the lighting, there can be a lot of glare. As well, informational signs about the exhibits abound, however a lot of these signs are located on the other side of the 'glary glass'. Even if the glass was not glary, these signs would be hard to read as they are, in most cases, too far away from where you stand to read them using magnification devices. As well, most of these signs are written in very small print, or worse, in poorly contrasting colors i.e., in regard to the text and background colors. These problems can be overcome simply by taking a sighted guide with you and having them read the signs aloud, or by participating in one of the guided tours. Unfortunately, large print or braille transcriptions of these informational signs are not available.
There are two other major problems with this museum. Lighting varies from exhibit to exhibit and ranges from very bright, to very dark. If you don't normally use a cane, this might be a good time to pull one out. During my tour, I managed to trip over several benches, and I even walked into a pole that was inconveniently painted to match the exhibit. Another problem is that the there are a lot of different floor treatments used throughout the museum ranging from a pebble strewn pathway to wood blanks. The reason for this is that the floors are designed to match the exhibit, however they can be very uneven in places and the transition from one flooring material to another is not apparent until you 'trip.'
Because of these navigational problems, and the lack of reading material in accessible formats, I'd recommend that visually impaired individuals tour the facility with someone who is fully sighted. Don't however, skip the museum. You will be well rewarded if you take whatever steps are necessary in order to tour enable you to tour the museum. It is one of the best History / Natural History museums that I've toured in years.
Other Kid Friendly Destinations in Milwaukee
Other family attractions to visit in Milwaukee include, but are not limited to:
Want More Information About Milwaukee?
- The Milwaukee County Zoo
With over 300 species, ranging from Buceros rhinoceros to Mandrill's, housed on this 200 acre zoo, you can easily spend a full day exploring the zoo. Many of the exhibits are enhanced by the inclusion of a 'red box' that offers audio descriptions of the animals being viewed, as well as insights into their habitant and behavior patterns. To access these 'boxes' you will need to purchase a key at the zoo's gift shop. The key cost's three dollars, and can be used for up to a year.
Between May and October you can also take a twenty-minute guided tour on the 'zoomobile'. You can also take a short train ride around the perimeter of the zoo. There is no commentary provided during the train ride, and you do not get to see very many animals from the train. Other 'extracurricular' activities at the zoo including riding on a carousel, as well as taking a ride on a camel or pony ride.
For a real treat, be sure to visit the aviary. Here you get to actually enter the exhibit, and you get to experience having birds, including Waldrapp Ibis and Boat-billed Herons, flying around you. Just watch your head least something icky drops on it! In addition, the zoo is set in a very nice park like setting that is perfect for picnicking.
- Betty Brinn Children's Museum
This museum is located at 929 E. Wisconsin Ave., and is located catty-corner across the street from the Milwaukee Museum of Art.
This Children's museum features a vast array of hands-on learning activities and games. The museum is designed for children under the age of ten, and it features a special hands-on area just for the under 3's. They also host a wide variety of special events ranging from a free weekly art workshop to inviting Prevent Blindness Wisconsin in to do free eye screening tests.
- Discovery World
The James Lovell Museum of Science, Economics, and Technology
Located with the Milwaukee Public Museum Complex, Discovery World offers visitors an opportunity to explore science through 150 hands-on, kid-friendly, exhibits. In addition to a variety of permanent display, special events and programs are offered on a daily basis. Many of these special programs only take place at specific times. So be sure to call in advance to see what will be going on, on the day you plan to visit, so that you can plan your visit to take in some of these special programs. When calling Discovery World, be sure to ask when the R & D Café will be open as this is perhaps one of the best features of the facility.
The R & D Café is set up like a small restaurant, complete with menus on the table. However, instead of serving food, the Café serves hands-on science projects. Once your project arrives at your table, you get to 'work on it'. A sample from the menu includes:
Mecahnical Insects: "Create your own brand of pest control as you build better bugs."
Another area to visit, that is only open at select times, is Area 51. In this area, kids get to put on helmets that block out all sight. They are then given instructions that they need to follow to fulfil their 'mission'.
For more information on Milwaukee, and what there is to see and do there, check out www.officialmilwaukee.com, the website of the Greater Milwaukee Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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