The top 10 things you need to know before you head out to the Children’s Discovery Museum in Bloomington-Normal.
Get to know Bloomington-Normal’s Children’s Discovery Museum, an action packed children’s museum a quick drive from Champaign-Urbana.
What: Children’s Discovery Museum in downtown Normal, IL
Where: Downtown Normal: 101 E Beaufort Street. It’s located right across from the train station on a traffic circle with parking garages very close.
When: 9am-5pm, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. It is open from 9am-8pm on Thursday and 1pm-5pm on Sunday. The museum is open for members only on Mondays from 9am-12pm.
What to bring: Admission is $7 per person ages 2 and older. Children under the age of 2 are free. Family memberships are available for the year starting at $95 per year. If you get a Family Plus Membership, you will get benefits through participating ASTC and ACM locations – which gets your family free admission into places like the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for the whole year!
- It is worth the drive. If you’re driving over from Champaign-Urbana, we think this is well worth the trip for the day. You’ll see why. Parking is available at a number of garages/parking decks. The museum website does a good job of detailing what is free and where you’ll pay. We choose to park at Uptown Station Deck. You walk out through the train station and have a very short walk (without crossing any streets) to the museum doors.
Pack your own food to extend your visit without having to leave. The second floor of the museum features the “Landings” area with plenty of tables, conveniently located next to the climbing structure. You can feed your kids and then sit and enjoy some quiet while you enjoy a snack (or some quiet time yourself) seated right outside the only entrance/exit points for the climbing structure.
- About the climbing structure: It is visible as soon as you walk into the museum by looking up. Kids enter and exit from the second floor. It spans all the way up to the third floor of the museum, but there is no way to get out on the third floor. Some spots might be parent-friendly to climb through, but I watched my kids climb through it and it looked like most of it would be a tight squeeze for an adult.
- The museum is three floors of fun. Highlights on the first floor include the water table, the grocery store/pizza kitchen, a fenced off play area for kids five and under and many other zones. The little kids’ play area has some playground-type equipment but is generally speaking quite toddler proofed. That makes this area an ideal place for a nursing break for a mom who may be juggling a baby and toddler on her visit. There is a nursing nook located on the third floor, inside the bathroom, but the museum clearly states, “Mothers may nurse their babies wherever they feel most comfortable at the museum! Benches are provided for seating on each floor.” I saw many mothers nursing throughout the museum on our trip.
- Consider beforehand if you want to visit the water table as soon as you arrive or later in your visit. Your kids will see it right away. Smocks and dryers are provided but our kids were soaked after they were done playing. The good news is they probably will want to play here for your entire visit if you don’t point out the rest of the museum. So many water-related things to do!
- You can travel to the other floors of the museum by elevator, making it very handicap/stroller accessible, or choose to take the stairs too. Traveling up a floor, the second floor is where you’ll find some really stellar exhibits that, in my mind, are geared towards slightly older kids (but still very appealing towards younger kids). The climbing structure is on this floor, as well as an expansive energy exhibit where kids can build and test their own wind turbines or play with “air mazes” and shoot brightly colored scarves through different air chutes. The second graders in our group were thrilled with this floor of the museum.
- You can also find the agriculture exhibit on the second floor. Young kids will love climbing into the tractor or combine and kids of all ages will love playing with the “grain”, which are brightly colored soft balls that you can send through different chutes or “feed” to the cows. This is another area where our kids could have spent the whole visit. Children who may want a little less stimulation can head over to the farm play area and have fun setting up their own farm scene with tractors and farm animals.
- The top floor of the museum has an artsy theme to it. Kids can paint on clear “walls” (again, smocks are provided), “conduct” an orchestra themselves, or put on a theatrical play, complete with a working tech booth. This was the quietest floor of the museum during our visit and if you have creative kids, they will be thrilled. Try hard not to think about the germs/ickies that may be lurking in the costumes (and hats) in this area and sit back and enjoy the undoubtedly adorable performance your children will put on for you.
- I know you think “children’s museum” and think that it sounds like an exhausting day, no matter what your kids’ ages are. The way this one is set up, I truly believe you won’t find it to be that way though. There are so many places for a parent to sit down and watch their kids play safely and zones are designed clearly with families that have multiple children in mind. On the first floor, for example, the train tables geared towards younger kids are located right across from the massive foam bricks/tubes building area. My kids are 8 and 5 and we had no complaints of “I want to GO SOMEWHERE ELSE” during our visit.
- Additionally, the museum details on their website and appears to be designed in such a way that families who are visiting with a child with special needs will find a great experience here. Sensory bags, including noise reduction headphones and fidget toys, are available for checkout at the front desk and if you have a child with you who needs to take a break in a quiet space, just ask the front desk for recommendations upon arrival.
We know this is a little bit of a drive from Champaign-Urbana, but it is so uniquely wonderful that we think you will find it worth the drive, with you and your kids begging to return again soon!