When it comes to kids, Minnesotans strive for Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon ideal, wherein “…all the children are above average.” Of course, we don’t rely solely on schools to accomplish this. Our state’s world-class educational resources help to boost our children’s brainpower, as well. Here are some favorites.
The Science Museum of Minnesota is the benchmark for children’s educational activities in the North Star State. It’s five floors of permanent installations range from weather experiments and demonstrations of how the human body functions to full-scale dinosaur skeletons and a trading post, where you can swap your own artifacts with resident traders. Touring exhibits, such as artifacts from the Titanic or NASA space expeditions, regularly visit the SMM.
The Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center in Canal Park is a joint effort of the Lake Superior Marine Museum Association and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A combination museum and interpretive center, it’s chock full of artifiacts from the shipping history of Lake Superior. The Center also offers programs and exhibits on Great Lakes ecology, physics of the aerial lift bridge, and information on the giant lakeboats that cruise into the harbor beneath it. Families can tour one such vessel by visiting the nearby William A. Irvin, a decommissioned lake boat that used to haul iron ore on the Great Lakes.
The National Eagle Center is one of the state’s top family attractions. Located in the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, the center offers educational programs and exhibits to educate the public about bald and golden eagles. Both types of eagles use the Upper Mississippi as a flyway and hunting ground, so the center is well located for its research and programs.
The Bakken Museum, located in a Lake Calhoun mansion, is dedicated to educating about and exploring the practical but fun subjects of electricity and magnetism. The museum is named for the founder of Medtronic and features hands-on exhibits that demonstrate the many uses of electromagnetism in the world today.
The Minnesota History Center in downtown St. Paul is home to a deep collection of artifacts and exhibits that detail the rich history of the North Star State. Exhibits and oral histories of the people that have made Minnesota their homes are a great way for kids to learn about the state’s diversity. Meanwhile, the museum’s library offers archival documents and primary sources on historic events and well-known Minnesotans like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Special exhibits on subjects ranging from World War I and local sports history to Minnesota’s “Greatest Generation” rotate through the Center on a regular basis.
These two centers in Ely are dedicated to protecting and educating the public about the animals at the top of Minnesota’s natural food chain. The Wolf and Bear Centers use outreach and education to spread the word about the signifance of wolves and bears to Minnesota’s ecosystems. Kids and their grown-ups will enjoy the interactive exhibits, programs and activities, as well as resident bears and wolves that live in carefully constructed habitats adjacent to the facilities.
The Minnesota Children’s Museum’s flagship facility is located in downtown St. Paul, but it has satellite operations in Rochester and at the Mall of America. The museums exhibits are designed to facilitate learning through interactivity and hands-on experiences. In addition to the permanent installations that kids come to love and expect, MCM also rotates thematic temporary exhibits to keep things interesting each time you visit.
Kids who like to get out and explore Minnesota’s natural wonders flock to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center near the Lake Superior National Forest. Naturalist training, wilderness trips, and classes on subjects ranging from ecology to bird banding are available throughout the year. Kids serious about outdoor education can even get school credit from Wolf Ridge ELC.
While the state’s largest art museum is a wonderful unto itself, it’s even more so on the second Sunday of every month. MIA’s Family Days afford kids the opportunity to learn more about the art in the museum’s massive collection, express themselves with dance or music, and create their own masterpieces. And it’s all free and open to the public.