Smart Homeschooling: Why having a Reciprocal Museum Membership is a Game-Changer
Museums can be amazing for immersive and hands-on learning opportunities. They can also be expensive. Taking advantage of reciprocal museum membership benefits can help parents to get an incredible value for their hard-earned money while increasing educational experiences!
Being that our view on homeschooling is “learning should be meaningful, memorable, and fun,” we incorporate educational travel into our homeschool experience as much as possible. We do our fair share of book work and online learning, but nothing beats being able to actually interact with and become fully involved in a learning experience.
Having a museum membership can open so many doors for homeschooling families. Having a reciprocal museum membership, though? That’s a game-changer!
I learned about the magic of museum reciprocity about a year ago and, let me tell you…it’s nothing short of amazing. Not only has this information saved me money, but it’s also allowed for even more educational experiences and has inspired us to plan future travel to visit out-of-state museums.
I don’t know about you, but I’m calling that a win!
If you’re totally confused about reciprocal museum memberships, but like the sound of saving money while visiting more museums…hang tight! It’s not as confusing as it sounds, I swear.
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Reciprocal Benefits Explained
When my kids were tiny, I’d often buy an annual membership to our local children’s museum. The boys loved going, I enjoyed having them entertained, and the membership cost was justified by the amount of use we got out of it. Did/do you do this, too?
Well, utilizing reciprocal museum memberships are very similar to this, but the value is amped by, like, a million. (disclaimer: not an actual statistic, but more representative of my excitement for museum reciprocity offers).
When a museum membership offers “reciprocal benefits,” they’re referring to the advantages & privileges that extend beyond the capacity of that particular museum. With museum reciprocity, a single museum membership provides you with a number of benefits, such as free or discounted admission, at other museums and/or cultural institutions.
For example, after buying a membership to a science museum, you could be able to visit other science, art, and history museums…across the United States (sometimes even in other countries!) without buying another membership!
Museum reciprocity can make a world of difference for all families, but (in my opinion), is super beneficial to homeschooling families since so many of us use museum visits to supplement various lessons and curriculum. It can also save us a ton of money!
Benefits of Museum Reciprocity
To get the most out of your annual museum memberships, you’ll want to take advantage of the reciprocal benefits. Of course, benefits vary by location and museum, but typical benefits of having a reciprocal museum membership include:
- Admission: Think of it as when the grocery store offers a “buy-one-get-one-free” deal on the kids favorite cereal. Reciprocal museum benefits allow members to visit their home museum (the museum where the membership was purchased) as well as other museums, within the reciprocal network, either for free or at a discounted price.
- Special Offers: Some reciprocal programs might offer special perks during your visit! Perks could include discounts on museum store purchases, special events, tours, and more.
- Travel Opportunities: Just think of the money you could save while traveling! Instead of paying for entrance at multiple museums & experiences while traveling, you could take advantage of museum reciprocity benefits by visiting them for free or at a discounted price.
Just as there are a wide variety of museums to visit, there are a number of different reciprocity programs a museum could participate in. In my experience, the best way to figure out a particular museum’s reciprocity options is to look directly on their website. Museums will often list their reciprocity options within their membership description and/or by including an organization logo on the bottom of their website.
Some of the most common reciprocity organizations are:
Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)
The ASTC focuses on supporting science and technology museums & centers for people of all ages! To find a science center or museum that participates in the ASTC program, visit their ASTC Travel Passport directory.
American Alliance of Museums (AAM)
The AAM‘s mission is to “champion equitable and impactful museums by connecting people, fostering learning and community, and nurturing museum excellence.” To find a museum that participates in the AAM program, visit their member museum directory.
Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM)
North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM)
The NARM network of museums & institutions spans across six different countries! If you have plans for educational travel outside of the United States, definitely check out their member map. (Please note, this museum reciprocity map is updated every three months, so check often for the most up-to-date information.)
Association of Children’s Museums (ACM)
Southeastern Reciprocal Membership (SERM)
SERM connects families with museums in the southern United States (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia). For good measure (?) a few museums in Indiana are also included. To see all museums participating in SERM, check their participant database here.
Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)
The AZA is dedicated to conservation, education, science, and recreation when it comes to zoos & aquariums in the United states and overseas. To search through the participating zoos & aquariums, check their list of currently accredited zoos & aquariums and read about their reciprocal benefits program.
The Time Travelers program is a membership for historical locations across the United States. (this is SO up our alley!) They currently have over 400 participating organizations across the United States.
American Horticultural Society (AHS)
My husband and I were members of the AHS before we even had kids! The AHS is the society for all things gardening (we used our membership to get a discount on entry to the Philadelphia Flower Show). The AHS offers special admission privileges and discounts at over 360 gardens in North America.
Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program (MARP)
While the Smithsonian is well-known for their free museums in Washington DC, they also have reciprocal benefits with more than 50 museums in the United States.
Important Things to Keep in Mind when choosing your Museum Membership
There’s a lot of information to process when it comes to museum reciprocity programs, I know! It can be super overwhelming, but taking the time to learn the ins and outs of the benefits can really be worth the time and effort. When selecting the membership(s) you’d like to join, it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
- Distance: reciprocity benefits typically have location restrictions. Of course, it will vary by membership, but they typically do not allow admission to locations that are within 90 miles of your home and/or the museum you belong to. Distance is often measured “as the crow flies” which is a linear measurement (straight line from one location to the other) and not driving distance.
- Admittance Count: even if your home membership (the membership you’ve purchased) allows for the admission of 2 adults and 4 children (for example), reciprocal museums may have an admission limit of 2 people (for example). Be sure to check the details before taking the time to visit another location.
- Black-Out Dates: some locations may restrict the reciprocal benefits by date or for special events.
- Identification & Proof of Membership: as always, bring valid identification and proof of your home museum membership when you’re visiting an associated museum.
- Parking: free parking benefits may or may not extend from your home museum to the visiting museum.
Just as we used to call the movie theaters in the 90s for showtimes, it’s always a good idea to call museums beforehand to confirm their reciprocity status.
Museums to Consider
Throughout the homeschooling community, I’ve noticed that the same museum memberships are often mentioned solely for their reciprocal benefits. Some museums do have overlapping benefits (they’re part of multiple organizations), so you will be able to reap the benefits of being able to visit many locations after buying one membership.
Consider checking out these memberships:
- WNC Nature Center: located in Asheville, North Carolina, WNC Nature Center is a part of AZA and ASTC. Memberships are provided through digital membership cards that are available within 48 hours. A Family Membership (2 adults & 4 children) starts at $89/year.
- Kern County Museum: located in Bakersfield, California, the Kern County Museum is a part of ASTC, ACM, NARM, and Time Travelers. Memberships with reciprocal privileges start at $125/year (2 adults & up to 6 children at same address)
- Dayton Museum of Natural History: located in Dayton, Ohio, the Dayton Museum of Natural History is part of ASTC, AAM, AZA, & ACM. Family memberships start at $135, but they also offer a $10 homeschooling discount with proper ID or letter of intent! Both digital and physical membership cards are available.
- Dennos Museum: located in Traverse City, Michigan, the Dennos Museum is a part of NARM, ROAM, & ASTC. A digital membership with reciprocal benefits starts at $100 (2 adults & children under the age of 17). Smithsonian benefits can be included for an additional $25.
- The Ringling: located in Sarasota, Florida, The Ringling is a part of NARM, MARP, SERM & ROAM. A digital membership with reciprocal benefits starts at $200.
Start Planning those Homeschool Field Trips!
It’s a lot of information to process, I know! When I was making the decision regarding which museum membership to purchase, I sat at my desk, for hours, with a spreadsheet to record different benefits, limitations, and pricing. You should’ve seen me! What a sight! I know that my hard work has paid off for my homeschooling family and hope that it can benefit you and yours as well.
If you have any questions at all, go ahead and send over an email. I’d be happy to help!
Until next time, stay safe and enjoy quality time with your family,
Elizabeth Dukart is a proud Georgia-based born and raised Jersey Girl, wife, and mom of 2 human boys & 1 canine boy.
Created in 2021, Elizabeth owns and publishes That Homeschool Family: a free resource for homeschooling parents and beyond! A seasoned blogger, Elizabeth previously published a popular location-specific family resource blog, but decided to “Pivot!” her blogging focus after she started homeschooling her two boys in 2020. In addition to this blog, you can follow Elizabeth’s homeschooling and family adventures on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest.
When she’s not busy taking over the world or homeschooling, Elizabeth can be found listening to music (especially The Beatles & Harry Styles!), being silly with her boys, watching movies with family, shopping, or traveling!
Have a question or want to work with Elizabeth? Send her an email!