The Virginia Museum of Natural History
Martinsville: (540) 666-8600
Charlottesville: (434) 982-4605
Blacksburg: (540) 231-3001

The Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) has centers in Martinsville, Blacksburg, and Charlottesville. The headquarters in Martinsville has several exhibits running concurrently-call ahead to find out what is available. The Blacksburg and Charlottesville locations are smaller, but they offer a wide variety of programs for all ages, including exhibits, field trips, lectures and other activities.

If you want to hear about whatís going on at the site nearest you, call them and ask to be put on the mailing list. VMNH produces a statewide quarterly newsletter, called "Virginia, Naturally!". It describes the many activities at each museum location. Another good source of information is the Internet. Each VMNH location has its own website, where they post up-to-date schedules and other current news.

Their addresses are:
UVa (Charlottesville): (now closed)
Virginia Tech (Blacksburg): http://www.vtmnh.vt.edu/
Martinsville VMNH: http://www.vmnh.net

Admission to all three locations is free. Our local branch has moved at least three times since we joined but they are now in their "new, spacious and permanent" quarters with space for exhibits, classes, and storage all in the same building. I said "since we joined." You may wonder why anyone would pay to join a museum that offers free admission. I have to ask why anyone would NOT join.

Most of all, I like the reciprocal admission card. Itís from the Association of Science-Technology Centers Inc. (ASTC) and there are currently 211 museums listed. An annual family membership at the VMNH costs only $35.00, and it qualifies us for the ASTC card. Thatís about half what annual memberships cost at many other museums. Since our learning is interest driven and we love fieldtrips, having free admission to so many museums, worldwide, makes me feel like I can afford extras, like the IMAX movie that most of the science museums offer.

The list of ASTC museums is valuable all by itself. It lists by state which museums are available to us for free. Using the list, we have tried out museums we had never heard of, and which turned out to be fantastic. Whenever we are planning a trip, I consult the list. I canít imagine life without it!

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be at a gathering of homeschoolers from many other states on the east coast, and we got into comparing museum memberships. I was bragging about the VMNH and pulled out the reciprocal listing I happen to always carry with me. No one could beat it. VMNH came out on top, not only for the price, but also for having the list. People were saying "Wow, look at how well done this list is...I wish ours was this easy to read!"

If we take two trips to the Science Museum in Richmond, weíve paid for the VMNH /ASTC card. Other museums we have explored (and can highly recommend) using the reciprocal benefit include: Nauticus (Norfolk), Virginia Living Museum (Newport News), The Franklin Institute of Science (Philadelphia), Please Touch Museum (Philadelphia), Maryland Science Center (Baltimore), The Health Adventure (Asheville, NC), Virginia Discovery Museum (Charlottesville) and of course, the Science Museum of Virginia (Richmond). We will be exploring Florida soon, and the current listing has 12 museums available to us at no charge.

As if thatís not enough, VMNH offers even more benefits. They offer over 25 great Science Kits which can be reduced to a one week rental of just $8.00 for those who learn at home. Many have cool hands-on experiments, great books, fun posters, etc. and you can tailor them to your needs. Topics include: Va. Indians, Solar Energy, Dinosaurs, Snakes of Va., Caves, Bats, Electric Circuitry, The Amazing Human Eye, Rocks and Minerals of Va., and our favorite, Long Live The Bay. Just ignore the age/grade recommendations and have fun. The staff is helpful and will allow you to preview a kit at their office if you are unsure of what you want. Ask for the KITS catalogue for a summary of each kit. If your kids want to write up reports of what they learned with the kits, the staff is delighted to read a copy of the report and provide feedback.

Thereís more - included with your membership is a subscription to the quarterly journal, Virginia Explorer. It is well written with interesting topics of local interest (like the Shenandoah Valley or the James River) and it has great photographs. I only wish is was a monthly.

And last, but not least, membership to VMNH puts you on a mailing list for the newsletter that announces statewide activities (fossil hunting, insect study, etc.) as well as Science Saturday programs. As these programs are popular and class size is limited, it is nice to be able to read about these things early, and register before the masses. Likewise the week-long Summer Science Explorers Camps are great. If finances are limited, scholarships are liberally available; just indicate a willingness to pay something.

So, why not join?

QUESTIONS...COMMENTS...IDEAS...
Mary Wilson...
Email: mary@trailz.org

Click here for NatureNet Virginia
The on-line service of the Virginia Museum of Natural History

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