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Climbing to New Heights in the Wonder Gallery

As a Science Facilitator, I engage with our visitors about the science concepts present in our galleries, but I am also on safety patrol. I scan for running children, climbing children, crying children—basically any children who are not having a good time or who are about to have a bad time. I stop them from climbing too high or from standing on wobbly stools. Usually, they bashfully stop what they’re doing, but, occasionally, I am challenged with a simple, “But why?” The stock answer is almost always, “Because I don’t want you to get hurt.” End of story. The parent nods, the child climbs down and safety wins again. But, truth be told, I sometimes feel a little bit guilty. I wonder if I am denying the child a chance to learn something new—even if there is a risk of falling or of skinned knees.

This tug-of-war between wanting to protect, but not stifle, children is one that has led to much research, debate and anxiety for adults. It is a controversial area, but one that could be made a little clearer by thinking about how you view healthy risk-taking and safety.   

Wonder, Science World's highly anticipated gallery for early learners, is designed to strike a balance between healthy risk-taking and safety. The gallery will boast 3,300 square feet for kids to crawl, splash, build and climb. Of these areas, the one we've named Climb is most likely to catch your eye. It's a three-story tall climbing structure, carefully designed to foster child development, motor skills and healthy risk-taking. 

Climb is an area meant for children to explore on their own while their adults watch from the side (but because sometimes taking risks calls for a helping hand, there is a ladder for quick exits or “rescues”). The structure will feature several entrances and colour-coded pathways so children get to decide their own adventure. Whichever way they choose to go, they will be required to engage in both problem-solving and physical activity, which offers an opportunity to practice motor skills as they progress further into the structure.

Climb is a “self­-selecting” structure, which means that children will be able to decide for themselves, based on their level of ability and interest, when they’ve gone high enough. As you might know from experience, despite the greatest vigilance, kids will still bonk their heads and skin their knees while figuring things out on their own. When they accomplish something new, whether it’s riding a bike, volunteering in a Science World show, or climbing to the highest level on the Wonder climber, they will realize what they’re capable of and thus gain confidence and competence in their abilities.

Atop the climber, will be a flag pole for children to hoist flags of their own design, to mark their ascent, Mount Everest-­style. I’m already looking forward to these flags of independence and self­-discovery.

Do you know and love an early learner? Then, help us build WONDER!