On a lazy January Friday afternoon, my son and I made our most recent visit to the free UW- Madison Geology Museum. Turns out it had been so long since we’d been there, that he had forgotten about it. Since he was 3 1/2 or 4, his favorite book has been Fossils, Rocks, and Minerals. My son’s taken this book to school in both Kindergarten and 1st grade when teachers have asked kids to bring in favorite books and he put a picture of it on his “All About Me” poster in 4K. Needless to say this was a high-interest outing for him. 3:15 p.m. on a winter Friday was a great time to be at the museum. We had it to ourselves except for an undergraduate or two completing an assignment.
UW-Madison’s Geology Museum was part of the inception of the University in 1848. The collection of rocks, fossils, minerals, and more has been growing ever since. Outside the entry to the museum is a large, slowly rotating model of the earth. We sat and watched it spin while my son finished his afternoon snack. He’s a globe and atlas lover as well, so he was excited about the size of the globe and insisted on having his picture taken with North America in the background since, “That’s where we live, Mom.”
As we entered the museum, there was a guest book to sign and my son proudly entered his name and entered “two” in the column marked “Number in Party.” Then we were on to the collection of minerals. He was enthralled by all of the different colors, shapes, and textures of minerals. I challenged him (prior to entering the museum) to
read and look around so that he could find out the state rock of Wisconsin–Red Granite.
He was both enthralled and a bit tentative about entering the fluorescent minerals exhibit due to the darkness needed to see the glowing minerals. Once inside, he was no longer tentative. We went back in twice during our visit and noticed different minerals glowing each time.
The Geology Museum displays a timeline showing geologic time and the geologic age of the Earth. It gives great perspective about age of the earth and the length of time humans have been around. Kids learning about the concept of large numbers will love a touchable meteorite from over 4 billion years ago. The newest exhibit introduced in 2013 is Biosignatures: What Does Life Leave Behind? Visitors can use their noses to smell what Titan (one of Saturn’s moons) and a few other places in geologic time smell like.
The first dinosaur to ever be displayed in Wisconsin–Edmontosaurs–is in the final part of the museum. Cue the Dinosaur Train music as Tiny, Shiny, and Don (pteranodons) and Buddy (Tyrannosaurus rex) are also represented. My son was not impressed with the Boaz mastodon, but I’m not sure we’ve talked much or read much about them at home yet. Prior to coming upon the dinosaur fossils and replicas, there is an observation window with steps for kids to climb up to observe students and researchers excavating fossils from rocks. At 4 p.m. on a Friday, there were 3 students intently working on their excavation projects.
The final delight for my son was an interactive computer exhibit called Our Active Earth that featured information on earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. Since my son frequently asks to read about these topics or requests to watch videos of lava flowing or thinks about what a tsunami wave might look like, this was his favorite addition to the museum. Upon waking up the next morning, he’d already read Vacation Under the Volcano (Magic Tree House series) by about 6:20 a.m.
Important Geology Museum Info:
Location: Weeks Hall at 1215 W. Dayton Street
Hours: Monday – Friday: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Parking: Closest lot is under Union South. Meters are on several adjacent/near by streets. You may have to park several blocks away, so plan accordingly and possibly consider bringing a stroller for your walk. It’s often easier to find parking during UW-Madison break times.
Cost: Free! There is a donation box and donations are important to any museum’s operating budget.
Tours: Offered upon pre-arrangement. Call 608.262.1412. There is a $2 fee per tour participant and an 8 person minimum.
Special details: Storytime is offered the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month at 10:30 a.m. Per the website: “Museum storytime is geared toward preschool-aged children and each week features a book, museum specimens and a craft to take home. No reservations required, except for groups larger than 10.”
Bathrooms: Very close to the museum entrance near the rotating model of Earth.