Each of my children loved this museum. No need to register, just show up and walk through. The museum is located downstairs from TPAC (Tennessee Performing Arts Center) and is laid out so that you walk though the history chronologically from fossils to Settlement, to Andrew Jackson, to slavery and the Civil War. And if you go this summer, you will find an extraordinary treat at the end, Egypt! Yes, it seems a bit of a disconnect, but it was this exhibit that first brought us to the museum. My oldest has been crazy for all things Egypt since she was four. Yet, our family will surly return often, even after the Egyptian exhibit had gone.
This tour is completely free, but you do need to schedule it. I particularly love the scavenger hunt they have organized. What a terrific way to get the kids to really look a the monuments. This tour and the museum could be on the same day because they are located very close together. However, I usually break things up into smaller bites so I don't overwhelm my preschooler.
Another one where it is best to call ahead. They have a very outdated movie that the kids find hilarious! I've heard that they have tried to replace it with an updated one, but the kids found the older one much more entertaining. It is very hokey but an entire room full of kids of all ages giggled through it. But the best thing of course is the free ice cream at the end. We've done this in the summer because it just seemed to make sense with the free ice cream, but I have heard that at other times of the year you can actually see production going on in the plant which we have not seen.
We just attended one of these and my older two were just thrilled! They have several field trips to choose from but ours was how to use Garage Band. My daughter, the violinist, took to it immediately where as my son didn't find it's appeal until they showed him how to add his own voice. They gave free tee-shirts to the kids and a disk with their project to take home. If you have an apple computer, this is a real treat but even if you don't, it can still be worth your time because of all the computer skills they pick up. Even my toddler was entertained at the toddler computer station they have set up with the latest preschool software.
Dyer observatory is not always free, but they do schedule free events. You need to book them early because they tend to fill quickly. They also have free scouting nights if our kids participate in that. NOTICE: Due to rain damage (it's been a very rainy season as of late) the observatory will be closed through fall 2011 for repairs. Which is why I decided to add the additional field trip even though it is not entirely free.
Kids get in free, but the parking and the adult that accompanies them are not... unless they are... You see, the Frist has free days but they are not often. Also, I've participated in the Kids Club activities they hold there on the weekends (Fabulous!) and I've not had to pay for that. But we love the Frist and it is worth it for me to pay my entrance fee for for the kids to see the wonderful exhibits they have there. The annual membership fee is not bad either, but we find it more cost effective to just pay for my fee when we go.