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Well-known summer destinations such as museums, national parks and big cities may not be easy to reach this summer due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As states report new cases in Covid-19 cases, interrupt reopening measures, and even reintroduce business restrictions, families may be more reluctant to venture far from home.
Fortunately, a summer at home doesn't necessarily mean months of boredom. There are a variety of virtual tours, excursions and activities that offer enrichment and entertainment and that families can easily access online.
Live historical tours
After the pandemic caused schools across the country to access distance learning, The Constitutional Walking Tour had to find another way to do field trips in Philadelphia. The tour operator started offering live tours through Zoom so the students could still see famous historical sites such as Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
"We found that the kids and teachers reacted to us like this – they were hungry for content," said Jonathan Bari, the tour operator's president.
With this virtual option, the company was able to offer its 27 guidelines job opportunities and, according to Bari, adhere to measures for social distancing. He said the students could easily ask the guide questions and even schools in distant parts of the country such as California could take tours and "visit" Philadelphia.
Closeup of the Liberty Bell with the Independence Hall in the background at dusk.
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The virtual school tours initially cost $ 99, but since then the price has increased to $ 125. Bari plans to continue offering them in the fall. Personal group tours typically cost $ 11 per student for groups of 25 or more.
The Constitutional Walking Tour also restarted its live tours on July 1st and will launch an app for $ 17.99 that allows travelers to conduct their own self-guided, socially distant visit to Philadelphia. However, Bari said the company is still planning to make the virtual tour available this summer to families who may not yet be able to travel, and is working on a price for this offer.
"I think it's a fantastic option for kids, parents, and families who just want to do something different under the circumstances," said Bari.
Visits to museums
Families can also access famous art online. Although temporarily closed, the Art Institute of Chicago offers a variety of ways for families to virtually visit the museum. To make this even easier, a new section has been added to his website for accessing his artwork over the Internet.
"We've doubled our digital engagement since it closed in March," said Michael Neault, executive creative director for experience design at the museum.
Shortly after the closure, the museum released a free digital platform that offers art tours with 360-degree technology and allows art lovers to explore objects such as an Egyptian mummy mask, a West African headdress, and a Viking sword. The project was in progress before the pandemic, but Neault said it was more relevant now than ever.
"Without seeing the art personally, this is a great way to engage students at home," said Neault.
In the days leading up to the closure of the art institute, according to Neault, the museum's filmmaker tried to take pictures of his galleries. This footage became the basis for a free video series on the museum's most famous works called "The Essentials Tour", which is now published on the museum's YouTube channel.
"The videos are short cans of art history, and it's like getting a 101-hour lesson in just a few minutes," said Neault.
The museum also released a free video tour of its new El Greco exhibition of footage collected the day before the art institute closed, and is planning a new video series in which employees discuss their favorite works of art. The museum even supplied microphones to employees so that they could record their interviews safely at home.
"With limited access to the galleries and staff, we had to be really creative and imaginative about creating content," said Neault.
For younger art lovers, the museum offers a JourneyMaker feature that allows children to personalize their virtual tour and choose the art they want to see. The art institute also offers other free downloadable activities inspired by its artwork, such as coloring pages, crossword puzzles, and creative writing instructions.
In addition to these options, according to Neault, the museum offers more than 54,000 works of art in a public domain format that is both downloaded and free. In addition to viewing pictures and descriptions of famous works by Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and other artists, parents and teachers can implement the art in activities and lesson plans.
"You could even get kids to download artwork and curate their own exhibition at home," said Neault.
See national parks online
While U.S. national parks may be the most popular vacation spots this summer, some families may still have concerns about traveling far to visit one. The National Park Foundation, the National Park Service's official charity, has been working to promote digital parks for pandemics.
"People wanted and still want to go to the parks, whether at local, state or national level or in other open spaces, just because we as humans have this important connection to nature," said Will Shafroth, President and CEO of NPF.
As part of the park system's numerous virtual options, NPF introduced free video tours of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and the Channel Islands National Park in California that were produced before the pandemic. Shaforth also mentioned the availability of free live video feeds on the internet, such as the bear cameras from Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, which allow people to view wildlife in real time.
Double catch by two brown bears from Katmai National Park fishing for salmon in Brooks Falls.
Mike Lyvers | Getty Images
In addition to parks, there are also online resources on historical sites in the national park system. There is a video tour of the Alexander Hamilton Grange National Memorial in New York City, which is temporarily closed to curb the spread of Covid-19. After Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton" arrived at Disney + on July 3rd, interest in the founding father's house could increase.
For young Park goers also have the National Park Service's Junior Ranger program, which allows them to explore national parks online and offer activities that children can do at home.
Although interest in these online offerings has increased, Shafroth said that a personal trip to a national park could still be possible this summer. If a family is reluctant to travel long distances to reach famous destinations like Yellowstone National Park, they may be able to find another option nearby.
"Remember there are 419 national parks," said Shafroth. "So there are many who are probably much closer to where most people live than they think."
Both during the school year and in summer, Discovery Education offers a range of virtual enrichment options that have sparked even greater interest during the pandemic.
The educational company's most popular options include virtual field trips to locations such as the National Basketball Association headquarters and the Canadian tundra for annual polar bear migration. After watching the recorded videos, students can complete the learning activities associated with the virtual journey.
"These are opportunities to really get children over the walls of their stay, meet people, and gain experiences that they might otherwise not have," said Stephen Wakefield, vice president of public affairs for the company.
Discovery Education has been offering virtual field trips along with other digital offerings for nearly 15 years, and works with approximately half of the U.S. school districts, said Lance Rougeux, vice president of corporate learning communities and former public school teacher. However, he said that the virtual excursions during the pandemic were particularly important.
"During the school year, teachers use them to get out of the classroom walls, but now it's like getting out of the apartment," said Rougeux.
The company has expanded its digital offering since the pandemic began and recently launched its Summer of Learning initiative, which includes resources such as audio books, podcasts, and activities that students can use to complete their education while at school.
While many Discovery Education offerings are behind a paywall and are designed to be accessible to students through school, the company has also made some of its learning activities available to everyone online. The Daily DE is an educational resource for parents and includes six-week lesson plans that they can use for students in grades K through 12. The plans include virtual field trips, scientific experiments, writing prompts, and other learning activities.
The activities are designed to help children stay connected to learning at an uncertain time.
"It's a simple, easy, and dedicated way to keep students' thoughts active during a summer that's really strange for all of us," said Wakefield.