The Smithsonian Institution is not a single museum, but rather the world's largest collection of museums (sixteen) and affiliate museums (129), housing 143 million objects and hosting 45 million visitors a year. The following Smithsonian sites are just a few of my favorites. Visit the museum's front page or the Smithsonian Educational Gateway to find more.
Treasures galore await at the American Art Museum, home to the "largest collection of American art in the world." Best sections are Education (especially Kids' Corner, Learning with New Media, and Journey through Art) and Collections & Exhibitions (don't miss Browse the Collection, Helios, Director's Choice and Online Exhibitions.) My personal favorites are Bottle Caps to Brushes (in Kids' Corner) for elementary grades, and the curator's commentary about Vegetable Dinner by Peter Blume (in Director's Choice) for high-school students.
To enter the virtual exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum, hover your mouse over Exhibitions to select either Current, Past or Web Only. Best clicks for classroom and home are the activities (some online, others offline) peppered throughout the online exhibits such as Is Air Really There (from How Things Fly) and Cyber-Center (found in Exploring the Planets.) Another exciting gallery (that is still being built) is a collection of 3-D virtual reality photographs of 335 aircraft and spacecraft. To visit, click on QuickTime Virtual Reality Project from the home page.
The National Museum of American History was my favorite Smithsonian when the kids and I visited Washington D.C. a few years ago. Its online counterpart not only lives up to my high expectations, but exceeds them. History Wired uses a rather unique Java interface to showcase some of the curators's favorite objects. The museum houses more than three million artifacts, so choosing a handful of favorites is no small task. For more fun, click on over to any of thirty-two virtual exhibits on topics as diverse as the history of tools used to teach math, Julia Child's kitchen, and the 1950's paint-by-numbers craze.
Leave your preconceived notions at your keyboard, because there is lots to do and see at the National Postal Museum. For stamp collectors and wannabes, there is an entire section devoted to philately. For art lovers, Art of the Stamp is an exploration of this "universally available art form." For history buffs, there's the story of the Inverted Jenny (a famous postal misprint) and the biography of Mary Katherine Goddard, a colonial postmaster. And teachers will be bowled over by the printable curriculum guides, which include commemorative stamp designing and letter writing projects.
Before you even enter the virtual zoo, if you refresh the homepage, you'll be rewarded with a variety of beautiful and too-cute-for-words animal pix. Once you are in, site highlights include the animal Web cams, photo gallery slide show, kids games and the two giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. Browse "a sampling of moments" from the pandas' first year at the zoo in the online photo essay, A Year In Their Life. Other don't-miss-them-clicks are the Panda cams and notes from the ongoing panda research studies.