Early Start Discovery Space
- Activites for all ages
- Engaging and educational
- Vast area caters for large amounts of kids
- Outdoor and indoor play areas
- Friendly and helpful staff
- Membership options to reduce cost
- Not exactly 'in Sydney'
- No other cons - very hard to fault
I know what you’re thinking. Wollongong isn’t in Sydney.
You’re right of course, it isn’t. But it is within easy reach of Sydney, and what it has to offer families makes it well worth the trip. The Early Start Discovery Space, on the grounds of The University Of Wollongong, is the perfect place for a day trip.
The Early Start Discovery Space offers a large range of activities for kids 0-10. Each of the stations is deigned around the concept of play-based learning. Research shows that play-based learning is vital for the development of a range of skills, including language, fine and gross motor.
The focus of this review is the three areas that Hannah (14 months old) found most interesting. There is, however, much more to the Early Start Discovery Space than just these three areas. I plan to return there semi-regularly, as I see it as a space in which Hannah can learn and thrive. I will update this review after future visits.
The Wall of Light – Early Start Discovery Space
We paid the modest entry fee of $15 per person and entered the complex. Immediately Hannah wanted to be placed on the floor. She crawled with great speed an intent, straight over to this wall. I don’t know what it was actually called, so I have given it the name The Wall of Light.
To begin with, Hannah was unsure of what to do. I think she just liked the colours and light. But after a few minutes of looking, she reached up and grabbed a peg from the wall. Much to her surprise, the peg pulled out and the light disappeared.
Hannah studied the peg in her hand. She looked back up at the wall, and at the black, circular holes. Something had clicked and she was hooked. The peg went in a hole, then out, then back in again. Hannah stood and reached as high as she could, to grab some more pegs. She put pegs near to each other, then away from each other. She pulled out as many as she could reach and made a pile on the floor.
Other small kids toddled over and joined her. They babbled together and put pegs in the wall. There was plenty for all to play with.
I loved this activity because it was a simple, yet highly engaging activity for a one year old. It appeared to really engage Hannah’s imagination and thought processes. I could almost see new connections forming in her brain as she explored the possibilities. It encouraged standing and reaching, two skills Hannah is currently perfecting. It also required care and precision to place the pegs back in the holes. The reward for placing the peg in a hole was great, as Hannah could enjoy watching it light up.
Crawlers’ Beach – Early Start Discovery Space
Crawlers’ Beach is described as a ‘safe haven’ for kids aged birth-2. It is, as the name suggests, an area designed to allow babies to crawl around freely and safely. The area is scattered with toys, cushions and throws. It has a submarine to crawl through and a slightly raised jetty with a ramp leading up to it.
I lowered Hannah to the floor at the entrance to Crawlers’ Beach and she was off, without a glance backwards to see what we were doing. Emma and I found a comfortable seat on the side of the area and we watched Hannah explore. She played with toys and balls. She cautiously looked inside the submarine, and eventually crawled through it. But Hannah’s favourite part was the wooden ramp up to the raised jetty. It was just slippery enough to be able to slide on, and soon enough Hannah was climbing to the top, then sliding down on her tummy, with a huge grin on her face.
Hannah met several other babies and toddlers in this area and she enjoyed the opportunity to interact. She was infatuated with a slightly older boy who spent some time bouncing a ball. She even had a smile on her face when he annexed the xylophone that she was playing with (although the attentive mother of the older boy soon returned it to her). I believe that even that was a valuable experience for Hannah, as she doesn’t often get the chance to learn about sharing. She took it all in her stride.
The Discovery Garden – Early Start Discovery Space
I love places like this, they fill me with feelings off joy and wonder – nostalgia for long-forgotten childhood experiences of exploration and adventure.
The discovery garden is a wonderful place for kids to explore and enjoy. It has a range of wet and dry activities, winding pathways, things to climb. There are toys to play with, boats to float down the creek. At one end is a fruit and vegetable garden with all sorts of wonderful things growing in it.
Hannah’s favourite part of the Discovery Garden was the giant xylophone. Emma and I both thoroughly enjoyed it too. The xylophone is one of those musical pleasures – it doesn’t seem to matter how it is played, the sound that comes from it was always beautiful. I may have spent slightly too long “demonstrating” to Hannah how to play it, but she didn’t seem to mind.
All The Rest – Early Start Discovery Space
There is so much more to this space than the few things I have mentioned. For older kids, there is an amazing ship to explore, a construction site, a shop and several areas that use light and sound to add to the play experience. My brief observations of these spaces left me impressed with the amount of hands-on equipment available and the intelligent use of technology to enhance (but not dominate) the experiences. In each area, kids appeared to be completely immersed in shared play. I saw very few upset children, despite the large number of visitors due to it being school holidays.
As I said above, it is a place that I intend to visit on a semi-regular basis. The $90 Cloud Membership option looks very attractive, as it is the same price as three visits for Hannah and me (I plan to do more than that in a year). Another person can be added for an extra $30. I will provide more detail about other spaces in the Wollongong University Early Start Discovery Space after further visits.
It really is an easy drive, especially as you will be driving against the traffic, or driving at a time when there isn’t much traffic. You can always take the scenic route back up to Sydney, if you want to give your baby or toddler some extra napping time while you enjoy one of the best driving roads in New South Wales.
Wollongong University is easily accessed from the M1. Take the second off-ramp upon reaching the bottom of Mt Ousley. The university is well signposted, as it is one of the most prominent features of Wollongong.
Parking is available on the grounds of the University. Keep in mind that if you go during term time, parking can be hard to find. If you have two kids, or you are going with two adults and one child, take full advantage of the free carpool parking, handily located in the closest carpark to the Early Start Discovery Space. If you do choose to take up an annual membership, you also have the advantage of free under cover parking under the facility its self (subject to availability). Paid parking and street parking are also options, although they can be hard to find.
The University Of Wollongong can be accessed by public transport. The train journey from Sydney does take a while, but it is one of the more visually enjoyable train trips. The university is a healthy walking distance from North Wollongong station and small children may find the distance challenging. Shuttle bus services are also available.
Summary – Early Start Discovery Space
A visit to the Early Start Discovery Space, on the grounds of the University of Wollongong is well worth the journey from Sydney. It is absolutely packed with activities to engage children from 0-10 in play-based learning. The yearly membership packages are an attractive option for families who plan to visit more than three times a year.