10 reasons why museum memberships are the best gifts for families

Are you a grandparent or someone else looking to buy gifts for a family with small children? Do you have small children and want to get a gift that won’t add to your clutter? Local museum memberships (or zoo memberships or aquarium memberships) are awesome. Even for little kids museums (and not just “children’s museums”) have a lot to offer. Here are ten reasons why museum memberships are the best gifts for families.

  1. Most families don’t need more “stuff.” Okay, a museum membership does include a card, but a card is a lot smaller than most toys and hurts less if you step on it.
  2. If you still want stuff museum stores are awesome and membership gets you a discount.
  3. Museum memberships make going to the museum cheap. A single day at a museum can be an expensive venture particularly if you want to see a special exhibit as well, but it usually doesn’t cost that much more to get a membership that can be used all year. Membership packages and benefits vary by institution, but I’ve found that most memberships for a family of four pay for themselves in less than two visits.
  4. Membership reduces the stress of having to “get your money’s worth” from a museum visit. If the kids are getting tired or you only have an hour or two to spare that’s okay. You don’t need to try to see everything in one visit since you can easily come back.
  5. It’s great to always have somewhere to go, especially in the winter. When the family is feeling a bit of cabin fever you always have a place to go, even on Sundays when a lot indoor play spaces are closed for private parties. Already having the membership means you can go without re-evaluating your monthly budget.
  6. Little kids can play there. Small children can appreciate the spectacle of a lot “grown up” museum exhibits even if they are too young to truly understand what the exhibit is about, but most museums also have special rooms with activities specifically for younger kids, crawlers and up.
  7. Museums can be enjoyed by family members of all ages. The advantages above work for “children’s museums” as well as other museums, but the advantage of a membership at a grown up museum is that adults and older kids have stuff to do too. In fact, the grown ups may find the exhibits so interesting that they are disappointed to have to rush through because of the waning patience of their children which is why…
  8. Museums make great dates. If a date at a museum is good enough for the Obamas, it should be good enough for you. Plus unlike going to dinner or a show which cost money themselves in addition to the cost of a babysitter, using your museum membership keeps the cost of a date low (particularly if you are lucky enough to have local family who are willing to provide free babysitting, which sadly I do not).
  9. Feel like a rock star. Members get invited to a variety of exclusive events including members only nights when they can see exhibits before the general public. At minimum you get to parade around with a special member sticker or wristband.
  10. Museums are educational. Little kids may think they are just playing, but they are learning. By seeing how shadows change in different lights, looking at dinosaur bones, watching baby chicks hatching, or pretending to land a spaceship kids are being exposed to a variety of their experiences which is expanding their minds even without sitting and listening to the detailed explanations. And, of course, the adults are learning things too. What a gift that is!

BONUS: Free parking. I can’t include this in the official list since few museums, at least in Chicago, offer this, but the Museum of Science and Industry, which was already a family favorite, recently added free parking to it’s household membership level. They used to offer a discount, but free is better.


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