There’s a new hangout for the preschool crowd.
Exploration Place unveils its new Kansas Kids Connect exhibit this month, and as with all its efforts, STEM concepts—science, technology engineering and math—are at the forefront.
In the exhibit, specifically designed for ages 5 and younger, children will get to experience elements of both city living and country living with a play house, house garden, planting field and farmers’ market.
“It’s agriculture focused—it’s about plants and animals and all those kinds of things that real- ly resonate for young children,” said Jan Luth, Exploration Place’s president. “It’s a great framework, almost like a stage if you will, for them to have all kinds of fantastic educational experiences that are developmentally appropriate… If you drive the landscape of Kansas, we are an agricultural state, and it’s one of our top industries. It’s really important as a museum that we are also celebrating some of the economic drivers of our state.”
One striking element of the Kansas Kids Con- nect exhibit is the Seeds to Sun climbing apparatus, which takes children from the soil all the way up through the cloud. Seeds to Sun takes full advantage of the height at the northeast side of the building where a toddler spot had previously been located. For the last couple of years, as the new Kansas Kids Connect exhibit was being developed, the best elements of that gallery were moved into a classroom space.
While the new exhibit was being developed, Exploration Place used the open toddler space for KEVA planks, which now have a new home elsewhere in the museum.
Learning Through Play
Don’t expect to see a lot of labels in Kansas Kids Connect, although early literacy symbols are incorporated.
“You’re planting that seed of wonderment with the mind,” Luth said. “The last thing we’re going to do in this exhibit is give any instructions on how to do anything. That’s what quells discovery. It’s not a right way and a wrong way.
The kids will explore on their own.” Luth said there was a time when “play” was almost a dirty word.
“Fortunately, in pedagogy in other places, we’ve come full circle now, and we understand that children in fact learn through play, and that’s exactly what they’re going to be doing in this gallery,” she said. “Someone watching might just think the kids are having a ball and they’re playing, but in fact every single aspect of this exhibit has been thought through from the perspective of how children learn at different ages. So some things are sensory, some things are auditory, some things are fine motor skills, gross motor skills—the whole cadre.”
Christina Bluml, Exploration Place’s director of marketing, explained how the Kansas Kids Connect exhibit incorporates STEM learning.
“They’re discovering and they’re inquiring and they’re investigating,” she said. “That is all science. That’s where that comes into play, so that when they’re older they’re not afraid to ask questions.”
Luth pointed out that the latest studies are showing the importance of starting early for developing a STEM workforce. “You can’t just do it with middle school kids and high school kids,” she said. “We feel that if Exploration Place is going to start with brand new exhibits —you know we’re 15 years old, so it’s time to start bringing on new exhibits—how appropriate that the first one is a preschool exhibit, when we are a STEM education leader for our community and our region. And so then we’re also in a sense making a statement that we get it, that it starts with youngest.”
Exploration Place is making a concerted effort to expand its offerings for preschoolers. It is incorporating a symbol tied to the Kansas Kids Connect exhibit that helps kids and caregivers find entry points throughout the rest of the museum. It is also beefing up programs.
“It’s global,” said Jan Luth, Exploration Place’s president. “We are paying attention to the pre-school audience across the board with all the programming we’re doing.”
In addition to the new exhibit, check out the following:
• Kansas Kids preschool classes for ages 3-5 at 10:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. on Wednesdays
• More preschool-friendly snacks at the snack bar
• Chirpie shows
• Special activities in the CreatorSpace Kansas Kids Connect
Opens Sept. 12 at Exploration Place
300 N McLean Blvd.
Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Sunday, noon - 5 p.m.
CLOSED Mondays after Labor Day