The Go-To Guide: Online Activities and Entertainment for Kids

15 notable offerings --many of them free -- from Central Ohio museums, music groups, theater troupes and more

Jim Fischer
Columbus Parent
The Columbus Museum of Art

The reopening of spaces and places throughout Ohio is a complex process. Every organization and institution must consider how it does what it does best while helping to protect visitors and keep them safe.

But the process is complex for families, too, with parents balancing numerous decisions about the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing health and safety guidelines. Each family is unique, and where your family fits as we all work to find new normals is unique, too.

If your family isn’t yet comfortable venturing out into public places—or even if they are and you’re just looking for a change of pace or a new virtual connection—we’ve compiled this list of ongoing online activities and experiences. Offerings span the gamut from art to concerts, history to virtual museum tours and more. 

To suggest an addition to our list, send an email to

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Digital Library

Libraries are starting to reintroduce services, but as of early July, Central Ohio systems were still not back to full speed. While there’s no substitute for the experience of leisurely wandering the aisles, perusing the stacks until something catches your eye, or waiting to see what new interest captured your child’s imagination this week, there is a plethora of online resources available. So by all means, take advantage of curbside pickup where it’s offered, but don’t forget you can still investigate books, movies and programming such as video storytimes online. (And if you’re not following Mr. George the Librarian on Facebook, aka George Morrison from the Delaware County District Library’s main branch, you’re missing out.) Check your local library website for options near you. 

Do Science

COSI is offering COSI Connects, a series of online videos and hands-on science activities that families can explore at home. The activities are, of course, engaging and fun, but among the things we’ve learned as we’ve lived through the pandemic is the importance of scientific literacy. A related COSI Connects Teachback effort enlists kids to teach adults what they learned. COSI remains closed to the public.

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens offers virtual tours, exhibition videos and even gardening tips.

Plant Power

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has reopened, but it hasn’t stopped offering the FPC experience online. Take a virtual tour of the new Paul Busse Garden Railway exhibition (scheduled through Jan. 10) on the conservatory's website. The conservatory also has a host of plant-based opportunities available online. Take virtual tours, watch exhibition videos and more. Adults can also get gardening tips, watch a class or even download FPC scenes for backgrounds for your next virtual meeting.

Giraffes are among the animals featured as part of the Columbus Zoo School online offerings.

Virtual Zoo

While the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has reopened, you don’t need to be on-site to have an experience with the animals. The zoo’s Digital Learning Center features Columbus Zoo School, a collection of videos highlighting many of the animals that call the zoo home, as well as the Columbus Zoo Virtual Adventure series, which features lessons on how to foster an understanding of the animal world. And, of course, the zoo continues to update its social media feeds, offering up-to-date insight into its amazing animals, including peeks behind the scenes with zookeepers.

Live Jazz

Jazz Arts Group is partnering with the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Summer Reading Challenge and the Columbus Museum of Art to bring its PBJ & Jazz family concert online. Catch it streaming on JAG’s Facebook page at noon July 18. The replay will be available for a week after the show. 

JAG also has been offering Offstage Live, a twice-weekly series that features music discussions and performances from some of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra’s outstanding musicians.

Explore Aviation History

Let your imagination take flight with a virtual trip to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, housed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. The venue has maintained expanded online offerings (all free), including self-guided, 360-degree virtual tours; views of aircraft cockpits; podcasts; videos; and more. Items in the collection of the world’s largest military museum include spacecraft, satellites, presidential planes, the Memphis Belle and more. Check out their Kids & Parents page for DIY projects, word searches and coloring sheets. Prefer to check it out in person? The museum reopened July 1.

Celebrate Ohio History

The Ohio History Connection and Ohio Village in Columbus serve as the hub for a statewide network of historical sites, museums and more. But you don’t have to leave home to delve into the past. OHC has assembled a host of virtual learning experiences and activities, arranged by age-appropriateness (including for adults). Learn how history is recreated and make your own diorama, record your own oral histories, find out about great Ohioans such as Jesse Owens and John Glenn, and more.

Scavenger Hunt

This one bends the “virtual” rules, but it does allow for plenty of social distancing and is too fun to not include, especially for those in the northern parts of Columbus. Preservation Parks of Delaware County has assembled a “Discover Delaware County Scavenger Hunt” that will take you, at your own pace and on your own schedule, to sites throughout the county in search of clues that will help you complete a secret phrase. Download a PDF or go paperless, check out Delaware County and, if you solve the puzzle by Sept. 7, you’ll be eligible for prizes.

Learn about the Thompson Road covered bridge and seven others through the Union County Convention & Visitors Bureau—then maybe take a day trip to see them.

Covered Bridges

While in Delaware County, you might as well stay on the road for a unique tour through Union County. Every year, Union County holds a Covered Bridge Festival (this year’s, set for Sept. 26-27, is slightly altered from past events). But the secret is, the list of bridges, maps and histories are all available online whenever you feel like spending a day checking out these historical structures.

At Home with Highlights

Columbus-based Highlights for Children Inc. is offering Highlights@Home, an ongoing series of free content including activities, craft ideas, stories, puzzles, recipes and more. Science, art, social skills and other topics, all organized by age group, are covered in this comprehensive offering. 

Get Artsy

The Greater Columbus Arts Council has compiled a list of local organizations’ online offerings, which includes virtual museum tours, concerts, classes and more. GCAC’s Columbus Makes Art list features events for all age ranges, so be sure to do some research to determine what events best fit your family.

Night Sky

You don’t need to travel or even own a telescope to look at and learn about the stars, planets and other bodies in the night sky. Thanks to the John Glenn Astronomy Park in Logan, you can learn about astronomy virtually, anywhere. The JGAP’s Facebook (and Instagram) pages continue to offer insights into the wonders of the skies until the venue is able to reopen. 

Book It

Findlay’s excellent Mazza Museum, which features the world’s largest collection of original artwork from children’s books, is a decent trek from Columbus, but virtually, it’s as close as your kitchen table. This summer, the Mazza has been hosting weekly storytimes on its Facebook page, as well as virtual activities and events. If you’re playing catch-up, or looking for a new or different experience, you’ll want to check this out. 

Explore CMA

If you haven’t yet made it back to visit the Columbus Museum of Art in person, you can still browse its collection online. See and learn about hundreds of paintings by artists such as Renoir, Picasso, George Bellows and Columbus’ own Aminah Robinson.

Learn About Theater

CATCO is Kids recently hosted two free web series to teach children about the theater. These Virtual Adventures, one for acting and one for playwriting, are available on the troupe’s Facebook page and on their website. The lessons are delivered in short bites, less than 10 minutes each, to keep kids’ interest sustained.

This story is from the Summer 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.