As part of the global effort to stop coronavirus spreading, museums around the world have shut and tens of millions of families are social distancing. But although their physical doors might be closed, museums can still help families enjoy their time together, thanks to their online games and activities.
Perhaps your school or childcare provider is closed, you’re in self-isolation to protect yourselves and others, or in whole household quarantine as one of you has a cough or temperature. Either way, maybe like me you’re wondering how on earth to keep your kids entertained and educated – but most importantly yourself sane – over the weeks and months ahead.
I’ve combed the internet, asked the experts – fellow parents and museum educators alike – and clicked on more links than I care to count. The result is this bumper list of museum games, activities and print outs, all FREE to access, easy to understand, and fun! There’s even a sneaky exclusive download, under the Science section. I’ve focused on what works for children of primary age, but many will work for younger and older children too. I hope these hand-picked resources help add some museum fun (and a sneaky bit of learning) to your day, even when you can’t get past your doorstep.
VIRTUAL MUSEUM TOURS
Google Arts and Culture
The ultimate virtual museum treasure trove, Google Arts and Culture brings the collections of nearly 1,200 museums and galleries to your fingertips. Take a virtual tour through 500 museums worldwide with Streetviews, including the British Museum, Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Move through empty galleries and get as close as you like to key artworks by zooming in on high definition images.
You can also search for artists or subjects that takes your kid’s fancy amongst their special articles and online exhibitions. Museum Boy will absolutely love Harry Potter: A history of magic, made in conjunction with the British Library. A quick search for Van Gogh brings up art from 17 collections, where I can zoom in on works like Starry Night, or take a walk around the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
ART AND DESIGN
Games, quizzes, activities, videos and children’s art gallery. Create your own (virtual) masterpiece on Tate Paint game. I like Jacqueline Wilson’s Magical Tour of Tate Britain, the Andy Warhol pop art activity and, particularly relevant in our times of heightened hygiene, the soap sculpting inspired by Barbara Hepworth. Singing happy birthday optional.
Showcasing 5,000 years of world art. Where’s Wally fans will love the intricate detail of their clickable museum map. Press the big red button on their time machine to find art and inventions from different eras, and watch videos on how to make art, like this stained glass window, or showcasing other children’s animations.
Art Sparks from home
Art made easy with these Museum At Home resources. Activities include geometric printmaking, puffy paint abstracts, colouring pages for surrealist Yves Tangay and Claude Monet, and at-home museum guide activity sheets.
Color our collections
FREE colouring sheets from libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions around the world. This one from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales has unicorns, dragons, and the craziest butterfly arrangement I ever did see. Plus I can inflict my rusty Welsh on the kids.
Norton Simon Museum
Scroll down to the art projects on the Norton SImon Museum site for nine nifty family activities inspired by the museum’s collections. They’re a little more involved than others I feature but the step by step photos are easy to follow, and the resulting pieces are beautiful. I love the art aquarium in response to Paul Klee’s Aquarium Green-Red and the wire Picasso style self-portraits.
Create a hair-raising design inspired by 18th century fashion in the Design a Wig game. Or learn what it took to become a master tradesmen in Terrible Trades – you can deflesh a hide, sew sequins, and guild a chalice, all with a few clicks of your cursor.
SCIENCE AND NATURE
Free at home hands-on activities which use stuff easy to lay your (hopefully non-germy) hands on, like Kitchen Science, making paper rocket mice, or building a drinking straw dome. And there’s no mum-guilt for letting your kids play their maths and science-based games and apps – Launchball is a particular highlight.
Eureka! At home – exclusive download!
Eureka! home – No 1 Rocket Explosion
You saw it here first – the boffins at Eureka are hard at work creating at home science experiments. This first one uses alka-seltzers and an (empty) Pringles tube to make a mini-rocket explosion without using any fire. I’m delighted to host it exclusively on this blog whilst they prepare their own website. More are planned so I’ll update this page when they’re available.
Exploratorium science snacks
Hungry for fresh, exciting science activities based in amazing phenomena? Science Snacks are hands-on, teacher-tested, and use cheap, available materials. Satisfy your curiosity without ever getting full.
Dudley Canal Trust
Inventive (and sometimes edible!) ideas for learning about geology. Make a Sedimentary Strata Trifle to find out how sedimentary rocks are formed or explore how rocks form and behave with Igneous Kitchen.
Canadian Museum of Nature
These colouring in sheets of artic animals are sophisticated enough for older children – and there’s a little fact about each animal beneath each download too.
These curriculum-based resources will help stretch primary aged children with an interest in biology. Tackle subjects like food chains, ecosystems and adaptations with confidence with these short and easy lesson plans. The print out resources and pre-written questions make playing teacher a doddle (well, for ten minutes or so a lot!)
The Great Fire of London
Even disasters in history can bring some comfort – find out how London faced near total destruction, and rebuilt itself from the ashes after the Great Fire. Click through these bright and simple graphics to learn the story of the fire. Help Samuel Pepys’ maid Jane flee the city and fight the fire in The Great Fire of London game. And finish with a wander through Minecraft maps of London, before, during and after the fire.
Young Archaeologists Club
Horrible histories, eat your heart out. Make and excavate archaeological poo <peers underneath the sofa>, mummify an orange or create canopic jars. Just three of the thirty plus ideas with clear instructions and step by step photos.
Bring on the battle
Calling all squires! Go back 900 years and learn who built Windsor Castle and why, try your hand at archery, dodge burning oil being thrown at you and find out how you became a knight with your very own coat of arms.
Each of the banknote examiners in Feliks Topolski’s sketches of the Bank of England printworks checked thousands of notes a day for printing errors. Test your observation skills against the clock, and see if you have what it takes to do their job. Conversations with the mardy supervisor add a touch of dry humour.
Layers of London
Learn more about where you live. Interact with different ‘layers’ of London’s history from the Romans to the present day, from historic maps and old pictures to stories about people who have lived and worked in London. Everyone can contribute material by uploading pictures, videos or stories relating to the history of any place in London. And if the kids complain they’re REALLY bored, get them tracing the different colours on Booth’s poverty maps. They’ll either become historians, or never complain again.
National Museum Australia
Free instructions on crafting using materials found at home and in nature. Watch their make and do channels or pick one of their hands on activities. We’ll be starting with the starfish painting, a beautiful insight into the art of natural history illustrations.
Smithsonian Learning Lab Activity Pages for Children
Made by the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, these printable activity pages include word and number games, art exercises and fun quizzes on subjects from the anatomy of the giant squid to the history of chocolate. There’s lots of detail, so I recommend using A3 paper.
Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
Select an age and interest and you’ll be shown a selection from its 60 plus activity sheets. My recommendations included some Alice in Wonderland activities that will be right up Museum Girl’s street – like creating our own special Wonderland drink recipe or making a giant growing caterpillar made out of rubbish bags.
FIND YOUR OWN
This list shows just a tiny proportion of all the fantastic museum resources out there for families. I had to stop searching and start writing, otherwise this pandemic would be over before I got this post published! If you’re ready to find for your own gems, here’s a few great places to start your search.
Show me is a compilation of games, collections, videos, stories, homework help and family days out from museums and galleries across the UK. Browse by type (here’s a quick link to all their games), top tags (including dinosaurs!) or search for your kids favourite topic. Within minutes I’d found the fantastic Learn your Roman Numerals game from Roman Baths, and a clickable periodic table in mineral form from National Museums Scotland.
The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Museum Resources, E-Learning, and Online Collections
At the time of writing, this ever-growing list had links to over 200 museum portals, online exhibits, virtual tours, e-learning tools, online collections and digital archives. Under the Created for Kids section I discovered The Roald Dahl Museum’s Make Stories Like Roald Dahl challenge – who knows, maybe we’ll have time to do this six week challenge twice?
#MuseumAtHome / #MuseumFromHome
Twitter: #MuseumAtHome / #MuseumFromHome
Instagram: #MuseumAtHome / #MuseumFromHome
Search the hashtag #MuseumAtHome or #MuseumFromHome on Twitter or Instagram to find even more ideas, many directly from museums and their staff. There’s new things coming out every day. I’ll share the best of them on my Twitter and Instagram accounts.
If you found this guide at all useful, please take a second to share this with another parent – the more who read this, the more I know it’s worth making guides like this in future. Paste it on your Facebook wall, pop it in your parenting WhatsApp groups, or add it to your stories. I really appreciate every share.
Stay well, stay sane, stay at home – and stay in touch! I would love to know what you get up to – if you tag me (@museum_mum on Twitter / @museummum on Instagram / Museum Mum on Facebook) I’ll be sure to share your museum inspired creations.
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What a brilliant and global collection Vyky! I really fancy the trip to Taj and Cern and tomorrw I’ll show the boys the full posibilities you’ve opened our eyes to! Some brilliant #CulturedKids material for the Easter stay at home long week-end! Hope you are all keeping well and healthy! X
What an absolutely fantastic list, Vyki. Designing a Wig at the V and A sounds a hoot, and I bet the Layers of London is fascinating. Hope you have an eggselent Easter.
This is quite the most fantastic list! Google arts and culture is just astounding with the amount of resource on it. #culturedkids
Thanks so much! It absolutely is a treasure trove, could easily write several posts just about that!
Great guide, thanks! #CulturedKids