After months of being in quarantine or social distancing mode, it is fair to say that most families want to just get out to go somewhere. The country is still practicing social distancing and mask wearing and now the majority of the country is in virtual schooling mode. Parents and caregivers across the country have become teachers to varying degrees. As a student, the best part of the school year was field trip day! Is there a way to continue those much-anticipated school activity of field trips for learning, and for a break in the routine? Virtual field trips are now on offer as an option to “get out and explore!”.
There are many free options for virtual exploration from international museums to parks across the United States. This is not an exhaustive list, it provides a starting point for the opportunities to explore the world via the world-wide web.
So get dressed, pack a picnic lunch, and take a field trip in your living room!
While a road trip may not be doable for all, you can still visit the National Parks virtually both on the web and through your mobile phone. The National Park Service has videos, web cams and additional learning resources for each of the parks across the United States. Here are a few favorites.
Hawai’i: Thanks to Google Arts and Culture, you can head out over a Volcano in Hawai’i and learn about lava flows while “walking through a lava tube” at Hawai’I Volcanoes National Park. Interactive portions with full audio make it feel like you are there. The National Park Service (NPS) has a combination of 15 thermal and static webcams. Discuss geological features of the park, learn about the volcanoes that make up the park including the historical eruptions and the lava that builds the islands. Free downloadable curriculum plans are available from kindergarten through eighth grade and review the history and science behind volcanoes, natural rock formations and the night sky.
Wyoming: At Yellowstone National Park, you can watch the live stream of the Old Faithful Geyser erupt. Inclusive of prediction times for eruption from April through November. Explore more of the wildlife and views of the park with their 9 static webcams. Worksheets provided by NPS provide learning if desired, as well as recorded distance learning videos.
Florida: The virtual tour of Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park offer the ability to swim a shipwreck and learn about the coral reef protection around Fort Jackson through Google Arts and Culture. There are interactive portions with additional areas of text to read.
Google Earth provides the ability to “walk” through the Everglades National Park without the humidity. Static webcams provide views of the wildlife on the trail and the NPS made video series discusses the wildlife and nature preserve around the park.
Montana: Explore Glacier National Park through Google Earth or with the 13 static webcams through the National Park Service website. In addition to the images and webcams, NPS provides grade-specific lesson plans as a free resource.
If there is a National Park local to you, check their website for hours and reservation times. There are new virtual experiences added to the website along with free educational resources as well as the individual park shops to purchase under the “Support” tab for each park to financially support the National Parks from home.
Additional Resources for National Parks Virtual Field Trips
Check out the local library for National Geographic Kids National Parks USA as an adjunct resource for elementary and middle aged children. It provides tidbit information and pictures about the national parks across the United States inclusive of maps and photos.
Military families can download Park Passport for free thanks to Blue Star Families. The app lists all the National Parks. Additionally, it has virtual field trips to many more parks, along with activities including earning “virtual badges.” More virtual visits have been added over the last several months and the National Park Trust plans to continue to add more opportunities.
New York: The American Museum of Natural History has broken up virtual field trips by age group, and each category has corresponding worksheets and videos. If you want to explore the museum, walk-through the museum via this Google Arts and Culture view or get exhibit information and close-ups here. The museum has developed a free app for download with even more highlights and quizzes.
The Lourve: Now is the time to visit Paris for the low cost of $0! No worries about the long flight with kids – with one click you can explore the Lourve in Paris. Virtual tours of the Egyptian Antiquities and History of the Lourve are interactive, allowing viewers to “walk” through and around the exhibits.
Washington D.C.: The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. by way of Google offers a “walk-through” of the galleries. The two online exhibits about Fashioning a Nation and Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting provide up close views of the artwork along with information. In addition, there are over 40,000 pieces available to look at through both regular screen and augmented reality. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History offers a walk-through of the entire museum for exploration.
National Museum of the Marine Corps: Learn about World War II through artwork courtesy of this exhibit from retired Colonel Charles H. Waterhouse. It includes photographs, artwork and history behind each piece. You can also explore the museum virtually with full, panoramic views here. Don’t forget to look up!
Check out Google Arts and Culture for their daily picks of museum highlights. Want to explore the Smithsonian Air and Space museum with a penguin? You can! Online exhibits from museums around the world like the Museum of Natural Science in Brussels or the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom are available and more are added. Take a trip around the world all while wearing your pajamas!
There are numerous animal cams you can enjoy from home. Do you remember huddling around the computer to watch April the Giraffe, and watch her give birth to Azizi? Did you check the animal cam multiple times a day to watch the progress? There is something amazing about watching the animals at the Zoo. While Zoos around the world were closed, they turned to the internet to share the adventure of being a Zookeeper behind the scenes! While Zoos have opened in some capacity, you can still explore the virtual zoo offerings, and their weekly events on social media.
San Diego Zoo: Beyond live webcams of the platypus and Polar Bears, the San Diego Zoo has an entire website San Diego Kids dedicated to elementary education with resources of videos, crafts, animal worksheets, recipes and games. Want to learn to draw a Tiger or talk about conservation with your kids – this is the resource for you. The San Diego Zoo Kids You Tube channel offers animal videos in addition to Kids Corner and craft videos. The San Diego Zoo You Tube channel offers even more animal videos from watching Pygmy Hippos learn to swim to Ring-Tailed Lemur health checks.
Cincinnati Zoo: Check out specific topical presentations and videos from the Cincinnati Zoo Facebook page. Check out their Facebook page for a schedule of live events like question and answers with zookeepers. While the Zoo is open to the public now, they have continued these events online.
Chester Zoo: Across the pond in England, the Chester Zoo put together virtual Zoo Days. Each day showcases the zookeepers along with red pandas, jaguars, kangaroos, otters, painted dogs, and Orangutans while they go about their normal day. While feeding the animals, the zookeepers share facts about their zoo and the animals in a close-up experience. They are continuing live events on their Facebook page, and post the schedule a few days ahead of time.
If you haven’t tuned into the Jelly Cam while doing quiet time, you should. The soothing music alone promotes a zen atmosphere, but just enjoying the blue background and fish is soothing. Aquariums continue to share the webcams and a few are offering additional resources and virtual course offerings!
Georgia Aquarium: The Georgia Aquarium offers webcams of the belugas, Jellyfish and piranhas just to name a few in addition to multiple tanks. Twice weekly on their social media pages, the education department at the aquarium offers videos and learning opportunities that are then uploaded here. There are listed by topic and can easily be added into science learning or just for fun. Each video has a corresponding study guide for download.
Sea World: SeaWorld has an entire website dedicated to education. While Busch Gardens and SeaWorld may not be local or feasible to visit at the moment, there are free curriculum packets for Kindergarten through 12th grade to discuss birds, sea life and ocean preservation. Corresponding videos are available on the Sea World Parks You Tube Channel. The focus of learning is on conservation, and the curriculum puts it into age appropriate terms.
Monterey Bay Aquarium: The Monterey staple is a world-renown aquarium and worth the visit. While the aquarium remains closed, they offer weekly live videos on their Facebook channel. An added bonus are the Grade specific online courses for preschool through high school . These courses were developed by the staff and are completely free. Each course includes videos, corresponding worksheets and resource links for additional learning. In most cases, these courses are offered in both English and Spanish. The curriculum has everything ready to go so you can dive right in!
The Aquarium of the Pacific: The Long Beach Aquarium has created the Aquarium Academy with live online courses for preschool through high school with topical videos. Animal webcams are open various hours with the Penguin cam being on 24 hours. For the preschool and early elementary age children, the Pacific Pals show is an online version of their Puppet shows bringing the aquarium to the living room of everyone who watches.
If space is your jam, NASA has you covered. You can take a 4k tour of the moon or tour the International Space Station! Or even explore Mars courtesy of the Curiosity Rover. The Kids Zone on the NASA website provides games, activities and more space resources to explore!
National Geographic Weird But True
This television series can be found on Disney Plus so it isn’t free unless you already have the digital platform, but these topical episodes provide information, facts and field trips. Based off the “Weird But True” books by National Geographic, this series discusses the history and science behind various topics and includes a field trip to meet with experts on the topic each episode. There is an episode about training for space missions where they interview an astronaut and travel to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. One of the presenters goes to Colonial Williamsburg to learn about the jobs in the Colonial times. There is even an episode on the importance of bees. It is presented in a fun and captivating way that will entertain children up to the teen years. There are things that even the adults will learn!
2020 has been a strange year. Thankfully, museums, zoos, aquariums and the National Parks have figured out ways to bring their location to the world through technology! No un-air-conditioned bus ride needed!
Heather Walsh is a mom, Marine wife, Navy child, blogger, and lover of all things crafty and Disney. Professionally, she is a Physician Assistant and writer and has a passion for helping others to stay positive and supported. She has been writing since KidPix was on a floppy disk! She is one of three women who founded MilMomAdventures, sharing travel and lifestyle tips for the military family at www.milmomadventures.com . When she isn’t crafting with her kiddos, going on the next adventure, or writing for MilMomAdventures, she has contributed to NextGen MilSpouse, Daily Mom Military and Military Disney Tips while reheating her first cup of coffee for the tenth time.