Discovering a love of learning

How the UOW Early Start Discovery Space helped little Umar find his voice.

Randi and his son, Umar found more than just a play space at the UOW Early Start Discovery Space. Read how the world’s first dedicated children's museum became a catalyst for Umar’s development, turning the shy toddler into a confident, chatterbox explorer.

The Early Start Discovery Space can become a place of respite for many parents during school holidays. It’s a safe, interactive space where children can roam freely and let their imagination take hold. However, for Randi Yusnitha and his son Umar, the Discovery Space has come to mean so much more.   

Randi and his wife, Isnie moved to Wollongong with their two children in January 2022. Isnie is currently completing her PhD at the University of Wollongong (UOW) while Randi is the primary caregiver for the children. Before this, the family lived in Indonesia, where Umar was born during the height of COVID-19.   

“It was really hard for us to take care of Umar because there were so many things we couldn’t do as parents because of COVID. I think that’s why Umar had a speech delay,” Randi says.     

Umar spent the beginning of his life at home with his mother, father and sister. He was unable to socialise with extended family or other children at the local playground because of the risk of COVID-19. Randi says he would point to communicate his needs.    

Umar was two years old when the family moved to Australia, and still not speaking his first words. Randi was determined to get as much help as possible to ensure his son started to reach his key milestones, which is how he came across the Discovery Space.

Umar and Randi

Umar was still very shy upon his first visit to the centre, but Randi is grateful for the staff who encouraged him to come out of his shell.  

“Grant, one of the staff at Early Start, tried to communicate with Umar by playing with him and saying hello to him every time we visited. He would bring him new toys to play with. 

The Discovery Space helped Umar to feel comfortable,” Randi says.

Soon enough, Randi began to see a shift in his son. Day by day, he became more confident to play and explore, with the trains becoming his favourite exhibit.   

“We became their number one visitors – we were there almost daily,” Randi says.   

Fast forward to today, Umar is now speaking complete sentences and making new friends, which Randi attributes to the Discovery Space. 

“He’s really chatty! There are so many things he will ask for if he sees something new,” Randi says.     

Umar is also more likely to try new things, especially if his friends are having a go.   

“Umar is picky about food, so giving him something new is hard. But if his friend is eating something, he will want to try that food, and he will usually enjoy it.”    

While the pair don’t frequent the Discovery Space as much as before, it’s still included in their weekly rotation of activities, among playgroup and the library. However, one thing remains: the trains are still Umar’s favourite toy. 

Would you like to help children like Umar discover a love of learning through the UOW Early Start Discovery Space? Please consider donating this festive season.