Winchester’s beloved children’s museum is gearing up for a series of exciting upgrades and changes, driven by Executive Director Dawn Devine’s commitment to providing an envolving and dynamic experience for children of all ages. In an exclusive interview, the museum’s passionate director shared their vision for transforming the exhibits and engaging the local community in
preserving the region’s history and culture.

The Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum has long been a staple in Winchester, having opened its doors in 1996. However, upon arrival, the director discovered that the exhibits had remained unchanged since 2014, prompting a deep desire for transformation. Recognizing the importance of
catering to different age groups, the director embarked on a journey to research and identify new areas of interest for children aged six to ten. With the help of local organizations and sponsors, new exhibits are designed and built off site during the busy season so they can be installed quickly during a one week closing each fall. Dawn says “our age groups are sort of grouped from birth to 8-10 years old, and while the younger children love things they can predict, the older kids want different things to explore as they age.”

Extensive research revealed a growing need for hands-on learning in the trades, aligning perfectly with the region’s booming building industry. The director saw this as an opportunity to introduce interactive exhibits focusing on trades, providing children with valuable experiences and knowledge. Additionally, an exploration of the valley’s history highlighted the significance of farming and apples. Combining local history with fun and interactivity, the museum decided to revamp their offerings and create a vibrant farm-themed exhibit to be launched in 2023.

To maintain a fresh and engaging experience, the Discovery Museum has adopted a strategy of annual mini overhauls. By involving local funders and partners, the museum ensures that each exhibit reflects the interests and needs of the community. Engaging teenagers and young adults in the exhibit design and construction process fosters a sense of ownership and pride in contributing to their future children’s enjoyment. Dawn is also proud to sit on various boards and help their organizations through the museum, such as collecting baby shower items to be donated to Froggy’s Closet recently. The Discovery Museum has also extended its commitment to inclusivity and accessibility. The “Museums for All” program allows individuals with active EBT or WIC cards to access the museum for a nominal fee of $2 per person, making it accessible to all members of the community. In addition, the museum hosts free First Fridays, sensory-friendly nights, and other initiatives to ensure that everyone can enjoy the enriching experiences it offers.

The Discovery Museum is on the cusp of an exciting transformation, driven by a steadfast commitment to providing children with an ever-evolving, interactive, and educational experience. By embracing trades, farm culture, and local history, the museum aims to captivate young minds, instill a sense of pride in the community’s heritage, and inspire a love for learning. With annual updates and strong community engagement, the Discovery Museum is poised to remain a cherished gem in Winchester for years to come.