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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.