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Take field trips without ever leaving your home

We have a new target date for our kids to return to school — May 1, 2020. We’re aware that might change. Everything is in flux.

All we know is that we know nothing about life beyond April. So to create some normalcy in our lives, we’re looking for things we can control.

“At least April only has 30 days,” one of my kids said, reacting to the governor’s directive.

“At least we’ll still have field trips in May,” another kid said.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that all field trips have been canceled. Some of trips were announced at the beginning of the school year. Lost experiences include a high school band trip to see the Blue Man Group perform in Cleveland, a first-grade visit to the Akron Zoo, and a seventh-grade “reward” trip to Kennywood Park.

Even the annual fourth-grade trip to the Butler Institute of American Art is off.

Anticipating the disappointment, I’ve been scouring the web for a list of online field trips. If my kids can’t be there in person, I’m looking for the next best option.

Like many parents, I want to be “teacher of the year” of our homeschool. It’s a pretty tough contest. There’s another nominee and she’s killing it.

My kids are already going to remember this moment for the rest of their lives — those feelings of being uncertain, maybe even afraid. So creating unique learning experiences might give them something positive to remember when they’re older, helping their own kids through the next challenge life throws our way.

I have an advantage, right? You know, the guy who writes about tech and relationships? This should be easy, but it’s not.

The Internet offers an endless sea of great, good and, unfortunately, a few questionable learning sites. Thankfully, some educational platforms that are typically pay-to-play have been made available for free during the pandemic. But trying to navigate those resources is the real challenge.

This is why we we’re thrilled to find Common Sense Media’s Wide Open School.

“This site was built in a matter of days on a shared vision,” the Wide Open School team posted last week. “We plan to keep building until things get back to normal. A group of more than 25 organizations came together and raised their hands to help.”

At wideopenschool.org you’ll find free resources from education leaders at Khan Academy, PBS, Noggin, Scholastic and National Geographic.

From the home page, choose “We’re a family,” then pick “Grades PreK-5” or “Grades 6-12.” Next, pick a subject area like reading and writing, math, science, social studies or art and music.

We found options for special needs students, English-language learners, life skills and my new favorite: field trips.

Yesterday we visited Utah’s Bryce Canyon. Tomorrow we’re off to the Guggenheim Museum. Today we spent an hour watching live cams of koala bears and penguins from the San Diego Zoo.

It’s not the same as being there, but this give us hope for a day when we’ll visit these places.

In the meantime, my kids are learning from the experience. They’re asking questions like, “What do koalas like to eat?” and “Why do penguins like the cold?” Those are the kinds of outcomes every parent wants from a field trip, whether they’re visiting online or in person.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adam earn.com.

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