My parents first turned us on to Discovery World Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin when The Maker Boys were young. I was not a part of those early trips up there, likely enjoying a bit freedom while my little guys sojourned up in the land of cheese. But I did eventually make it up there with my crew, and we had a blast learning and playing.
So when The Maker Tween’s grade took a field trip to Springfield that replicated our Lincoln-centric 2010 visit, he and I headed north to Milwaukee to see the latest and greatest at Discovery World (with a quick stop at the Bucketworks makerspace). We were provided with press passes to see the museum.
Compared to Chicago’s grand museum’s with their large, airy great halls, Discovery World is small, but it’s packed with interactive exhibits on engineering, science, technology and marine life. It’s fabulous, but might not be a great fit for a child who is prone to sensory overload. There’s a lot going on; plan to spend the better part of a day if you’ve got curious kids. Or many days, broken into small chunks if you’re local.
We started out by checking out the industrial gears and automatons on the main floor, ending up near a flight simulator. The Maker Tween couldn’t pass up the chance to try it out. A full virtual reality experience where the seat moves in synch with the screen elements, all guided by my son, he couldn’t resist the need for speed. Of course, that led to a crash landing. Hold me; it’s only 3 years before he gets his first driving permit.
It was only a simulation, so my son walked away unscathed and we headed to other exhibits like Dream Machine, where we watched industrial machines like a CNC in action and took home a free souvenir.
We headed up to the second floor the via 2 spiral staircases surrounding a giant kinetic DNA sculpture, an adventure in itself. Speaking of kinetic, once upstairs, we learned about energy and produced a bit of our own.
My son took a quick rest on a bed of nails, explored the world of sound + technology. He especially enjoyed the Reactable shown below. He created a unique soundscape using coded blocks placed on the interactive surface. Each sound each block produces varies based on its code as well as interaction with neighboring blocks. At times the results were rather cacophonous, but it was fascinating to watch him manipulate the blocks and understand patterns and relationships as he conducted the hi-tech symphony.
Thanks to a near infrared camera, we got a better glimpse of the veins in his hand. In medical settings, this instrument makes it easier to find just the right spot to draw blood.
Admission to Discovery World includes entry to the Reiman Aquarium, which highlights Great Lakes and aquatic life around the world. The area is also home to Challenge, an in-house life-size schooner floating above the world’s largest scale model of the Great Lakes. Challenge is available for kids of all ages to explore and the Great Lakes model is surrounded by exhibits of local fish and wildlife.
In addition, every 30 minutes or so, guests can create a dramatic (read: exciting, but potentially scary) thunderstorm. Dark shades drop and cover the windows you see in the background of the photo below. Once the light is dim rain begins to fall and a storm, complete with simulated thunder and lightning, runs for a few minutes.
Down below are more exciting exhibits including a touch tank where kids can get personal with stingrays and a bamboo shark. The excited squeals of Midwestern children touching a shark is music to my ears. The area also boasts a 360 walkway with fish above, below and to the sides of visitors, and a simulated research vessel.
On weekends, Discovery World offers a Tesla Live show and the Design It! Lab.
Discovery World also offers seasonal educational trips on The SV Denis Sullivan, a recreation of a three-masted Great Lakes schooner, as well as classes for kids, scout troops, and adults (beer brewing, anyone?).
Discovery World is closed on Mondays, open Tuesday-Friday 9-4 and weekends 10-5.
Admission runs $16.95 for adults, $12.95 kids 3-17, and children under 3 are free. They have special pricing for college students, seniors, and members of the military–and if you’re a member of another museum or aquarium, be sure to check for reciprocal admission.