A toddler fixing a tractor, climbing in a combine and working at a farmers market sounds terrifying. But at Exploration Place, farming is all fun and games in its new agricultural-themed exhibit designed for children ages 5 and younger.

The exhibit, called “Kansas Kids Connect,” is the first permanent exhibit added to Exploration Place since it opened in 2000.

“‘Kansas Kids Connect’ is all about how young children discover the world around them,” said Christina Bluml, director of marketing for Exploration Place. She added: “It’s really all about inspiring their curiosity to learn.”

The exhibit is part of a larger push by Exploration Place to create a more preschool-oriented environment. Exploration Place started a one-day-a-week preschool class last Wednesday, added toddler-friendly snacks to the snack bar, and added symbols around the Exploration Place to indicate toddler-friendly activities.

“We’re at 15 years, so the kids who started with us have moved on,” Bluml said about Exploration Place’s initiative to attract a new age group.

In the “Kansas Kids Connect” exhibit, children can play as a farmer, visit and work at a farmers market, and then put together a meal in a playhouse kitchen to complete the farm-to-table cycle.

The agricultural-themed exhibit includes a produce farm, tractor and combine. It also includes a wall-mounted maze of air tubes, a bee hive, wavy walkway and a dress-up chicken coop.

“My favorite part of the exhibit are the air tubes,” Bluml said. “when you put an object into the air tube and see it zooming around inside and it comes flying out on the other end, it’s really fun.”

The $500,000 exhibit was paid entirely through private donations.

Bluml said Exploration Place started planning the exhibit a couple of years ago and started the renovation about 18 months ago.

Bluml said an internal committee of staff members came up with the agricultural theme.

“We tried to choose a theme within our own community,” she said.

Mind Splash, an Illinois-based company, designed the exhibit and KidZibits, a Minnesota-based company, made the structures for the exhibit.

The exhibit officially opened Saturday, but a soft opening was a week earlier.

Exploration Place scheduled special events for the opening weekend. Among the events, students from Butler Community College Early Childhood Education hosted interactive activities at stations around the museum.

Bluml said she noticed that parents interacted more in the “Kansas Kids Connect” area than in other areas of Exploration Place. She said she took that as a testament to the exhibit’s success. One boy cried when he had to leave the exhibit.

Before “Kansas Kids Connect,” the space was essentially a toy room called Tot’s Spot and a KEVA station – a place to build designs with thin rectangular blocks made of wood.

The KEVA area now sits between the aviation exhibit and the Kansas exhibit. Some of the toys and play fixtures from Tot’s Spot now sit in a room across from “Kansas in Miniature.”

“I think it’s a lot more educational,” Andrea Palmer, who has a 2-year-old son, said about the new exhibit compared to Tot’s Spot. She said she liked the Kansas connection with the farm-to-table concept.

Exploration Place opens new exhibit for preschoolers

Exploration Place opened a new exhibit called Kansas Kids Connection designed for children 5 years old and younger.

Reach Gabriella Dunn at 316-268-6400 or gdunn@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: .