Montshire to unveil Wonder Woods — a new permanent exhibition designed to support early childhood development
On Saturday, February 29, 2020, the Montshire Museum of Science will open the doors to Wonder Woods, a new exhibition space specially designed to ignite the curiosity and support the development of the Museum’s youngest visitors—children ages 5 and under.
Wonder Woods offers science learning experiences informed by the latest research on early childhood development, set in a fun and whimsical environment that encourages curiosity, imagination, exploration, and discovery. A permanent, 600-square-foot, multi-level learning space, designed specifically for the needs of children from birth through age five, Wonder Woods provides developmentally appropriate experiences for preschoolers, toddlers, and infants, as well as a comfortable, safe, and inviting space for parents and caregivers to engage with their children in problem-solving, science exploration, and imaginative play.
Wonder Woods is designed to foster an early love and interest in STEM learning (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as it aims to help children become confident life-long learners who are willing to take risks and ready to meet challenges as they grow. The exciting and engaging hands-on experiences in Wonder Woods have been developed to encourage positive attitudes towards learning, introduce science content, and cultivate science skills.
The exhibition meets the needs of three developmental stages: infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, with additional emphasis on the important role adult caregivers play in the learning process.
- Infants have a safe separated area with activities designed to encourage sensory exploration, development of physical skills, and interactions with caregivers.
- Toddlers can enjoy a range of fun hands-on activities to test how the world works and to develop fine motor skills. These activities include ball runs and building activities.
- Preschooler activities include a multi-story climbing structure for gross motor play, a special space for quiet independent exploration, and imaginary play through puppets and storytelling.
These interactive experiences address the many factors that contribute to a child’s whole development, including: cognitive, communication, social-emotional, sensory, and physical.
Wonder Woods is aesthetically inspired by the natural beauty of New England and the unique location of the Montshire—situated between mountain ranges, along the Connecticut river, with over 100 acres of trails and forest. Its lessons and experiences are rooted in the breathtaking and awe-inspiring moments of natural discovery. Many children’s earliest encounters with science learning occur while simply exploring the world around them: playing in backyards, hiking on trails, swimming in the river, camping in the woods. Wonder Woods enriches that learning process, with carefully designed experiences that support early childhood development.
- Multi-level play structure: Children can improve their motor skills by moving through this specially-designed structure, which offers multiple points for climbing, using ramps, stairs, and pulleys. The different surface levels encourage purposeful movements and an understanding of the physical self and the surrounding environment.
- Building station: Using a variety of building material that includes balancing blocks and stylized branches and stumps, children can use creativity and fine motor skills to design and create structures, inventions, and environments from the depths of their imaginations!
- Storytelling nook: Children can explore communication skills and tap into social and emotional experiences by using puppets and books in their storytelling process. Nestled in an imaginative tent-like structure, this area provides a cozy space for reading and puppet-play.
- Artistic play: Through the use of simple shaped magnets (which change thematically on a seasonal basis), the magnetic walls of this creative station become the canvas for bold and beautiful ideas.
- Rollways: Young visitors can navigate their way through an intricate series of ramps and tubes, developing a better understanding of movement, cause and effect, and problem-solving.
- Infant area and crawling space: This safe zone for visitors under the age of one encourages them to investigate and master their world. It includes developmentally-appropriate toys, a balancing barre, mirror, and a nursing chair for caregivers.
- Caregiver comfort: Grown-ups matter too!Wonder Woods supports the needs of adults that accompany young scientists by providing comfortable seating, clear sightlines of the exhibition space, and an area for feeding and nursing. In the future, this spacewill also host special programs and events geared towards caregivers.
Wonder Woods is the result of an extensive exhibition development process, performed in collaboration with education specialists and museum professionals from around the country. Research has shown that the first few years of children’s lives are critical to healthy brain development and a successful future as learners. Children need to be able to explore independently and build agency, while also being supported in their need for multi-dimensional social learning opportunities. Wonder Woods incorporates this growing area of research, as well as best practices for early childhood exhibit design in informal science learning environments, new findings in cognitive research, feedback from current visitors, and a look and feel that is unique to the Montshire’s northern New England location.
The Montshire has a long history of engaging parents and young children in diverse science learning experiences. The Museum’s efforts include programs that encourage the innate curiosity of young children, such as Books and Beyond and the Montshire’s summer preschool camps, as well as various collaborations and grant-supported projects that focus on early childhood education.
The Montshire’s current early childhood exhibition, Andy’s Place, has served over 2 million visitors since it opened in 1992. Over the years, Andy’s Place has been a favorite spot at the Museum for its youngest visitors, and has been used and well-loved by many children and their caregivers. Funded by community members in memory of Andrew Mortimer, a young Montshire explorer, it has been a valuable educational and social resource for visitors from within the community and beyond, bringing the joy of discovery to many young learners.
Wonder Woods honors the legacy of Andy’s Place, displaying a plaque that commemorates its impact. Additionally, the Montshire will collect and post stories on social media about people’s experiences in Andy’s Place, celebrating years of science learning and childhood memories. During its last two weeks at the Montshire, from February 29 through March 15, 2020, Andy’s Place will be open to visitors of all ages—not just children under five. Its doors will close permanently on Sunday, March 15, 2020.
Montshire members are invited to a special member preview of Wonder Woods on February 29, from 9am to 10am, one hour before the new exhibition is open to the public.