Our Geeky Weakness: State Museums

GeekMom Travel
At the State Museum of Natural History in Lincoln, Nebraska (on the campus of University of Nebraska), summer 2009. I love learning about states’ histories. I’ve dragged my sons to the state museums of every state we’ve lived in since they’ve been born. They are learning to appreciate what each of their homes have had to offer. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

As a military family, we really geek out over learning as much as possible about whatever community the Air Force sends us to. One way we can do that is by trying to get to our state’s museum. It’s a treasure of information that helps define each state, and gives lasting memories to the kids. Not to mention education!

Does my state have a museum?

While I didn’t sit down and Google “Alabama State Museum“, “Alaska State Museum“, “Arizona State Museum“, etc., in alphabetical order, a simple Google search for “visit a state museum” yielded hits for many state museums on the first 3 pages. I’ll predict that each state has a facility somewhere that fulfills its preservation and education mission.

I don’t live near my state’s capital.  Do I have to trek all the way out to my state’s capital city to visit the state museum?

Not necessarily.  This website seems to be a great tool listing numerous museums — public and private — in each of the 50 states.  While many states’ museums are in their capital cities, I noticed some states have state natural history and political history museums at their state universities, which might be in a city other than the state capital.

I noticed that Texas has several state history museums not only in Austin, but also in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.

My oldest son and I trekked three hours each way to visit Ashfall Fossil Beds near Royal, Nebraska, where the state hosts a working archeological site as a museum.

Do I need to pay admission to visit state museums? After all, I am a taxpayer!

It depends on the state. It depends on each museum’s funding situation. Most of what I saw didn’t exceed $10 per adult.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the most preschooler-friendly state museum I have ever visited. It’s spacious, relevant, hands-on, multi-disciplinary and has FREE ADMISSION! This was from January 2007. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

In North Carolina, many of their museums are admission-free, but donations are always welcome.

The Museum of Florida History did not charge admission.

Morrill Hall, Nebraska’s State Museum of Natural History, did charge a modest admission. I really liked their single-fee for families (two adults and all their children).

Some states that do charge admission might have a provision to offer free admission once a week, or once a month.

My kids are pretty young.  Will they enjoy visiting a state museum?

Again, it depends on the state. The North Carolina Natural History museum had a fabulous preschool program, but Morrill Hall in Nebraska seemed to work best for children who know how to read. Museum websites will provide more insight.

Enjoy a sampling of three of the museums my family has visited, in three different states!

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, North Carolina

Of the three main capital-city museums my family has visited, this one was by far the most preschooler-friendly. Numerous hands-on activities, plenty of rotating exhibits to keep the regular visitors coming back, open seven days a week, gracious hours and FREE ADMISSION!

This museum is very big, and can easily be an all-day activity. My sons often got wrapped up in the more interactive-exhibits. There is an education room that had lots of dress up and hands-on activities.

Morrill Hall, the State Museum of Natural History, Lincoln, Nebraska

Morrill Hall’s “Elephant Room” is impressive for kids of all ages, but there’s not a lot of interactive exhibits for younger children. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

Morrill Hall is on the campus of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and is literally across the street from the university’s Memorial Stadium. There is a modest admission, and much of this museum is focused on the archeological and physical histories of the state. Morrill Hall has a very impressive room called the “Elephant Room” which features one of the largest full mammoth skeletons in existence; all of the skeletons in the room were found in western Nebraska.

Morrill Hall is also home to the Mueller Planetarium, which features numerous shows throughout the week.  But don’t try to visit on Nebraska football Saturdays!  They don’t operate on game days.

Museum of Florida History and Florida Historic Capitol Museum, Tallahassee, Florida

This past summer my family visited the Museum of Florida History. This was a wonderful museum that celebrates numerous facets of Florida’s heritage. This upcoming year is particularly special at the museum because Florida is going to be celebrating the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de Leon’s April 1513 landing between St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach, Florida!

Learn more about Florida’s 500th Anniversary here.

The kids played in a mock-up of the ships built during the 1500s, learning through hands-on exhibits how the sailors navigated, how they kept the sails working, and what they ate.

My sons loved this knot-tying display at the Museum of Florida History. It was on the mock-Spanish exploration ship. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

This museum has a number of young-child-friendly exhibits, but not as many as what we had experienced in North Carolina.

The Florida Historic Capitol Museum features Florida civics, which was definitely designed for older kids. They cover all three branches of the Florida legislature, and educates guests about some of the landmark issues in Florida, to include the infamous “hanging chad” of the 2000 Election.

Both of these museums are located very close to the state’s government center. Visitors can also see the current State Capitol building, as well as the Florida Supreme Court. If you get your timing right, you might even be able to see some state government in action!

If you’re looking for something for your elementary-school aged children to do, look no further than your state’s museums! They’re often inexpensive, and are chock-full of educational goodness for your geeklings!

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekMom and GeekDad on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!