Houston

Memberships & Reciprocity

Memberships
Houston Memberships and Reciprocity

A great way to save money throughout the year is with a membership to your favorite Museum, Zoo, or Aquarium.  Not only is your admission covered for the entire year ~ most memberships entitle your family to discounts on gift shop merchandise, parking, special events, classes, lectures, parties, and more.  Some venues even offer “members-only” hours where you are allowed to beat the crowds (and heat!) with early admission and special previews of exhibits.   If you regularly visit your favorite places with family and friends ~ consider upgrading your membership to one that allows you to bring in extra people.  Often, for a minimal extra cost, you can save significantly over purchasing extra admission for additional visitors.

Reciprocity

If your family regularly travels, be sure to check out the reciprocity agreements that Museums & Zoos/Aquariums share with each other across the country.  Even within the state, you can save big on your “day trip” adventures.  Keep in mind that there are some restrictions as to residency and local venues.  Generally, museums in the same city (or even within 90 miles) will not honor reciprocity agreements.  Be sure to read each museum’s membership page carefully to determine the right fit for your family.   Here are two major organizations that offer reciprocity within their museums/zoos/aquariums and a quick list of their local attractions. (info accurate as of August 2014)

Association of Science-Technology Centers

Children’s Museum of Houston
The Health Museum

Association of Zoos & Aquariums

Houston Zoo

Even if a museum/zoo is a member of the organization ~ they may not honor reciprocity agreements or may only offer discounted admission.  Additionally, the out-of-town attraction may have limits to the number of admissions they allow.  For example, if you have a “Supporting” membership to the Houston Zoo that allows you to bring in 10 people, the Dallas Zoo may only allow you to purchase 4 discounted tickets.   When visiting out-of-town attractions, be sure to inquire as to how they handle reciprocity memberships.

Presidential Museums

Texas is home to three Presidential Libraries and Museums: LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, George Bush Presidential Library & Museum on the Texas A&M Campus in College Station, and George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum on the SMU Campus in Dallas.  A membership to any of these museums grants you admission to all 15 Presidential Libraries across the United States.   (Please note: the LBJ Presidential Library is completely separate from the LBJ Ranch.)

Texas State Parks Pass

The Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife cares for nearly 100 State Parks & Historic Sites. Purchasing a Texas State Parks Pass gives you and everyone in your (non-commercial) vehicle free admission to every one of them.  You also receive discounts on camping fees, park store rental & retail items, special programs, and events.  There are many parks within a 2 hour drive of Houston making a pass a great investment.

 Be sure to bring proper/current identification with you.  Most organizations require a valid ID for admission.  Do not loan your membership card to someone other than the named members.  This can result in canceling of membership.  While we all appreciate a good deal, please remember that these funds go to support the various venues and they rely on this revenue to maintain their exhibits, animals, & staff.  

Categories: Bryan / College Station, Day Trips, Houston, Museums, State Parks | Leave a comment

Children’s Express Theater Homeschool Performance

Children's Express Theater Homeschool DiscountExpress Children’s Theatre has been entertaining, educating and inspiring young audiences throughout Texas since 1991.  They offer multicultural theatre performances created specifically for children and their families.

Houston Field Trips has been chatting with their Marketing Team Leader, Charita, the past few weeks.  I inquired about how they handle registrations for homeschool families.  Up until this point, to receive a group discount ~ home educators had to gather a fairly large group together and prepay for the entire performance OR pay the list prices at open performances.

I’m excited to announce that they have opened a performance date specifically for home educators, extending the discounted group rate, while allowing individual family registrations!

Three Little Pigs
Tuesday May 6, 2014
10:00am
Express Theatre

For reservations All homeschool families should contact Cherita at the box-office.  Weekdays. 713-682-5044.  Payments may be made by phone with a credit/debit card or in-person at Express Theatre.  The tickets will be $6.00/person for any pre-paid tickets.  This is a discount of $2/per ticket.

Three Little Pigs Synopsis: A bilingual (English/Spanish) show about three brothers…one a prankster, one a dreamer, and the last an intellectual. They are Pig Scouts. There Scout Master is none other than The Big Bad Wolf himself. With his guidance, the Pig Scouts will set out to earn their merit badges. Can Scout Master Wolf lead this squad without losing his temper? This musical adaptation is a lesson on achieving goals through cooperation. It also teaches responsibility and the importance of following instructions.

This event is not posted to their website.  Please share this blog post with your home educating friends, post to Facebook, & within homeschooling groups.  If this event is well attended, home educators will likely see more opportunities provided!

Categories: $5.01-$10, Announcements, Houston, May, Theater | 1 Comment

InterActive Theater

We attended our first performance by InterActive Theater Company this morning.  We decided to take advantage of Homeschool Happenings ~ discounted performances for Homeschool families.  Tickets were $6/per person.

We registered online and within 24 hours received an e-mail confirmation.  This morning we were greeted at the entrance by the box office manager (who also happened to be in the cast) and paid for our tickets.  We headed upstairs and found a seat.  One of the cast members gave an informative talk about how the performances run.  The cast encourages audience participation during the entire performance.  Sometimes via all responding, pointing to a certain audience member and asking for their response, or inviting various audience members onstage to take part in the show.  Today’s performance was “Fantastic Four Founding Fathers”.  In sixty minutes they covered the birth of our nation and gave a quick introduction to “key players” in the colonization, American Revolution, and early government.  A mixture of slapstick, puns, literary & historical reference, and general zaniness ~ we spent the entire time laughing.  After, the cast took questions from the audience.

We are definitely looking forward to their next performance and would recommend InterActive Theater to our friends.

Our trip to Interactive Theater Company's Homeschool Happenings. Learn more at HoustonFieldTrips.com

Recommended ages:  All ages.  Family friendly.  Many families had infants/toddlers.  Stage is on the second floor and there is an elevator available for wheelchair & stroller access.

Anything we wish was different?  One of the actors had a heavy accent that could sometimes be difficult to understand if he wasn’t directly facing the audience or he was speaking quickly.  Also, perhaps we’re a little spoiled by A.D. Players, but we missed having the opportunity to take pictures with the cast after the performance.  It’s also nice to have a Playbill &/or cast photo for our scrapbook.  However, none of these recommendations would keep us from attending in the future.  Updated: We contacted the Theater and were told that taking pictures during the performance is OK. 

How do I set up a trip?  Homeschool Happening rates are already discounted from standard admission, so no need to organize a group (but you’re more than welcome to).  Reserve your tickets via the website and pay at the door.  They accept cash & credit cards.

A note about parking.  Homeschool performances are held at the Church of Christ at 1548 Heights Boulevard.  I highly suggest you use the directions posted to the website as we heard from others and experienced ourselves that smartphone mapping programs do not give accurate directions.  The parking spaces are very close together ~ aim for the middle!  Parking is free.

What else is there to do nearby?  You’re only 2 miles North of the Art Car Museum, which is also on Heights Boulevard (just South of I-10).

Categories: $5.01-$10, Field Trips, Houston, Theater | 1 Comment

A.D. Players ~ Children’s Theater

We’ve been attending the Children’s Theater performances at A.D. Players for a little over a year now.  Our family has enjoyed plays based on books like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Bunnicula as well as adaptations of fairy tales like Cinderella and Thumbelina.  Lasting approximately an hour, these are the perfect introduction to theater for kids of all ages.

After the show, the cast remains on stage to answer questions from the audience about everything from acting and props to decisions about differences from the books.  While videography and photography are prohibited during the performance, the actors will line up after the performance and pose for pictures with your children/family.  The cast also gladly autographs a cast photo (purchased for $1) or your program.  We have found all cast members to be kind, engaging, and deeply interested in the children’s questions and comments.

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Recommended ages:  All ages.  We’ve attended with infants through high school with all having a wonderful time.  On occasion the length of a show may prove to be too much for some toddlers.

Anything we wish was different?  Because they do not sell concessions during the day time shows, it would be nice if they would allow snacks in the theater.  This would be especially helpful to families with small children.  Their current policy is bottled water only.

How do I set up a trip?  The shows are open to the public.  Individual tickets are $12/each and can be purchased online or by phone.  Group rates are available for $6/each with a minimum of 15 attendees.  A 25% deposit is required and final payment is due 2 weeks before the show.

A note about parking.  The “Three Maps to Bethlehem” production was held this year at the St. Luke’s Rotunda.   However, unlike years past, most shows are now at the Mainstage Theater.  There isn’t a lot of parking, so carpooling is highly recommended if feasible.  Parking is free.

What else is there to do nearby?  The Mainstage theater is located less than 5 miles (approx 10min drive) from Hermann Park and the Museum District.  If you want spend the whole day out, consider an afternoon at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston Zoo, or any of the sights Hermann Park offers.

“The Jungle Book” will be on stage from April 16th – May 4th.  Mowgli has been raised and protected by the Seeonee wolf pack his entire life, but his mortal enemy, the vicious tiger Shere Khan, has a plan to scatter the pack. It will take all the wisdom Mowgli has learned from his friends Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther to survive the tiger’s vengeful scheme. This thrilling adventure is about growing up and the strength of true friendship.

For those on a strict budget, or to just enjoy the performance again: “The Jungle Book” will also be at Miller Outdoor Theatre on May 30th at 11am.  All Miller Outdoor Theatre performances are free.

Categories: $10.01-$15, $5.01-$10, Elementary, Field Trips, High School, Houston, Middle School, Toddlers / Preschool | 4 Comments

Bear Creek Park Zoo

IMG_1043For families living on the West Side of Houston (areas like Spring Branch, Memorial, Copperfield, Cypress, Katy, & Jersey Village) ~ this is quite the treasure.  In the middle of Bear Creek Pioneers Park is a small wildlife habitat and aviary containing rescued and rehabilitating animals.  Many have been injured and are not capable of surviving in the wild.   Locals just call it “Bear Creek Park Zoo”.

While not as expansive as the Houston Zoo located in Hermann Park, we thoroughly enjoy a closer view, slower pace, and the fact that it’s FREE.   The zoo is situated along War Memorial Drive on the end closest to Eldgridge.  Visitors find a walking, stroller, and wheelchair friendly path leading to an aviary and a string of fenced areas.

The aviary contains various birds like owls, macaws, peafowl, doves, pigeons, and parrots.  If you are fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate!) you’ll be able to witness the aviary keepers feeding the birds of prey.  It’s an interesting opportunity to witness how these birds dismember rodents to eat.  Our children enjoy talking to the macaw that often mimics their words.  It’s a terrific opportunity to listen to the various calls each bird makes.

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For about 1/3 of a mile, you’ll find a row of fenced enclosures.  We enjoy watching bison, pot-bellied pigs, goats, emus, donkeys, sheep, and deer.  Over several of the enclosures are signs giving details of the history of the animal, feeding preferences, and scientific facts.  Built into the fences are “camera ports” where you can take up-close pictures of the animals.  Like the larger zoos ~ the animals are more likely to be active on days where the temperature is moderate.

Recommended ages:  All.  This is the perfect visit for all ages.  Those with small children will enjoy the fact that they can get a closer view than at larger zoos.

How do I set up a trip?  The zoo is FREE and open to the public 7 days a week from 7am to 10pm.  Our Cub Scout Den enjoyed a specific program regarding the aviary.  E-mail the park to coordinate staff directed events.

A note about parking.  There is plenty of parking all along the zoo.  Feel free to start at any point and meander around.

What else is there to do nearby?  Explore Bear Creek Pioneers Park!  Really, the park offers so much that it’s easy to make an entire day of it.  Playgrounds, War Memorial, Tennis Courts, Walking Trails, and more.

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Categories: City Parks, Day Trips, Elementary, Free, High School, Houston, Middle School, Toddlers / Preschool | Leave a comment

Art Car Museum

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As an informal gathering of a few homeschool families, we visited the Art Car Museum.

Probably the first misconception of this museum is that it is full of numerous art cars as seen in the annual parade.  It’s a small museum and there is only room for 3 cars indoors in addition to the car out front.  The gallery changes quarterly and exhibits vary based on the artist(s) featured.

Once a year they hold an open call accepting submissions from any artist who wishes to have a piece exhibited.  Our visit was during 2012 for the Eighth Annual Open Call Exhibition: God.

God is Everywhere(The Devil's In The Details)by Mark Benham

God is Everywhere
(The Devil’s In The Details)
by Mark Benham

Recommended ages: While there is nothing precluding younger children ~ this is a museum designed for looking only.  It’s not a huge museum, so families might find this an appropriate venue to teach their children “look but don’t touch”.

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Mother God
by Joyce Matula Welch

Anything we wish was different?  Not that we experienced.

How do I set up a trip?  The Art Car Museum is free and open to the public Wednesday through Sunday 11am-6pm.  For groups, they ask that you call ahead to let them know.

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A note about parking.  Parking is free at the museum.  The museum has a gated area with parking for a few cars and there are 4 parallel spots just North of the museum on Heights Boulevard.

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“Earth, Wind and Fire… and Water”
by Jefferson Davis High School
under the direction of Rebecca Bass

What else is there to do nearby?  The Museum is just south of I-10 and West of 45.  Depending on which way you’re headed afterward, a visit to the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center wouldn’t be too far away and would give the kids a chance to run, stretch, and enjoy their “outdoor” voices.

Categories: Elementary, Free, High School, Houston, Middle School | 7 Comments

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

This day was supposed to be a relatively informal gathering of families from our homeschool group.  However, torrential rains on Sunday and the prediction of more on Monday had my phone buzzing with texts from families canceling.  After the remaining family dropped out, I sat down with the kids and explained the situation and asked if they still wanted to go.  The answer was a resounding “Yes”.  So in addition to our normal preparations of lunches & water bottles, we packed TWO changes of clothes for each, several beach towels, and double checked that the rain ponchos were still in the Suburban.

Nestled just inside West Loop 610 on Woodway Drive, the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is an oasis in an area filled with high-rises, shopping, and fast paced life.  It turned out to be a blessed experience.  First, it didn’t rain. At. All. The entire time we were there.  Second, it appeared that the rain had scared everyone off.  With the exception of a few Tyke Hike participants, we had the place to ourselves.

We started in the Discovery Room which provides interactive and observational opportunities for visitors of all ages.  There are aquatic tanks at various levels and little steps to higher exhibits (great for those toddlers in the “me do it” phase), lift the flap quizes, ecosystems, skeletal remains, and the cross section of a 100-year-old tree.  Particularly engaging was the wall dedicated to the “Life and Work of Trees” explaining how they gather water, photosynthesis, protection and their service to woodland creatures.  They also had a library section.  Why read about it when you can go outside & live it?  The kids were ready to hike!

The woman at the information desk shared helpful suggestions on trails for first time visitors.  We started on the Inner Loop, but soon ventured to the South Meadow Trail and the R.A. Vines Trail.  Walking surfaces consisted of mostly gravel or foot bridges.  There were several look-out decks built along the marshy areas to allow a close-up look at the habitat.  There were a few signs labeling some plant life, but those wishing to beef up their botany should bring a field guide.

We took a break for lunch.  There were plenty of benches available, unfortunately the recent rains left everything saturated.  We opted for lowering the back seat in the Suburban & camping out there.  Even in the parking lot we watched squirrels playing, listened to birds sing, and saw the occasional dragon fly.   While not listed on the map, the woman at the information desk mentioned a playground and the kids were ready to check it out.

While not massive, the play area offered a variety of climbing, crawling, and jumping options.  There was a rope bridge ~ just high enough to scrape a knee when falling off but nothing too perilous, a crow’s nest lookout, tube to crawl through, and several balance beams.  This is where preparing allows you to “Say Yes” to fun adventures.  We watched as other kids were told by their parents that they could not fully explore enjoy this area because it was wet and muddy.  First, isn’t that the point?  Wet & Muddy are fun!  But given that perhaps they had somewhere else to go ~ towels, a package of baby wipes, and a change of clothes would have allowed the parents to embrace the opportunity to stomp in the puddles.

Recommended ages: This adventure is appropriate for all ages and you can even bring the family dog.  Families with strollers or wheelchairs can easily navigate several of the trails though the Discovery Room might prove a bit tight on a busy day.  This is nature.  Talk with children about not “collecting” souvenirs and keep an eye on adventurous ones who might be tempted to wander off trail or test the water.

Anything we wish was different?  Not that we experienced.

How do I set up a trip?  The Arboretum is free and open to the public 7 days a week, 7am to dusk.  I would recommend checking the schedule if you wish to include the Discovery Room as part of your visit.  It is often booked for classes and guided tours.  We haven’t utilized any of their offerings, but you can find out more about organized group visits by clicking the “Learn” tab from the main menu.

A note about parking.  Parking is free at the Arboretum.

What else is there to do nearby?  Just East of the Arboretum, Woodway merges into Memorial Drive and immediately thereafter is the exit for Memorial Park.

Categories: Elementary, Field Trips, Free, High School, Houston, Middle School, Toddlers / Preschool | 4 Comments

Cockrell Butterfly Center

We have visited the Houston Museum of Natural Science on many occasions, both for organized field trips and casual family visits.  Recently we visited the Cockrell Butterfly Center for the first time with our Homeschool Group.

The center is divided into two parts: The Brown Hall of Entomology and the Rain Forest Conservatory spread over three stories.  While not forced, there is a general flow to the exploration.  (Don’t worry, if you want to back track or need to make a quick trip to the restroom, there are several short cuts.)  Visitors enter on the main museum level.  Be sure to bring your cameras as there are numerous photographic opportunities.

We were immediately encouraged to go upstairs to the “Amazing World of Arthropods”.  Our group spent over an hour in this highly interactive area.  Not only does it showcase live creatures (hissing cockroaches anyone?), there are also video presentations, a quiz-like game for multiple players, lift-the-flap discovery boards, and a Chrysalis Corner where we watched new butterflies hatch.  One of my favorite parts were the giants casts made so that we could see what an ant’s tunnel system looks like.

After a bit, we entered the rain forest section.  We were absolutely blown away by the number of butterflies about.  We had to be incredibly conscious of the fact that they would land on the ground where we were walking.  Almost immediately they began to rest on any child who stood still for a few moments.  (Not every child thought this was fantastic and one became quite upset.)  The walkway winds around and downward through the habitat allowing plenty of opportunity for kids of all heights and interests to have a convenient view of a variety of plants and butterflies.

As we made our way to the main level, we were thrilled when an employee took the time to show the kids where butterflies had laid their eggs on various leaves.  She even gently pulled some higher leaves within view so that we could see the caterpillars on the back.

Again the walkway descended and we made our way past a fabulous waterfall.  (See featured image at very top)  After spending another hour, we passed through the main rain forest exit leading directly into “Entomologist’s Lab.”

We were greeted by microscopes, books, and trays of bugs to examine.  There were also several exhibits on how various cultures make meals from an array of insects.  Again, several video screens offer an in-depth look into topics such as bee keeping while interactive games allowed our children to help the spider hunt down their meal of flies.

Visitors are then directed back up to the main level for the “Land of Beeyond”.  Lined with several benches, this is a great spot for Dad & Mom to relax while kids continue to explore.  They can pretend they are in a giant bee hive, sort wooden shapes into various plant structures, or sit and read.

Recommended ages: Any.  Those who normally have toddlers in strollers might consider parking them for this adventure.  While there are elevators & ramps in most areas ~ you’ll find it cumbersome to explore in this fashion.  We were pleased with how the exhibits had something for all ages and heights.

Anything we wish was different? We’ve had friends who have gone in the past who had the opportunity for more interaction with the bugs and even a green iguana.  Perhaps we missed it or they weren’t doing it on this particular day, but it would have been nice to have posted times for special animal showings.  It would have been great if the reading nook had contained books about bugs.  Most of them were just “generic early readers”.  It was definitely a missed opportunity.

How do I set up a trip?  For an individual family visit, tickets can be purchased online or at the door.  On this visit we booked via Field Trips and received the school group rate of $2.50 per person.  We have found HMNS to be receptive to homeschoolers, incredibly flexible, and excellent at communicating regarding what to expect.

A note about parking.  There is a parking garage adjacent to the museum for $10.  Those on school field trips receive a discounted rate of $6 (payable inside at the box office).  There is a great deal of free parking around the museum.  These spots have a 3 hour maximum.  Within a very short walk, there is free parking at the Houston Garden Center.  This also has a 3 hour maximum.  However, when it’s not busy (like during the school year) they generally don’t enforce it.  You’ll know they’re tracking if they chalk your tire.  😉

What else is there to do nearby?  For additional admission costs, you can explore HMNS’s Permanent Exhibits, Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, Burke Planetarium, or Special Exhibits.  HMNS is directly across from Hermann Park.  There are numerous places to spread out & picnic as well as playgrounds and walking paths.  We have often “made a day of it” and visited Houston Garden Center, Japanese Gardens, or the Reflection Pool.  Each of these are free admission and within walking distance.

Categories: $5.00 or less, $5.01-$10, Elementary, Field Trips, High School, Houston, Middle School, Toddlers / Preschool | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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