A collection of art museums recently commissioned a study to see the effects of their programs on students, and the results, after surveys of over 300 participants, were striking. Over three quarters of the participants rated their participation in museum programs as teenagers as one of the most positive influences on their lives, over family, school, and neighborhood culture. More than half called it the most important experience they’d ever had. Though that survey is small, museums across the country are already taking its results to heart.

A non-profit in New York is taking it one step further. If being involved with museums can be so positive to teenagers, they figure it will do all the more good to start them early. The non-profit, Cool Culture, is distributing 50,000 “Cool Culture Cards” to preschool and kindergarten students across New York, mostly through schools in low-income communities. Each card allows the child holder and up to four other people free entry to 90 of the city’s cultural centers, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Botanical Garden, and the American Museum of Natural History.

The pass also comes with a great guide to getting the most out of a museum trip for children, a great aid to families who have not often had the opportunity.

Cool Culture isn’t alone in the effort, though their pass is the best deal. The Association of Children’s Museums runs a more widespread program called “Museums for All” that offers reduced admission to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, and other cities around the country have their own programs. (For example: Many of Seattle’s museums offer free admission to all on the first Thursday of every month.)

Children who have regular access to museums are going to become more culturally aware adults, able to have the kinds of conversations that result in a lifelong ability to learn and grow. Historically, financial and class barriers have kept low-income kids from these institutions, but as these programs are proving, we can turn that around.

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