Homeschooling is always rewarding, but I find that it is more fun (and easier to follow tangents) when you don’t use an out of the box curriculum. However, it can be harder for Mom as we need to create the lesson plans and pull together the resources.
When it was time for my boys to complete the science section about dissection, I was unsure of how to cover the subject in enough depth. Luckily, I found a bunch of virtual dissection classes, which ticked all of the boxes.
In fact, it was so good that I decided to delve deeper into the world of virtual learning. That is when I realized that, with a bit of creative thinking, you could treat your kids to virtual field trips.
School trips are a fantastic way to engage children.
They make the learning experience more fun. All kids enjoy having the freedom to explore and engage in self-determined learning.
How to take a virtual trip:
The problem is that field trips can be expensive, especially if you have more than one child. Plus, you may have to travel a fairly long way, so they swallow up a lot of time.
Virtual field trips overcome both those issues. Some providers do charge, but usually far less than it would cost to physically take your kids on an educational trip.
They open up a world of learning. As you will see institutions across the globe are providing everyone with the chance to experience what they have to offer without your having to leave home. Most are free-to-use and you can explore 24/7, making it easy to fit your virtual educational field trips in with the rest of your child´s studies.
Virtual Field Trips
Currently, many of the best virtual field trips are conservation-related. They provide you and your children the chance to explore the natural world. To learn about wildlife, climate, science and sometimes technology as well.
Explore America´s National Parks
One of the best is the National Parks Service VR experience. What is available from this site changes regularly.
So, it is worth coming back here from time to time. If you don´t, your child could miss out on a great nature-themed virtual field trip.
At the time of writing this, you could explore the Kenai Fjords, Hawaii’s Volcanoes, Carlsbad Caverns, Bryce Cannon, and Dry Tortugas.
Take a journey to Machu Picchu
There are quite a few 360-degree tours of Machu Picchu available on the web. But, this one is currently one of the best of them and it is free to use.
Initially, you are presented with an image of the whole site, which is clearly labeled. You hover over each section, then click to be taken to the ones you are interested in.
The other good thing about this virtual field trip is that the creator has taken the time to add a few informative notes about each section.
The Louvre, Paris
The Louvre Art Museum in Paris provides several free-to-use online tours. Their Egyptian Antiquities one is especially popular.
If your child is learning about the history of Egypt, they will love clicking on the various exhibits and reading the information for each one.
They can also take a tour of the famous building while learning about its history and architecture.
The famous Mona Lisa is housed at The Louvre Art Museum.
A virtual tour of a pharmaceutical lab
AstraZeneca has created a behind the scenes tour of one of their pharmaceutical labs. During this virtual experience, your child will learn about how the lab whittles down 5,000 possibilities to create 5 medications that make it to the human testing trial.
There are also pre and post virtual tour activities for your child to complete. Providing your children with a very effective way to cement what they have just learned and helped them to explore the subject in more depth.
The tour is designed to encourage children to become interested in pursuing a STEM career. So, during the tour, they are told about some of the career paths they could follow.
This will help your child to identify how they could use their skills and interests to get into a field that offers interesting work with good pay and job security.
An interactive tour of Mars
When the Mars Curiosity Rover landed on the planet, in 2011, every inch of the area it trundled over was photographed.
Most of it is barren, so it is not the most interesting vista to look at. But, you can move the Rover in any direction.
Plus, there is some additional information included on the site that will appeal to budding scientists, geologists, planetary astronomers, and astronauts.
This space-based virtual tour is in the process of being upgraded, so it can be viewed in 360-mode.
International Space Station Tour
Over the years, several astronauts have created tours of the various parts of the International Space Station.
Each one has taken a slightly different approach to do this. In terms of information, there is some crossover, but your child will learn something new from each one.
The astronauts show you where and how they sleep and what they eat. As well as demonstrate how they stay clean and well.
Your kids get to visit the labs, the observation deck, and personal areas. There is a lot packed into what is a surprisingly small space.
Unfortunately, there is no additional learning material provided on the site. But, watching these videos is sure to spark dozens of questions.
They also provide excellent material for all kinds of written and creative work.
A virtual tour to the Vatican´s museums
The Vatican museums are home to some of the world's most iconic works of art, all housed in beautiful buildings. So, it is great to see them taking the time to share these with the world.
Their site has one of the best set of images I´ve seen. They are extremely high quality and offer you a true 360-degree view.
Before your child starts their Vatican field trip, be sure to remind them to look up throughout the experience. Especially, of course, when they get to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Once there, you can encourage them to zoom in on certain sections and discuss those images in detail. This map of the ceiling will help you to find the element of this beautiful piece of work you want to discuss in more detail.
Experience the Amazon Rainforest
In 2017, Conservation International teamed up with the VR travel app Jaunt and made Under the Canopy.
This 360-degree film takes you deep into the rainforest to highlight the plight of the animals and 350 indigenous tribes that live there.
Your child learns how the forest supports so many different animals and why it is such a delicate eco-system. It is exciting too. At one stage, the viewer repels down a 200-foot tree.
Take a home Safari
Courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens
The Cincinnati Zoo showcases some of their animals via an interactive safari experience. At the time of my writing this they were running a Live Facebook event every day at 3 pm EDT.
Each show includes an educational activity. If your child cannot attend the event, they can watch it later on YouTube.
Live Facebook events are particularly good because your child gets the chance to ask questions and have some of them answered in real-time.
Explore the Theatre of Dionysus
When it comes to image quality and the ability to navigate a monument, site or area, you cannot beat Google Earth.
Unfortunately, when you use this platform, there is not a lot of interactivity. But, you can easily explore the images yourself and create a lesson plan that fits in with what you can see.
The Theatre of Dionysus is just one of the thousands of places you can visit virtually, using Google Earth. The Theatre of Dionysus is an ancient theatre in Athens on the south slope of the Akropolis hill.
On the left-hand side of the screen, you will find an “I´m feeling lucky” button. Click that and Google Earth will take you all somewhere else.
Using this is a great way to engage and excite your kids and encourage them to explore the world more so that they can write about new places and subjects.
UK Forestry Field Trip
In the UK, The Forestry Commission takes care of 700,000 hectares of publicly owned forests.
They have recently tapped into the power of the Google Expeditions app to enable people from across the world to explore the UK´s forests and learn about the wildlife that lives there and the commission´s work.
You can find out more, but will need to download the app to access the virtual field trip experiences.
To get the most out of them, you will also need VR goggles. Don´t worry about the cost. Using an inexpensive cardboard casing, which you can easily buy online, most smartphones can be turned into a set of VR goggles
George Washington’s Mount Vernon
This virtual school trip resource is a work in progress. The team that runs the site is planning to add more panoramic views. But, what is already available is excellent.
When you click this link, you will be presented with a view of the mansion. On that interactive image, various points of entry or interest have been marked up. This provides you with the opportunity to zoom in on one particular aspect from the outset.
Once you are inside the building, your child will be able to virtually walk around it, clicking on the many points of interest. I like the fact that they have included the grounds and provide information buttons there too.
The interface is good, but it takes a bit of getting used to. So, you might want to have a play around before letting your children loose on it.
The most useful navigation buttons are in the bottom right of the screen once you are inside the 360-degree tour images.
Schleissheim Palace complex in Munich
The Schleissheim Palace Complex in Munich is vast and fascinating. You and your children can explore all of the palaces and buildings that make up one of Germany´s most important historic sites. That includes the beautiful gardens that surround them.
There is a map of the entire complex in the top left-hand corner. It shows you exactly where you are. A navigational tool I wish more of virtual sites would include. The zoom is really powerful too. You can literally see the pattern on the plates if you want to.
Unfortunately, there is no additional information included in the interactive part of the site. So, from an educational point of view, this is not the best option out there. Be sure to download the free pdf flyers to help craft your lesson.
Houses of Parliament 360° virtual tour
Take a virtual trip to see the UK´s Houses of Parliament
The UK Houses of Parliament's virtual tour website is quite old. But that does not mean the site is not good. It is excellent.
Down the left-hand side of the screen, you have a list of the different parts of the building. So, easy there is no chance of your child getting lost and going around in circles or wasting time revisiting things they have already seen. There are also a lot of clickable information points in each area.
If you want to teach your children more about human rights, the women in parliament's virtual tour is an excellent resource. This additional tour takes you through the building explaining when and how women finally gained access to each area.
During the tour, your child will also have the chance to learn about some of the UK´s leading women´s rights campaigners.
Field Trip to Capitol Hill
As a learning source, this quite old site is still one of the best virtual field trip resources out there. The images are excellent. For each building, there are details of the history, architecture and how it is used today.
The site has three sections - discover, explore and learn. Each of which presents information in different ways. The best place to start is the explore section. This presents you with an aerial view of all of the buildings on Capitol Hill. You then click on each one to be taken around the outside from above. There are also images of the inside available via other tabs, along with plenty of additional relevant information.
In the learn section, there is a timeline that details the important points of Capitol Hill´s history. This section features more videos. Most of which have been shot from above. Some include time-lapse imagery too. Each one has an easy to follow and informative audio track. Unfortunately, these videos are played in a tiny window with no way that I could see to expand them. But, they are so high quality, this is not a huge issue.
The Houston Zoo from Home
These days, a lot of zoos have webcams, enabling your children to watch their favorite animals in live time. Houston zoo has a particularly good collection.
At the time of writing this, this zoo has 6 video feeds. Including, their rhino yard, giraffe cam, and Gorilla habitat cam.
Refreshingly, the smaller animals have not been forgotten. The leafcutter ant cam is surprisingly captivating.
Viewers get the chance to control each of the cameras so you can explore a little bit. Your child will have to wait for their turn and will only have control for a short period, but it is a nice touch.
The videos that are embedded underneath each live cam feed are interesting too. In them, one of the animals´ keepers tells you more about the animals you are watching. Giving your child an insider´s view of what goes on in the zoo and why the animals behave as they do.
Visit a Farm (or 11)
If you want your children to learn more about farming and where their food comes from. This website is an excellent resource with 11 different types of farms.
Using 360-degree videos your child can experience a grain harvest, dairy farming, and explore a sheep farm.
There are also videos about the technology that is used on these farms and a few that cover food production too.
The Grand Canyon VR Experience
Provided you own the right equipment, for example, the Oculus Touch VR kit, your child can enjoy this virtual experience of the Grand Canyon.
It is not expensive and them the ability to explore the area through a gaming-like experience by taking a virtual kayaking trip.
There are even AI fish for your child to attract to the kayak and feed along the way, as well as plenty of information about the area´s natural features and animals.
You can find other virtual Grand Canyon tours here.
The VR Museum of Fine Art on Steam
Amazingly, this virtual art museum is free to visit. Its creator has scanned some of the world´s most important works of art to create this virtual gallery.
The 360-degree tour of Michelangelo´s David is quite something.
Navigation is made easy by the virtual map and pamphlet. But, you do need a VR headset and a play area with 360-degree tracking, to go on this tour.
Explore a virtual museum in room-scale VR: see famous sculptures in full, 1:1 scale and see famous paintings without the limitations of glass and security guards.
Visit New Orleans
The New Orleans virtual tour is particularly well laid out. It starts with a distance shot of the city, with all of the major landmarks labeled up. So, your child can choose where they want to go, click the pin and be taken there.
It is also possible to take a full tour, using videos that show off some of the city´s most important buildings. It is an engaging way to get an overview of New Orleans and what it has to offer.
But, unfortunately, for most of the landmarks, this virtual experience is light on details.
Many of the videos are only images and music. So, you will likely want to use it mainly for inspiration.
However, if you use it in conjunction with this website, getting your children to explore and learn about the city´s history is very easy. Importantly, that site provides links to websites where your children can find out even more.
Take virtual tours of other cities
If your child wants to see the art galleries, monuments, and museums they are exploring.
This site and this one have wonderful 360-degree images of many of them. Most of each city´s important historic and cultural places are included on this website.
A free way to view art installations and exhibitions
Google provides all kinds of resources that relatively few people know about. Some of which are excellent for the homeschooling community.
The Google Arts and Culture collection of 360-degree videos is one such example. They enable your children to view stunning images of works of art, cultural locations and much more.
If you are looking for a more immersive experience, it is the street view button you want to press. From there you can go inside some of the world´s most important buildings and galleries and explore them virtually. The quality is excellent.
Google has sent cameras into some of the world´s biggest museums. Accessing the still photos and related information about each of them is very easy.
But, if you want to see the exhibits almost in person, zoom in and get a 360 degree of each one, you will need to use street view.
Unfortunately, finding that file from Google’s main Arts and Culture site is not always easy. But, don’t worry, you just need to do a simple search for the museum name on Google.
Normally, you will be taken straight there.
Things can only get better
As you can see, when it comes to virtual field trips there are a lot of options. Some are free. Others you pay for.
Some require you to buy special equipment to experience them in full. Fortunately, for most of them, a laptop or simple cardboard holder for a smartphone is all you need.
So, finding what you want may take time. But, it is well worth it. Visual and exploration learning experiences are extremely powerful. So, it makes sense to use them whenever you can.
The technology is constantly improving. As a result, more individuals and institutions are creating material you can use for virtual field trips. Many of them are also making the effort to include more supplemental information, activities, and links to other sources.
The best virtual field trip experiences act as a springboard for more in-depth learning.