Discover Downtown

First Free Fridays at the Explore More Discovery Museum

The mission of Harrisonburg’s Explore More Discovery Museum is “to engage young minds through interactive, multi-sensory learning experiences that promote a greater understanding of themselves and their world.” When you walk through the doors of 150 South Main Street, you know that this mission has been accomplished. Your gaze is drawn all over the museum and it’s difficult to decide where to look first!

The museum has their own ambulance complete with flashing lights!

Is your attention stolen by the mooing cow? The real ambulance that you can crawl into? The Virginia theater? Or the tree that has a slide coming out of  it? The possibilities are endless! On the first Friday of every month, the museum offers free admission from 4 to 7 pm, so drop in today and check out this incredible place. Be aware that your children may never want to leave!

When the museum’s executive director Lisa Shull was asked about the impact she believes the museum has on the community, she said, “I would like to think that we’ve made many, many families and children happy. Someone asked me one time what we market and I said that I think we sell happiness.” If you take one look around the museum when it’s filled with hundreds of smiling faces, you know without a doubt that they have made a lot of children happy.

The museum's executive director, Lisa Shull.

It’s no surprise that when Lisa was asked what her favorite thing is about the museum, she said that it was watching the children’s faces as they come through the front door. “I just love to watch the children doing what they want to do,” says Lisa. “It’s so nice to see them empowered. There’s no structure to it; they can go and enjoy any exhibit they want to. It’s so nice to see parents and children spending time together and communicating.”

The Explore More Discovery Museum has had a long and rich history.  It began as a dream when, in January 2002,  Lisa Shull and her husband pulled together a group of people and started brainstorming. They knew it was essential to bring a children’s museum to the area, and without a location or much funding, a traveling program seemed like a good place to start. By the summer of that year, they had a traveling program called “Where In The World Is Harrisonburg, Virginia?” through eight mobile exhibits at different locations throughout Harrisonburg. A little over a year later, in October 2003, the traveling program had metamorphosed into the Harrisonburg Children’s Museum and opened at 30 North Main Street  in downtown Harrisonburg.  In November 2010, the museum moved to its current location as the Explore More Discovery Museum.

The museum has grown into a 501(c)(3) organization with eight part-time staff members and over 250 volunteers who gave approximately 10,000 hours to support the museum in 2010. The museum hosts over 55,000 visitors annually! With a future this bright, it is no wonder that they’re planning to expand up to the building’s second and third floors to offer exhibits for older children and more space for interaction between families.

The Friendly City TV Studio's mini anchor desk, green screen, and TV monitors are perfect for allowing children to watch themselves in action!

The museum currently has 11 exhibits on the first floor that range from the Friendly City TV Studio, complete with a news desk and a green screen to the early learning exhibit called “Over in the Meadow” for visitors who are ages three and under. In the front of the museum, you will find the Discovery Store. The store aims to pull in merchandise that mirrors the museum’s environment and exhibits. When you buy something at the store, all of the money goes directly towards benefitting the museum, so shopping at this store will truly be the gift that keeps on giving!

The Explore More Discovery Museum is a true asset to downtown Harrisonburg and it will continue to be for years to come. The museum has celebrated hundreds of birthdays and has seen students from the community come visit as part of SOL-based field trips and help out as volunteers.

Lisa said her favorite part about the museum’s location is that “there’s just a great energy about being downtown. Ever since our board first formed over 9 years ago, one of our goals was to be downtown. At the time there wasn’t much revitalization and we thought we could make a difference and have an impact. Now seeing the results of everything happening downtown, it feels really good to be a part of something that captures the essence, the character, and the heart and soul of our community.”

If you visit the museum and find that you had so much fun that you want to keep coming back again and again, then check out the different membership options available for your family.

The Explore More Puppet Theater.

I hope that you all will make your way downtown today and stop in at the museum to see for yourself what a downtown treasure it truly is. Happy Friday everyone! Head out into the community and discover downtown!

Kerri DeVries is the Visual + Social Media Intern for Spring 2012. She is a senior Media Arts & Design major at James Madison University.

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