For many children in Virginia, distance learning has become the norm for this year. They learn about science, history, art and a handful of other topics from behind a computer screen. Still, there are ways to bring these topics to life.
We are talking about excursions. Yes, excursions. Woo-hoo! As in, safe field trips that enable distances and stimulate little minds with telescopes and night skies, fossil-rich sand beaches and Civil War battlefields, even public murals and art spaces.
For those who would like to supplement screen time with safe and interactive face-to-face learning, we've got you covered. Here's where you can go to get your kids from behind their Chromebooks and learn hands-on statewide. Prepare for some of our favorite school subjects. The school bell is now ringing.
Do you have a child with star eyes in the house? There are less than 100 dark sky parks in the world, as 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 spots on the entire East Coast for star gazing. Astros in training will want to view a telescope from the visitor center to get a closer look at the night sky.
In the fall, both Staunton River State Park and James River State Park hold annual Star Parties. At these wildly popular stargazing events, the parks break out the really powerful telescopes to view the moon, stars, planets and galaxies.
Shenandoah National Park hosts an annual Night Sky Festival in August with ranger chats, astronomical presentations and, of course, star gazing. Children ages 5 to 12 can earn a Junior Ranger Night Explorer badge at the event or at home by completing a downloadable activity booklet.
Kids who love space may also want to visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly when it reopens to check out the Space Shuttle. DiscoveryThis is one of four space shuttles on display at museums and science centers across the country. The museum also offers nine virtual field trips on the moon, flights, 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, wow with fossils, even shark teeth, on their sandy beaches.
Photo credit: Jeff Taylor
The best time to hunt for fossils, such as the Chesapecten Middlesex, a shell-like fossil, is at low tide. Each visitor is allowed to take home one fossil from the beach as a souvenir. You can also spot plenty of small fiddler crabs running around in the tall grass here and there, vigilantly hunting for their own treasures.
For a taste of historic archeology, set your GPS to Virginia’s Historic Triangle. At Colonial Williamsburg, families can stop by for bi-weekly Pop-Up Archeology events at the Education Studio in the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. Archaeologists in attendance involve visitors in the ongoing excavations at First Baptist Church and Custis Square.
Photo Credit: Mark Atkinson, IG Account: @me_atkinson
Let your little ones tap into their creative energy by exploring state-wide public art on a family trip. In Richmond, more than 100 colorful murals can be seen all over the city, from the Museum District to Oregon Hill to Downtown. Pick and choose murals you want to see on the website for the Richmond Mural Project.
Photo Credit: Chad Williams IG Account: @echadwilliams
Put together your own family walk with this Google Map generously created by RVA Local, Blake Casavant, making it easy to find murals around town. Don't miss Carytown for family-friendly favorites like yellow Woodstock birds, a happy whale and the & # 39; It All Adds Up & # 39; calculator.
While in Richmond, take a stroll through the Robins Sculpture Garden at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. In this 3.5-acre outdoor space, you'll find whimsical gardens, a tumbling waterfall and captivating sculptures such as King Neptune, a half-sized version of the beloved 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 walls of buildings have been transformed into curious and thought-provoking works of public art. Plan a scavenger hunt for vibrant murals. Don't miss the & # 39; Greetings from Virginia Beach & # 39; mural at 19th Street's The Beach Bully.
Take the kids in Charlottesville to IX Art Park. This walkable outdoor art park is bursting with color with colorful murals and playful sculptures. There's even a small free library, a gram-worthy LOVEwork sculpture, and a stage that hosts outdoor concerts, performances, and kid-friendly events from time to time.
Go below the surface with your young geologist to underground caverns filled with awe-inspiring stalactites and stalagmites. Luray Caverns in Luray is considered the largest and most popular cave on the East Coast with over a mile of paved walkway leading visitors to naturally created formations and curious wonders.
Among the most popular calcite formations in Luray Caverns include Totem Poles, Frozen Fountain and Titania & # 39; s Veil. Of course, the Great Stalacpipe Organ is also a must-see. Invented in 1954, it is the largest musical instrument in the world. That is really big. The eyes open wide as the organ sends stalactites through the caves to sing.
The Shenandoah Valley is a cave sanctuary. Besides Luray Caverns, there are several more, including Shenandoah Caverns in Quicksburg and Grand Caverns in Grottoes. The Natural Bridge Caverns reach astonishing depths of 34 stories below the Earth's surface. Guided tours allow exploration of these world-class caves.
Above ground in Natural Bridge, junior geos go-go for an excursion to Natural Bridge State Park. It is home to a 21-meter-high natural limestone arch that impresses from the moment it comes into view. Walk under the bridge over the Cedar Creek Trail to Lace Falls, then spend time in the new Children's Discovery Area, which consists of several outdoor learning areas such as & # 39; Poplar Art & # 39; and & # 39; Fun in the Field & # 39 ;.
Photo credit: Preethi B. Harbuck
The state's caves aren't limited to the Shenandoah Valley. Not really. Dixie Caverns is one block from Roanoke. Here, rock formations such as Turkey Wing, Magic Mirror and Wedding Bell will bend children's minds as they ponder how and why each formation got its name. Make it a weekend with a stay at the campsite on site.
Virginia is bustling with the historic attractions that bring American history to life, from former homes of presidents, such as Montpelier and Monticello, to sites once called home by Virginia's original settlers who braved the journey to America in 1606.
Photo credit: Large orange frame
At Montpelier, many of the outbuildings are closed, but you can sign up for a guided tour on weekends to learn about the life and times of James and Dolley Madison. Meanwhile, Monticello is open, but you'll want to buy tickets well in advance due to the reduced daily capacity. Even self-guided tours must be pre-purchased if you want to learn all about our third president, Thomas Jefferson.
For military history, you can explore Civil War battlefields such as Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park and Richmond National Battlefield Park. Take a self-drive tour or hike hiking trails that crisscross battlefields, such as the 5.5-mile First Battle of Manassas Trail in Manassas National Battlefield Park. Kiddos can explore field artillery and historical monuments such as Matthews Hill, where Union troops fought.
Photo Credit: Bill Crabtree Jr.
Watch the recreations of the three ships at Jamestown Settlement – Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery – who brought the first settlers from England to America. The largest of the three ships, Susan Constant, is open to visitors to climb aboard to learn about the construction of each ship and the challenging marine life.