By Joy Navan.
Parents tend to look at the summer months as a time to fit in some travel as well as educational time with the family. Visits to historic sites, museums, and places of natural beauty are all popular choices. However, you are probably wondering how you can accomplish these visits with the high price of gasoline and with an economy that has you carefully choosing each dollar you spend. You can still give your kids quality enrichment time at home by taking advantage of the many virtual museums that are available. With a computer, some curiosity, and a little imagination, you and your children can have some exciting adventures together!
To make your virtual trips special times, give them some local flavor, and show your children how exciting the sites can be, arrange a virtual outing. You could plan a morning or an afternoon for a special excursion to, say, Paris, the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum (http://www.nasm.si.edu/), or New York’s American Museum of Natural History. To accomplish this, prepare an itinerary that shares a bit of what you will be doing and seeing during your trip. Microsoft has a website with templates for creating personalized schedules. Go to http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/ and search “Travel Itinerary.” If your excursion is to New York, Paris, Madrid, or another city, include a city map marked with the sites you will visit and encourage children to find their way from place to place. Next, research the food of the country or region you plan to visit that day and prepare a snack or a picnic lunch to eat. I found a great recipe site at http://allrecipes.com/ where I searched “crepes” for my virtual trip to Paris. Pretend your deck or your backyard is a park near your selected museum. Decorate it with items that will evoke the feeling of your destination (e.g., red checkered tablecloth and a miniature Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty). Finally, you may want to prepare a virtual photo journal of your trip, using Powerpoint, Prezi, or a similar product.
You will want to spend some time investigating websites and planning exactly which would be the best fit for your children and their interests. Below are just a few places to visit online. There are many more, just Google it!
For the Scientist or Engineer
The American Museum of Natural History (http://www.amnh.org/) has a wonderful and very informative section about the human brain that contains slideshows, video clips and much more. On the homepage, search, Brain. Also, visit the section ology (click on Kids and Family on the homepage). This is a children’s space that allows them to choose from several areas of interest and offers in-depth information and activities. Another great source is the homepage of the Natural Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/). From there you can learn much about our country’s natural and historic phenomena. Click on the photos and multimedia section for movies, podcasts, and live webcams. Or, explore the San Francisco Exploratorium (http://www.exploratorium.edu/). There you will find a variety of interactive activities.
An outstanding site for the child who loves all things technical is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Museum (http://web.mit.edu/museum/index.html). Sampling MIT highlights current faculty and student research. Other outstanding engineering sites are the National Building Museum (http://www.nbm.org) and the online activities at the Science Museum of Minnesota (http://www.smm.org/explore/).
For the Artist
My favorite art site among the many available for children is the National Gallery of Art’s The Art Zone(http://www.nga.gov/kids/zone/zone.htm). This page has links to masterpieces of art and art activities for children. Some other art museum sites for children are the Louvre (http://www.louvre.fr/llv/commun/home.jsp), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.metmuseum.org/learn/for-kids), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (http://www.sfmoma.org/pages/interactive_features), and the Silicon Valley Virtual Art Museum (http://svam.org/).
For the Social Scientist
A consortium of institutions created the Digital History website (http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/) as a place for budding historians to find and access excellent resources. Of particular interest are the primary sources, the virtual exhibits, and the ethnic voices links. The Canadian Museum of Civilization’s online exhibitions are exceptionally interesting (http://www.civilization.ca). You will usually find a virtual exhibition on the homepage. Also, under Exhibitions, click on Online Exhibitions. Once you arrive at the online exhibitions, click on Civilizations and explore ancient treasures, the Dead Sea Scrolls, secrets of ancient Greece, the mysteries of Egypt, and much more. For the budding anthropologist, I suggest the Pheobe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkley (http://hearstmuseum.berkeley.edu/index.php). I had the opportunity to visit it in person, and I find the online resources almost as delightful as the museum itself! Finally, at the National Women’s History Museum (http://www.nwhm.org/), click on the online exhibits to learn about women spies in American History, women who ran for president, women’s role in World War II, and more.
For the Musician
Two great websites for music are the San Francisco Symphony for Kids (www.sfskids.org) and the New York Philharmonic Kidszone (http://www.nyphilkids.org). Both sites have superb interactive activities where children can learn about the orchestra and its instruments, and compose their own music, as well. The National Music Museum (http://orgs.usd.edu/nmm/) is an amazing shrine to music. Begin with the ten-minute video narrated by Tom Brokaw, and then follow the virtual tours section that explores the history of music through its instruments.
In conclusion, there is a rich virtual world out there just waiting for you and your children to explore. Bon voyage!
Joy Navan, PhD, is a professor emeritus of Murray State University and president of Navan Consultation Services, LLC. She provides services in Spanish and English to gifted children and their families through assessments, SENG Model Parent Discussion Groups, professional development and educational planning. She is a member of the SENG Board of Directors.