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Explore the Smithsonian with Kids Without Leaving Home

by Barbara Rogers

Dec 28, 2022

© Jasmina | Dreamstime.com

North America

Family travels don’t require a trip to Washington, D.C., to get a taste of the treasures in Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. You and your children can explore the vast exhibit halls with the help of a virtual tour, stopping to zoom in on displays that pique kids’ imagination.


Older kids will have no trouble navigating the exhibits by following the blue arrows from gallery to gallery, but you’ll want to join younger kids on a virtual visit to the museum. A navigation map in the upper right corner of the screen helps you find specific exhibits. A small row of close-up images at the bottom helps bring up specific features. Additionally, zoom in for even closer views.


When visiting the Smithsonian in person, kids always head straight to the fossils and the magnificent Tyrannosaurus Rex. While not as impressive on screen as it is in person, this is still the star of the show. A recent reopening of the paleontology halls makes the exhibits even more realistic, showing these giant reptiles in action poses.


To see close-ups of the colorful murals that are the backdrops to the exhibits, click the No. 2 in the center of the opening screen. A menu on the left allows you to search for specific fossils or to read text panels such as “Mammals of Maximum Size” and “Birds are Dinosaurs.” Here, too, are links to a series of videos that supplement the gallery tours.


Kids also gravitate to the Gems and Minerals halls, and while the virtual tour isn’t quite as dazzling as seeing the famous Hope Diamond at arm’s length, the displays are still a hit.


Budding geologists can lose themselves in case after case of minerals and gems. They can zoom in to look at a giant meteorite or see a surreal sculpture created by sand grains molded together by water and wind. Be sure to watch the screen for the tiny blue buttons linking to even closer views. Marvel at the giant topaz, a case full of gold and a magnificent obelisk cut from the world’s largest aquamarine crystal. Kids can also get up close with the amethyst-filled interior of a geode.


Other exhibits explore African cultures and history, creatures of the sea, land animals, butterflies and insects. Be warned, though, once kids have been on a virtual tour, they will want to see the real thing in Washington, D.C.


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