Virtual Museum Offerings to Keep Kids Learning Year-Round

Museums across the country that were shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic have opened their virtual doors to the world. Kids can create their own art using a masterpiece as inspiration, tour Anne Frank's secret annex, spend some time with a skink, and so much more. The best part? The offerings we highlight are free, and they'll be available even after museums open once again. Here’s a sample of what's available from art, science, and history museums.

Free Virtual Museum Tours for Students

Virtual Art Museum Tours

Image courtesy of the artist. © LeUyen Pham.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art has launched its first online exhibition, Art in Place: Social Distancing in the Studio, giving viewers an up-close look at the many ways creativity is sustaining picture-book artists around the world during the pandemic. As co-curator Mo Willems writes in the exhibit's introduction: "Science will get us out of this. Art will get us through this."

Stepping into the the studios of children's book illustrators LeUyen Pham (pictured above), Sandra Boynton, and Dan Santat, to name just a few, students are treated to a sneak peek of each illustrator's most recent work. Pham's illustrations reference the pandemic, showing what happens on an "unremarkable day" when "everyone who was outside...went inside." The 21 illustrators featured also share how they're coping in lockdown. Santat built a ukelele out of cardboard and plays it every day! "I wanted to create something beautiful during a stressful time," he says. "A symbol of sorts, to show that I used my time to create something truly precious, so that despite any hardships that were to happen, I could look fondly at the instrument and know my spirit wasn't defeated."

The Whitney Museum of Art’s Kids Art Challenge offers a series of art projects based on works in the museum’s collection. Students look closely at a single work by artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jacob Lawrence, Edward Hopper, Nick Cave, and many others. Then they use that work of art as inspiration to create their own. For instance, after learning about Nick Cave’s Soundsuit #20 and how the noises it makes are associated with protest and creating positive change, students are invited to make some noise of their own in support of a cause they care about using everyday household items.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art invites kids to explore its vast collection by clicking objects on a huge illustrated map. Each click produces a photo of the object, fun facts, background information, and a couple ways to engage with the art. Most also include a video of kids’ own art creations based on the object. For example, kids who click on the illustration of Edgar Degas’ “The Little Fourteen Year Old Dancer” see a photo of the sculpture along with this fun fact: “When the original version of this sculpture was first displayed, it wore a wig made of horsehair.” Students can read about the history of the sculpture, do a hands-on project based on it, and even watch a video animation kids created, “The Dance Class,” that was inspired by the sculpture.

Virtual Science Museum Tours

Image courtesy of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County

At the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, kids can get a close encounter of the skink kind. Animal care team member Leslie Gordon introduces young viewers to the museum’s "favorite lizard," Tallulah (Lulu to her friends). From its tiny teeth to its scaly tail, Lulu’s full of surprises that kids discover as Gordon alternates between show-and-tell and invitations to viewers to play along with her. Explore more of Los Angeles’s wildlife with these “Walk on the Wild Side” videos.

The Museum of Science, Boston brings its exhibits and experts to kids everywhere with a new digital experience called MOS at Home. Virtual exhibits allow kids to explore the science behind Pixar films, watch leafcutter ants in action, and so much more. Live presentations with question-and-answer sessions give young audiences the inside scoop on topics including dinosaurs, space, reptiles, lightning, and even COVID-19.

Kids can get a look inside NASA’s Glenn Research Center and go on virtual tours of a supersonic wind tunnel, zero-g, a ballistics impact lab—and that's just for starters. Students simply have to click on the tour of their choice and tap the icons to view videos, images, and see testing in action.

Virtual History Museum Tours

In the online exhibits offered by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, students can learn about the life of an enslaved person named Rachel Young; reflect on the trauma experienced by the men, women, and children held in a slave pen as they waited to be sold off at auction; and read the near-daily letters Cincinnati native Charles Lewis wrote to his wife while serving in a segregated unit of the Army Air Corps, in 1943. The museum also offers free downloadable lessons on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, and other related topics for students in Grades K–12.

On the National Women’s History Museum website, visitors can take virtual tours of exhibits highlighting the women who have shaped American history. Students can meet African-American women of the civil rights movement; champions of the right to vote as well as early Olympic champions; NASA’s so-called “human computers"—including mathematician Katherine Johnson—who were instrumental in landing a man on the moon and executing successful spaceflights in general; and many others. The museum also offers free teaching resources, including virtual read-alouds of books like Sofia Valdez, Future Prez, plus minute-long videos introducing trailblazers, like the first Native American to become a prima ballerina, Maria Tallchief, and Edith Clarke, the first woman to earn a degree in electrical engineering.

The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam lets virtual visitors take a look around the Secret Annex, where Anne Frank wrote her diary in hiding for more than two years during World War II. Students can also explore the Frank family hiding place in virtual reality using the free ‘Anne Frank House VR’ app. And a new 15-episode video series introduces Anne Frank to young people around the world. The series is in Dutch, with subtitles in German, English, Portuguese, and Spanish.

More Virtual Field Trips for Kids

Have your students taken any free online museum tours? We'd love to hear about their experiences! Share them with us on Twitter (@LeadAndLearn) or email us at Shaped@hmhco.com.

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HMH Field Trips, powered by Google Expeditions, offers 360-degree virtual excursions that allow students to travel through history, explore the world, and witness scientific wonders without ever leaving the classroom. Download a free HMH Field Trips Teacher Guide Sampler.