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Ocean life exhibit will target kids
At Virginia Museum of Natural History
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Ryan Barber is seen with a model of a turtle will be part of the Hooker Furniture Discovery Reef. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)

Monday, July 19, 2010

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Virginia Museum of Natural History visitors are more interested in taking part in hands-on activities than watching videos, according to a museum official.

That is why a theater used to show nature-oriented videos at the museum on Starling Avenue in Martinsville is being remodeled and given a new use.

With the company's blessings, the Hooker Furniture Corp. Theater is being converted into the Hooker Furniture Discovery Reef, a room in which children ages 5 and younger can play and learn about the undersea world.

The 32-seat theater had been part of the museum since the current facility opened in 2007.

Surveys have shown that "people wanted more hands-on activities," said Ryan Barber, the museum's marketing and external affairs manager.

He indicated that the theater was not used as much as museum officials had anticipated. A drop-down screen will remain in the room, and the museum has other rooms in which videos can be shown, he said.

Museum staff and board members tossed around ideas to give the room a new use. They settled on Discovery Reef because the museum did not have any place "where underwater, marine biology was on focus," Barber said.

Kids and their adult chaperones will get a sense that they are submerged because the room has been painted blue to resemble water.

The centerpiece of the Discovery Reef will be "a wooden shipwreck that kids can climb on," Barber said.

The ship, which a local woodworker is building, will feature a mast, nets and a slide, he said. Donations to the museum are defraying some of the $8,000 cost, he noted.

Specimens of swordfish, sea turtles and other aquatic life will be on display. The ones selected will have a friendly appearance.

"We don't want to scare children," Barber said.

The room will have a bookshelf with games, puzzles and books for children. It also will have wireless Internet access.

Parents and chaperones will be allowed to bring snacks into the room, said Barber. That will help create a family-friendly environment that will encourage visitors to relax and stay as long as they want, he said.

Discovery Reef is set to open Aug. 26.


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