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Trying to keep the kids engaged while schools are shut down? Here are some virtual classes and resources to jump-start learning

Cam Eaton, 9, works on a Chromebook during home schooling on March 18, 2020 in New Rochelle, New York. With many schools shut down across the country, parents are looking for ways to keep kids learning and engaged.John Moore/Getty Images

With kids out of school -- and perhaps underfoot while you’re trying to work from home -- keeping them busy and engaged is every parent’s priority right now. Many organizations are doing what they can to help, offering virtual tours, classes, and reading hours that can keep the little ones (or not so little ones) learning while you try to juggle everything at home. Here are just a few resources to start with. The list will be updated.

Buttonwood Park Zoo Though the zoo, located in New Bedford, is temporarily closed to the public, staff will host “Virtual Keeper Chats” where viewers can ask questions and stay engaged with the zoo community. The chats will take place every day at 11 a.m. live on the organization’s Facebook page. Each talk will then be posted to the zoo’s YouTube channel.


Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Each day this week, a staff member from the conservancy will lead a “Shark Story Hour” broadcast on Facebook at 10 a.m. The staff member will read a different shark-themed book each day and open up the event for a question-and-answer segment following the story. We checked in on Thursday, and 2,700 people were watching.

USS Constitution Crew members of the USS Constitution will host a live virtual tour of the famous (and oldest) American naval vessel still afloat every day at 1 p.m. on the Constitution’s Facebook page. Have a question for the crew members? Ask it in the comments section and they may answer it live.

Scratch is an online community where kids can learn to program and create their own games, stories, and animations, and share them with others across the world. Developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, the site is aimed at kids 8-16, but ScratchJr, for ages 5-7, is available as a free app. Funding comes from the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and many others.


Boston Children’s Museum The Boston Children’s Museum staff runs the “Beyond the Chalkboard” website, a learning platform for subjects including math, science, literacy, and art. Staffers also recommend that parents refer to the STEM Sprouts Teaching Guide for teaching preschoolers. And the BCM Home Edition explores 26 activities and crafts families can do at home during this time, including making a jeweled suncatcher or ice cream in a bag.

PBS KIDS daily newsletter Sign up for a free daily newsletter from PBS KIDS, which boasts fun and educational ways to keep your little ones entertained at home. The sign-up page also directs parents to a wealth of other PBS resources, including an app for on-demand educational videos, a link to educational games (almost 200!), and a helpful article on “How to talk to your kids about coronavirus.”

Additional PBS resources Virtual lessons, activities and educational videos for kids pre-K through grade 12 are available on PBS LearningMedia, which is co-managed by WGBH. This is a fantastic resource for parents and educators, made even better by the fact that the offerings can be filtered by age, grade, or subject. The options feel endless. Just a couple of examples: The “Bringing the Universe to America’s Classrooms” page (all grades) focuses on Earth and Space Science resources; NOVA Education Resources provides science learning tools for older children. History and social studies lesson plans for grades 4-12 can be found on the “American Experience” page. Other lessons focus on middle school math and literacy. For little ones, the characters from the beloved children’s TV show, “Arthur,” help kids learn about community and civics on another section of the site.


Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems Broadcasting from his home in Massachusetts, beloved children’s book author Mo Willems creates videos for a series called Lunch Doodles at 1 p.m. every weekday. The Kennedy Center’s artist in residence invites viewers to doodle along with him, and the Kennedy Center provides free downloadable activity pages on its website. So far, Willems has talked kids through drawing his popular Pigeon character as well as Piggie, one of the stars of his “Elephant & Piggie” book series.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History With all Smithsonian Museums closed until further notice, those itching to take a (virtual) trip to Washington, D.C., can traverse the expansive museum Museum of Natural History in an online tour. Explore exhibits currently in the museum, as well as past ones you may have missed out on.

NASA Virtual Tours and Galleries As a hub for all things extraterrestrial, NASA video tours will have young (and older) astronomy enthusiasts over the moon. Take virtual tours of the NASA control centers, explore galleries full of images and videos, and become an expert on the various missions launched into space.


Storyline Online Created by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, Storyline Online streams videos featuring celebrities reading children’s books. The videos include suggested grade levels and run time. In addition, each story includes a curriculum to enhance reading comprehension. A who’s who of A-listers, including Viola Davis, Al Gore, Oprah, Sarah Silverman, and Rita Moreno, have been featured on the site.

Atlanta Zoo Panda cam Sometimes you just want to watch a panda bear frolic. To that end, the Atlanta Zoo Panda Cam is making sure everyone has a big furry friend to hang out with during the coronavirus crisis. Watch pandas as they go about their lives at the zoo, and keep up to date with the latest non-coronavirus panda news.

International Spy Museum You don’t need to be sneaky to gain entry into the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. — their exhibits, along with espionage language lessons and podcasts with ex-spies and intelligence experts will give young and old(er) alike the skills needed to pass as a spy while social distancing.

Google Arts & Culture The Google Arts & Culture portal has you virtually covered when it comes to culture around the world, with online tours of places as varied as Easter Island and the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Milan. Or vistors can get up close to individual works of art, such as Van Gogh’s “Terrace of a Cafe at Night” at The Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands, or -- perhaps more timely? -- Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” at The Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.


Cincinnati Zoo daily virtual safaris “We’re bringing the Zoo to people who are stuck at home,” said Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard in a statement announcing the program. Starting at 3 p.m. every day on the zoo’s Facebook page, these “home safaris” will feature members of the zoo — Fiona, “the world’s most famous hippo,” was the first special guest. The safaris will be posted on the zoo’s website and on YouTube.

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea For young artists in need of inspiration, the National Museum of Modern Art in Gwacheon-si, South Korea offers a wide variety of exhibits to explore. Each section lays out the art in the exhibit with descriptions of the artist, time period, influences, and other necessary knowledge.

Mystery Science Mystery Science offers lessons in scientific concepts for grades K-5. Offerings include short, completely digital lessons as well as full-length lessons with activities for viewers to try alongside the teacher using household items. Topics covered include animal behavior, weather patterns, simple machines, and the science of germs and bacteria.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is offering its online educational tools for free during the outbreak. Personalizing, artificial intelligence learning solutions including Waggle (for math and literacy), Writable (for writing skills), and Amira Learning (also for literacy) are available for no cost. On the company’s website, there is also a list of helpful resources and activities from K-12 teachers at parents’ disposal.

Grace Griffin can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GraceMGriffin. Diti Kohli can be reached at her @ditikohli_.