San Juan National Historic Site opened its new Discovery Center on Friday, January 27th. The public was invited to join employees, volunteers, partners and the press for the celebration.
The center was created to have a place especially set aside for young visitors to get more involved in the park’s education programs. The Discovery Center features hands-on activities in a stimulating environment created to arouse curiosity and interest in the fortifications of Old San Juan while providing ways for children to connect to their shared heritage and the stories of those who built and preserve these structures.
It has five main areas, each designed to be engaging younger generations. In the “Navigation Room,” computers are available to conduct research on the historic fortifications, other national parks or world heritage sites. In the “Adventure Room”, designed to give the feel of being on a ship’s deck, children can read, listen to stories, and imagine days gone by. State of the art audio visual equipment in the “Explorers Room” also comes with colorful cushions to sit on. Children can dress up as 18th century Spanish soldiers and draw, color and paint in the “Creative Room.” The highlight of the center is the “Little Masons” education program, where kids can get their hands dirty applying stucco in much the same way the masons of the fortifications did centuries ago.
The Discovery Center, just a few steps away from the historic entrance of Castillo San Cristobal, is located in what was originally a residence for US Army personnel in the 20th Century.
“Providing a way to make history relevant is always a challenge, especially for our younger generations’” said Walter Chavez, the park’s superintendent. “The Discovery Center is a place where children can explore and discover the past with a ranger and find a sense of connection.”
The Discovery Center was primarily funded with entrance fee funds. Friends of the Forts of Old San Juan were also a key component in the planning phase of the new facility.
“The Discovery Center promotes stewardship to children in an innovative and exciting way that provides an attractive and rewarding experience for the entire family”, added Chavez.