By Jennifer Stewart
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many states closed their capitols to the public and suspended guided tours, a staple for school-aged kids to learn about their state’s history and the role of the legislature.
In place of in-person tours, states are using current virtual resources, and also getting creative with new ones to help keep kids (along with parents and the public) engaged in learning about their state capitols.
Here are a few examples of how states are taking their capitol tours online:
Pennsylvania offers a free app on its state Capitol website that allows for virtual self-guided tours, maps, videos, scavenger hunts and other kids' activities.
The Michigan Capitol is reaching kids and visitors through Facebook Live events. Due to the Capitol closure because of COVID-19, Michigan’s tour staff implemented virtual tours. They use the Michigan state Capitol Facebook page to provide general information and also offer one hour live virtual tours that cover different topic areas, such as information on the building's restoration, renewal infrastructure and the furniture and fixtures within the Capitol. In addition to virtual tours, the tour staff now offers Zoom classes (recorded Facebook Live tours) for school-aged kids who cannot come in for an in-person tour.
According to Margaret O’Brien, secretary of the senate, statistics show Michigan is reaching more visitors virtually than it did in person. In the future, the tour staff is working to create Zoom tours that would mimic meeting in person. The tours would “go onto the Senate or House floor, meet the applicable legislators, be introduced during session and allow for interactive Q&A at a time scheduled with that class.”
Nebraska offers the interactive website “Nebraska Virtual Capitol” that includes a virtual tour option, as well as a curriculum to accompany the tour. This provides a more robust learning experience for older school-aged kids and those of any age wanting to learn more about the state of Nebraska.
The California Capitol Museum’s website has an interactive tool for kids (and adults) called Explore Your California where they can play games and have options to print coloring pages, word scrambles and worksheets.
State capitols may be closed to the public but learning about them, the legislature and a state’s history is open year-around.
Jennifer Stewart is a research analyst in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program. She tracks information about Capitol tours and visitor services and also serves as the liaison to the Legislative Information and Communication Staff (LINCS) association.