When you are homeschooling at the speed of life, learning...most REAL learning...happens away from a worksheet or textbook.
Some of the most memorable and meaningful life-schooling is done when you take the show on the road...when you venture out to meet real people and see real stuff...when you experience real life the way it WAS lived or IS lived...when you take a field trip.
But, let's face it.A large homeschool family is a herd that moves rather slowly and comes with a pretty hefty entrance fee.
Field trips aren't cheap!
Over the years, my family has enjoyed more than our share of learning-on-the-road adventures. We have seen the sights. We have met the people. And we have come home with money in our pockets.
Here are my best tips for pricey field trips for FREE or cheap!
Annual Membership Rates
Even if you plan on making your trip a one-time-and-then-we're done kinda thing, for the larger-than-average homeschool family, purchasing an annual membership to a museum or attraction is often cheaper than buying a one-day-only pass for everyone attending. In addition, membership usually comes with behind-the-scenes perks, discounts at the gift shop, or free admittance to special exhibits.
Low Income Rates
Depending upon your annual income, you might qualify for a discounted rate at most field trip venues. Sometimes this requires filling out a form ahead of time and/or submitting income proof, but sometimes it does not. Be sure to call ahead and ask about low-income admittance.
Reciprocating Science Center Rates
Over 300 science museums around the nation (and even the world) have partnered together to offer free admission to anyone holding a annual pass to any one of the museums. In other words, if you buy an annual pass to ANY of the museums on the list, you can get free entrance to all of them.
There are a few stipulations, however.
- The science center that you are visiting can not be within 90 miles of your house.
- Your membership can not be to a museum within 90 miles of the reciprocating museum that you are planning on visiting.
- The offer is good for general admission only. Most of the museums on the list, however, do often discounted rates for special exhibits with proof of membership.
We just happen to live two hours away from two of the major cities in our state, both of which offer two or three reciprocating museums each. By applying on-line for membership to a museum in a different state, and paying around $40 annually, we can meet the requirements for the first two stipulations and enjoy FREE general admission to every reciprocating science center in our state and around the country. (Quick aside: An annual membership pass would be a great Christmas gift for a long-distance grandparent to purchase. So, be sure to add it to your Christmas wish list this coming year.)
If you do purchase a reciprocating pass, please remember to always carry your membership card with you as each museum only holds a registry of its own members.
Also, even though they are all partners, every museum on the list has a different annual membership fee. Be sure to purchase your membership at one of the smaller, less-expensive sites to save the most money.
If you are the plan-ahead type, be sure to look for half off or BOGO coupons to local museums and attractions on Groupon.com. In our area, annual membership to the state historical society can often be purchased through Groupon providing free or discounted entrance to all the registered historical sites around our state.
In an effort to make educational experiences affordable, many libraries are now offering day passes to local museums. These are checked out on loan to library card holders in the same fashion as a book. Most are offered on a first-come-first-serve basis and must be returned within a particular time frame.
With nearly 20 museums (mostly in the Washington D.C. area), the Smithsonian Institutions are ALL absolutely free! Plan on taking a tour of a castle, an air and space museum, an art gallery, a history museum, and so much more with nothing but pocket change...for the parking meters.
National Museum Day Tickets
Once a year, the Smithsonian celebrates National Museum Day by offering everyone two free tickets to participating nationwide museums. While two tickets might not provide entrance for your entire family, it could make for a substantially cheaper visit. Some restrictions apply.
To promote outdoor educational experiences, the National Park Foundation will be granting every 4th grade student around the country free entrance to ALL national parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuges during the 2015-2016 school year. For more information, visit to Open Outdoors for Kids.
Homeschool Days/Group Discounts
Many local attractions schedule an annual Homeschool Day and offer significantly reduced rates for homeschoolers who provide proof of home education. (One year, all seven of us were able to attend the "homeschool days" event at an aquarium for the cost of one regularly priced ticket.)
In addition, most locations offer special group pricing. Invite another homeschool family to join you and attend the field trip for a fraction of the cost.
One Final Word
Whether you're traveling across the street or across the country, don't forget to take a journal to notebook your experience. Or just print a copy of this FREE Field Trip Log and record your journey. Happy trails!
For more FREE Homeschooling tips and links, be sure to head over to iHomeschool Network.