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Inside the new Forces at Play in the 3M Gallery lies a special place in the larger exhibit designed and developed intentionally for very young children, ages 3 and younger — a Tot Spot. These areas are typically set apart in the galleries for those who may be a little reluctant or need a little more practice before going into the bigger areas in the gallery to play.

Mary Weiland, part of the exhibit team that created Forces at Play, takes us on an exploration of this particular Tot Spot made to nurture cognitive play. What this means is that this zone is meant to foster and highlight focus, concentration, and memory.

There are a few different components in the Forces at Play Tot Spot. One is the dynamic acrylic box with see-through walls to show off colorful feathers that can be moved by air blowing into the box through different tubes or by turning the wheel connected to a tray.

Mary explains that when children discover that the tubes and the valves underneath can move, they are able to create a beautiful array of feathers blowing around and, on a deeper level, they are actually nurturing their working memory and applying it to the situation. For example, if they have figured out how to move one of the hoses and realize that they’re in control of the air that makes feathers fly from one side of the box to the other they can apply this knowledge to the rest of the tubes as they move along the bottom of the case. They’re using cognitive memory to evaluate the effects of their actions.

The other major area in the Tot Spot is the air dancers, which were roughly inspired by what you might see on the streets with giant air dancing balloons. Young children are encouraged to come into the area to play with the different materials here. The dancers can be active by figuring out three different ways of allowing air into the fabrics.

When children explore this station they start to problem-solve and understand that what they’re doing is causing the dancers to pop up and move around. Mary and the exhibit team believe that children can use this area to take learning into their own hands by exploring and puzzling different outcomes of the materials with air.

Tot Spots are uniquely made to mirror the larger exhibit they inhabit so the young children can foster skills that will help them navigate the larger exhibit when they’re ready.

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