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  • Writer's picturePenny Neef

Virtual Tours of the Virginia Children’s Museum

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Words by Penny Neef. Photos courtesy of Portsmouth Museum.

Dan Borick, Planetarium Manager at Children’s Museum of Virginia, is like a kid with the key to the candy shop. 

Borick has been going into work at the Museum. “It’s weird. It’s kind of like a baseball player walking into an empty stadium. The players want to play ball but there is no game going on.” There are no children right now in the Children’s Museum. The halls are empty and it’s quiet. Borick and the rest of the staff miss the children who love this museum in Portsmouth.

A large red boat called the Lightship Portsmouth.

Dan Borick is at the Museum, alone, writing, directing, filming and editing content for the Children’s Museum website. Borick is a teacher and a techie. He worked with Emily Kilgore, a curator of history for the Portsmouth museums, to put together a virtual tour of the Lightship Portsmouth two years ago. Lightship Portsmouth is a historic lightship, built in 1915, which sits close to the Elizabeth River in Olde Towne Portsmouth. It serves as a museum and is a National Historic Landmark.

The public is welcome into the ship to learn about the history and how the crew lived and worked. The entrance and the quarters are tight. Borick and Kilgore used a 360° camera to create a virtual guide to the Lightship Portsmouth for people who might have trouble navigating the ship, for virtual field trips, or for people who are interested in historic ships but live far from Portsmouth. You can take that virtual tour here.

The door to the Dr. Force’s Traveling Energy Extravaganza exhibit in the Portsmouth Children's Musuem.

This project led the way for Borick to film a 360° tour of one of the most popular exhibits at the Children’s Museum, “Dr. Force’s Traveling Energy Extravaganza”. Your children will drag you upstairs to this noisy, interactive, rocket blasting, elephant bellowing, educational exhibit of fun and physics as soon as you walk into the door.

There are all kinds of exhibits in the “Energy Extravaganza” about sound, energy, machines, force, air pressure, electrons and electricity. Even though you can’t go to the Museum right now, you can go on the 360° tour and explore it all.

There are links throughout to videos that Borick has created about the individual exhibits, ideas about how to create experiments at home, and other educational material. It is a STEM teacher’s delight and great for homeschooling.

If you are feeling ambitious and you have the time (and who doesn’t have the time right now) you can make your own VR goggles to view the 360° tour as if you are there. Just google “how to make VR goggles at home”, or try this from Google VR. You don’t need VR goggles to take the virtual tour, click on all the links, watch Borick explain the physics behind the Wacky Racers, and more.

Borick is currently working on creating a virtual tour of another popular exhibit upstairs at the Children’s Museum, “My Backyard and Beyond”. This is a natural science exhibit, with a miniature tornado, a giant honeybee, an archeological dig, and information about taking care of our planet. Look for the link to this to be on the Children’s Museum of Virginia website soon.

The Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum's front entrance.

Besides the online learning and virtual tours at the Children’s Museum and the Portsmouth Lightship Museum, there is also some excellent content about African American history at the Portsmouth Colored Community Library Museum website

As Borick says, “Nothing is ideal now, but after all of this is over, our Portsmouth Museums will serve as a resource for parents and teachers before they come to visit our museums, after they visit our museums or even if they live too far away to visit our museums.

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