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You, Too, Can Have a Night at the Museum

OK. So you took your kids to see A Night at the Museum. As a follow-up, you can actually take them to spend a night at a museum. As it turns out, museums across the country are more than happy to invite kids (and their parents) to sleep with the fossilized fishes.

The details vary. Expect to pay at least $30 a person. The size of the group could be intimate (15 to 30) or largish (300 or so). They are museums, so they try to cram in education.

"There are six lessons in the night, including live animal shows and behind-the-scene tours," says Timshel Purdum of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, which has been letting folks in after closing time for at least 10 years, charging $40 a person. But she admits that the real goal is to "be as fun as possible." (Never fear, parents. Coffee is on hand.)

Here's a sampling of museum sleepovers:

For $79 a person, the American Museum of Natural History in New York lets you wander the Hall of Mammals with a flashlight and sleep beneath the 94-foot-long blue whale.

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has an overnight "Spy Camp." Kids are encouraged to hone their sleuthing abilities as they solve a mystery in the museum. On their down time, they can watch an IMAX movie or explore the Giant Heart exhibit. Admission is $39.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County sends kids on a museum-wide scavenger hunt. They can also play with dinosaur fossils -- and maybe even learn a few things about paleontology. The cost is $43.

At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, a group of 30 can pay $2,100 for a customized overnight stay. Activities include "Spooky Science" demos, star shows in the planetarium and late-night strolls through the butterfly center.

Spots tend to fill up months in advance. So sign up early.

But don't expect movie-style hijinks.

"Never has anybody wandered off," Purdum says. "The worst thing that ever happens is someone getting sick. Someone always throws up."

So pick a museum and throw down a sleeping bag. But maybe not under the T. rex -- just in case.

Thomas Pierce, who’s spending a year at NPR as a part of the Joan B. Kroc Fellowship, has wanted to sleep next to a woolly mammoth ever since he did a fifth-grade project on the extinct mammal.

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Thomas Pierce