five students sit in front of a painting at the los angeles county museum of art and discuss it with a museum educator


Five Great Virtual Field Trips for Students, Educators, and Families

The nation’s best cultural institutions may be closed, but that doesn’t mean learning from them—or even 'visiting' them—has to stop

With schools across the country closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, students, educators, and families find themselves in a new world of education. And for anyone looking for creative tools to continue teaching and learning—or simply a way to keep having field trips when almost everything is shuttered—the nation’s cultural institutions have stepped up to help.

Here are five such institutions offering excellent resources to teachers and students, no matter where they live.

the blue whale model hanging from the ceiling at the american museum of natural history

D. Finnin/© AMNH

American Museum of Natural History

New York’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), with its classic dioramas, giant squid and whale, and top-of-the-line Hayden Planetarium, is a go-to field trip spot for both students and curious tourists. While it’s now closed “until further notice,” kids and adults can still access AMNH’s resources online to get a digital experience of the museum.

You can take a virtual tour of AMNH via Google Maps or through its Facebook feed, while its Explore site offers a wealth of videos on topics like finding dinosaur fossils, discovering new planets, and pondlife. There are also opportunities to dig into some of the museum’s most popular attractions, like its Tyrannosaurus rex and that giant blue whale, and go deep into science through its SciCafe series.

For teachers looking for more direct resources, AMNH offers a robust curriculum collection, quizzes through the site Kahoot!, and four museum courses (Dinosaurs, The Universe, Human Evolution, and Earthquakes and Volcanoes) through Khan Academy®. And if educators want to give students some free computer time, they can open Ology, AMNH’s science website for kids.

That’s a lot, but it’s also just part of what AMNH offers. You can find the complete list on the museum’s website.

four girl scouts stand in front of a portrait of frederick douglass at the national portrait gallery

Smithsonian Institution/YouTube

Smithsonian Institution

“The world's largest museum, education, and research complex” includes the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Museum of American History, and the National Zoo—all of which are closed to the public due to the pandemic. But these expansive and resource-rich institutions are accessible from home, thanks to the Smithsonian Learning Lab, where “teachers have access to millions of digital resources from across the Smithsonian's museums, research centers, libraries, archives, and more.”

There are resources for national audiences built around English/Language Arts, Social Studies/History, and Science for Pre-K–12 students, as well as resources intended specifically for Washington, D.C., public schools for K–8 students. The Learning Lab has also pulled together tools for caregivers and ways for tweens and teens to engage in self-directed learning.

The Smithsonian has also organized regular live chats and live online learning opportunities hosted by its institutional experts. On April 9, at 2 p.m. ET, students, parents, and educators can explore minerals and gems with geologist Gabriela Farfan. On May 14, learners can join Shake Rattle and Roll: The Science Underneath Earthquakes and Volcanoes, which is part of the Learning Lab's STEM in 30 webcast series. Every Thursday at 1 p.m. ET, starting March 26, you can join the Air And Space Live Chat on Facebook Live. There’s a series on teaching history virtually, and another focused on Social Studies Online. You can also access a collection of activity pages and Air and Space Museum multimedia projects. And for anyone interested in helping their kids document the moment they’re living through, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife & Cultural Heritage offers a guide to collecting oral histories.

There are many more resources to explore. Visit the Learning Lab’s website or the Education at the Smithsonian site for more information about programs available through specific institutions. You can also contact a Smithsonian educator during their digital office hours, which are posted online.

The painting the writer by American artist ruth Chaney depicting a young woman in a yellow/green room, wearing a yellow and blue outfit sitting at a small table writing a letter with the window open to an urban night scene

Ruth Chaney (American, 1908–1973). The Writer (detail), published by WPA, 1935–43. Serigraph, 9 1/2 x 13 1/4 in. (24.1 x 33.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of the Work Projects Administration, New York, 1943

Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is without question the most comprehensive art museum in America (and arguably the greatest in the world). Its collection spans “five thousand years of human civilization’s creative output,” from ancient Egyptian mummies to postmodern fashion, and you could visit it for several weeks and still not see everything. With the Met’s doors closed through at least July, its digital offerings have become the only way to experience the museum and learn from its holdings. Unsurprisingly, there’s enough available to keep you occupied a while.

One place to start is with the Met’s collection of 360-degree videos of some of its most popular spots, like the Temple of Dendur and the Arms and Armor Galleries. That can lead into a Metcurated course on Khan Academy, a collection of audio tours available on Soundcloud, or the Met’s Timeline of Art History. There is also a robust collection of videos, from a YouTube series on art conservation to a library of nearly 1,500 clips that explore past and current exhibitions, collection items, and work that occurs at the Met. You can also take a deep dive into galleries and current exhibitions on the Primer site. And if you want to give students time for self-guided exploration, point them to the MetKids site, which was “made for, with, and by kids.”

That’s just for starters. There’s plenty more to access, and the Met’s blog has a great overview of how to engage with the museum while it’s closed.

screenshot from the carnegie museum of natural history's ask a scientist website, showing a scientist inspecting numerous salamander specimens

Carnegie Museums

Carnegie Museums

The Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh are certainly no Smithsonian. But the four institutions—the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Andy Warhol Museum, and the Carnegie Science Center—offer a wide range of experiences and opportunities for budding artists, historians, scientists, and engineers.

A great place to start is the Science Center’s Stemisphere site, which hosts dozens of resources, lessons, guides, and scholarship opportunities. (It also connects visitors to materials from other institutions around the country.) The Carnegie Museum of Art’s Education Resources page similarly has many lessons designed around encountering art and thinking critically about it. The Warhol’s Lessons site also offers lessons around art, sorted by grade level (elementary, middle school, high school). If you want to help your kids create art like Warhol, there’s a series of YouTube videos to teach them his techniques. And then there’s the Natural History Museum’s Ask a Scientist video series, which allows students to learn directly from researchers, who explain things like why moths love lamps and the impact of climate change on turtles.

There are many more digital resources available, including articles and virtual tours through the archives. You can find the complete list of offerings on the Carnegie Museums from Home website.

screenshot from the los angeles county museum of art course website showing three featured courses being offered

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) might not be on the same scale as the Metropolitan Museum, but it is the largest art museum in the western United States and boasts a stellar collection of artwork and resources. With its physical location closed, LACMA has made much of that material available online—and it is truly a multimedia experience.

The Watch section of its LACMA @ Home website contains dozens of short films collected around series: Artists on Art, Art + Tech, short films on conservation, and videos documenting past and current exhibitions. In the Learn area, students, educators, and families can find online courses—such as Chinese Painting and Art and Social Justice—as well as a robust collection of K–12 curricular resources. There are also numerous articles, books, and museum publications available on the site’s virtual library, as well as streaming playlists of exhibition soundtracks and music inspired by art.

LACMA staff will continue adding to this digital collection for as long as the galleries are closed. But if you somehow reach the end of LACMA @ Home, you can browse its excellent permanent collection online.