In part 1 and part 2 of our Homeschool How-to museum series, we discussed tips for using museum visits to enhance your child’s homeschool experience, as well as some fun ways to keep your child engaged while at the museum. But what if the museum you’d really like to visit is too far away? This final article will delve into how to virtually visit any museum around the world, and how to find online resources that will enhance your “virtual museum visit.”
Why a Virtual MuseumVisit?
Virtual visits allow you to utilize the resources of museums all around the world, not just those in your own backyard. You don’t have to pack up the whole family to New York City to visit the Met – you can bring the Met right to you. You can see the Louvre’s collection even when the Louvre is on strike. (The Louvre was on strike until the very last day of my Paris visit. I almost didn’t get to see it!)
These resources are accessible before opening time and after closing time, on Mondays – why are so many museums closed on Mondays? – even on national holidays.
Even if you plan to travel the world with your kids, the museum that has the best resources for what they are learning may not be on your itinerary right now. And that’s ok! The internet has made it possible to appreciate great places anywhere in the world, right from where you are right now.
Activities for Virtual Museum Visits
There are several ways to “visit” a museum from the comfort of your home. One is to print out the artifacts or artwork and hang it around a room (or two) and walk around as though you were really at the Louvre. But if you want to save paper and ink, I recommend sitting down with your child at the computer and looking at the website or photos together.
We don’t feature screen time prominently in our regular routine, but this is an activity where the screen may be the best option. Depending on the age of your child, you might be in the “driver’s seat” at the computer, guiding your child through the visit. Or, you can have your child do the clicking.
Before you start, as with any activity, set some ground rules with your child. What is the goal of this experience? How does it relate to the curriculum? Just as if you were visiting a museum in person, you should discuss how to view a work of art, how much time you want to spend on any given exhibit, and when it’s time to take a break and head to the cafeteria (or kitchen).
Choosing Museums to Visit Virtually
These days, many museums have a robust online presence and are eager to share their resources with the public. From their perspective, it’s a great way to maintain their reputation, solicit donations, and attract tourists. Of course, not every museum has an equally elaborate website. So how can you find a museum that connects to your unit of study?
Option 1: Search geographically
Let’s say that you wanted to find a museum about Egyptian history and culture. One way to begin would be to search as though you were a tourist heading to Egypt. A site like TripAdvisor will allow you to sort museums by type, location, or visitor rankings.
As you search, you might narrow your range – from all of Egypt, say, to just Luxor – or widen it, if you aren’t finding anything of value.
Option 2: Search thematically
Let’s say that you don’t have a specific geographical area, but instead a topic. You might begin with a broad search, such as “Museums about Native Americans“. Depending on the topic, you might get individual museums or curated lists of places to look into. I recommend starting off general (“Native Americans” includes hundreds of nations) because you may find museums devoted to the broader category, like the excellent National Museum of the American Indian that has interactive learning tools and resources on its website. Of course, you can also search specifically, like this search for “museums about Haudenosaunee.”
If you’re looking for art
I recommend visiting the websites of famous museums to see what resources they have. Some have quite an extensive digital presence, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can search the entire collection, view an interactive timeline, check out all the features of their Kids section. I can’t emphasize enough how invaluable the digital Met will be if you are studying history, art, or both!
A great option for art is to view museums through the Google Arts & Culture collection. Rather than visiting each museum’s website individually, you can view a whole range of museums that have partnered together to create this digital resource. Each museum’s page includes collections, individual photos, and tours in Google Street View.
A few art museums with great websites include:
And many more! If you encounter a work of art in a book or other curriculum source, try locating where it’s on exhibit – chances are, that museum will have a website.
If you’re looking for history
Many historical artifacts and documents reside in art museums, so that is an excellent place to begin. The history of colonialism and looting comes into play here – some of the best historical artifacts may reside at the Met or another Western institution, rather than in the country of origin. Egyptian art is especially scattered throughout museums in the United States and Europe.
You can also search for sites of important events, or known locations from antiquity, which can lead to local museums or archaeological ruins nearby. Hadrian’s Wall, for example, has a number of museums near the sites of Roman ruins. (And you can virtually tour the wall in Google Street View!)
In the United States, historic places are a great source for interactive content. One shining example is George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. It has an extensive collection of primary sources, including his list of enslaved people, and an excellent virtual tour. Two other great sources for the same approximate time period are Colonial Williamsburg and Plimoth Plantation/Wampanoag Village.
If you’re using a curriculum like History Odyssey, you purchased the Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia as a spine. It has many excellent links to online exhibits, organized by topic.
If you’re looking for science
Major science and natural history museums frequently have excellent websites, as well as YouTube channels. The American Museum of Natural History has a behind the scenes series that includes places like the Big Bone Room and scientists’ labs. Or how about walking through the Large Hadron Collider?
Whatever topics your child is interested in, there’s a digital resource out there to support it!
Lisa is a homeschooling mom, science educator and curriculum developer with classroom experience ranging from pre-K students to 7th grade. After almost 20 years in traditional school settings, Lisa currently works as a curriculum consultant to schools and families. She also teaches weekend, after-school, camp programs, and graduate courses for science teachers at the American Museum of Natural History. Lisa blogs at Inquiring Minds Homeschool.