Wadsworth Museum in Hartford (with permission)

Children can visit museums and other attractions for free this summer thanks to a new state program in place until Labor Day.

“After the tumultuous 16 months we just experienced, [this is] an amazing opportunity to encourage all children in the state to make up for lost time and visit the state’s best attractions this summer,” said Jason Patlis, president and CEO of The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.

The program, called “Connecticut Summer at the Museum,” uses $15 million from the state’s federal coronavirus recovery funds to give Connecticut children 18 and under, plus one accompanying adult, free visits until Sept. 6.

“This program provides a unique opportunity for children to take advantage of the world-class museums and attractions offered in Connecticut, while having both a fun and educational experience,” Gov. Ned Lamont said.

Nearly 100 attractions are participating in the program, including Hartford’s Connecticut Science Center, Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport Museum.

“We’re happy to offer an opportunity for children to explore nature, enjoy the outdoors and learn about wildlife after a long year of restricted activities,” Beardsley Zoo Director Gregg Dancho said, adding that he believes the pandemic was hardest on children.

Connecticut museums were hopeful that the initiative would pass when it was first proposed, with many saying that the free admission would help close the learning gap worsened by the pandemic, especially for families who cannot normally afford to visit.

“The Connecticut Summer at the Museum program allows us to reach even more Connecticut youth at a time when it’s needed most,” Connecticut Science Center CEO and President Matt Fleury said in a release.

The program is beneficial to museums themselves, which received grants to make the free admission possible. Christine Castonguay, interim director of the state Office of Tourism, said that supporting museums also supports the local economies around them by drawing in visitors.

“Despite their own challenges over the past year and half, these businesses continue to show us why they’re so essential to our communities, economy and our overall quality of life here in Connecticut,” she said.

In addition to education, there is a priority on keeping kid visitors safe, as children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated. Many of the participating museums will still require pre-registration for tickets online, as well as that guests follow basic COVID-19 guidelines like mask-wearing and social distancing.

“Museums are centers of exploration, recreation and learning, and will play an important role in helping provide social-emotional, mental health and educational growth opportunities that were limited during the pandemic,” Lamont said. “It is my hope that families take advantage of this unique opportunity happening in Connecticut this summer.”