For many children across Virginia, distance learning has become the norm this year. You’ll learn about science, history, art, and a handful of other subjects from behind a computer screen. Still, there are ways to bring these themes to life.
We’re talking about excursions. Yes, excursions. Woo-hoo! Like in safe field trips that make it possible to distance and stimulate small heads with telescopes and night skies, fossil-rich sandy beaches and battlefields of the civil war, even public murals and art spaces.
For those who want to add safe and interactive face-to-face learning to screen time, we have it all. Here’s how to bring up your kids behind their Chromebooks and learn from them across the state. Get ready for some of our favorite subjects at school. The school bell is ringing now.
Do you have a child with starry eyes in the house? There are fewer than 100 Dark Sky Parks in the world that have been officially certified by the International Dark Sky Association, and Virginia is home to two of them. We know wowza. James River State Park in Gladstone and Staunton River State Park in Scottsburg are our two international Dark Sky Parks.
Photo credit: Virginia State Parks
These parks get so dark that the night sky is filled with more twinkling stars than you can ever imagine. Staunton River State Park is considered one of the best places on the entire east coast for stargazing. Astros in training wants to check out a telescope from the visitor center for an up-close look at the night sky.
In the fall, both Staunton River State Park and James River State Park host annual star parties. During these hugely popular stargazing events, the parks break out the really powerful telescopes to locate the moon, stars, planets and galaxies.
Shenandoah National Park hosts an annual night sky festival in August with ranger chats, astronomy presentations and of course stargazing. Children ages 5 to 12 can earn a Junior Ranger Night Explorer badge at the event or from home by completing a downloadable activity booklet.
Space-loving kids may also want to visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, once it reopens, for a look at the space shuttle discovery. This is one of four space shuttles on display in museums and science centers across the country. The museum also offers nine virtual excursions on the moon, flight, space travel, and more.
Photo credit: April Greer
For budding archaeologists, Virginia is a world-class wonderland. Two state parks, including Westmoreland State Park in Montross and York River State Park in Williamsburg, are full of fossils and even shark teeth on their sandy beaches.
Photo credit: Jeff Taylor
The best time to look for fossils like the Chesapecten Middlesex, a shell-like fossil, is when the tide is low. Every visitor can take a fossil home as a souvenir from the beach. You can also see lots of tiny fiddler crabs hopping here and there in the tall grass, vigilantly searching for their own treasure.
Set your GPS for the Virginia Historical Triangle for a taste of historical archeology. In Colonial Williamsburg, families can attend pop-up archeology events twice a week at the Education Studio of the Colonial Williamsburg Art Museums. On-site archaeologists keep visitors informed of ongoing excavations at the First Baptist Church and Custis Square.
Photo Credit: Mark Atkinson, IG Account: @me_atkinson
Enable your little ones to unleash their creative energies by exploring public art across the state on a family field trip. Richmond has more than 100 colorful murals on display across the city, from the Museum District to Oregon Hill to downtown. Select murals to see on the Richmond Mural Project website.
Photo Credit: Chad Williams IG Account: @echadwilliams
Create your own family walking tour with this Google Map, generously created by RVA local Blake Casavant, which makes it easy to find murals around town. Don’t miss out on Carytown for family-friendly favorites like yellow Woodstock birds, a happy whale and the “It All Adds Up” calculator.
In Richmond, plan a walking tour of Robins Sculpture Garden at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. This 3.5-acre outdoor space features quirky gardens, a waterfall, and fascinating sculptures like King Neptune, a half-size version of the popular King Neptune statue on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk.
Photo credit: Caroline Martin, IG account: @carolinemartinphoto
Virginia Beach is also home to colorful murals in the ViBe Creative District. Entire building walls have been transformed into curious and thought-provoking public works of art. Plan a scavenger hunt in search of vibrant murals. Don’t miss the Greetings from Virginia Beach mural at The Beach Bully on 19th Street.
Take the Charlottesville kids to IX Art Park. This walk-in, outdoor art park explodes with colorful, conversation-inducing murals and playful sculptures. There’s even a small free library, a grim LOVEwork sculpture, and a stage that occasionally hosts concerts, performances, and kid-friendly outdoor events.
Go below the surface with your junior geologist in underground caves filled with impressive stalactites and stalagmites. Luray Caverns in Luray is considered to be the largest and most popular cave on the east coast with more than a mile of paved walkways that lead visitors to naturally created formations and strange wonders.
The most popular calcite formations in the Luray Caverns include totem poles, frozen fountain and Titania’s veil. Of course, the Great Stalacpipe Organ is also a must. It was invented in 1954 and is the largest musical instrument in the world. This is really big. The eyes widened as the organ cast stalactites over the caves to sing.
The Shenandoah Valley is a haven for caves. Aside from the Luray Caverns, there are several others, including the Shenandoah Caverns in Quicksburg and the Grand Caverns in Grottoes. The Natural Bridge Caverns reach astounding depths of 34 stories below the surface. Guided tours allow you to explore these world class caves.
Above ground in Natural Bridge, junior geos will take an excursion to Natural Bridge State Park. It is home to a 21 meter high natural limestone arch that inspires from the first moment. Walk under the bridge to Lace Falls on the Cedar Creek Trail and spend time in the new Children’s Discovery Area, which consists of several outdoor study areas, including Poplar Art and Fun in the Field.
Photo credit: Preethi B. Harbuck
The state’s caves aren’t limited to the Shenandoah Valley. Under no circumstance. Dixie Caverns is just a stones throw from Roanoke. Here, rock formations like the Turkey Wing, Magic Mirror, and Wedding Bell will bow the kids’ minds as they ponder how and why each formation has its name. Have a weekend with a stay at the local campsite.
Virginia is filled with historical attractions that bring American history to life, from former presidential homes like Montpelier and Monticello to places that were once called home by the original Virginia colonists who resisted travel to America in 1606.
Photo Credit: Large Orange Frame
Many outbuildings are closed in Montpelier, but you can sign up for a guided tour on weekends to learn about the life and times of James and Dolley Madison. In the meantime, Monticello is open, but you should buy tickets early due to the reduced daily capacity. Self-guided tours require advance booking if you want to learn all about our third President, Thomas Jefferson.
For military history, explore Civil War battlefields like Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park and Richmond National Battlefield Park. Take a self-driving tour or hike trails that stretch across battlefields, such as the 5-mile First Battle of Manassas Trail in Manassas National Battlefield Park. Kiddos can explore field artillery and historical monuments like Matthews Hill, where Union forces rushed into battle.
Photo Credit: Bill Crabtree Jr.
Check out the replicas of the three ships at Jamestown Settlement – Susan Constant, Godspeed and discovery – that brought the first colonists from England to America. The largest of the three ships Susan Constantis open to visitors who wish to climb aboard to learn more about the construction of any ship and the challenging life at sea.
Children can learn about colonial life in the 18th century by visiting tradesmen like blacksmiths, weavers and coopers in colonial Williamsburg. Take a tour of the Governor’s Palace, Courthouse, or Capitol (or all three). On the Play House Stage, a bizarre troupe from the 18th century entertains with daily performances.
Family-Friendly Virginia Excursions first appeared on Virginia’s travel blog.