Toddler Area Revealed at The Great Lakes Children’s Museum

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum unveiled a new and improved toddler area on June 1.  The now familiar black temporary wall came down in the afternoon.  The floor glue was still soft and the paint a bit on the “tacky” side when the area was revealed.  Guests were actually not allowed to enter the area until July 2 (once the paint had fully dried).

Each wall showcases one or more developmentally appropriate activity(ies).  One wall is a brightly colored array of shapes printed on a white metal background. The wall is meant for rehearsing shapes, colors and patterns.  A simple way the wall could be used is inserting the phrase “Show Me…” in front of either a shape (a square, a circle, a rectangle) or a color (blue, red, yellow).  As your mini-human masters basics of shape and color, “Show Me…” can progress to phrases like “a red rectangle.”  A careful study of the wall will reveal patterns in the way the shapes are portrayed on the wall.  As basics are mastered, mini-humans can be challenged to find matching patterns throughout the wall.

Another wall showcases creatures which are common in the Northern lower peninsula.  There are magnets embedded on the wall and creature shapes which can be placed anywhere on those magnets.  A simple way this wall could be used is “Show me a …” (wolf, deer, dragon fly…) or “Where would a …(wolf, deer, dragon fly)… live?”  For the truly adventurous caregiver, asking the mini-human to mimic the sound of a specific creature could be both developmentally appropriate and great fun.

The creature magnets and shape magnets each have their own storage areas appropriately marked.  Part of the developmentally appropriate activity designed into the exhibit is picking up after playtime.  Caregivers are encouraged to use the clearly marked storage containers as part of a “game” of pickup after play – leaving the area in a condition which will be fun for the next adult and child pairing.

The outside wall houses five activities.  The texture wall from the Toddler Beach has been refurbished and repurposed for this exhibit.  The mirror has been reduced in size and embedded in the wall.  Mini-humans will be fascinated by seeing their reflection – and especially so if they are using the built-in stability bar which is mounted in front of the mirror.  The stability bar is designed to aid the earliest pre-walkers in standing erect.

The weather wall (which takes up roughly a third of the outside wall) is designed to help with very early language and symbol recognition skills.  A simple use of this wall would be for the caregiver to ask the child “What’s the weather today?” and have the child point to the symbol for the day – then repeat the name of the picture the child selects (i.e., rainy, sunny, windy, stormy, snowy…).  Another use is “Show Me… (wind, rain, sun)”.

On top of the weather wall, there are a number of balls.  Each ball is unique and is designed to allow adult caregivers to practice fine motor skills.  Play a game of rolling the ball back and forth with the mini-human of your choice. When you’re done, put the balls back in their designated storage area – again – to enhance the experience of those coming after you!

The seating area is locked in to the middle so that caregivers can access their mini-human located anywhere within the room.  The entry way is designed to keep small children in and larger children out.  While older children might be invited into the area at the discretion of the caregiver, the area is really designed for mini-humans age 2 and under.

There is one more component to come in this area – a monitor with live video feed to the Sailing area, the Guardians area and the Museum Store – all areas which are hard to see when caregivers are engaged with their youngest children in The Hatchery.  The monitor will allow guests to keep an eye on the whereabouts and activities of older children, freeing caregivers to focus on the needs of the early learners for a bit.

The Hatchery was made possible by grant funding from the Optimist Youth Foundation and another grantor with an interest in Traverse City non-profits, and inkind support by Lynne Moon.  Ken Reece, Dan Kohler, Dan Geiger, James Jaroh, and Jeremy Selden provided the labor to transform the area from the Art Nook to The Hatchery.