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  • Writer's picturePhillip Ratliff

Museum, Zoo, and Aquarium Fans: Ideas for Coping During Self Quarantine

Updated: Mar 20, 2020

You’re neither living inside a media bubble nor indifferent to the plight of your neighbor. You know that there’s a pretty scary pandemic underway and you’re doing all that you can to limit social interactions for your own family’s sake as well as for the common good.

Given that you’re reading this, you’re probably a free choice learning enthusiast — the sort of person who enjoys museums, zoos, aquariums, and historical and architectural tours. You want to remain engaged with the world of objects and ideas, even if you can’t be physically in it for this period.

And if you’re a parent, you want to pass along the free choice learning habit to your little ones — who are by now home from school, climbing the walls, and, if they’re like mine, eagerly power-streaming videos and eating up precious bandwidth.

There’s good news for you. For the housebound lifelong learners and their families, there are ample online activities to tide you over until you all can finally take a tour or visit your favorite institution in person.

Gaze at beautiful art. Writer and musician Josh Jones has painstakingly curated links to over 30 sites, each loaded with tens of thousands of images. Jones has included links to the Art Institute of Chicago (44,000 images), the L.A. County Museum (20,000 images), the British Museum (4,200 images), the Getty (100,000 images) , the Guggenheim (1,600 images), the Met (400,000 images), MoMA (65,000 images), and more. All told, the digital collection tallies to about 1.8 million works of art, plus scads of additional images collected in art books.

In short, this list isn’t. Like Alice, you will have to go down the rabbit hole. Click on his article at Open Culture to see the complete list first. You’ll then click to an overview of each museum’s collections before going to the site itself. Though the navigation is palimpsestic, clicking through a layer at a time will better orient you to each site. At the end of your journey, beauty awaits.

Take a Virtual Museum Tour. Individual works of art give you the 2-D experience. But what about gallery tours that let you take in several works in one immersive experience? The magazine Travel and Leisure has aggregated twelve immersive tours in one tidy article.

Tours featured in the article include American institutions like the Guggenheim, the National Gallery of Art, and the Getty, as well as international fare — in London, Paris, Seoul, São Paulo, and Mexico City. Travel and Leisure drew their content from the Google Arts & Culture Collection of museums. It’s a curation of curation, which is always kinda cool. Visit the collection’s website to access thousands of museum Street Views. Google Arts & Culture also has an online experience for exploring famous historic and cultural heritage sites.

Spy on Animals. People have been using fiddling with webcams for a couple of decades now. The results have been at times brilliant, at others, not so much. On the bright side of the continuum: Zoos And Aquariums who livestream their animals as they’re being fed or played with. It’s lovable, fur-ball fun that toddlers and primary school kids especially love.

And if you don’t make any sudden movements and speak in soothing tones, your tweens and teens might be gently coaxed to come take a look, too.

Cincinnati's world-famous pachyderm Fiona the Hippo — who weighed 29 pounds at birth and at press time is showing no signs of slowing down — kicked off the Facebook Live series on March 16. Look for more animals weekdays at 3 PM Eastern. Go to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens Facebook page to catch the livestream or for more information.

Though the Monterey Bay Aquarium is also closed, they want you to know that their webcams are also still streaming. Until they reopen, you can “check in on the sea otters, sway with the kelp forest, find tranquility with the jellies and look for wildlife out on Monterey Bay.”

The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago recently posted live video of its beloved penguins touring the site. And the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park already has a menagerie of live cams trained on polar bears, giraffes, elephants, and koalas. If you happen to miss a live feed, click on an archived footage. Who’s gonna know?

For a candid look at giraffes, check out Giraffe Cam, part of the EarthCam network. Giraffe Cam stars three Masai Giraffes currently residing at the Greenville Zoo in South Carolina. Mom and Dad have names, Miles and Autumn. The proud couple recently welcomed a new calf, yet to be named. Giraffe Cam is reality television, only it’s not on television and it’s really real: no voice overs, no ominous synth music, just three giraffes descended from the plains of Africa trying to make a go of it in a midsize Southern city.

Get a drawing buddy. Two of the most beloved illustrators from the world of children’s books, James Dean (of Pete the Cat fame) and Mo Willems (known for his fourth wall-breaking pigeons, pigs, and elephants) each offer a live-streamed doodle time. Don’t expect daily instruction. Neither Willems nor Dean are the type to ascend to such a throne. Rather, each illustrator takes on the role of friendly drawing partner — Willems through the Kennedy Center, Dean, in a self-produced podcast, doodling and chatting in a free-wheeling, Bob Ross sort of way. Find Dean here weekdays at Noon Eastern and Willems here weekdays at 1 PM Eastern.

Keep Learning. Free choice learning is what separates museums from the typical lecture halls and college classrooms. Learners get to choose what they attend to and how they do so, too.

If it’s interactive STEM learning you’re looking for, send your kids directly to the National Geographic Kids site. For a broader array of topics, try good ol’ Highlights Kids — a favorite for Gallants as well as many a Goofus trying to mend his or her slovenly ways.

Insight: They’re the same person.

For grownups looking for resources to keep your youngsters engaged, check out your local museum’s education pages. Like this one: The "learn" tab for the Wiregrass Museum of Art in Dothan, Alabama. Drop down to "Educational Resources." You’ll find online lesson plans as well as the Educator’s Lair, blog posts about various art projects.

WMA communications manager Lara Kosolapoff-Wright says that, while these online resources were developed for classroom teachers, many of them can be used by parents at home with students over the next couple of weeks.

Don’t forget that "museum" doesn’t mean just "art museum." There are history museums, train museums, car and motorcycle museums, a museum for people who love Peanuts cartoons, and the list goes on. They’re too numerous to amass here — but very easy to pry out of the internet with a little elbow grease. It’ll be different for each page you visit. Some might offer worksheets, coloring pages, or downloadable activity books. Most local museums are serious about tying their content to the curriculum in your state, and in a way that’s fun and accessible to young learners.

Phillip Ratliff is owner and director of Backstory Educational Media.

Thanks to Rebecca Cabaniss, Lara Kosolapoff-Wright, Wesley Garmon, Dana Pharo, and Abby Ratliff for content.

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