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New Little Learner Clubhouse sparks curiosity in Carnegie Science Center’s youngest visitors

Emily Stimmel
March06/ 2018

It’s hard to miss the newest space at Carnegie Science Center. When visitors walk into the Little Learner Clubhouse, they’re greeted by a 20-foot Gathering Tree where families can explore “backpacks” covering topics from building and transportation to insects and seasons. The tree is just one feature of the clubhouse, a nature-inspired STEM education center for kids age 6 and younger.

Kids explore the Little Learner Clubhouse. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Science Center.

Kids will find plenty to explore in the clubhouse’s colorful, interactive exhibits. At the Tomato Stand, they can learn about simple machines by using conveyors, vacuum tubes and an Archimedes screw to sort and gather “tomatoes.” The multi-sensory Water Table teaches about water properties through play — from fishing in its pond and racing leaves in the stream to observing how water keeps a toy boat afloat in a claw-foot bathtub. And in the Baby Garden, babies and toddlers can crawl through farm-themed soft play structures.

Each exhibit has been designed to inspire and excite early learners while instilling critical developmental skills.

“Children are born scientists, brimming with natural curiosity, and their preschool years are critical for exploration and brain development,” says Ron Baillie, co-director of the Science Center. “In pre-kindergarten years, children who engage in STEM practices, such as asking questions and forming explanations, build a strong foundation for skills learned throughout their lives.”

Science Center staff called upon the expertise of an advisory board of early childhood specialists and exhibit designers from across the country to plan the clubhouse. The gallery’s range of activities encourages fine motor skills and an understanding of cause and effect through the manipulation of features. At the Button Wall, for example, youngsters can set off a variety of sounds and visual effects, including bubbles that emerge at — you guessed it — the push of a button.

A child tests the Little Learner Clubhouse Button Wall. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Science Center.

“Once the bubble button was discovered we had kids pushing the button and playing in the bubbles non-stop,” says Jessica Lausch,  senior director of visitor engagement.

Lausch believes the new space will be even more popular than Exploration Station, Jr. The clubhouse exhibits are permanent, but activities will be refreshed periodically.

“When children are excited about STEM, all sorts of opportunities will open up for them as they advance through school and into a profession of their choice,” says Sally McCrady, chair and president of the PNC Foundation. “The Little Learner Clubhouse at Carnegie Science Center provides us an opportunity to invest further in pre-K science so young children have more STEM learning opportunities.”

A project of PNC Bank’s Grow Up Great bilingual, early childhood education initiative, Little Learner Clubhouse takes the place of CSC’s Exploration Station, Jr. The gallery is a project of the SPARK Campaign. The three-year fundraising effort that ended last year supports expanded STEM programming and the construction of the new PPG Science Pavilion, opening this June. The PNC Foundation’s $1 million gift to the SPARK! Campaign provided funding for the clubhouse, community-based programming and neighborhood outreach.

Emily Stimmel

Emily fell in love with the written word as a teenager, when she published zines and wrote for her school paper. Today, she is a freelance writer with a decade and a half of experience in non-profit communications. She enjoys cooking, reading, crafting and exploring Pittsburgh with her husband and two sons.

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