- COURTESY OF MONTSHIRE MUSEUM OF SCIENCE
Montshire Museum of Science will open a new permanent exhibit designed for its youngest visitors on February 29. Wonder Woods — a 600-square-feet, multilevel learning space — is designed to spark interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) while igniting curiosity, instilling confidence and fostering a love of learning in children ages 5 and under. Drawing on the latest research in early childhood development, the whimsical Wonder Woods is designed to meet the needs of three developmental stages: infant, toddler and preschooler. This is the first time the Norwich museum will have an experience designed for infants, said Sherlock Terry, Montshire's director of exhibits. The infant area will encourage sensory exploration, development of physical skills and interactions with caregivers. Toys, a balancing barre and a mirror will be included, with a glider for nursing nearby. Ball runs and a building station that includes balancing blocks and stylized branches and stumps are designed to appeal to toddlers, while a play structure with a climbing wall, towers, ramps, pulleys and stairs will cater to preschoolers. Other features include a tent-like structure for storytelling and puppet play; an artistic station with magnetic walls and seasonal magnets; and seating, arranged so caregivers can easily watch and interact with their children. The overall aesthetic is inspired by New England's terrain. "There are a lot of what I would call 'natural references' in the space," Terry said. Two wall-mounted ball runs mimic Vermont and New Hampshire ridgelines, while one on the floor suggests the Connecticut River. Wonder Woods will replace Montshire's current early childhood exhibition, Andy's Place, which opened in 1992. Its beloved bear cave will be replicated in the new space. Andy's Place will be open to visitors of all ages during its final two weeks, from February 29 through March 15.