Education for your kids or yourself can take a big chunk out of your budget. A summer learning camp can cost more than you had planned to spend on school clothes, and tickets to a lecture or concert series can equal the cost of your car insurance for six months. But you don’t have to deprive yourself. Buy a membership at a museum instead.
There are many kinds of museums of all sizes, in large cities and small towns. Besides art museums, there are historic houses focusing on all time periods and classes of people, as well as museums dedicated to science, sports, nature, history, and of course, children’s museums. Museums don’t just mount exhibitions. They also sponsor classes, workshops, musical performances, lectures, special family events, and tours to interesting places all over the world and your home town. They have summer day camps for every child’s interests. Some museums offer junior docent programs where junior high and high school students are trained to be tour guides or work in other jobs in the museum.
An annual museum membership typically costs between $50-$75. Some institutions offer a grandparent membership, which costs a little less than a family one, so grandparents can bring the kids. Members enter free as often as they want. Instead of paying $4 for each admission to a Saturday matinee, you can spend a few hours at a museum, learning as well as being entertained. Good museums change exhibits often, but kids love to view the same exhibits, finding different objects to focus on each time. My four-year-old grandson Craig would visit the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum in New York City every weekend if he could.
Most museum activities involve hands-on experiences, or viewing actual objects. For most people, this beats reading about something, as in traditional schools. Museums are great places for inter-generational learning. Kids can share their knowledge with parents or grandparents, and the elders can share knowledge they’ve gained through experience.
Museum boards are working to overcome their historical image as temples honoring achievements of dead white men of Western European culture. Many museums have advisory boards to solicit feedback and cooperation from local minorities. People of diverse ethnic backgrounds may be pleasantly surprised at how museums have changed since they last visited with their fifth grade class.
The estimated 16,000 museums in the United States receive more than 850 million visits per year, more than all the country’s professional baseball, football, and basketball sporting events combined, says the American Association of Museums. While most people are aware of museums as venues for major cultural events, many don’t realize their value as educational institutions. Museums provide educational and cultural experiences for people of all ages, backgrounds and interests. Take advantage of the bargain they offer.
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