Are the best things in life free or do you get what you pay for? I think this selection of free museum days in San Antonio is probably a mix of the two. Would a visit to the missions be dramatically better if the National Park Service charged a fee for the visit? Probably not–or at least not worth the price.
Yet I think a case could be made that a visit to the Alamo would be much more informative if an admission fee was charged. If nothing else, the free days at the museums that otherwise charge an admissions fee allows you to visit and decide it you think it would be worth it return and pay the regular price.
1. The Alamo
Yes, the Alamo is free. Everyday, all day. Whenever the homeschooling day just isn’t working, grab the kids and head down for the Alamo for a free field trip. Unfortunately, the Alamo doesn’t provide any walking tours but they do provide history talks every half hour. You can also rent an audio tour although that can add up quickly if your bring the family and kind of undermines the “free” aspect of visiting. There is a theater in the long barracks that shows a 17 minute film about the Alamo. I suggest stopping by your local library and reading up on the Alamo before you actually visit.
2. The Missions
The four Spanish Missions, collectively referred to as “the Missions,” are a great reminder religious roots other than the Pilgrims run deep in the United States. All of the missions were built before the American Revolution with Mission Espada being founded in 1690. All of the missions offer free tours, some depend on staff availability. They also offer cell phone audio tours. The visitors’ center is located at Mission San Jose, so you should probably allow for extra time for your visit there compared to the other missions. The National Park Service offers curriculum materials online designed to meet 4th and 7th grade TEKS standards. Of course, there are all sorts of educational possibilities ranging from comparing English to Spanish settlements to treatment of Native American Indians to architecture and community planning.
There is an eight mile hike and bike trail that connects all of the missions. So if you need a destination that offers educational opportunities as well as physical activity to keep kids focused during the educational opportunities, the Missions are a great choice.
3. McNay Art Museum
The McNay Art Museum is free on Thursday nights and the first Sunday of the month. On the first Sunday and third Sunday (not free) you can check out a family gallery kit to use to explore the galleries. The museum offers an Acoustaguide Cell Phone Tour for free with specific family friendly stops. Official docent student tours are free as well. There are five tracts to select from and must be scheduled at least two weeks in advanced. (Time out for my pet peeve: if you sign up for a tour–show up! If homeschoolers don’t show up for tours, they may just stop offering them to homeschoolers.) You can find online lesson plans at the Teacher Resource Center along with programs for educators. The grounds are also a wonderful place for picnicking.
4. San Antonio Museum of Art
San Antonio Museum of Art is free to the public every Tuesday from 4 pm to 9 pm. There is also a free tour starting at 4:30 pm that covers the museum highlights. Children ages 12 and up can participate in the sketching sessions that start at 6:00 pm. Attendance is limited to 20 and they encourage you to bring your own sketchpads and pencils. You can download teacher guides for “Asian Art in Focus” and “Retratos: 2000 Years of Latin American Portraits: from the museum website. Going on a free Tuesday night probably isn’t as much fun for younger kids as the museum’s First Sunday programs but it may be a good way to serve up art appreciation in smaller bites–you can leave after 30 minutes and not feel guilty about the admission cost.
5. The Witte Museum
The Witte has free admissions on Tuesdays from 3 pm until 8 pm.While the museum doesn’t offer any free tours, with places like the H-E-Be Science Treehouse, you probably won’t miss it. You shouldn’t have to worry about keeping kids quiet or focused during your visit through the Treehouse. Unfortunately, there aren’t any lesson plans available on-line, but with the vast number of hands on activities, you’ll probably be able to create your own unique lesson plan just based on the questions your kids ask.The Witte is a great a place to go without a plan, the perfect solution for a less than successful homeschooling day.
6. San Antonio Children’s Museum
The San Antonio Children’s Museum is free to children age 12 and under on the Third Thursday of the month from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Unfortunately, adults still have to pay the $7.00 admission fee. Given that the special workshops (such as Pint-Sized Science and Art Studio) aren’t on Thursdays, it might be worth the trip to get an idea if you want to pay regular admission fees at another time.
7. St. Mary’s Earth Science Museum
Okay, I can’t say I’ve actually been to this museum or even know someone who has. According to the website, the St. Mary’s Earth Science Museum is always free. It’s open weekdays throughout the year and is located in a second floor hallway. This makes me think this may not be a great spur of the moment trip unless you have someone in the family really into rocks. However, it could be a great trip for anyone doing a unit study on geology or fossils. Unfortunately, because of the lack of information you would probably need to go visit the museum first to see how it would fit in with your study plans. But given that it’s free and you may find walking around the campus (without the kids) relaxing, it may well be worth the trip.