Warning: Get ready for a LOT of happy snaps of the Early Start Discovery Space, because we absolutely LOVE this place!!
Now that Starfish is older, we’ve begun a hunt for places we can take him to engage his senses and promote his development and learning (while of course, having fun!). He’s still only just crawling and pulling himself up at this stage (and toddling around furniture), not independently walking, which narrows down our options for places to visit. While I’ve started compiling a mini bucket list of places to visit with Starfish, there is one place we have started going to and had to buy a year membership IMMEDIATELY because I was absolutely in-love with the place (and so was he!). Introducing, the Early Start Discovery Space at the University of Wollongong.
The UOW Early Start Discovery Space
The Early Start Discovery Space is located within the University of Wollongong Campus. I used to attend this uni, finishing in 2014, and the Discovery Space was a well-developed dream then. It has become a concrete reality since that time, and it sits predominantly at the top end of the University. It has its own car parking spaces if you are a member of the Discovery Space ($90 for 1 adult and 1 child, which equated to the same amount we’d spend on 3 visits. We’ve already been twice in 3 weeks). However be mindful of what time of day you go with car parking (whether you are a member or not: If you’re a member, there are only 40 car spaces so make sure you go at a good time to get a spot. If you aren’t a member, you’ll have to be mindful of university parking and the costs (I can’t remember them off the top of my head).
Inside the Discovery Space, you’ll see a gift shop to your left (which you exit through – goodie!), the information/payment desk and then the entrance to the space. There are two ‘lanes’ to enter through – the right lane is bigger for wider prams (i.e. Us!). We started at the far right of the Discovery Space, and then we worked our way around as it is like a big doughnut back to the entrance. There are upstairs spaces (including some used by the university for teaching and working), but there is also a huge staircase once you enter. We have never been up there as I’ve always had a pram, and well, effort. So there may be more goodies up there that I’m not sure of (if you know, please let me know in the comments!). However, what I absolutely LOVE about the Discovery Space are there are many different themed-areas for children to play in, so I’ve unpacked the main ones we explored for now.
My absolute other favourite thing about the Early Start Discovery Space is that each experience is accompanied with a poster that explains the activities within the area, the educational and developmental benefits of the space, and activities you can do at home to further promote your child’s development in this area. Basically in my zone as a teaching mumma!
Open Baby Play Space
Once you walk into the discovery space and head to your right, there is a big open space for babies to play in. It includes a foam pit in the back corner, small and large lego pieces, puzzles, activity cubes, and a magnetic board with cogs to play with. Starfish wasn’t a big fan of the foam bit, but loved the cog magnetic board (there are also magnetic letters for older children to play with).
The Dig – “Ancient Times China”
If you have children who love the sandpit, this is such a fun and creative way to get them involved. Next to the open baby play space (I didn’t even see it the first time!), there is a door that leads outside to two sandpits. There are a bunch of spades and mini brushes to uncover ‘fossils’ in the sand. Such a fun, imaginative activity for kids to play in. My boy isn’t at that stage yet, so we avoided the excess sand!
I must admit, I spent a little time wondering how this actually worked. To the left of the open baby space (you see it as you enter the Discovery Space), there was a wall with light up tubes of various colours. However once you removed a tube from the wall, it was no longer illuminated. I watched as kids of all ages loved taking the tubes out and re-placing them in the wall to watch them light up (some kids chewed on them, thankfully Starfish wasn’t one of them – for once!). Older kids liked to make patterns; younger kids, like Starfish, liked the repetition of taking the tube out and putting it back in. It was a very engaging activity for him, and for me as I wondered how it all worked (spoiler alert, not magic!).
Moving on from the light wall is the “Shipyard”, containing a wide open ship for the children to climb and play around. As you enter the Shipyard, to the right is an open book shelf where blue foam is stored – children can come and take as much or as little as they please (if there is any left!). It can be used to stack and build inside the ship, or climb around as my boy tried doing the first time around (he may have had a small tumble, but that was my fault for not making sure he was sitting properly – my bad!). There is a steering wheel children can pretend to steer, and a large globe that can be used as part of their imaginative play.
Starfish was too scared to go in here when we went both times, but as you can see in the photos, there are some mini flashlights children can grab as they enter into the Cave (which is opposite the Shipyard, fitted nicely under the big staircase). There are lots of tunnels, stalactites and stalacmites to explore, and overall it is very dark. Pretty cool to check out though!
A personal favourite of Starfish’s best buddy who came along is the Supermarket. There are a variety of fake fruits, vegetables and persihables that children an put into their (mini) shopping trolleys. Starfish isn’t at the stage of using walkers yet (he hates them!), but he enjoyed demolishing the bottom shelf of cans. The supermarket even has a cash register for pretend play, which will be great for when Starfish is a bit older.
The Human Body
We stayed well clear of these sections because Starfish just isn’t at that level yet, however if you have older children there are a couple of cool areas where they can explore and learn all about the human body. My friend and I did have lots of chuckles over the blow-up tunnel which goes through the human digestive system though – it makes a rather “pleasant” farting sound as children exit the tunnel!!
The Book Nook
The Book Nook has comfortable seating, cushions and a variety of books for kids of all ages. There is also a storytelling chair for certain times of the day when a volunteer can come and read to the kids. A lovely, quite, tucked-away area for parents to enjoy with their kids.
By far Starfish’s favourite part of the Discovery Space – and definitely the most suitable for his abilities. It includes a submarine tunnel to crawl through, sensory items on the wall, and windows in the floor to look through. This is the perfect area for little babies and breastfeeding mums, as there are comfortable seats for the mums to sit and supervise their bubs, and the space is open for babies to explore their surroundings.
Obviously Starfish was too young to be involved, but throughout the day the volunteers run craft activities for the children to be involved in. Announcements were made over the loud speakers to indicate the craft activity was starting, and many kids (and adults) were eager to participate in the craft.
I actually missed this the first-time around (maybe it looked too much like a real construction site??), but inside the Construction Site there is a whole lot of blue foam, and wooden conveyor belts that can be moved to send the ‘bricks from one spot to another. The older children in this space were loving it – Starfish just enjoyed biting the blocks. There was also plastic protractors and cement/tradie tools for the kids to play with to promote the imaginative play.
Another space I didn’t find the first time around, but goodness these were a beautiful spot! Surrounding by picnic benches and chairs (and many mums feeding their children), the discovery gardens were full of spots for children to explore and engage with nature. There was a creek bed, logs, concrete and tire paths, and there was even a huge metal xylophone for the children to play with (Starfish was very distracted when this was played – he loves music). Of course, Starfish’s most favourite part – and probably his favourite experience of the whole Early Start Discovery Space – was the water play tables. He couldn’t stop smiling and he concentrated very hard on the toys in the water (he cried when I had to drag him away!).
To finish the loop through the Early Start Discovery Space, there are a few extra little experiences the children can engage with. There’s a fish tank, which is always of great interest to Starfish (ironic much?!) as he loves to point to all the fish. There is a puppet theatre equipped with many types of puppets and a “stage”, and there are a couple of nook spaces for reading or extra play. The first time we visited, there were large dominos to play with; this time, there was a huge BFG statue (for Book Week) and a reading station with devices and headphones.
Starfish is also a big fan of the colourful sensory wall towards the exit of the Discovery Space. There are a range of activites on this wall for kids to touch, hear, feel and see (maybe not taste!). This was a great way for Starfish to stay engaged just before we left.
The Early Start Discovery Space has adequate facilities (male, female and kids bathrooms, as well as a parents room), and there is a cafe just outside the entrance/exit to the Discovery Space. The Gift Shop has a range of engaging and educational toys to purchase (and members get a 10% discount in the store).
While the individual admission may seem expensive (see below), I found the yearly pass well worth the cost. As I mentioned earlier, for me it is the same cost as if I visited the Discovery Space 3 times – and we’ve already been twice in less than a month. The Early Start Discovery Space is perfect for any type of outing, especially if you’re looking for something fun on a rainy day! To find out more about the Centre, click the website below.
The Early Start Discovery Space Details
Visit the Website
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 9am – 4pm (closed Mondays and Public Holidays)
Located: Early Start Discovery Space, Northfields Ave, Wollongong NSW 2522 (Google Maps). Building 21 on the UOW Campus Map
Children under 12 months FREE
Children 12 months and over: $15.00
Off-Peak (2-4pm, Tues-Fri, School Term): Half price, $7.50
First Year of Life: $60.00 (Child under 12 months + 1 Adult)
Cloud: $90.00 (Child over 12 months + 1 Adult)
Burst: $150.00 (2 Children + 2 Adults)
Note: There are options to add-on additional adults/children to each of these packages).