Young Explorers: Weekly Program for Toddlers and Preschoolers

If you come into the Museum on any given day, there will be a sandwich board in the lobby explaining what’s happening. Could be special events, could be pop-up activities and programming, or it could be one of our regularly scheduled weekly programs. The Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota offers weekly programming designed to provide children with engaging, enriching, and fun experiences. Weekly topics developed by Museum educators will inspire babies, toddlers, and older kids with activities that support their development and growth in a safe environment.

One of the most popular programs is the Young Explorers. Formerly known as Toddler Wednesdays, Young Explorers is our weekly program for toddlers and preschoolers – although anyone at the Museum is welcome to participate. This program focuses on play schemas, which are repeated themes in children’s natural play, and nature and play-based learning which explores the outside world far and near. We believe children need autonomy in their play so these sessions are open ended and offer a variety of materials to explore. We also believe getting children outdoors in their backyard environments is a critical part of growing and learning so we often move things outdoors. 

Young Explorers toddler preschooler program at the Childrens Museum of Southern Minnesota


The program is open to all guests, but specifically geared toward 2-5 year old toddlers and preschoolers. Children and their grown-ups will explore learning new skills through play in a multi-sensory Museum experience which will be a child-led learning time. We will be exploring different areas of our awe-inspiring environment each week. Upon arrival, check-in at the front desk to find out where the program is set up for that day between 9:30-11:00 a.m.  

Our Museum Program Facilitators have the freedom to make plans based on what’s happening in and around the Museum, which means families will always walk into something new. If it’s time to pick the tomatoes in the garden, the program groups can help with that, then use them in an activity. Even families who come multiple times a week will always find something new to engage with and explore. “What fun thing will we find today?” They’ll wonder. This can be as exciting for the grown-ups as the kids. 

When Toddler Wednesdays first started, it was very facilitator-driven. After the closure in 2020, the programming wasn’t as robust as it had been, so it gave Museum Educators the perfect opportunity to rethink the way things were done. By changing the name, the program is more inclusive of all ages and stages and is also no longer bound to one day of the week. 


By hiring more licensed teachers, the scope of the programming can be based on more research and best practices for early learning. Child-centered learning uses a practice called “provocation,” whereby a learning situation is set up and the kids are allowed to explore it and make it what they will. A provocation can come in many different forms, but it is always intended to provoke thoughts, ideas, and actions that can help to expand on a thought, project, idea, or an interest. Some examples might include: 

  • Nature-based elements
  • Everyday household items
  • Repurposed items
  • Crafting items
  • Items of varied texture and weight

As long as the materials provoke an open-ended question that allows for a means of expression where possible, then the item is suitable for a provocation.


The educators also use a basis of play schemas. Schemas are patterns of repeated behavior that allow children to develop an understanding of the world around them through play and exploration. Schemas are mental models or processes that we create by trial and error through experiences. Schemas help children make sense of the world around them. They allow us to predict what will happen next based on experience. This is why it can be so hard for young children to grasp cause-and-effect relationships: they lack experience! We don’t know how things work until we’ve experienced them ourselves. 

Both the practice of provocation and the concepts of play schemas can be utilized at home as well. While we would never assume to tell parents how to parent, we consider it part of our mission to help all ages learn how to play – daily and effectively. 


On the second Wednesday of each month, Young Explorer program activities inspired by one of the six areas of wellness (Move, Relax, Eat Well, Sleep, Maintain, Discover) will be offered to drop-in visitors. Mayo Clinic Health Systems (MCHS) Family Medicine and Pediatrics providers support program activities by sharing tips and information during sessions and being available for questions while CMSM staff lead the program’s hands-on activities for children. This partnership allows providers to interact in the community with the people they serve, and it allows them to observe how early learners interact with each other. MCHS regularly visits the Baby Play time, too. 

Other special Young Explorers days are based on the events happening throughout the Museum that week. This week, for example, we have the Friends of the Environment programming for the local school district’s early release day. The Young Explorers in the morning will also focus on that. Additionally, during CMSM’s Autumn Adventures (October 1-22), Young Explorers sessions will follow a similar fall fun theme!

This week, this month, or any time of year, we hope to see you at a Young Explorers program real soon! 


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