Kids at home? Keep them occupied (and learning) with these 20 virtual field trips

A child taking a virtual field trip on a tablet.

(Photo: Ridofranz_Thinkstock)

No permission slips required, these “trips” offer kids amazing learning experiences without ever leaving the house.

Oh, the places they’ll… go?

Social distancing doesn’t have to mean boredom — and with Tennesseans battening down the hatches and hunkering down in their homes, parents might be wondering how to fulfill their new roles as teachers.

Full eruption of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park.

Full eruption of Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park. (Photo: istockphoto)

Though keeping the kids busy so we can get some work done ourselves can be tricky, it’s important to keep the content kids are ingesting as substantive and educational as possible.

So, how about a few virtual field trips? Thanks to technology, it’s now possible for kids to visit all kinds of places from the comfort of their own home. Even teachers are on board.

“Virtual field trips are wonderful, especially if you can find ones that are free and have good resources for kids and families to use,” says Matt Lawson, a middle school social studies teacher from Tennessee. “I would also want to make sure that access is available for everyone during this time. As a teacher, I would love for students to find ‘trips’ that are relevant to the standards they are learning in their respective grade — I’ll take them learning anything, though.”

The kids aren’t the only ones getting lessons. Parents, too, are learning that online resources are out there and can be quite effective. Kids can handpick exhibits and move through them at their own pace.

“My 9-year-old took four virtual tours of U.S. national parks last week,” says Adriane Smith, a parent of three from Tennessee. “I was so glad to find that resource. He loves exploring outdoors and it introduced him to landscapes he’s never visited but is now excited to experience once we’re able to make those types of plans again.”

So, stay home. Stay safe. And keep your kids learning. Without further ado — and in no particular order — TPAC News Center has compiled a list of 20 incredible field trip ideas for parents and their little ones. Every site listed is free to access, so enjoy your “visit”.

Note: For anyone who needs it, YouTube offers a closed captioning option. Just click CC button at the bottom right-hand corner.

1. The Zoo

There are so many amazing online options when it comes to zoos that we had to include as many as possible. Most zoos have live webcams in some of their most popular exhibits, such as the Panda Cam at Zoo Atlanta. Some zoos, like Nashville Zoo, offers daily video updates on their social media. However, some zoos offer a more in-depth look. For example, the San Diego Zoo site for kids includes behind-the-scenes videos and stories, as well as a variety of printable activities and online games.

2. The Aquarium

It’s a similar story with aquariums. While guests cannot visit in person, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga will continue to actively connect its social followers with the animals they love via live feeds of various exhibits, impromptu behind-the-scenes digital tours, on-camera discussions with husbandry experts and a wealth of fun animal facts, videos, and photos.

Other great live webcams of aquariums include the Georgia Aquarium’s Ocean Voyager webcam and the “jellycam” at Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can get a more traditional, “self-guided” virtual tour of the National Aquarium, whereas the Seattle Aquarium has a 30-minute video tour.

3. The Planetarium

Through Star Atlas, kids can explore over 60,000 stars, locate planets, and watch sunrises and solar eclipses. If you enter your location, you can see all the constellations that are visible in the night sky in your corner of the world.

4. Yellowstone National Park

There is nothing quite like driving through a bison traffic jam in Yellowstone National Park. For the next-best thing, check out the virtual tours on the National Park Service’s site. The interactive maps are a great way to see Fort Yellowstone, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot Springs and mud volcanoes, but the kids will be most psyched about the Old Faithful Geyser live-stream and the opportunity to make their own predictions for its next eruption. Learn about nature without the sulfur smell or wondering if you are 25 yards from that elk. Younger kids might need assistance getting through the site, but it’s a good one to do together as adults will enjoy the live cam action.

5. The Great Lakes

This virtual field trip from Great Lakes Now has three components: coastal wetlands, algae, and lake sturgeon. Each video is a quick five minutes.

6. Volcanoes

The U.S. Geological Survey monitors volcanoes in the United States. Their interactive map allows you to click on and learn about any volcano in the country.

7. The Farm

The classic preschool field trip goes online! Farm Fresh 360 allows you to immerse yourself in Canadian farm and food tours—from raising pigs to making milk and cheese. And if you’re raising s couple of “egg-heads”, check out these virtual egg farm field trips from the American Egg Board.

8. The Smithsonian

The National Museum of Natural History’s virtual experiences are self-guided, room-by-room tours of permanent, current, and past exhibits. Make sure to send kids to the second-floor Bone Hall so they can look at all different kinds of skeletons.

9. Cheekwood

Does your child have a green thumb? Teach them about all the native species of pant life at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, including azaleas, trilliums, trout-lilies, Virginia bluebells, a variety of ferns and a small colony of paw-paw trees. The endangered stinking cedar (Torreya taxifoia) also grows here and has been part of an assisted migration effort since 1985.

10. Boston Children’s Museum

“Walk” through all three floors of the Boston Children’s Museum on this virtual tour. Direct your kids to fun exhibits like Explore-a-Saurus and the Japanese House.

11. Birthplace of Music

Boise State put together this fully interactive virtual field trip with text, photos, audio, and video. The four featured music locations are: Vienna, Austria; New Orleans, Louisiana; Cleveland, Ohio; and Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia.

12. National Constitution Center

The Museum of We The People, the Constitution Center serves as a “headquarters for civic education.” Check out the Interactive Constitution section, and be sure to watch the virtual tour.

13. Colonial Williamsburg

This living history museum provides a look into life in an early American community. The website offers eight different webcams, featuring areas such as the tavern, the armoury, and the market house.

14. Ellis Island

Want to enhance a unit on immigration at the turn of the century? Look no further than this virtual field trip to Ellis Island, the former immigration inspection station in New York Harbor that is also home to the Statue of Liberty.

15. Nature Works Everywhere

The Nature Conservancy offers 11 virtual field trips that allow students to do everything from exploring a coastal rainforest while in a canoe to unlocking the secrets of coral reefs in the Dominican Republic. Each video is about 45 minutes long.

16. 360 Cities

Boasting the world’s largest collection of 360° images videos, 360 Cities provides kids with the opportunity to see stunning panoramas across the globe. Their video of black ants walking on the dirt is pretty amazing.

17. The Great Wall of China

See one of the wonders of the world with this amazing, thousands-year old fortification system known the world over. This virtual tour has three options for touring the ancient structure: Jinshaling to Simatai, watchtower, and winter.

18. Easter Island

Most of us recognize the giant stone statues of Easter Island, but what’s the story behind them? Nova’s online adventure “Secrets of Easter Island” delves into the mystery with a virtual tour.

19. Son Doong Cave

For Tennesseans, why would we want to see another cave considering there’s about 10,000 in our backyard, but this one is different because of its sheer size. National Geographic lets you explore the world’s largest cave, located in Vietnam. Use the interactive map to enjoy the fully immersive experience.

20. Ancient Egypt

Discovering Ancient Egypt has a ton of free resources, but it’s the interactive pyramid map and 3D temple reconstructions that really give this activity a field trip feel.

BONUS: Mars

Are your kids driving you crazy enough yet to send them to the red planet? With Access Mars, you can see the actual surface of Mars, recorded by NASA’s Curiosity rover.

NASA TV also offers regular programming such as live interviews with astronauts on board the International Space Station, spacewalks, rocket launches, and more. There’s a schedule of all upcoming live events on NASA TV.