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mission & history

Children's Museum of La Crosse: Silly Smart

The mission of the Children’s Museum of La Crosse is to help the young and the young at heart learn, connect and grow through interactive play. Our vision is to be a dynamic, interactive resource for families, community organizations and visitors.

It all started with a dream by Executive Director, Anne Snow. After moving to La Crosse, Wisconsin in December of 1994, she and her two young daughters missed the children’s museum they had frequented in New Orleans. Anne learned as much as she could about children’s museums, spread her enthusiasm among a large group of interested volunteers, and began raising friends and funds to make the dream come true.

The Charles & Marjorie Collins family gave the Museum a home by donating a 30,000 square foot building in downtown La Crosse. A $2.6 million capital campaign to prepare the building and create exhibits was kicked off in December of 1997, with a generous $1 million lead gift by local philanthropist Gertrude Salzer Gordon and hundreds of other generous donors and volunteers. The Gertrude Salzer Gordon Children’s Museum of La Crosse, Inc. opened on February 28, 1999.

The Children’s Museum of La Crosse welcomes 70,000+ visitors per year from a 75-mile radius of La Crosse and beyond. The Museum and its exhibits are targeted to children aged 1-12 and their adult companions. Since opening day, over 900,000 people have explored and enjoyed the Museum’s three floors of hands-on exhibits and related programming.

The Children’s Museum earns 70% of the annual operating budget through admissions and other fees. The other 30% is generated by donations, grants and special events. The Museum receives no United Way or state, local or federal Government funding.

The Museum is staffed by three full-time directors, all of whom have been with the Museum for more than 15 years: Founder and Executive Director, Anne Snow; Marketing/Development Director, Leanne Poellinger and Education Director, Christina Knudsen. Part-time staff include: Administrative Assistant Kay Holstrom; Maintenance Coordinator Dennis Coughlin; Party & Exhibit Coordinator, Hannah McAllister, Staff & Volunteer Manager, Jenny Nustad; and 8-10 Playologists. Volunteers assist the Museum in a variety of capacities, including helping with programs and events, behind-the-scenes work, and serving on the Board of Directors and Committees.

Key Messages/Values:

  • Celebrate Play Every Day. Play is how children learn who they are and how the world works, solve problems, and learn to express feelings. The value and power of play are incorporated into every aspect of the Children’s Museum of La Crosse.
  • Make Meaningful Memories. The Children’s Museum is a place away from work and household distractions, where adults and children can share quality time and experience the luxury of becoming lost in the moment.
  • Be Active. The Museum recognizes the importance of healthy living for children and adults, as well as the value of life-long learning through interactive experiences.
  • Dream Big. The Museum is committed to supporting parents, teachers and other caring adults to encourage and nurture creativity and personal development for children. The Museum is also always looking for ways to be the best we can be for our customers and community.
  • Do your best, always. Integrity—fiscal responsibility, programming excellence, customer service, employment experience—is core to the Museum’s mission.
  • Share. The Children’s Museum strives to welcome all people and partners, to play and learn, communicate and collaborate, lead and listen, plan and provide.

Children’s museums are cultural institutions committed to serving the needs and interests of children by providing exhibits and programs that stimulate curiosity and motivate learning. There are over 300 children’s museums around the world.

Children’s museums help children develop essential foundational skills.
In recent years, neuroscience has confirmed what the social sciences have long contended, that the first years of life are essential to future learning. Children’s museums are leading a movement that combines specific learning objectives with play in informal learning environments that are developmentally appropriate for infants, toddlers and children.

When a baby touches, looks and listens, she’s learning.
A toddler stacking blocks or splashing water is learning.
Playing make-believe is how a preschooler learns about the grown-up world.
School-age kids learn and practice math, reading and other skills while they play.
All these things and more are happening at the Children’s Museum of La Crosse, via three floors of interactive exhibits and related programming.

Children's Museum of La Crosse light a creative spark for discovery and lifelong learning.

Children’s museums light a creative spark for discovery and lifelong learning.
Research from the University of Illinois finds that children feel bored as much as 50 percent of the time while at school or doing their homework. At children’s museums, kids become excited about what they are learning while they are playing. As multidisciplinary institutions, children’s museums are defining how to teach the arts, humanities, sciences, mathematics and culture across generations.

"Some people talk about play as if it were a relief from serious learning or even worse: a waste of time. But for children, play is exceedingly serious…and important! In fact, play is a way for children to learn who they are and how the world works, solve problems, and to express feelings. Yes, play is the real work of childhood, and for young people today, many children’s museums offer play experiences that other settings are not able to give them."
- Fred Rogers

In addition to the three floors of hands-on exhibits, the Children’s Museum of La Crosse offers even more hands-on learning and fun through a variety of special programs:

  • Weekly preschool programs
  • Holiday and seasonal events
  • Boy and girl scout overnights and badge workshops
  • Health and fitness initiatives
  • Summer day camps
  • Music, dance, magic and other performances
  • Partnerships with many local human service, health and educational organizations
  • And much, much more!

I really like the Children’s Museum. I had a B-L-A-S-T, and I learned that museums don’t have to be boring!”
- Ashley, age 8