Virginia Discovery Museum Reflections

Virginia Discovery Museum Class Visit

Thursday, January 31st.

Impressions/Reflections

By Tim Perry

What strikes me first about the Virginia Discovery Museum is that it is obviously aimed at young children ages four to seven. The entire museum seems to be set up for “little people” in scale and imaginative style from color choices to carpeting. It has smaller areas of play “stuff” in various places for kids to wander into and try out. There are a wide variety of topics, subjects, activities, and places to visit and learn. The museum has areas for structured and unstructured exploration and learning as well as places for students to have small classes or do projects to express their newly learned ideas. There were contraptions, building activities, live animals, dramatic dress-up, and a myriad of other activities to do and see.

The museum seems to work well for this age group in its scope and focus, although it might benefit from a larger and better-designed space. There are obviously some renovations happening as well as some plans for future developments. The director is passionate about the museum and its mission and eager to share her thoughts about what works best in this type of museum and setting. The museum houses a collection of permanent exhibits for their primary audience as well as a back room of traveling or changing exhibits. Some of the permanent exhibits seem to be well designed and planned such as the small cabin and its assorted props to teach about frontier life. Other exhibits, however, may need some further consideration. For example, the duck-under kaleidoscope is interesting, but probably too tall for many of the younger visitors. Perhaps something that moves up and down over the top of the visitor may work better in this case. Also, the Wentzscope is a bit of a fossil and could be replaced with a digital video microscope where kids could view their small items on a more modern video screen. The exhibit on Thomas Jefferson was interesting, but again, needs to be scaled more for younger visitors and be more kinesthetically appropriately interactive. Perhaps a miniature “walk through” of Monticello could be included and incorporated into the idea of the pioneer house. I would also like to see either a short video or other type of interactive display on Thomas Jefferson as part of this exhibit for kids. This could be done from the perspective of a child living at Monticello or in the frontier cabin. What a project!

The native peoples exhibit in the back room was “borrowed” and “enhanced” by the museum staff, but apparently not very popular for the young audience at the museum. Many of the signs were either placed too high or not very appropriate and the exhibit lacked enough “hands on” activities or interactive experiences for younger visitors. This exhibit could definitely use some more work.

Peppy Linden, the director was very knowledgeable and helpful in directing our class to understand how a “Children’s museum” functions. It is an active place with quite a variety of continuous learning occurring all around you. However, it seems to serve mostly a local clientele with a few visitors from the region or other areas. It could most likely do more with greater resources and perhaps attract a larger and broader audience of visitors.

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