An eight-hour flight to Paris? Even in pre-pandemic times, that seems like a lot of work for a single merit badge requirement.
But with the Louvre Museum just a click away, the Art merit badge is within reach during COVID-19.
Museums with virtual tours, coupled with new temporary guidelines from the BSA that make virtual museum visits an acceptable option, mean your Scouts don’t have to put merit badge work on hold.
That’s right in line with the spirit of Scouting, where Scouts learn to find a way around any problem. (I’ve been so inspired to see all the examples of Scouting continuing at home.)
The best options for Scouts are museums that let virtual visitors explore at their own pace — instead of watching a video, for example. Self-guided virtual tours more closely replicate the in-person museum experience and allow visitors to dive more deeply when they find something that interests them.
So which are worth checking out? Below, we’ve scouted out eight excellent museums offering virtual visits — no ticket (or plane fare) required.
Do virtual visits count toward merit badge requirements?
But wait! Before we get to the list of virtual museums, let’s go over the intricacies of advancement during COVID-19. The BSA, recognizing this unprecedented situation, has been extremely flexible in allowing temporary modifications to some requirements.
That includes merit badges. As outlined in the BSA’s comprehensive COVID-19 FAQs, “in some cases, virtual ‘visits’ may fulfill the intent of a [merit badge] requirement.”
The BSA goes on to say that “virtual visits to a city council meeting, national historic landmarks, museums, and art galleries may be acceptable, but swimming, and motorboating merit badges cannot be completed virtually.”
Three things to remember before proceeding:
- These are possible temporary options available during the pandemic.
- Scouts must check with their merit badge counselor before beginning their virtual visit.
- The BSA’s Youth Protection policies apply.
Louvre Museum (Art MB)
Explore ancient Egyptian antiquities, learn about art with a political message and view the Mona Lisa without waiting in line. The Louvre Museum in Paris offers 360-degree tours, fascinating videos and interactive exhibits for free on its site.
Don’t worry if you don’t speak française. All displays are presented in both French and English.
Requirement: Art MB, requirement 6: “With your parent’s permission and your counselor’s approval, visit a museum, art exhibit, art gallery, artists’ co-op, or artist’s workshop. Find out about the art displayed or created there. Discuss what you learn with your counselor.”
See also: National Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art
National Naval Aviation Museum (Aviation MB)
This Florida museum lets virtual visitors step inside the cockpit of a number of “unique and historic aircraft,” including the F/A-18 Hornet, F4F-3 Wildcat and A-1H Skyraider.
And don’t miss the fascinating look at landing signal officers — those men and women in charge of making sure a plane lands safely on an aircraft carrier.
Requirement: Aviation MB, requirement 4C: “Visit an aviation museum or attend an air show. Report on your impressions of the museum or show.”
See also: Museum of Flight, Air Force Museum
National Aquarium (Oceanography MB)
Venture into “Shark Alley,” peek beneath the surface of the Amazon River and watch jellyfish peacefully pulse past you. The National Aquarium in Baltimore offers both 360-degree tours and livestreams, giving you a comprehensive view of the fascinating underwater world.
Link: Here for the virtual tour and here for the livestreams
Requirement: Oceanography MB, requirement 8B: “Visit one of the following: (1) Oceanographic research ship or (2) Oceanographic institute, marine laboratory, or marine aquarium [and] write a 500-word report about your visit.”
See also: Georgia Aquarium whale cam, Monterey Bay Aquarium sea otter cam
Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (American Cultures MB)
The stories told at this museum, which opened in 2016, have taken on extra resonance during our national conversation surrounding racial equality.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture doesn’t have a virtual tour in the traditional sense but offers an array of options for Scouts wanting to digitally connect with the museum’s 12 exhibitions and 37,000 artifacts.
Link: Here for the museum’s digital resources and here for Google’s virtual presentation
Requirement: American Cultures MB, requirement 1E: “Go to a library or museum to see a program or exhibit featuring one group’s traditions. Report on what you see and learn.”
See also: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, National Museum of the American Indian
The British Museum (Archaeology MB)
Better block off the weekend, because your Scouts are going to need a little bit of time to peruse the “2 million years of human history and culture” awaiting visitors to the British Museum. Like the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the British Museum partnered with Google Arts & Culture to transport many of its exhibits online.
Explore the ballcourts of Chichén Itzá, see famous artifacts like the Rosetta Stone and understand ancient farming techniques — all without leaving the couch.
Link: 360-degree tours and Google interactive galleries
Requirement: Archaeology MB, requirement 7A: “Do ONE of the following and discuss your findings with your counselor: (a) Visit a museum to observe how artifacts aid in conveying history.”
See also: National Museum of Anthropology, Acropolis Museum
U.S. Capitol (Citizenship in the Nation MB)
Part museum and part headquarters for our nation’s legislative branch, the U.S. Capitol has it all. In the Rotunda, you might see a group of high schoolers patiently staring at a painting by John Trumbull while two members of congress hustle past to vote on a bill.
But in the virtual world, the U.S. Capitol is all yours. The people are gone (unless you count the statues), meaning you can take your time.
Requirement: Citizenship in the Nation MB, requirement 2B: “Tour your state capitol building or the U.S. Capitol. Tell your counselor what you learned about the capitol, its function, and its history.”
See also: The website for your state’s capitol building, Ellis Island
Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (Mining in Society MB)
Come for the dinosaurs but stay for the colorful crystals in patterns and shapes that seem to defy the laws of nature. If your Scout is working on the Mining in Society merit badge, which explores the role that mined materials play in our lives, this museum is the perfect fit.
Head to the second floor’s “Geology, Gems & Minerals” exhibit and get ready to dig in.
Requirement: Mining in Society MB, requirement 5B: “With your parent’s permission and counselor’s approval, visit a mining or minerals exhibit at a museum. Find out about the history of the museum’s exhibit and the type of mining it represents. Give three examples of how mineral resources have influenced history.”
Vatican Museums (Sculpture MB)
As you study the Vatican Museums’ many sculptures — collected by popes from the 17th century to today — don’t forget to look up. You won’t want to miss the stunning ceilings — including the paintings in the well-known Sistine Chapel.
The sculptures are something to gawk at, for sure. There’s a bronze statue of Hercules, the Sleeping Ariadne and a full-length statue of Augustus Caesar thought to be created in A.D. 29.
Requirement: Sculpture MB, requirement 2C: “With your parent’s permission and your counselor’s approval, visit a museum, art exhibit, art gallery, artists’ co-op, or artist’s studio. After your visit, share with your counselor what you have learned. Discuss the importance of visual arts and how it strengthens social tolerance and helps stimulate cultural, intellectual, and personal development.”
See also: Guggenheim Bilbao, J. Paul Getty Museum