This article is part of our latest Learning special report, which focuses on the challenges of online education during the coronavirus outbreak.
Sometime in mid- to late March, it seemed as if the whole world suddenly shut down and moved online in a matter of days as the coronavirus crisis intensified.
Luckily, institutions ranging from museums and libraries to the United States House of Representatives and NASA have been creating content and access for children who are stuck at home and learning remotely. In some cases, the changes beef up existing educational resources, and in others brand-new options are now there for the taking. Best of all, most of them are free.
Here are some of the efforts to bring educational material home to laptops, tablets and smartphones for students in grades K-12.
Museums have responded to the challenge with enthusiasm. Children can use the JourneyMaker tool on the website of the Art Institute of Chicago to create a personalized tour through the museum.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MetKids page on the website saw a 1,669 percent jump in unique page views between March 12 (the temporary closure went into effect the next day) and April 5. In addition, it started “Storytime with The Met,” an online version of the “Storytime in Nolen Library” program. On Thursdays at noon, it can be watched on the Met’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.
The museum’s partnership with Microsoft’s Flipgrid app, which began in November, has also intensified. The museum supplies content to the educational app, and children can document and send their reactions back to a teacher as a completed assignment.
An Egyptian mummy topped by a painted portrait of a 20-something man with a mustache, dating from A.D. 80 to 100, is the most popular work to interact with on Flipgrid so far. “Mummies always win, no matter the platform,” said Emily Blumenthal of the Met’s Education Department.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art redesigned its website to emphasize content stored there — dubbing itself LACMA @ Home — rather than its exhibition program.
Among the options are free online courses, lectures on demand and articles, interviews and behind-the-scenes stories from the museum’s blog, Unframed. Some of the new features relate to shows that would otherwise be open, like the retrospective of the painter Julie Mehretu that was on view when the museum closed. One post asked children to riff on Ms. Mehretu’s dense work, especially its grounding in maps. Finding the right materials can count as a “scavenger hunt,” the post said.
Some museum offerings are meant to tie in to school curriculums: the Brooklyn Museum is adapting its China Toolkit — developed to highlight its Arts of China collection in conjunction with the New York Department of Education’s third-grade lessons on world geography — to digital learning.
Other activities are more free-form. The Getty in Los Angeles posted “5 Ideas to Stay Creative,” featuring drawing assignments inspired by items in its vast art collection. The Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla., has been posting educational videos on YouTube with art lessons, tours and even singalongs.
Not all institutional responses are internet-based, either: The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia is providing 600 of its children’s activity books and coloring sheets, puzzles and crayon packets to communities in West and South Philadelphia.
Libraries have certainly stepped up, including the Library of Congress, which on its website offers classic reads for children of all ages, from “The Ugly Duckling” to “White Fang.” You don’t even have to download anything.
The Seattle Public Library made a virtual version of its popular in-branch story time, and it is working to extend the reach of its LibraryLink card for students and teachers, giving access to all of its digital resources. The Denver Public Library has a 24/7 phone-a-story service in four languages and offers ideas on how to turn those stories into educational challenges (call 720-865-8500).
The New York Public Library, which primarily serves the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, already offers access to hundreds of thousands of books via its e-reading app, SimplyE. (New York State residents can use the app to apply for a library card, too.)
The library’s closure, which began March 13, has also produced new initiatives, including a partnership with the online tutoring company Brainfuse. With a library card, anyone can access an on-demand virtual tutor for free.
“The reality is that we have spent a decade preparing to serve the public when we’re closed,” the library’s president, Anthony Marx, said of its push to move services online. During the coronavirus crisis, people have responded: “For the SimplyE app, we saw a sixfold spike in usage the first week we were closed,” he said.
Zoos are popular among kids anytime, and the same goes for their online versions. The San Diego Zoo has a page for children on its website with games, tutorials about animals and videos (check out the always entertaining Baboon Cam). The National Zoo’s animal webcams have been grabbing eyeballs in the lockdown era, especially the cheetah cam; a cheetah recently gave birth to four cubs for the world to witness.
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta had a feed from nine underwater webcams on its website before the pandemic, and now it has added one called Gator Crossing. For the aquarium, one of its biggest new additions is its “Deep Sea Learning” video series. Also new is an At-Home Learning page on the website that includes artwork submissions, coloring pages and other resources for kids.
Although children may not know it, math is lurking in some of these fun activities. “Animals are a great point of entry to teach complex lessons about equations and population growth,” said the aquarium’s president and chief executive, Brian Davis.
When you can barely leave the house, outer space seems very far away. But NASA at Home offers tons of resources for students in elementary, middle and high school: E-books, virtual tours, podcasts, videos and much more, all with an eye to linking the agency’s work to science, technology, engineering and math.
NASA astronauts are interacting with children, too. Recently, while aboard the International Space Station, Christopher Cassidy and Jessica Meir took part in a virtual call with students from their home state, Maine. The Q. and A. was available on NASA TV for anyone to listen in. The astronaut Christina Koch, who recently set a record for longest spaceflight by a woman, did a series of daily story times on Instagram.
“I was hearing from many of my friends and family about the challenges of working from home while managing home schooling,” Ms. Koch said in an email. “I had been doing board games and reading with my nieces and nephews over video chat, so I thought about reading to a wider audience so parents could have something positive on the screen for their kids.”
The New-York Historical Society has relaunched History @ Home, its online portal for history and civics programs for students, teachers and families. Daily lessons are only part of the offerings, which include story times, family book clubs — even happy hours for teachers that include guest scholars. Despite its name, nearly a third of the users of the society’s online offerings are from outside New York State.
The website of the House of Representatives features Kids in the House, chock-a-block with educational activities divided into categories for young learners, grade school, middle school and high school. There’s a page on Hispanic Americans in Congress and information on how the House chamber itself has evolved as a physical space — as well as information about how a bill becomes a law, tailored to each age group.
The Kids in the House page was created by the Office of the Clerk, which was established in the Constitution and is currently run by Cheryl L. Johnson. Part of the site describes her job, an elected position voted on by all of the representatives, that even most adults don’t know much about.
The various branches of the Smithsonian have a wide array of home-learning options, starting with the online tool Our Story from the National Museum of American History, helping children experience history at home through books, everyday objects and activities. It connects past events with items in the museum’s trove. The Smithsonian Learning Lab has thousands of free activities related to 6,000 of the Smithsonian’s different collections; for instance, one focuses on African-American soldiers in the Civil War. For teachers, there’s a new distance-learning resources webpage, created in response to the coronavirus crisis.