As Wichita attractions like the Great Plains Nature Center and Exploration Place — places that cater to school groups and other visitors — have shut down in response to the coronavirus, staff members have become more social.
The nature center, Exploration Place, Old Cowtown Museum, Botanica, the Sedgwick County Zoo and the Museum of World Treasures are now using social media outlets, like Facebook and YouTube, to bring activities into the homes of the folks who used to visit their attractions and even those who may be miles away.
Some, like the Sedgwick County Zoo and the nature center, also are putting live cams or videos on their websites.
They’re posting behind-the-scene tours, virtual tours of exhibits, question-and-answer sessions and educational clips that can break up the boredom of being at home or provide educational lessons as schools have shut down too.
“A lot of people are saying thanks for giving us something to do and parents are excited to have something for kids to do too,” said Rachel Roth, a naturalist at the Great Plains Nature Center, which was one of the first local attractions to start online video tours and activities for area schools when it shut down during the March spring break.
“We’re really just trying to bring the museum to the community. If they can’t come to us, we’ll come to you,” said Christina Bluml, director of marketing and community at Exploration Place. “Everyone is working to keep our community together, even as we’re apart.”
“With the gift of social media and nearly all of us having a cell phone in our pocket, we can do that,” said Kristin Martin, programs director at the Museum of World Treasures.
At Exploration Place and Botanica, one challenge during the shutdown has been how to have people visit limited-time displays, like the “Imaginate” traveling exhibit that opened in late January at Exploration Place and is set to close May 3 and the flowers in bloom at Botanica. Their answer has been to do short virtual tours.
For several staff members, coming up with topics and expanded social media programming has become a creative challenge that they relish.
“I feel kind of guilty about having this much fun with it,” said Roth of the Great Plains Nature Center. The guilt part, she said, comes from that she still has a job.
Some attractions are doing social media programming that can provide some interactions with their audiences, like posting activities or having live question-and-answer sessions.
For example, Botanica is posting a daily activity for its audiences to do — like creating a birdhouse from a 2-liter bottle or making a tic-tac-toe game from rocks — and asking that people post a picture of their completed activity in the comment section of each activity. The staff will pick winners for each day, who will win a free annual family membership, said Kathy Sweeney, director of special events.
Recently, Exploration Place hosted a live Q&A program with Amy Seery, a local pediatrician, to explain what the coronavirus is and provide tips and answers that particularly apply to kids, like whether they can have play dates or sleepovers for an upcoming birthday party or even show affection to family members. One kid asked if his grandma could die from the virus. More live Q&A programs are planned.
Here’s a look at the online programming happening at six Wichita attractions and where to see them.
Great Plains Nature Center
The center already had some video and online programming, including podcasts, but they have increased those efforts and are posting more frequently, Roth said. It’s calling its efforts “self-isolation station.” It has two podcasts that used to alternate airing every other week, for example, but now each podcast will air every week. “It’s My Favorite” is a family-friendly podcast that allows the naturalists to “geek out,” Roth said. The “Naughty Nature” podcast is for adults only since it deals with mature content, like animal sex habits, drug use and other R-rated tales.
Videos are on facebook.com/GreatPlainsNatureCenter and gpnc.org/learn-from-home. Podcasts are found on through most podcasting platforms, such as Stitcher and Spotify, as well as the center’s website, gpnc.org. Older videos can be found on the center’s YouTube channel.
Find “Stay at Home Stem” videos with science demos and activities that can be done at home, along with virtual tours and Q&A sessions on the science museum’s Facebook page, facebook.com/ExplorationPlace and its YouTube channel. Officials are working with distributors of the films shown in the dome theater to find a way to stream those, as well, according to Bluml. It’s also looking at digital ways to celebrate its 20th anniversary, along with commemorating the 30th anniversary of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope launch.
Old Cowtown Museum
Staff wrapped up filming earlier this week on its new “History Alive” series. Through short videos, viewers can visit different sites and buildings at the living history museum where a guide in period dress will tell about the site, such as the carpentry shop, the blacksmith shop and more.
The videos are being posted to the museum’s Facebook page, facebook.com/OldCowtownMuseum and YouTube channel. It will also post trivia and photos frequently to its Facebook page, said Jacky Goerzen, the museum’s executive director.
Along with virtual tours and daily activities posted to Facebook, Botanica will also do virtual storytelling on Tuesdays and Thursdays on its Facebook page, facebook.com/BotanicaWichita, said Sweeney, special events director. Some content will also be available on the gardens’ website, botanica.org. Sweeney said staff are also using this shutdown time to revamp the attraction’s programming curriculum for in-person activities when the gardens reopen.
Sedgwick County Zoo
Animal-lovers can watch the elephants and penguins through the zoo’s web cams, broadcast on the zoo’s website. See the elephants at scz.org/habitat/africa/elephants-of-the-zambezi-river-valley and the penguins at scz.org/habitat/cessna-penguin-cove. Zookeepers are doing live virtual visits weekdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Facebook, facebook.com/SedgwickCountyZoo, in a series called “Closed but still caring.”
Museum of World Treasures
Known for its T-rex display, the museum is posting videos of staff in dinosaur suits exploring the museum. Some tours were done by flashlight to give a different look at exhibits. “We found it’s very fun to look at the exhibits in the dark,” said Martin, the programs director. The museum has also recorded some comedy short videos with Pierre the Plague Doctor and will do live Q&A shows too. Visit the museum’s Facebook page, facebook.com/MuseumofWorldTreasures, along with its Instagram feed.