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Virtual Vacations, Part 1


It’s June, and the kids have been home with you since mid-March. Right now, even if you’re the happiest family ever, you may be ready for a vacation from the kids. Normally, that would come in the form of summer camps. They provide a nice break for parents while providing fun, educational experiences for the kids.

This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many summer camps – not just sleepover ones, but day camps as well – to be canceled. It’s hard to get children to maintain proper social distancing when they are out exploring! And even though Texas has been one of the first states to open back up for business, there are still places your kids would like to go but can’t, because traveling in groups isn’t quite safe enough yet.

Fortunately, just as the Internet has allowed many children to finish up the school year using online classes, there are some fun places to go on the World Wide Web that can serve as a pretty good substitute for summer camps. In fact, there are some places they can go online for fun (and a little education) that aren’t just out of town, but out of this world!

Whether your children are into science, art, history, nature, drama or music, there are some great sites to explore online that make great virtual vacations for kids. Here are some places to check out.

California Science Center
Missing science camp? The California Science Center (http://californiasciencenter.org) has a new program called stuck at Home Science, where kids can do science projects and experiments with their families using household-supplies. For each daily activity, participants watch a video(which often includes tours of the Science Center) and then download an activity sheet that has detailed instructions on how to do a related project at home. All of the videos and materials are available in both English and Spanish.

Boston Children’s Museum
Are you looking for a way to connect with your kids and to expand their understanding of different cultures? In addition to offering a virtual tour of the museum itself, the Boston Children’s Museum (http://bostonchildrensmuseum.org) has an entire section of its website called Play, Fun and Learning at Home.
In the 100 Ways to Play area, kids can choose from a long list of fun things to do, from dance parties to planting seeds from fruit they’ve had for a snack. If you’re stumped on how to keep your kids entertained, this is a great place to start!
For more in-depth activities, check out the Activities Archive, which has everything from a photography class to a nature scavenger hunt. There are even instructions on how to make your own zine, story times with famous Bostonian athletes and musicians, and a family yoga session!
East Asia Resources and Native Voices help expand children’s cultural awareness. In these areas, your child can take virtual tours of museum exhibits about Japan and Native Americans, and well as accessing interactive content. They can even learn some Japanese!

The National Gallery of Art
Art lovers will be thrilled to have the chance to visit the National Gallery of Art (http://nga.gov) in Washington, D.C., and be able to walk through the museum in 3D. There are three virtual exhibitions to visit, complete with links to curator notes, audio, and video to enhance your tour. To help you create your own art camp, the museum has put together Ten Digital Educational Resources from the National Gallery of Art, which includes children’s video tours, lessons and activities by grade level, and information on the NGA kids Art Zone app for the iPad.

San Diego Zoo
You won’t have to go all the way to California to take your kids on a tour of one of the most renowned zoos in the world, the San Diego Zoo. Visit https://zoo.sandiegozoo.org/were-here-together and you’ll get a list of all of their online resources for kids of all ages. San Diego Zoo Kids will help your young children learn about wildlife through videos, stories, games, and hands-on activities. Your middle school and high school kids can take free online classes at the San Diego Zoo Global Academy or learn about conservation on the zoo’s science blog. Family members of all ages will enjoy the zoo’s wildlife cams, which give a live look at the animals in their zoo habitats.

Ancient Egypt
Travel back in time to the land of the pyramids with a Virtual Field Trips tour of ancient Egypt (https://www.virtualfieldtrips.org/ancientegypt-land-of-the-pyramids). For $10, you can access a full video tour of Egypt that includes the Valley of the Kings, Pyramids of Giza, Valley of the Queens, Luxor, the Temple of Ramses, and more. A 20-minute video preview of the tour is free. Further down on the page are ideas for activities. For explorers who want to follow up with a more interactive experience, including the opportunity to “walk” right up to the pyramids themselves, Google Maps offers a short close-up tour of the pyramids and the Sphinx at https://www.google.com/maps/about/behind-the-scenes/streetview/treks/pyramids-of-giza/. Finally, if you want to give your summer campers a look at some of the artifacts that archeologists have preserved from Ancient Egypt, you can take them on a quick virtual tour of the Tutankhamen exhibit at the Saatchi Gallery in London at https://tutankhamun-london.com/see-do/.

The Dali Theatre-Museum
Take an online trip to Spain to see the Dali Theatre-Museum (https://Salvador-dali.org/en). Although the museum is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, its virtual tour allows you to feel like you’re there. With a click of a computer mouse, you and your child can step into a world where it rains upside-down and gardens grow in cars. More than just moving through the museum, you can click on colored spots that will take you to text information and videos about the unique art pieces, as well as enabling you to interact with some of the exhibits themselves.

NASA and Other “Out of this World” Experiences
If outer space exploration is your kids’ cup of tea, NASA has plenty to keep them engaged. Online, they can take virtual tours of not one, but three, NASA facilities.
Langley Research Center in Virginia (https://oh.larc.nasa.gov/oh/), offers online tours of the entire campus, including the Vacuum Spheres at the Hypersonic Facilities Complex, Manufacturing and Assembly In-Space with Robotics, and the National Transonic Facility, which is the world’s largest pressurized cryogenic wind tunnel.
At the Glenn Research Center in Ohio (https://www.nasa.gov/glennvirtualtours), you can go inside the Propulsion SystemsLaboratory and the Space Environments Complex and can take a virtual tour of Zero-G.
Space Center Houston now has a mobile phone app (https://spacecenter.org/news-center/news-releases/space-centerhoustons-new-app-offers-an-enhanced-visitor-experience/)with virtual tours, augmented reality experiences, and video and audio stories about space exploration.
For younger children who are interested in space, but not quite old enough to understand all the science behind it, there is also Storytime from Space (http://storytimefromspace.com). Viewers can watch as space-related storybooks are read by astronauts on the International Space Station.

Other great virtual vacation options to do with kids


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