Toddler time at aquarium: Cove offers play area for the little ones

Alex Cluver, 3, of Daniel Island and his nanny, Jessica McCants of West Ashley, explore the tunnel in Toddler Cove.

Fennell

Sharks, turtles, alligators, jellyfish, birds, otters and touch tanks — and 4-D movies — all grab the attention of adults and older kids at the S.C. Aquarium.

But officials there long have thought they lacked an attraction that appeals especially to the smallest of children.

That changed last week, when the aquarium opened 'Toddler Cove,' a play area with puzzles, games, brightly colored fish, interactive features and large, cushioned, life-size play structures in the shape of sea life.

Toddler Cove is for kids '0 to 6 years old' and was designed and 'built from scratch' by the aquarium staff, said Kate Ditt- loff, public relations manager for the aquarium. The cove occupies the space that used to be the temporary habitat for penguins, and it sports a 'kind of beachy' theme. The area includes benches on which parents can rest while watching their youngsters burn some energy, Dittloff said.

In the cove, tykes can tackle a vinyl-covered turtle, whale and small boat; a short tunnel geared to crawling through; and wildlife images that double as puzzles that kids can put together by themselves or with help. A mini fairy tale castle with large windows is an inviting 'photo op' for families, Dittloff said.

Like all of the aquarium's offerings, Toddler Cove is designed to be educational as well as fun, she said. The cove features two 500-gallon tanks brimming with lionfish, clown fish and other multicolored fish and seafloor habitats. 'It was something needed here at the aquarium. So many young kids come here, and we want them to get the full benefit of their membership,' Dittloff said.

During a Toddler Cove opening ceremony early Jan. 31, Dittloff and other aquarium officials, including aquarium President and CEO Kevin Mills, spoke of their hopes for the new attraction. But it was not until families started arriving with small kids that it became apparent the cove was a hit.

'This is a good attraction,' said Flonnie West of Camden, who brought two grandchildren — 1-year-old Katie Chivers and Priscilla Chivers, 2, both of Johns Island — to the aquarium. While West looked on, the grands explored the cove and scaled the large toys.

'I like it because it has the plastic animals for them to climb on. It's something for small children to do, especially on a rainy day,' West added.

While she spoke, more and more children arrived, climbed on the toys and checked out the puzzles and fish tanks. Some parents joined their little ones in crawling through the tunnel, and more than one child seemed enraptured by the lionfish.

Jessica McCants of West Ashley, a nanny who accompanied 3-year-old Alex Cluver of Daniel Island to the aquarium, found Toddler Cove to be exactly what its designers hoped for.

'We loved it,' McCants said. 'I think it's a great place for kids, especially the 2 and under.'

She added that the soft, climbable toys seem safe for toddlers.

Many small kids don't fully grasp the main attractions at the aquarium, McCants observed, but she said they enjoyed the toys and puzzles at the cove.

Meghan Hock of Columbia also endorsed Toddler Cove after her children, Ian and Henry, enjoyed it. 'It's perfect for them, especially Henry. He's 14 months old.'

'It's a very good addition,' added Tatjana

Beylotte of West Ashley. Her daughter, 14-month-old Melodie, found the large, red, cushioned 'canoe' to be especially comfortable.