After over a year of being closed to the public due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Kids Discovery Museum in Winslow recently reopened.
“It feels amazing,” KiDiMu executive director Corinne Wolffe said. “I feel like the last few weeks we’ve seen as a community this renewed optimism around getting on the other side of the pandemic. Reopening surely adds to that. It’s just great to be part of the fabric of Winslow again and being able to provide a service to the community that we weren’t able to do in-person at our museum for over a year.”
Members were the first to re-enter the museum in late April, and last week it reopened to the public. Wolffe said members helped staff test out what the appropriate capacity should be and what protocols should still be in place. Knowing that 50% capacity would be over 100 people, museum leaders decided that 25% capacity would be appropriate for the time being.
“Our members have been so incredibly supportive of us,” she said. “We never felt comfortable with that number” (50 percent). With 25 percent capacity, “that allows families a lot of space in our exhibits without running into another group. We are going to continue to ask all our visitors to wear masks because children under 12 cannot be vaccinated yet. We want the adults in our spaces to be good role models for those children.”
Wolffe said the museum was sold out the Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. In the summer, the museum is only open Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Folks are advised to book online to ensure that they won’t get turned away for capacity reasons.
“People are just excited to be back,” Wolffe said. “Being a holiday weekend, we saw an uptick in people traveling to and visiting Bainbridge Island again. We didn’t do a huge ramp-up to celebrate our reopening because we were worried we’d actually become too busy.”
Specifically, Wolffe said seeing kids’ faces again and interacting with each other was something they needed.
“It’s amazing watching kids come in,” she said. “Even if they remember coming in, it’s almost been a year-and-a-half. A lot of kids haven’t had the chance to interact with other children. I just think it’s so important that kids have this chance to see other kids play.”
Wolffe said there have been some changes inside the museum since folks were last there.
“We switched out two of our exhibits, and it was really great to showcase those and show those to our members first,” she said. “We expanded our lobby area by removing our gift shop and reducing our visitor’s services footprint so there’s more room for pop-up STEM activities and art projects.”
When the museum closed due to the pandemic in March of 2020, it left staff in a bind to figure out how it could keep serving kids in the community. Knowing that young children would likely have difficulties with online services, KiDiMu gave the option for parents to purchase a variety of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) kits for their kids to indulge in from home.
“Those are fully contained boxes that parents can purchase,” Wolffe said. “Those kits are just a full day or couple days of activities centered around different STEM concepts.”
A new component to the museum that was conceived during COVID was the addition of a preschool.
“Preschool was always something we kind of talked about here and there,” Wolffe said. “The conversation really ramped up when we had families who were attending our camp programming. They were talking with us about how they didn’t have a plan for the fall because most preschools start filling up in February of the year prior. We had some families who just hadn’t planned on sending a child to preschool and then suddenly had a change of heart because they needed additional support.”
KiDiMu preschool began with only six students and then grew to 12 once guidelines made that possible. This fall, the class will be up to 16 students. During the fall, the museum is open daily but will not be open to the public during preschool hours.
“It’s really been an amazing addition,” Wolffe said. “During preschool, they have full run of the museum, and the museum is their classroom.”
The museum also offers different camps throughout the year, and staff was able to start those up in small groups last year. This year, the summer camps were sold out in record time, which forced staff to double their programming.
Summer camps will be held Monday through Thursday with deep cleaning afterward before the museum opens to the public.
“It was a really overwhelming response for our camps, and I think it’s really indicative of the need for early learning in our community,” Wolffe said.
As businesses along Winslow and wider Bainbridge Island begin to open back up, KiDiMu will be hosting a community birthday party June 12 at the plaza at Island Gateway. On that day, the museum will be free to any visitor but capacity restrictions will still apply. Activities will also be happening on the plaza. “We normally celebrate our anniversary of opening in June, and we realized not only did we miss our 10th-anniversary last year because of COVID, but everyone else missed their birthdays, too,” Wolffe said.
Museum info: Members and infants less than a year old have free admission while adults and children pay $8. The museum and exhibit activities are designed for children between six months and 8 years. Adults can only visit with a child, and a children must be accompanied by an adult unless they are in a camp or workshop.
Kids Discovery Museum serves over 35,000 visitors annually and provides hands-on educational opportunities to the community’s earliest learners. 14% of its programming is provided for free to Kitsap Community Resources’ Head Start Preschools, Helpline House, and others via free access to the museum and its programming. It is the only children’s museum in Kitsap and Jefferson counties.