Boats, buckets, funnels and fish. The water play area in Questacon’s Mini Q is a rich and rare experience for infant scientists. Where else can you safely experience cause and effect, as an off-centre pail filling with water finally tips an almighty splash into a large basin of sea creatures and sail boats?
Once the production workshop where Questacon’s exhibits were built, the space was transformed nearly 20 years ago to engage zero- to six-year-olds in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
Mini Q’s most recent update was the October opening of a ‘Calm Space’ where young visitors can escape the hustle and bustle. Other changes over the years included the addition of the Space Lab in 2007 and the removal of the Active Play jungle in 2020, a casualty of COVID.
Celebrating its 20th birthday next year, the special space for tiny tots has seeped into the imagination of thousands of children, who’ve explored STEM sub-consciously while at play in Mini Q.
Mini Q’s original developer is Em Blamey, who produced it, and many other exhibitions while working at Questacon from 1998 to 2011. Now Creative Producer at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, Em is back at Questacon on a 6-month secondment to dream up Mini Q’s re-fresh.
“When it opened in 2004, Mini Q was unique and reflected the thinking and research on best-practice for early childhood facilities at that time. But there have been lots of new understandings about child development over the last 20 years, so it’s time for an update. One of the main advances is in the awareness of neurodiversity and how to design spaces with that in mind – which Questacon has done with its newly opened Calm Space.
“The notion of children having agency is also key, so the new Mini Q will be specially designed to encourage carers to help their kids direct their own experiences, rather than the adults taking charge.
“We’re completely re-imagining the Mini Q experience,” says Em, “I can’t reveal the details at this stage, but the new theme will be visually stunning and a very different aesthetic to the current offer that’s been in place for so long. From their first glimpse of the gallery, visitors will know they’re in for something new and exciting.
“The new concept will enable a wide variety of STEM role play scenarios. Role play is not only great fun for children, it teaches them to think imaginatively and enjoy being somebody else, and it also reveals potential future careers.”
While Mini Q fans currently enjoy a wide range of experiences, from role play to space exploration, Em says the new activities will be even more exciting.
“I think after 20 years, some exhibits are really ready to retire. I'm excited about seeing reactions to the new ones!”
Em says she was thrilled to renew her long relationship with Mini Q. “I am proud of it. It was ground-breaking at the time and is still very popular today. Seeing people enjoying my creations is one of the best parts of my job and I’m privileged to be able to update my legacy for future generations.”
The new ideas for Mini Q’s makeover are now in the design phase, with production and installation scheduled for 2024.