Whether you’re homeschooling, e-learning or doing a hybrid plan, chances are field trips will probably be out of the question this school year.
Fortunately, you can take your kids on virtual field trips, anywhere in the world, at any time — for free.
Zoos, aquariums, museums — and even the moon — have opened their virtual doors and their live cams to entertain your children.
Here’s a list of virtual field trips you and your kids can check out without ever having to leave home.
Natural History Museum, London
On Tuesdays and Fridays, log on for interactive talks with scientists and researchers from their museums who will talk about their studies. You’ll even be able to ask questions during their live broadcasts.
Just here to look? You can check out a 3D model of the museum’s dinosaur fossils any time you want, and you can also look through a massive room that stores animals preserved in alcohol.
The Natural History Museum has an entire section of its site devoted to activities you can do at home, including making origami dinosaurs, pressing flowers and making bird feeders.
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Some people travel all the way to Amsterdam just to step inside this treasured museum. (It’s one of the most visited spots in Amsterdam.)
But you just have to go online to see the museum’s entire collection, consisting of more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings and nearly 1,000 of Van Gogh’s personal letters.
Want to see what inspired Van Gogh? He was an avid reader, and there’s an entire online exhibit about the books he adored. Take a dive into his novels (his faves were books by Charles Dickens, Jules Michelet and Alphonse Daudet), and maybe they’ll be your muse, too.
The museum has helpfully put its tools and tips for virtual field trips in one place on its site.
Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York
Wander through 5,000 years of art via the Met’s website. You can choose to take a quick look at the select *famous* exhibits, or do a deeper dive into the entire collection.
Get inspired by watching contemporary artists talk about art that inspires them, or watch a video of conservators preserve historical works.
Activities for kids include creating a flip book, making a banjo, recreating a masterpiece and creating an optical toy.
Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa
This South African elephant park has a live web cam, so you can log on to see elephants eating, playing and sleeping whenever you’re in an elephant mood.
Ready for another animal? The site also hosts hundreds of other live cams throughout Africa and across the globe. We spent a little too much time in the Gorilla Forest Corridor watching a gorilla cleaning himself, and we logged time in the Nkorho Bush Lodge to see baby elephants drinking at their local watering hole. At Balule Nature Reserve in South Africa, we got ridiculously close to a jaguar looking for prey. We weren’t as patient as he was.
Yes, you can take virtual field trips to the moon. Imagery captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft lets you see all sides of the moon, with a five-minute narrated video that explains what exactly you’re seeing. (Otherwise, it looks like a massive bumpy crater.)
This is probably as close as any of us will ever get to the moon . . . unless the video inspires some kids to become budding astronauts.
The rest of the site is full of kid-friendly videos that explain everything from why volcanoes erupt to the process of making latte art. It’s possible to find something to appeal to everyone.
Got a budding prince or princess? You can wander through the Buckingham Palace, taking a tour of the grand staircase, the drawing room, throne room and more — all while wearing your pajamas.
Is it over-the-top? Of course! Would we expect anything less than gold, mirrors and plenty of candlesticks? Never.
Ellis Island, New York City
Ellis Island is where more than 12 million immigrants passed through upon arriving in America between 1892 and 1954. About 40% of Americans’ ancestors can trace their families back through this entrance.
Listen to stories told by people who arrived in Ellis Island, watch films about the immigrants and see them as they first arrived, and learn the stories of those making their way to America.
Zoos and Aquariums
You’ll feel like you’re really at this aquarium as you watch live cams of penguins, otters, sharks, turtles and other animals.
Then, after watching the live cams, scroll down the page to learn more about the animals you’re viewing. For example, after watching the sand tiger sharks bare their massive teeth, we learned that while these types of sharks may look ferocious (you can even see their teeth when their mouths are closed), they don’t tend to bother people.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
The aquarium staff has 10 live cams running at all times, so you can spot the hypnotic jellyfish pulsing, the sea otters eating and frolicking, the sharks swimming peacefully with fish and more. (Some of the videos are pre-recorded, so you’ll always be viewing actual movement.)
There are also narrated feedings on weekdays (check the site for specific times). Love the calming cams? Download a video background of the jellyfish or the turtles from this site.
San Diego Zoo
The zoo has live cams aimed at its hippos, platypuses, baboons, penguins, polar bears, apes, tigers, koalas and more. (Fun fact: The San Diego Zoo is the only zoo in the United States to have platypuses!)
Since the zoo’s cams run all day and all night, it’s best to understand the animal’s natural habitat to log on at the right time to see them in action. For example, when we checked out the animals early in the morning, there wasn’t much going on — but later in the afternoon, the animals were in all their glory.
After you watch the animals, you can click on a link to learn more about them. Here’s a fun fact about the platypus: The word is derived from the Greek word meaning “flat foot,” and females nurse their young through skin patches rather than nipples.
Danielle Braff is a contributor to Codetic.