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Free or Discounted Access to Children's Museums

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Children playing with toys on a table with a mother
Children's museums are where learning happens

It has been said many a time that children are sponges. They will absorb any information you throw their way, quickly. They are eager to learn and are adept at processing information at an alarming rate.

So when you take your child on a road trip it's critical that you encourage their curiosity with activities that stimulate their minds. Children's museums provide ideal environments for learning; the environment encourages children to play, explore, and discover. A place where "don't touch" doesn't exist and "please touch" is the name of the game. But as any road tripping parent knows, costs add up very quickly, especially with larger families; $10 or more per person is a typical museum entrance fee. So how then does a family ensure intellectual development when they're put up against financial strain? A few organizations have addressed this issue head on, creating reciprocal programs that allow members to visit museums across the country either free of charge or at reduced rates. Here's the breakdown on four of the best children's museum programs we've come across.

 


Association of Children's Museums Reciprocal Program

What it is: The Association of Children's Museums is an organization that strives to enhance the capacity and further the vision of children's museums in order to make them places for children and families where play leads to lifelong learning. Membership to the ACM Reciprocal program entitles members free admission to more than 165 ACM museums that participate in the ACM Reciprocal Program Network.

How it works: You and your family visit the children's museum in your community and purchase a Family Membership card with ACM Reciprocal Program privileges. When you visit children's museums that participate in the ACM Reciprocal Program Network you will be admitted for free. As a bonus, reciprocal admission privileges extend to special exhibits.

Association of Science Technology Centers Passport Program

What it is: The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) is an organization of science centers and museums dedicated to furthering public engagement with science among increasingly diverse audiences. The program grants members free admission at science centers and museums around the world.

How it works: You join your local participating science center or museum. Then check the ASTC Passport Program list to find other participating museums - now more than 290 in over a dozen countries.

There are a couple of caveats - the program doesn't apply to centers within a 90 mile radius of home. In addition, the free general admission often does not include tickets to things such as giant screen theaters, planetarium shows or simulators.

Chicago Library's Great Kids Museum Passport

What it is: A pass that allows residents of the city of Chicago free admission to 14 of Chicago's world-class cultural institutions.

How it works:

  • Adult residents of the City of Chicago may check out a Museum Passport at all Chicago Public Library locations with their valid Chicago Public Library card.
  • One Museum Passport can be checked out per person, per loan period. The loan period for each Great Kids Museum Passport is ONE WEEK.
  • Each library location has a limited number of Museum Passports for each of the 14 museums.
  • The overdue fine for Museum Passports is $2 per day, with a maximum limit of $20. The charge for a LOST Museum Passport is $60, plus any overdue fines.
  • Only one Museum Passport per household may be checked out at one time.
  • Museum Passports must be returned to the main desk of the library location where they were checked out.
  • Museum Passports cannot be renewed or reserved.
  • There will be a waiting period of 24 hours after returning a Museum Passport before another passport from the same museum may be checked out to any adult member of the same family.

Which Museums it includes: Adler Planetarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Brookfield Zoo, Chicago Botanic Garden, Chicago Children's Museum, Chicago History Museum, Du Sable Museum of African American History, The Field Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Science and Industry, National Museum of Mexican Art, The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Museums Work for Chicago

Boston Public Library Museum Pass Program

What is it: A pass that allows residents of the city of Boston reduced or free admission to 11 of Boston's museums.

How it works: If you have a valid Metro - Boston library card you can reserve and use the passes. Reservations can be made through any local (Boston) library, and are checked out on your library card. The person who reserved the pass must be the one to pick up the pass. You may pick up the museum pass the day of use. The pass must be returned the next day the library is open. It must be returned to the same library where you picked it up.

Which museums it includes: Children's Museum, Harvard Museum of Natural History, Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Science, New England Aquarium, Wheelock Family Theater, Harvard Art Museums, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Larz Anderson Auto Museum, John F Kennedy Library and Museum, Zoo New England

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