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Wonder Years

About the Exhibition

Wonder Years
The simple, everyday interactions between young children and adults, especially their parents, are powerful beyond appearance. It is the accumulation of these moments—in the grocery store, at mealtime, during play—that define the quality of the relationships upon which children's lives are built.

- Karen Cadigan, University of Minnesota and Wonder Years project leader

Wonder Years is all about the science of early childhood development.

Key Ideas

  • Early experiences matter—they set a stable or shaky stage for a child's future
  • Social and emotional development (like cognitive development) takes place in the brain and can be studied scientifically
  • Relationships with parents and other adults are critical to early brain development
  • The human brain is malleable, but it's easier to build it right from the beginning than to remodel it later
  • Early childhood development has implications for families, communities, and even our economy

Exhibition at a Glance

Wonder Years is an 1,800 square foot exhibition found in the museum's Human Body Gallery. A section of the exhibition examines the brain, revealing how both genes and experiences influence its development. The importance of relationships to healthy development is highlighted in the exhibition through videos and opportunities to interact with young children. An area for younger visitors and their caregivers encourages storytelling and creative play. Another section pulls back the curtain on researchers, showing how they study young children and come to understand early childhood development. A final area explores the implications of this science and invites visitors to consider our community and societal responsibility for our youngest citizens.

A Note on the Photography

The photographer behind the large banner images throughout the exhibition and on this website is Jesse Valley. We chose Jesse's work for Wonder Years because of his skill in capturing images that illustrate the relationships essential to healthy early childhood development. Learn More


Wonder Years is a proud recipient of the 2012 Distinguished Service Award from the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MnAEYC), the leading organization for early childhood professionals.

MnAEYC is non-profit organization whose mission is to serve and act on behalf of early care and education professionals in Minnesota by enhancing the quality of professional development opportunities, supporting program improvement and accreditation and advocating for public policy change. MnAEYC has been presenting the Distinguished Service Award since 1987, to an individual, group or agency that has made a significant contribution to the field of early childhood education. Learn more about MnAEYC.


Wonder Years is a partnership of the Science Museum of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota, and Public Agenda.

NSFFunding for Wonder Years is provided by the National Science Foundation #0813522. Additional funding for programming is provided by the F. R. Bigelow Foundation.

Science Museum of Minnesota University of Minnesota Public Agenda