There are four networks of children’s museums in the U.S.:
(If there’s another that I missed, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Belonging to a network means you can go for free or reduced entry to any other museum in the network. We’ve saved many hundreds of dollars by joining. Typically, the cost of joining one of the networks is $20 or so in addition to the cost of an annual membership at one of the museums in the network.
We frequently go to children’s museums when the weather is wet or cold, and it can be a great way to have a playdate without having to mess up the house. And then when taking road trips to the grandparents, we will look for a museum on the way that is in one of the networks, and we go for free.
ASTC (pronounced “Aztec”) is the Association of Science-Technology Centers. The ASTC Passport Program is similar to the ACM one, though the focus is on children’s science museums. Their list of 364 participating museums is in a PDF, current as of 2017
The NARM (North American Reciprocal Museum) Association is another network, much larger than the other 2, with 896 participating museums. NARM includes many historical sites and other kinds of places beyond the STEM-focus of ASTC. Use the NARM interactive map to find museums near you, or look at their PDF, current as of 2017.
ROAM (Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums) is the newest museum network and has about 330 participating museums, listed on their website. Most of the museums in the ROAM network are fine arts museums, but the list is eclectic and also includes arboretums as well as history and cultural centers.
Many museums belong to more than one network, so by joining a museum you may gain access to over a thousand other museums around the country.
Look at these four networks for a children’s museum near you and see if there are other museums in the same network you are likely to visit, e.g. near a relative’s home. You may be surprised at how many children’s museums are out there. Many have limited marketing budgets and don’t advertise much.
Many public libraries now offer museum passes available to be checked out. You often have to reserve them in advance. If there is a museum you have been considering taking the kids to, but have been reluctant because of the price, ask at your local library for a pass.