Kids Rule!

Nineteen super-duper, crazy-cool, fun, silly and smart reasons why Madison's an awesome place to grow up

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5. We Love Ice Cream

You bet the capital of the Dairy State boasts some stellar ice cream. Three local shops give the scoop on the flavors kids call their favorites.

From top to bottom:

Mint Chocolate Chip, Michael’s Frozen Custard
This classic minty custard with crisp slivers of chocolate is super refreshing on a hot day.

Superman, The Chocolate Shoppe
Resembling a swirly scoop of Play-Doh, this ice cream packs a tangy, fruit-punchy flavor.

Blue Moon, Babcock Hall Dairy Store
Extra soft and a pretty shade of blue, this ice cream tastes like Fruit Loops.

– Devin Ross

6. Pac Man Fever (Again)

I’ve often recounted stories to my eight-year-old son Rowan about the golden age of Madison arcades in the early ’80s and places like Aladdin’s Castle and Space Port. That’s why I was thrilled when I heard about Rossi’s Vintage Arcade and Pizzeria in Monona. Recently Rowan and I made the trip to Rossi’s and realized we’d just stepped into video game heaven. We spent an afternoon plugging quarters into games like Tempest, Donkey Kong and Sinistar. Rowan ended up with a high score on Battlezone while I made it to my highest level on Galaga. What a great way to hit the rewind button on my own life and share a special moment with my kid.

– Tim Burton

7. Looking Good, Kid

Yes, things are officially cuter when they’re pint-sized—just like these kids modeling the latest summer-into-fall looks!


On Nathan, 22 months (left)

Tea pirate T-shirt, $19, and Tea jeans, $49, both from Capitol Kids; See Kai Run “Braxton” sneakers, $47, Playthings.










On Sophie, 3 (right)
Tea “Chrysanthemum” dress, $29, Toobydoo cotton leggings, $25, Bow Arts red flower hair clip, $10, and See Kai Run “Merrilee” silver sandal, $47, all from Capitol Kids.






On Grace, 5 (left)
Tea “Cape Lily” smocked shirt, $26, Tea skinny stripe leggings, $21, and Livie and Luca shoes, $48.50, all from Playthings; Bows Arts sequin bow hair clip, $8.75, Capitol Kids; frog stuffed animal, $22.50, Wild Child.








On Judah, 5 (right)
Fore!! Axel & Hudson Apparel shorts and button-up (both $39.50), and Charlie Rocket hoodie, $47.50, Wild Child; watch, $10, from Playthings; Fore!! Axel & Hudson straw fedora, $28, and See Kai Run “River” slip-ons, $41.50, both from Capitol Kids.

– Styling by Shayna Mace, photos by TImothy Hughes




8. Girl Power!

Thank goodness self-esteem building and enrichment opportunities for girls’ leadership and empowerment are a popular antidote for the constant influx of negative stereotypes of females in society. For every psychologically damaging advertisement of the latest styles barely clinging to anorexic models, there are competing images of athletes, artists or entrepreneurs who are healthy, happy and successful.

Here in Madison, girl power is in. Girls on the Run is a unique way for third through eighth graders and their volunteer coaches/mentors to train for a 5K run while learning important life skills en route. Each practice incorporates a lesson—antibullying, positive media images, substance abuse awareness—in or around physical activity. The program culminates in a race with family and friends cheering from the sidelines. A few years ago I coached third and fourth graders, including my daughter, so I can tell you firsthand that the sense of accomplishment—and in some cases, immense relief—those girls feel when they cross the finish line is powerful stuff.

Girls Rock Camp is a weeklong jam session, led by local rocker Beth Kille, of learning, practice and fun ending with a real-live concert—with screaming fans to boot—as reward. New this year is a DJ session for teens during the August 5–9 camp.

YWCA Madison runs Girls Inc. out of three Madison community centers and comprehensively tackles life skills, learning and fun. Its tagline, “Inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold,” pretty much says it all.

In this golden age of girl power, the matriarch of the movement, Girl Scouts, is now more than a century old and as vital as ever. While the Girl Scout brand is forever tied to Thin Mints and Caramel deLites, cookie sales are the mere fudge topping on the Thanks-A-Lot. My twelve-year-old came for the Peanut Butter Patties and stayed for the friendships, discovery and, of course, the badges and patches, which her Grandma Kathy dutifully irons on her green Cadette sash. While coed opportunities for kids are important, too, a little girl time can go a long way.

– Brennan Nardi

9. Wild for the Zoo

There’s lots to love about the Henry Vilas Zoo. It’s open every day of the year. It’s free. It has penguins, giraffes, a tiger and more. But to find out the very best time to visit—and where to go once we’re here—we turned to zookeeper Elizabeth Petersen for advice.

Arrive early. The zoo grounds open at 9:30 a.m. Why come right away? The animals are peppiest and the zoo’s the least crowded.

Visit the lion first. “Henry almost always roars first thing in the morning,” Petersen says, adding that it’s his daily way of reestablishing his territory.

Head to the Children’s Zoo. The gibbons, meerkats and red pandas will just be coming outside to play. You don’t want to miss that.

Go to the Primate House. When it opens at 10 a.m., the orangutans and chimpanzees emerge to happily find fresh food and new toys.

See the seals anytime. “Their activity level remains high all day,” says Petersen.

For more tips on navigating the zoo, download the new free app at

– Katie Vaughn

10. Bring the Kids

The party's not over just because you're a parent

The Situation: Friends are in town and want to do brunch. 
Pre-kids: You’d sleep in and head to Sardine or Cooper’s for bloody Marys and mimosas.
With kids: Two words: Crema Café. This cute Monona spot boasts great scrambles for adults and a healthy, delicious kids’ menu.
Bonus: You can linger with friends over coffee while the kiddos play with Crema’s toys. 

The Situation: It’s festival season and you don’t want to miss out.
Pre-kids: You’d close down the Orton Park Festival and Dane Dances, reveling late into the night.
With kids: Both events are great for kids! Just come earlier rather than later and check out the family-friendly activities in addition to the music.
Bonus: Diverse food goes hand in hand with great tunes at community events.

The Situation: A new season at Overture Center’s about to kick off.
Pre-kids: You’d score tickets to the latest Broadway musical or take in the symphony or opera.
With kids: Check out a Children’s Theater of Madison play or Madison Ballet’s annual holiday production of The Nutcracker.
Bonus: Kids in the Rotunda offers fabulous free performances by local entertainers.

The Situation: You’re craving a beer.
Pre-kids: You’d meet buddies out for a round of brews—or perhaps for a pub crawl around the Square.
With kids: The Great Dane is your new best friend. Good beer plus a lively atmosphere means no one blinks an eye if a child is loud.
Bonus: On certain Saturdays, December through April, the Hilldale Dane hosts Kid Disco.

– Katie Vaughn

11. Freedom in Religion

As parents, one of our primary responsibilities—outside of not humiliating our progeny by posting family photos on their Facebook timelines—is to use our own experiences to inform (and improve) our children’s growth and development.

So it’s been with making a grilled cheese sandwich, and so it’s been with faith and religion. In my case, my mother’s church-shopping landed me in the Catholic Church, where I spent a mostly happy decade-plus before becoming disillusioned by a string of organizational failures. My wife and I decided that when the time came, we’d let our children decide their faith for themselves.

But not in a vacuum. For the last year, my oldest has been part of something called In the Mix, a weekly youth program created and run by Tammy Martens, pastor at Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ on Madison’s southwest side.

In the Mix swirls together exploration and action. Some weekly meetings involve guest speakers from the major religions or field trips to places like the Sikh temple in Milwaukee, where a mass shooting occurred last year. But there’s also a strong element of community service: Road trips to food shelters in Milwaukee are a regular event, and last summer, my daughter joined a large group of middle and high schoolers who bused to Tennessee to perform community service; this summer, a group headed to New Mexico to do the same.

It works thanks to a supportive, no-pressure environment. “We honor where youth are at with spiritual development, and set the table for them to explore,” says Martens. “We’re helping them develop their own faith and be articulate about what they believe.”

Children who choose to can use the program as a bridge to confirmation. Others can just use it as a way to explore their spirituality on their own terms, while being exposed to—and learning to respect—religious views they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. 

“A big part of what we try to do is nurture a sense of community,” says Martens. “Community has a powerful place in a teenager’s life. It’s not like a drive-thru.”

 – Aaron R. Conklin

12. Let's Get Crafty

The Sewcial Lounge offers a beginning sewing class for kids, plus an instructor-led sewing club where you can choose your own project.

Midwest Clay Project holds group wheel pottery classes for kids and teens, plus private wheel or hand lessons for kids. MCP also hosts open studio time for kids and birthday parties.

At Lakeside Fibers’ private and semiprivate knitting lessons, kids practice basic knitting skills before starting a scarf project with yarn of their choice.

Anthology is devoted to unique projects. The shop supplies the materials and instructor, and kids enjoy craft time at the table. Craft parties offer creative activities for larger groups.

If your kids want to get crafty on your next road trip, Kinkoona Farm in Brodhead makes felting kits complete with foam backing, needles, colored wool—from their own sheep—instructions and templates.

– Mary Morgan

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