Virtual field trips offer new twist on old-school favorite
Emma Goodwin points a flashlight onto a cardboard cutout of her hand and slowly moves the flashlight further back and then closer. Her eyes grow wide as the shadow of her hand puppet on the wall grows first smaller and then much, much larger, taking up most of the wall.
She then looks excitedly at her computer screen where a group of children share her same wide-eyed reaction. "Wow, why do you think the shadow changes size?" she asks, encouraging the students to suggest answers.
As a Museum Educator at Kohl Children's Museum, Goodwin has many years of practice understanding how young children think and how to guide them through making their own discoveries while exploring with things around them. Understanding these concepts was key as she and the rest of the museum's education team developed a new virtual field trip curriculum, including this shadow activity.
"Young children learn best through play," Goodwin said. "It's how they make sense of the world around them. Play involves exploring, experimenting, testing, wondering -- all the concepts that are basic to scientists and engineers are core elements of play, and they become the building blocks of learning. Education is really harnessing and guiding a child's natural instinct to play and learn."
The issue of education looms large with parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps more so than any other topic besides keeping their children healthy and safe. A major concern: How is this disruption of my children's schooling going to affect their futures?
"Kohl Children's Museum shares that concern with caregivers," Goodwin said. "Numerous studies have proven that, for children to reach their full potential in development and learning, they need a strong start in their early years, before age 8."
Sudden school closures last March fractured the traditional school environment, with some students now doing 100% remote learning, while others have hybrid or reduced in-person schedules.
Changes in the learning environment have caused stress for teachers managing new techniques and settings, and frustrated parents who have taken added responsibility for their children's education.
A new landscape for learning presented challenges for the museum as well. For years, Kohl has positioned itself as a leader in providing hands-on, experiential learning in interactive environments. But what do you do when "hands-on" is suddenly a bad word?
The solution? Take learning virtual.
The core concepts championed by the museum of learning through play transcend the physical exhibits.
For this school year (and quite possibly longer), schoolchildren will almost certainly miss out on the ability to venture out into the world on a field trip. These excursions out of the classroom were once a normal part of any school year for students to look forward to.
Kohl is doing what it can to make school feel more "normal" for classrooms this year. If students can't come to the museum, it will bring its concepts to them through digital technology.
Over the past few months, the museum's education staff wrote, recorded, and edited a library with more than three dozen videos that support six different topical "field trips" that educators and caregivers can utilize as virtual field trips.
Some videos offer structured activities in which museum educators lead students through experiments and activities to cement specific scientific concepts, while others are informational videos, from observing insects building cocoons to exploring people, places and things one might discover on a city block.
Teachers may select a topic and reserve access to the corresponding video libraries to show either in their classrooms or stream via any remote learning conference platforms they may use.
In addition, teachers may order prepared kits that include all the materials for use with the activities, saving themselves (and potentially already frustrated parents at home) from collecting the learning supplies.
Finally, teachers may also add on a special live Zoom session with a museum educator to do an additional activity with their students. These live sessions, such as the shadow play that Goodwin facilitates as part of the "Sensational Senses" course, bring Goodwin the most satisfaction.
"I love being able to see the reactions on kids' faces as they have their 'aha!' moments, even if it's just on a screen," she says. "As an educator, that's how you know that you've made that spark of learning."
"Field Trips To Go" are available for purchase on the Kohl Children's Museum website, kcmgc.org/virtual. Similar "Kohl Kids To Go" sessions are offered on select school holidays for parents to register children individually or coordinate as special activities with their learning pods.
• The Kohl Children's Museum is at 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview. All indoor exhibits and VIP Sessions are temporarily closed to the public during Tier 3 mitigations, but all museum coupons and passes set to expire in 2020 and 2021 will be accepted through 2022. For information, visit kohlchildrensmuseum.org.