Maritime Aquarium opens new STEM-focused learning space just for preschoolers

Jason Patlis (center), President and CEO of The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, cuts the ribbon to open the “Sea & Discover Zone,” a new STEM-focused learning center for preschoolers, March 2 in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. Joining in the event were (from left) Johnathan Gibson, director of the Maritime Odyssey Preschool in Norwalk; State Sen. Majority Leader Bob Duff; Dr. Alexandra Estrella, Superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools; Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling; and the Rev. Dr. Lindsay Curtis of Grace Baptist Church in Norwalk. Helping to hold the ribbon are students of the Maritime Odyssey Preschool. Learn more about exhibits and programs at www.maritimeaquarium.org. (Maritime Aquarium)

NORWALK, Conn. — A new preschoolers’ hands-on learning space, “The Sea and Discover Zone” has opened at The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk according to a news release.  Designed in accordance with the Connecticut Early Learning and Development Standards, the STEM-oriented facility is said to offer activities that “support development of abilities in science, math, language and literacy, cognition, creative arts and more.”  Youngsters can role play as marine explorers, conservationists, and animal care specialists.

Located in the aquarium’s second floor gallery, the “Zone” has three areas:

  • The Beach Zone, with books, reading nooks, a colorful mural, and a space for story times and live animal presentations.
  • The Science Lab, where shells, feathers, furs and other “biofacts” can be examined with simple microscopes and tools.
  • The Ocean Zone, with dramatic play objects and a mock coral reef for seeking and finding animals.

A young guest uses a hand lens to examine a butterfly image in the “Sea & Discover Zone,” a new STEM-focused learning center in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. (Maritime Aquarium)

Live African desert creatures displayed at preschoolers’ height on the Zone’s exterior wall include a scorpion, a tarantula, tiny mice, and fish species.

“Fish Tales,” an educator-led “interactive story time for toddlers and parents/caregivers that includes songs, rhymes, dance and sometimes visits by a live animal” will take place in the Zone every Friday at 10:30 a.m.

Zone access is free with Aquarium admission.  The space’s opening is the final phase of the Aquarium’s second-floor gallery transformation, which has included new larger meerkat and leopard tortoise displays plus three “pop-up bubbles.”

The Zone’s first guests were a class from South Norwalk’s Maritime Odyssey Preschool of which the Aquarium is a partner.  Aquarium Early Childhood Program Manager Lauren Magliola read the youngsters a storybook, marking National Read Across America Day.  At the opening day ribbon-cutting, Aquarium President/CEO Jason Patlis and Vice President for Education Tom Naiman welcomed Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, Norwalk Public Schools Superintendent Alexandra Estrella, Maritime Odyssey Preschool Director Johnathan Gibson, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, and Maritime Odyssey Preschool partner Rev. Dr. Lindsay Curtis of Grace Baptist Church in Norwalk.

  • Before this, we really did not have any space dedicated to that age demographic,” Patlis said. “This space is not just about entertaining kids; it teaches them the heart and soul of what we do here in the Aquarium. It teaches them about the animals but also how to care for the animals.”
  • The Sea and Discover Zone is devoted to how we learn about marine animals, how we take care of them and how we protect them,” Naiman said. “It’s a stimulating, content-rich, free-choice environment for our youngest guests and their care-givers, while also providing an improved space for our early-childhood programs, such as the weekly ‘Fish Tales’ story times.”
  • It will provide young people with the opportunity for experiential learning, which is the easiest or fastest way to learn, and to have an appreciation for our Sound, our beaches and where we’re located,” Rilling said.
  • Today opens the door to another opportunity for our students to immerse themselves in great learning and take the learning experience from the classroom into the real world and look at how science is applied throughout everything we do in life,” Estrella said.


Students of the Maritime Odyssey Preschool in Norwalk use simple microscopes in the “Sea & Discover Zone,” a new STEM-focused learning center for preschool-age children that opened March 2 in The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk. (Maritime Aquarium)

Gibson, called the Zone “innovative and imaginative,” saying, “It’s so important that children at the earliest ages be exposed to STEM-based curriculum. I am amazed by this playspace but I’m not surprised because we know the Aquarium to be a world-class institution of learning and an emerging leader in the field of early childhood education.”

“Now we can say, ‘Make sure you bring your littlest ones because there’s a spot here for them to learn even more,'” Duff said. “And they’re learning to be good stewards of the environment and they may not even know it.”

“Their (the Aquarium’s) vision and our (Maritime Odyssey Preschool’s) vision has gone beyond what we ever thought could be,” Curtis said.

The Maritime Aquarium’s website is at www.maritimeaquarium.org.



Lauren Magliola, manager of early-childhood programs for The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, reads to students of the city’s Maritime Odyssey Preschool in the “Sea & Discover Zone,” a new STEM-focused learning center for preschool-age children that opened March 2 in The Maritime Aquarium. Said to be imaginatively designed, the new second-floor space offers three areas where young guests can play the role of marine explorers, conservationists and animal-care specialists. (Maritime Aquarium)


S Hagerty March 8, 2022 at 1:12 am

No mask for Bob Duff while 5 year olds are forced to wear them. About sums it up. Of course, Bob wants to make sure he doesn’t miss a photo op. If he was wearing a mask people may not recognize him. Why do people vote for hypocrites like him?

JustaTaxpayer March 8, 2022 at 9:03 am

Yeah for the one 5 year old without a mask on!! Even in Norwalk we have a caste system of masks for thee, but not for me.

Stuart Garrelick March 8, 2022 at 11:15 am

BRAVO ACQUARIUM! How fortunate we are to have such a treasure in Norwalk and as a tourist attraction.
Anyone seeing this as an opportunity to talk about masks, either way, would make great food for the sharks,
Let’s agree when we can. There are so few opportunities.

Shari Brennan March 9, 2022 at 12:15 pm

Yes. Support the Maritime Aquarium and all that they do for education. We are fortunate to have such a wonderful place to learn about ecology and marine life.

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