Places to Go - The Best Museum Membership EVER

Over the years, we've purchased various museum memberships, most of which have been relatively good investments. But our Maryland Science Center membership has paid for itself at least 5x over. First of all, we love the MD Science Center (click here to read our review) and we try to make it there a few times a year. But, most importantly, the membership grants free access to all ASTC (Association of Science-Technology Centers) museums, of which there are HUNDREDS in the US alone (click here to see the full list). So whenever we plan a road trip or a vacation, I'll search the list for places to stretch our legs (and brains) for a few hours.

When we drive to Chicago, we often stop at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Center (the Children's museum is also included in the ASTC) and/or The Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland (the Cleveland Museum of Natural History is also free for ASTC members). Once we arrive in Chicago, six museums are now free to us (just in the city center alone). Admission at several of these museums is somewhat costly (for example, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry now costs $27 for an adult ticket and $18 for a child - that's over $100 for our whole family to spend one day at the museum). Luckily, a membership to MD Science Center only costs $150 for a family of five ($125 for a family of four). If you travel, this is the deal of a lifetime (sorry, this post is starting to sound really cheesy).

This summer, we decided to check out two new ASTC museums. On our way to Indianapolis, we stopped at the COSI Center in Columbus, OH (which was HUGE). And on our way to Smith Mountain Lake, we spent a few wonderful hours at Charleston, WV's Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences. Plus, every summer we frequent the Science Museum of VA while visiting Dan's parent's in Richmond. Posted below are some of the highlights.


COSI CENTER (Columbus, OH)
- This place was HUGE (Parents Magazine rates it as one of the "10 Best Science Centers", along with the MD Science Center). Upon arrival, a "petting zoo" of construction vehicles amused T to no end (there's nothing like "driving" a digger after a seven hour car ride). Once inside, the water exhibit rivaled anything that we've seen at Disney (with dark scenic lighting, eerie music, and huge Greek gods looming overhead). In the outdoor courtyard we used a lever to lift an old car. We also played with lasers, hung out in a (small) submarine, and sat on an astronaut's toilet. All before we hit up the kids' room. On the downside, many of the exhibits seemed (in my eyes) a little more flashy than educational, but whatever, we had fun.


Our favorite exhibit in the COSI center was, by far, "Progress." You begin by walking down a street set in the late 1800s. The kids checked out a carriage and the old post office, which was fun, but not that different from other "old days" streets we've toured before. BUT THEN, the next part of the exhibit shows the same street in 1962, complete with Spam window displays and an appliance store full of old tvs. My kids loved it. You can also hula hoop and/or "record" a TV broadcast.


THE CLAY CENTER (Charleston, WV)
- Compared to Columbus's COSI Center, the Clay Center was much smaller in scale. But, in a way, I liked this better - the Clay Center was not quite as overwhelming and the experiments all did a wonderful job demonstrating key concepts without being too flashy. T and P had a great time manning the controls of a space shuttle, whereas F liked figuring out how to program a fountain. Plus, we all couldn't stop playing a Hollywood Squares interactive game about the human body (Funny Bone is pictured above) and learning how lengthy our large intestine really is (seriously, it goes forever). Plus the water area had all these funny props (old boots, a colander, etc.) for making fountains.


- This visit we only stayed for about an hour and a half, so we didn't have time to check out several of the exhibits. But we did learn how the museum teaches rats to play basketball (pretty cool). We also liked exploring our fitness levels in the museum's new Boost exhibit (where you can "test" your flexibility, memory, and strength). And, the kids always enjoy checking out the Imagination Playground Set and the giant bubble maker.

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