About Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose’s (CDM) striking 52,000 sq.ft. purple building, designed by Mexico City-based architect Ricardo Legorreta, signals its purpose to serve the needs of children, families and schools as a center for learning and discovery. Our theme is Connections; the context is Community — the myriad relationships within and between the man-made and natural worlds and the way those relationships are expressed here in our own backyard. Our 150+ interactive exhibits invite self-directed, openended explorations, while educational programs provide facilitated, focused, and sustained interactions. Since opening in June, 1990, CDM has welcomed nearly 6 million visitors.

Our Audience

Over 300,000 children and adults visit each year as families or on school/camp field trips. Our core audience is children ages 0-10 and their parents, caregivers and educators, drawn largely from our own backyard, the South Bay region within the greater San Francisco Bay Area, encompassing a population base of 2.2 million. By any standard, the South Bay is exceptionally diverse. San Jose’s population of nearly one million is 27% Latino, 20% Asian/Pacific Islander, 5% African American and 48% White; here, minority populations comprise a majority. Our audience is growing, attributable in great part to families with children ages 0-4, who have responded to our Early Childhood Initiative launched in 2005. We also serve an additional 25,000 children and teachers through Outreach programs in schools.

Community Service Priorities

Reaching underserved populations is our highest service priority. Believing that no child should ever be turned away for lack of ability to pay for admission, our Open Door Policy is posted at our entrance
in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, extending entry to all and inviting those needing support to pay what they can, if anything.


The impact of such policies is far reaching: in 2008, more than one-third of our audience visited through free or reduced admission programs. We are equally devoted to diversity. This has led to comprehensive exhibit, programmatic, event and operational strategies over the years to welcome minority populations. We have successfully increased our attendance from the top 9 Latino zip codes in our city by 20%. A new initiative targets the burgeoning Vietnamese community and is working to address the unique needs of new immigrants as well as second generation adults and children. Our facilities and public spaces are fully handicapped accessible, and we work closely with our volunteer Accessibility Committee to ensure the greatest possible access to children with special needs. 16 developmentally-challenged adults operate our food service through a partnership with Hope Rehabilitation Services.

Research on Learning

More than a decade ago, CDM launched a cutting-edge research partnership with Developmental Psychologists at the University of California at Santa Cruz to understand science learning in our informal setting. Now on our 5th project, this research continues to yield dramatic and useful information that has helped CDM address gender and equity issues through exhibit development and has expanded to study cultural nuances in parent/child conversations about science.

Core Competencies

Children’s Museum/Science Museum Hybrid:

Our exhibit philosophy is rooted in the distinctive need for children to learn through concrete interactions and to be engaged in science in ways that are relevant -- rooted in their familiar world, connected to other Museum exhibits and directly linked to the world outside. Our 13 galleries, each housing 10-15 interactives, encourage inquiry through authentic experiences, particularly with phenomenon-based science and the arts.

Service Learning and Mentorship:

Our educational programs serving at-risk young people are grounded in strong youth development practices, celebrating youth as resources and acknowledging the importance of adult rolemodels to their healthy development. Flagship programs, such as Discovery Youth, BioSITE (Students Investigating Their Environment) and Summer of Service use service learning approaches that enable youth to impact the lives of others in our community.

Early Childhood Development:

Recognizing the importance of the first five years of life, our staff Early Childhood Educators provide exhibit-based and programmatic experiences that engage the youngest members of our community in early science, literacy and art experiences and role-model activities and conversations for parent/child interactions.

Multicultural Engagement:

Creating an environment which is welcoming to our multicultural community begins with aggressive staff recruitment, resulting in a staff which is 27% Latino, 14% Asian/Pacific Islander, 5% African American, and 54% White, and is dependent upon successful, in-depth relationships with key community-based organizations. These strategic partners help guide exhibit, program and event offerings to ensure their relevance and appeal across cultures.

Commitment to the Field

Here in Silicon Valley, where the pulse of our nation’s technology industry is most closely tracked, we are proud that our Museum has emerged as an institution playing a key role in educational innovation and research. Our Executive Director is on the Board of the Association of Youth Museums, whose conference we hosted in 1998. We have also served as a host site for ASTC’s Institute for New Science Centers and the Smithsonian’s CADRE conference. Our senior staff are regular presenters at ASTC, AAM and Interactivity as well as at regional meetings such as the Western Museums’ Conference.