Activities and online resources for homebound kids: A coronavirus guide

A simple experiment with cabbage leaves and food coloring demonstrates how plants absorb water and nutrients through their stems and into their leaves.
A simple experiment with cabbage leaves and food coloring demonstrates how plants absorb water and nutrients through their stems and into their leaves. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

This article was updated on April 3, 4:21 p.m.

Schools worldwide have closed in response to COVID-19, leaving parents and caregivers scrambling to find daily activities for their children. 

Today (April 3) Live Science updated our list of lessons, games, science experiments, live demonstrations and virtual tours, to help you find options that are educational, creative and entertaining during this uncertain period of self-isolation, social distancing and quarantine. 

Some of today's highlights include immersive virtual dives at marine sanctuaries; making dinosaur shadow puppets; behind-the-scenes glimpses and digital content from Shakespeare's Globe Theater; and a live butterfly camera.

Related: The ultimate kids' guide to the new coronavirus

New today (April 3)

Visit with butterflies from Central, South and North America in the San Diego Zoo's Hidden Jungle greenhouse, through their butterfly cam livestream. You can also find instructions for starting your own butterfly garden

New York City-based bookworms can use their New York Public Library (NYPL) cards to check out any of 300,000 e-books in the NYPL collection, via the library's SimplyE app, available for iOS and Android.

Make dinosaur shadow puppets with templates from the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County, and stage your own stories about these extinct giants.

Tour marine sanctuaries and ocean habitats with a collection of virtual dives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Dive into colorful coral reefs, swim with seals, or explore a shipwreck, sanctuary views can be seen on a personal computer or a smartphone. 

Theater-lovers can browse a range of classroom activities from the legendary Shakespeare's Globe theater. Weekly blogs and other resources introduce the cast and crew behind a new production of "Macbeth," created especially for young audiences.

San Francisco's Exploratorium offers activities to help kids understand the science behind viruses, how they affect the human body, and how we can protect ourselves against infection.

How do butterflies eat? What's the difference between frogs and toads? The Nature Museum in Chicago has videos and activities to acquaint kids with the natural world and to inspire their curiosity about the plants and animals in their own backyards.

Resources from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute introduce students to the impacts of climate change on marine habitats; explain the adaptations of animals that live in the deep sea; and present the challenges faced by ecosystems invaded by nonnative species, such as the so-called zombie shrimp

Head of the class

Scholastic launched a Learn at Home website with daily lessons that combine videos, stories and prompts for drawing and writing activities. Grade levels include pre-K and kindergarten, grades 1 and 2, grades 3 to 5, and grades 6 and up.

Khan Academy, a free online learning resource offering lessons, exercises and quizzes, has daily schedules for organizing at-home learning for students ages 4 to 18 years. On weekdays, Khan Academy is also offering daily livestreams on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to help parents and educators best utilize the website's tools and resources.

Crash Course is a YouTube channel offering engaging educational videos suitable for high school students. The channel features a wide range of subjects, from anatomy to world history. is offering a free 30-day trial of its comprehensive early learning academy for children aged 2-8 and includes educational games and activities designed by teachers.

In response to school closures, dozens of companies that produce educational materials have made their resources available as free subscriptions; you can find links on the Kids Activities website. Links to free K-12 educational resources such as audiobooks, e-books, videos, multimedia materials and more are also available on the Open Culture website.

PBS KIDS and PBS LearningMedia are offering tools to help support learning at home, including educational videos and games from favorite series, and related skill-building offline activities.

Subscribe to Time Magazine's Time for Kids for elementary and middle school students, digital subscriptions are free for the duration of the school year. This is the first time that the magazine is fully accessible at home.

Virtual museums and field trips

More than 2,500 museums around the world have made their collections accessible online through Google Arts and Culture; you can also use Google to access virtual tours of national parks in the U.S. 

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City offers online learning materials for science fans of all ages. Their Ology science website provides games and activities for kids and covers a range of science topics, including archaeology, paleontology, astronomy and marine biology. AMNH courses on Khan Academy delve into subjects such as human evolution, earthquakes and volcanoes, the universe, and, of course, dinosaurs. You can also peek behind the scenes on the museum's YouTube channel, or take a tour of the universe in videos created for the Hayden Planetarium

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Air and Space Anywhere webpage provides virtual tours of the museum, and educational podcasts, games and activities about aircraft and spacecraft. And educators can turn to the museum's K-12 learning resources for STEM lessons, activities and videos on topics such as flight, planetary science, space, and engineering and technology.

All online programs and digital content at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum are now available for free.

Science learning

Every weekday at 10 a.m. PDT, the California Science Center is livestreaming "Stuck at Home Science," a new video series of science activities you can do at home.

Miami's Frost Science Museum's Frost Science@Home will give curious kids plenty to do, providing science activities and DIY science experiments. 

Teen science fans will nerd out over Nova Labs at PBS, where they'll discover multimedia experiences that combine video, animation and games to delve into fascinating scientific topics, such as polar ecosystems, solar storms and renewable energy.

NASA isn't just sending missions into space; the agency has also launched Teachable Moments, connecting classrooms — and homes — with resources for investigating the latest discoveries about our universe. There are a range of activities and lessons that are suitable for grades K-12.

NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is another source of free online content. Educators share daily Facebook Live videos that pair with hands-on activities (instructions are available as free downloads) using materials that can be found at home. Topics include rocketry 101, tours of Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Astronaut Training Experience, and living in space and on Mars.

"Space Racers," an animated series for preschoolers about spacefaring cadets at the Stardust Space Academy, also offers science-based lessons, games and space-related educational activities that families can explore together.

Ranger Rick, the children's magazine of the National Wildlife Federation, is making its website free to all visitors through the end of June. Free Ranger Rick Educator’s Guides and Ranger Rick Jr. Parent Reading Guides are also available to parents and educators.

Beginning physics students will find plenty to discover in the Physics Classroom, and there are teacher toolkits for supplementing the site's online lessons with videos, animations, simulations and exercises.

Want to have a family Q&A with a scientist? Sign up at Skype a Scientist and get matched with an expert, for a live Skype chat with your family about real scientific research. 

stemCONNECT uses video conferencing to bring together students and experts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The site also has a free video library of Florida-based STEM experts talking about STEM application in a range of careers.

Explore simple plant science with this list of Live Science experiments, or learn about non-Newtonian fluids by making colorful slime — regular or extra puffy — with glue and food coloring.

Creative and relaxing fun

Color Our Collections offers free PDF downloads of coloring pages created from art in the collections of 117 institutions, including The New York Academy of Medicine Library, Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, RISD Museum, the North Carolina Museum of Art, The Canadian Canoe Museum and The Royal Horticultural Society libraries.

Got a 3D printer? You can download digital 3D models from NASA and print miniature satellites, landing sites, asteroids, spacecraft, spacesuits and astronaut tools.

If you have a regular printer (and paper), you can print and build paper models of Rosetta and Philae, the space probe and lander that visited comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014. More paper models of satellites and observatories are available for download from the European Space Agency's website.

Artist and writer Mo Willems (author of "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!") is hosting daily Lunch Doodles video sessions every weekday at 1 p.m. EDT. Each daily episode is accompanied by a downloadable activity page. 

What could be more soothing than watching jellyfish drifting serenely through the water? In "MeditOcean," the Monterey Bay Aquarium hosts a soothing 11-minute guided meditation video, featuring the undulating and graceful ballet of several aquarium jellyfish. 

Children in grades 3 to 12 can learn to write their names in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, in this step-by-step guide from the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada.

A good story sounds even better when it's read in microgravity. Story Time from Space sends children's books to the International Space Station (ISS), where the books are read on video by astronauts as they orbit hundreds of miles above Earth.

Snap Circuits are educational kits that teach kids — and adults! — about engineering and how electronics work. To help teachers, parents and students, the company has made its how-to guides available to download for free. 

Get moving with fitness instructor Joe Wicks! His new video series, P.E. with Joe, presents a daily 30-minute workout that kids can perform at home.

There are 10 live webcams at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can peek at sharks, sea otters, penguins and more. The San Diego Zoo has 11 animal webcams, Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute has four animal webcams, and there are six webcams at the Houston Zoo

And if you're feeling really adventurous, you can visit the surface of Mars in a spectacular high-resolution, 360-degree photo tour, created from images captured by the Curiosity rover.

Originally published on Live Science.

OFFER: Save 45% on 'All About Space' 'How it Works' and 'All About History'!

OFFER: Save 45% on 'All About Space' 'How it Works' and 'All About History'!

For a limited time, you can take out a digital subscription to any of our best-selling science magazines for just $2.38 per month, or 45% off the standard price for the first three months.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Mindy Weisberger
Mindy Weisberger is a senior writer for Live Science covering general science topics, especially those relating to brains, bodies, and behaviors in humans and other animals — living and extinct. Mindy studied filmmaking at Columbia University; her videos about dinosaurs, biodiversity, human origins, evolution, and astrophysics appear in the American Museum of Natural History, on YouTube, and in museums and science centers worldwide. Follow Mindy on Twitter.