Science Sprouts Place, the newest exhibit area at WonderLab, opens to the public on Saturday, October 5, 2019. The new activities and interactive exhibits are specially designed for children birth through age 3 and their caregivers.
“The first few years of life are a truly unique time for learning,” said Emmy Brockman, Education Director at WonderLab, “From language to walking, every moment brings new development. People and environments play a big role in a young child’s healthy development, and WonderLab is so excited to be able to offer new early learning support to our community!”
Science Sprouts Place consists of two main areas, Baby Wonders and Toddler Trails, as well as an adjacent area, Sprouts Lab, for wet and messy experiments. The area also includes a dedicated nursing space which doubles as an area for stories and quiet time.
Brockman stressed that the interactive exhibits in Science Sprouts Place are designed for babies and their caregivers to use together. “A child’s absolute best teacher is their caregiver,” said Brockman. “Children probably learn more from their caregiver in their first few years of life than from any other future teacher.”
Baby Wonders, specifically for infants, is separated from the rest Science Sprouts Place by a low divider. It features a soft floor that is gentle on young knees, hands and feet; For safety and sanitation shoes are not allowed in Baby Wonders.
Some of the activities in the Baby Wonders include a soft and colorful “pond” area where infants can practice the strength-building activities of Tummy Time; and a fanciful bird-themed “shape slider” which encourages fine motor coordination and understanding of cause and effect. There are also “Baby and Me boxes,” which caregivers can open boxes to discover various toys and informational cards to guide interactions. For example, one box will have several rattles with activity suggestions for caregivers, information about reactions to watch for and research findings on how playing with rattles encourages the understanding of cause and effect. Similar containers with toys for toddlers called Toddler Totes can be found in Toddler Trails.
The exhibits in Toddler Trails are designed to develop specific, fundamental skills. There are navigation challenges of the Wavy Walk, the log slide and climbing into the Birdhouse with imaginative play in a nest with eggs. Or toddlers can try climbing through Wiggle Woods – a vertical climbing wall with mesh openings, designed especially for toddler sized bodies to wriggle, squirm and slither. As toddlers climb higher through the forest motifs their caregivers will always be within easy reach for encouragement. According to Brockman, Wiggle Woods encourages gross motor skill development. This helps toddlers start on a journey of self-confidence building and independence.
Interactive exhibits featuring sound, light and color, ramps and rolling, building and engineering are found throughout the space. A highlight is a special Air Fountains exhibit that provides a developmentally-appropriate place for toddlers to explore the properties of air in motion.
Sprouts Lab, adjacent to Science Sprouts Place, is a dedicated laboratory space where toddlers, and older preschoolers at special times, conduct experiments and build their science identities, while also developing skills through sensory exploration. There will also be exhibits focused on art and science; for example children can draw on a slate using water – an activity that encourages the hand and eye movements related to writing skills, as well as early observations related to the qualities of water and evaporation.
“Kids birth through age four are learning through sensory motor form,” said Brockman. “The things that really matter to them are things that they can touch, taste, feel and smell. And a lot of times exploring those things means getting messy. We’re super excited to offer kids an opportunity for sensory play in a space like Sprouts Lab where parents and kids both know that it’s safe to make a mess.”
The early childhood themes at WonderLab change monthly; these will be reflected in Science Sprouts, a program from children birth through age 3; and Discovery Time, a program for children ages 4-6; and now in Sprouts Lab. Upcoming early childhood themes include ‘The Senses’ in November, featuring activities at the Sprouts Lab such as exploring the sense of smell by playing with playdough scented with spices and ‘Chemistry’ in December when children can perform activities such as mixing baking soda with lemon juice. Caregivers can experiment alongside their child!
Ella Heckman, the Museum Experience Director at WonderLab, says Science Sprouts Place will be especially useful for caregivers. “We will have a variety of resources for new parents including prompts about how playing encourages learning,” said Heckman. Plans are also in the works for ‘Ask an Expert’ sessions where parents can speak directly with early childhood development experts and get the answers they need.
Resources will be part of the Baby Wonders area. Parents can browse through materials about the importance of speaking to your baby, singing to babies and giving toddlers the space to do things over and over again.
Brockman said she hopes that Science Sprouts Place will help new parents feel more empowered. “My dream is that whenever a baby is born in South Central Indiana the caregiver of that baby will know that WonderLab is a place for them. Bringing their baby to WonderLab will help support their babies’ development and help them thrive. Information for caregivers will also be available . We want to make sure we’re reaching ALL families. This space is meant to be for everyone.”
According to Heckman, every aspect of Science Sprouts Place has been carefully thought out, designed and prototyped to be appealing, educational and most importantly safe for toddlers and babies. ‘We assume everything in there is going to end up in a baby’s mouth, so we keep everything extra clean, and safe for the baby. We make sure there are no choking hazards, and all activities are developmentally appropriate.” said Brockman.
The grand opening of the Science Sprouts Place will take place on Saturday, October 5, 2019. There will be special programming in Sprouts Lab featuring different activities every day from Saturday, October 5 to Friday, October 11.
Science Sprouts Place is made possible through generous funding from Andrew Bacher, Brabson Library and Educational Foundation, the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County, Duke Energy Foundation, Old National Bank Foundation, Royal on the Eastside/Subaru of Amnerica, Tichenor Endowment Fund and the WonderLab Board of Directors. Sprouts Lab is made possible through funding from Bloomington Rotary, Rotary District 6580, Mary Jane Van Hook, and donors to the 2019 Spring Appeal.
“I’m very excited about Science Sprouts Place,” said Heckman. “It will be a beautiful and engaging space. “We’ve developed the area to tie closely to our early childhood programs. We hope parents will bring their children starting at an early age. We want them to grow up with us!”
WonderLab is an award-winning science museum located at 308 W. Fourth St. on the B-Line Trail in Bloomington, Indiana. The museum is open to the public from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m. – 5: p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 – 5 p.m. on Sunday. General admission is $9, and children younger than age one are free. For more information call (812) 337-1337, or go online to wonderlab.org or WonderLab’s Facebook page.
About the author: Niha Alasapuri is a sophomore majoring in Journalism with a concentration in public relations at Indiana University. Her hobbies include getting chased by the campus squirrels and writing sappy poetry. She is currently a marketing intern at WonderLab, where she learns a lot of cool science stuff while writing about the exhibits. She hopes to befriend the resident reptiles at the museum by hovering around them at regular intervals, which also happens to be a surprisingly good strategy for making human friends.