Edwardsville Children’s Museum: Plan Your Trip Now

For building lifelong memories, there’s nothing like a children’s museum. Even better? A family getaway centered on the Edwardsville Children’s Museum. Yeah, it’s that good.

Watching your child’s face light up with wonder and delight is hands-down one of the best parts of being a parent. That’s why a trip to a great children’s museum ranks high on the list of memory-making activities to do while your child is young. All the better when you can make a museum visit the centerpiece of a family vacation, says Kristen Fries, Executive Director at the Edwardsville Children’s Museum.

The Edwardsville Children’s Museum is a must-visit destination for Chicago families looking to escape the city and head to southwest Illinois for a day or two.

A fellow Chicago parent with a growing family, Fries moved back to her hometown of Edwardsville when her older child was 4. She was thrilled to learn about its museum. “I thought the Edwardsville Children’s Museum was so cute because it’s all housed in a historic building, the original schoolhouse that dates back to the late 1800s,” she says. “The focus of the museum was on early childhood education — and it remains that way now. It’s a big part of our story.”

At the Edwardsville Children’s Museum, located in one of southwest Illinois’ most historic areas, kids can immerse themselves in unique pretend play experiences, inside and out.

In the last five years, the entire museum has been reimagined, thanks in part to local community partnerships. “Every exhibit in our space has been redesigned, added to and enhanced. In 2020, we added an outdoor discovery garden, which is a wonderful exhibit space,” Fries says. “Summer and fall are especially great times to visit to enjoy outdoor activities.”

More recently, the outdoor space welcomed a sensory garden. Every plant was carefully selected to highlight the five senses. “Caregivers can pick up a card and play the challenge game with their children. They might look for a big fuzzy leaf or a spikey ball or a plant that legitimately smells like buttered popcorn,” Fries describes.

A secret garden walkway leads families along a pretend river with mosaic fish toward an outdoor farm-to-table kitchen. Children can add pretend vegetables to a soup pot and serve it at the table. “Or they can make the soup with rocks if they like,” says Fries. “Using your imagination is what it’s all about.”

Immersive play at Edwardsville Children’s Museum

Inside the museum, children can care for stuffed pets in the two-level animal hospital, deliver mail and feed and change the babies in the nursery. They can role-play in the dentist’s office, the flower shop and the ice cream cart. They can create their own masterpieces in the art studio and tinker in the makerspace. To encourage interaction, there are caregiver prompts to help your child learn through play.

Is there a favorite exhibit at the Edwardsville Children’s Museum that kids flock to? “Our treehouse is a big favorite,” says Fries, describing the innovative use of space directly above the baby nursery that gives children the feel of a real canopy treehouse space. “There’s an observation deck, and children can use the binoculars to look at native birds and the eggs in their nests. They can press a button and hear the calls of the birds you’d see in our local environment, and the sound echoes throughout the room. They can make pretend s’mores and spy on forest animals like squirrels and badgers. It’s a fully immersive experience. They love it up there!”

Photo credit: Edwardsville Children’s Museum

Kids and parents who love trains will especially enjoy the Nickel Plate Station, a newly renovated museum space that is a short walk from the main museum building. The rail line has been converted into a bike and pedestrian path, and the two-room Nickel Plate Station welcomes young visitors with a custom-designed wooden train table donated by a Boeing engineer. Children can explore the replica train car and even prepare and serve pretend food from the dining car.

“We have also added a mail pole next to the train car so children can learn the concept of how mail made its way onto a train as it passed by the town,” Fries says.

Plan your trip now

If you’re planning to visit the Edwardsville Children’s Museum on a weekend trip, Fries recommends enjoying the Goshen Market Days on Saturday mornings. This is just one example of how the Edwardsville Children’s Museum gives kids the chance to connect their own pretend play to the real world.

“Bank of Hillsboro sponsors this exhibit, which the kids love!” says Fries. They could play at the farmers market at the museum, and then shop at the real farmers market. Then they can play in the Peel Pizza kitchen at the museum and have lunch at Peel Wood Fired Pizza,  she says, sharing the inside tip that Peel is just one of Edwardsville’s local restaurants that are putting this historic Illinois town on the foodie map.

“We have signs up and down our main street saying that we are a foodie town, and it’s true. There are many great eating opportunities in the Edwardsville and Alton area,” she says.

Together with the many attractions just right for Chicago families looking for a quick getaway, the Edwardsville Children’s Museum is a must-see. As you’re making your plans to visit, keep in mind this hot tip from someone who has traveled between Chicago and Edwardsville more times than she can count: time your departure outside of rush hour.

“That rush-hour traffic makes a four-hour and 15-minute trip into six hours,” says Fries.

Learn about the many upcoming events at the Edwardsville Children’s Museum and plan your own trip now. Content brought to you by Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau.


Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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