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Beat quarantine boredom with online courses, book club and museum tours

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Schools and colleges are closed and large gatherings aren't possible at this point, but precautions related to the COVID-19 virus aren't stopping the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College from preparing to roll out its spring courses — online.

"We just made the decision," said Megan Whilden, executive director of Berkshire OLLI, in a phone interview Friday. "Our semester begins on April 13. In the meantime, we'll be doing training on Zoom [a free video-conferencing app] for our instructors and then our members. We've already sent out links to how-to-videos and we'll be holding hangouts, for people to come see what it's about, to ask questions and to get used to it."

In the Berkshires, educational classes aimed at every age group, book clubs, gym classes and even a drum circle have gone online with video conferencing and social media apps that allow participants to see each other and interact in real-time.

The majority of Berkshire OLLI's 1,300 members are in their 60s and 70s (you don't have to be over 50 to participate, classes are open to everyone), who Whilden describes as "a community of learners who not only take classes but love and enjoy being able to have face-to-face connections with friends."

Isolation saves lives, she said, but there's also a need to keep people from feeling lonely or depressed.

"I want to keep my members healthy, engaged and connected. We're not only moving the classes online but we're also setting up interactive discussion boards online," Whilden said.

In addition, Berkshire OLLI is uploading many of its previously taped classes on its YouTube channel at youtube.com/channel/UCLm73rYkUKxIfEuYSP_nM7A where they can be watched by the public, free-of-charge. OLLI classes also are aired, at 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, on Pittsfield Community Television. For more information, visit berkshireolli.wildapricot.org/.

Moving classes online with video conferencing services has helped Amiee Gelinas, founder and director of Tamarack Hollow Nature and Cultural Center and co-founder of Gaia Roots World Music Ensemble, continue to teach her West African and Caribbean hand drum classes, held weekly at The Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield.

This week, she held class during its usual hourlong time slot, but she's also offering classes on Thursday, March 26, from 3 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 8 p.m. There's a $10 fee and those interested in the class can email Gelinas at aimee@gaiaroots.com to register. More classes will be added, she said in Facebook post.

For those with children at home, local author Ty Allan Jackson is launching the Supadupa Book Club on Monday, March 30, on Facebook and Instagram.

"I know parents out there are having a really interesting time keeping their kids educated and entertained while their home from school. So my team and I decided to do something really cool. As of March 30, we are going to start a virtual book club regarding my book 'Supadupa Kid,' which is a classic good versus evil superhero story," Jackson said in a video on his YouTube channel (youtube.com/channel/UCPI2TuPCiPqwEgpsWE48uAQ/). "Kids around the world love this story and it just gives my heart so much pride and joy knowing that kids are galvanizing and reading this book and having a good time doing it. So, I'm starting a virtual book club, where I will get the opportunity, as I stream live on Facebook and Instagram reading snippets of each chapter every single day, to get feedback from your kids, live, in real-time."

The plan, he said in the video, is to read aloud from the book every day, Monday through Friday, until the book is done. The live stream format, on Facebook and Instagram, will allow those following along to ask the author questions and get answers in real-time.

Jackson also has 56 copies of the book to give away, courtesy of a few sponsors he reached out to, so kids following the livestream can read along with their own copy of the book. Jackson said parents just need to direct message him their child's name and address on Facebook or Instagram. Those interested in sponsoring a book, that will be sent out to a child for free, can do so by contributing, $10 per book, at paypal.me/SupadupaBookClub.

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For those with younger children, Jackson has posted two "read aloud" videos on YouTube featuring his books, "You Are Amazing/I Am Amazing," and "When I Close My Eyes."

Looking for more online educational resources? We have a few suggestions from institutions around the state and nation:

The New England Aquarium in Boston is posting live presentations, new videos and activities to try from home on Facebook and at neaq.org/visit/at-home-events-and-activities/.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is offering visits with its animals daily at 3 p.m. through its Home Safari Facebook Live series. Find the series at facebook.com/cincinnatizoo/ and archived videos and activities at cincinnatizoo.org/home-safari-resources/.

Watch livestreaming video of apes, baboons, elephants, giraffes, penguins, polar bears, tigers and more from the San Diego Zoo: kids.sandiegozoo.org/videos.

Want to learn more about Ellis Island? Scholastic has an interactive tour: teacher.scholastic.com/activities/immigration/tour/. You can also tour the Statue of Liberty: nps.gov/featurecontent/stli/eTour.htm.

Take a historical tour of New York City at urbanarchive.org/cities/nyc.

View the online exhibits of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: artsandculture.google.com/partner/smithsonian-national-air-and-space-museum. Find K-12 learning resources: airandspace.si.edu/learn.

NASA has a variety of virtual tours online, including tours of the Goddard Space Flight Center and the Hubble Control Center: nasa.gov/content/goddard/hubble-360-degree-virtual-tour.

The Smithsonian Museum of American History has current and past exhibits online: americanhistory.si.edu/exhibitions/online.

Learn about our national parks with virtual tours provided by the National Park Service: nps.gov/search/?affiliate=nps&query=virtual+tour. Virtual tours available include Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore, Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, and Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming.

The Metropolitan Opera is offering free encore presentations from its Live in HD series. The encore shows are released nightly, at 7:30, and remain up until 6:30 p.m. the following day. A link to the current release and a schedule of upcoming presentations can be found at metopera.org/user-information/nightly-met-opera-streams/.

Take a free online course at an Ivy League. Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale universities all offer free courses, many of which are self-paced, in a variety of subjects. Classcentral.com has a searchable database of available courses: classcentral.com/collection/ivy-league-moocs.


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