Virginia Field Trips
Hands-on and on-site learning is one of the many blessings of homeschooling.
Virginia Is for Field Trips!
Have you considered all that our great state has to offer? With the ocean and the mountains, its place in Colonial and Civil War history, and its proximity to the nation’s capital, intriguing and worthwhile locations abound!
by Joy Hayden
In the early years, field trips were a staple of our homeschool diet, but as time wore on and I wore out, the number of field trips we went on diminished. Recently the need to take school on the road and expand our horizons has been re-awakened in me.
Remember, a good field trip begins with an interest in the topic or activity. If the interest does not already exist, perhaps you could stir it up with a good unit study beforehand!
Some of the following field trips are long-standing favorites, and others are a little more off the beaten track. Hopefully, you will find some treasures among the list.
NATURE-LOVER FIELD TRIPS
Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon. This is a bike path on an old, narrow-gauge railway. Much of it is shaded and there is a gentle downhill grade so you can coast most of the way. It is very picturesque as you ride across trestles, over streams, and through the Jefferson National Forest. It is 33.4 miles long, but you can choose to do just a section of it. You may rent bikes and arrange for a shuttle to pick you up at your ending point. www.vacreepertrailbikeshop.com/index.html or www.vacreepertrail.org.
Sandy Bottom Nature Park in Hampton. It’s hard to believe that this land was once devastated by mining pits. It has now been reclaimed and there are 456 acres devoted to environmental and wildlife studies. The park has a nature facility, biking and hiking trails, and a horse trail too (bring your own horse!). You can go fishing, picnicking, and visit the Wildlife Center or gardens. The Nature Center offers many programs, but you need to make reservations. They are located at 1255 Big Bethel Road in Hampton, 757-825-4657. http://www.hampton.va.us/sandybottom/
Norfolk Botanical Garden. Be sure to bring your camera to this field trip! It is a beautiful place any time of year, with extended hours from April through mid-October. Imagine a three-acre rose garden or 250,000 azaleas! Kids will especially enjoy the butterfly garden and the fish-feeding activities. In addition to walking tours, you can take a tram, shuttle, or a boat tour (an additional $3). Bring a picnic lunch, or eat at the restaurant on location. The admission fee is $6 per adult and $4 for kids ages 6-16. Group rates are available. 6700 Azalea Garden Road, Norfolk; 757-441-5830. www.norfolkbotanicalgarden.org
Indian Hollow Stables at Shenandoah River State Park. Enjoy the rolling hills, Shenandoah River, and valley near Front Royal from horseback. There are several packages to choose from: half-hour rides, one-hour rides, and two-hour rides. Special interpretive rides are also available on certain days, when the guide will give a nature lesson as well as a history lesson. For extra-adventurous folks, Indian Hollow Stables also offers a “Saddles and Paddles” ride. This combines horseback riding with rafting or tubing. Children have to be at least ten years old. Be aware that rides are conducted rain or shine (no refunds). This is a pricey field trip, but sure to be a memory-maker. www.frontroyalcanoe.com
Virginia State Parks. Most parks have interpretive programs, hands-on activities, and kids programs. Check at the visitor center or talk to a ranger. Many parks will arrange programs to accommodate you if you let them know what you are interested in. Bring insect repellent and sunscreen! www.dcr.state.va.us/parks/
Natural Bridge near Salem. One of the seven natural wonders in the world is right in our backyard. Be prepared to walk a mile and carry some bottled water if the day is hot. Bring your camera because this will make a nice family picture for those Christmas cards! Along the way you will stop at the Monacan Village to watch and learn about the daily life of these Indians 300 years ago. Plan to set aside about one-and-a-half hours total for this trip. http://www.naturalbridgeva.com/
Blue Ridge Parkway. After visiting the Natural Bridge, you may want to take in more beautiful scenery by driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway. www.nps.gov/blri/
Natural Bridge Zoo. For animal lovers that might accompany you on this trip, you can visit the nearby Natural Bridge Zoo, (540-291-2420), Virginia Safari Park, (540-291-3205), or the Virginia Horse Center (540-464-2950). www.naturalbridgeva.com/links.html; www.horsecenter.org
Morefield Mine in Amelia County is about 45 minutes west of Richmond. It is the only operating gem mine in Virginia. You will have a fun, dirty time digging in the dumps and rinsing the gems in the nearby sluice. This mine offers a nice variety of crystals, including garnet, topaz, columbite, and mica. The most common stone, though, is amazonite—a soft to deep blue-green colored stone. Anyone who likes gems or rocks needs to know about this place! http://www.toteshows.com/morefield.html.
Virginia Marine Science Museum in Virginia Beach wins homeschooler Nancy Loughin’s “Best-Field-Trip-in-the-State” award. Nancy, a veteran field tripper, says it is well worth the drive. Your kids will love the touch tanks where they can touch stingrays, crabs, and starfish. In addition to whales, sharks, and sea turtles in the aquarium, there is an estuary outside with native birds and bald eagles. The museum sponsors whale-watching trips in the winter and dolphin-sighting trips in the spring and summer.
Wear comfortable shoes…you don’t want to have to leave early because of tired feet! There is a cafeteria on the premises, so don’t worry about lunch. If you plan to visit, check the Web site to see what programs are scheduled and make reservations for them. You will want to spend four or five hours here. It will cost $10.95 for adults and $6.95 for children, and for an extra fee you can take in an IMAX film. www.vmsm.com
Virginia Fisheries are in many counties including: Campbell, King and Queen, Smyth, Warren, Nelson, Bath, Wythe, and Craig. Five of the hatcheries are cold-water and raise trout. Four hatcheries are warm-water so you will see pike, bass, catfish, or other warm-water fish. The best time of year to visit the warmwater hatcheries is April through June or in the fall. Even if you aren’t an avid fisherman, it is fascinating to learn about the lifecycle of these fish. I toured a fishery in first grade and I still remember how interesting it was—stinky but fun! www.dgif.state.va.us/fishing/fish_stocking/
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly. This is the companion site to the National Air and Space Museum. Newly opened, it is located on the property of Dulles International Airport. Homeschooler Beth LaRose likes the fact that the museum is easy to get to and gives you the Air-and-Space experience without going into D.C. It is nicely laid out with an education room for classes or special school programs. Here you can see the space shuttle Enterprise, and over 80 aircraft, including the Enola Gay and a stealth fighter, among other things.
Eventually it will house over 200 aircraft, 135 spacecraft, and other space artifacts. Inside the hangar you will see three levels of aircraft—one on the floor and two levels suspended from the ceiling! It has a definite “WOW” factor.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day. Admission is free, but be prepared—parking is $12.00! For a fee, you may watch an IMAX film or take a flight-simulator ride. Plan to spend several hours here. You’ll be glad there are eating accommodations. As a bonus, you can enjoy watching the takeoffs and landings at Dulles Airport. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located at 14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, 202-357-2700. www.nasm.si.edu/museum/udvarhazy/
Pocahontas Mine and Museum in Pocahontas. Visit a coal mine where coal used to be hand-loaded into carts. Located in southwest Virginia, this mine opened in 1882 and operated for 73 years. You can visit daily from April through October (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.). Tours of Mine and Educational Room cost $6.00 for adults; $3.50 for children 6-12; Children under 6 are free. The Museum is free. You can also walk through the historic town of Pocahontas and see the old Silver Dollar Saloon, the Company Store, and the old log-cabin schoolhouse. For a small fee you can hire a guide to give you a walking tour of the town, 276-945-2134. wvweb.com/www/pocahontas_mine/
The Challenger Space Center in Alexandria is one of the centers founded by the families of the tragic Challenger mission. This trip is only available to groups. The recommended group size is 18 to 30 students. The cost is $425, but when you divide it among your students, it is fairly reasonable and definitely worth every penny. This is my children’s all-time favorite field trip. Prior to attending the session, your group will receive an information packet. There will be some prep work on your part. Given a list of job descriptions, students will have to choose (or be assigned) jobs according to their interests.
My daughter was a medical technician, my son was responsible for retrieving a probe, and another son was a communications officer. At the Center, they will simulate a real mission. See a list of their current school programs at their Web site. Address: 1250 North Pitt Street, Alexandria. 703-837-5640. If you are looking for a team-building activity for your group, I recommend this field trip. http://launchpad.challenger.org/programs/school/index.html
Science Museum of Western Virginia at One Market Square, Roanoke. Located on the fourth and fifth floors of the Center of the Square building, the Science Museum offers exhibits, a planetarium, and Mega Dome shows. There are even special homeschool programs. Admission prices vary depending on whether you want to go to the planetarium or Mega Dome. To do it all will cost you $13 for adults, and $11 for children (plus tax). 540-342-5726. Parking is free on Saturday or Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays. http://www.smwv.org.
Belvedere Plantation in Fredericksburg. Programs available for groups only. A minimum of nine people is needed for a group. In any season, there is something to be learned at Belvedere. In the spring they offer strawberry picking; in the fall, pumpkins. Their corn maze opens Labor Day weekend. Call 1-800-641-1212 (VA Toll Free), or 540-371-8494, for a taped message. www.belvedereplantation.com
Nuclear Power Plant on Route 650 in Surry. Have you ever wanted to know how a nuclear power plant works? Visit the Surry Nuclear Information Center and learn the truths vs. myths of nuclear power, generate your own electricity, and learn about the initial mining of uranium to the final stages of producing electricity. If you would like to bring a group on a field trip, call in advance and they will custom-make a field trip tailored to your interests. Best of all…it’s free! Call 757-357-5410. Occasionally, due to homeland security issues, the plant may be closed for tours, so be sure to call ahead. www.dom.com/about/stations/nuclear/surry/snic_print.jsp
Bergey’s Dairy Farm in Chesapeake. Got Milk? Or better yet, how do we get our milk? Bergey’s Dairy Farm is a real working farm with more than 200 cows, as well as chickens, goats, bunnies, and Old Tom Turkey. Watch the feeding and milking of the cows, and see the farmhands clean out the stalls. At the farm store you can buy some of that fresh milk in old-fashioned bottles or better yet, eat some homemade ice cream. Wear shoes and clothes that can get muddy and dirty.
Although the farm is open year-round, except on Sundays, plan a visit over Memorial Day weekend for their “Day on the Farm” open house. Enjoy free tours, special events, and music. The farm and dairy store hours vary during the year. For more information, call the office during weekday business hours: 757-482-4711. Located at 2221 Mount Pleasant Road, Chesapeake.
USS Wisconsin in Norfolk. What is it like to live and work on the ultimate warship? Highly recommended by Sally Murray of Dumfries, the USS Wisconsin is a larger-than-life field trip. There is no charge to tour the ship. You will feel extra-patriotic if you time your visit with the return of a naval ship from deployment! See a map of the ship’s tour route and find out about hours at the Web site. If you visit the USS Wisconsin, you will also want to visit the adjacent Nauticus National Maritime Center. Adults are $9.95 and children are $7.50. www.hrnm.navy.mil/wisconsin.html; www.nauticus.org
Thistle Cove Farm in Tazwell. How do you turn the fleece from a sheep into a woolen blanket? At Thistle Cove Farm they raise Shetland, Romney, and Merino sheep, as well as a rare breed of American Curly horses. Sheep-shearing is always done on the third Saturday of April and is open to the public. Families or groups can arrange for a half-hour tour. You’ll see and participate in wool-carding and spinning. Dress in grubby clothes and bring a sweater, since the wind often makes it chilly. You are welcome to bring a picnic lunch. Afterwards, you may want to buy woolen blankets or rugs at their farm store. Cost is $5 per family member; children six and younger are free. Ten percent of all tour proceeds are donated to Heifer International to buy a sheep, goat, or hive of bees for an Appalachian family. Contact Sandra Bennett at 276-988-4121 to arrange a tour. www.thistlecovefarm.com
Krispy Kreme Factory. Doughnuts are made twice a day—from 6 to 11 in the morning, and at night. The process and equipment are fascinating and there are hot, fresh doughnuts waiting for you at the end of the tour. Call 703-768-0300 to set up a field trip. Take an online field trip of a Krispy Kreme factory at their Web site. Unfortunately, the online tour does not smell or taste as good as the real thing! 6328 Richmond Highway, Alexandria. www.howstuffworks.com/krispy-kreme.htm
Route 11 Potato Chips in Middletown, near Winchester. Have you ever wondered how this favorite snack is really made? Route 11 Potato Chips uses only natural ingredients to make their chips. Visitors can watch the “spudmasters” at work, and then sample the chips as soon as they’re done. Yummy, hot, and delicious! Open to the public on Fridays (10 a.m.–6 p.m.) and Saturdays (10 a.m.–5 p.m.) Located on Route 11 south of Winchester in Middletown; 540-869-0104. www.rt11.com/pages/chipmenu.html
Field Trip Factory.com. Use this site to help schedule certain store field trips in your area, such as Petco, Sports Authority, and others. The tour of the Stafford Petco received very high marks from one family. These trips can be scheduled close to home and won’t cost a lot of money. www.fieldtripfactory.com
Gunston Hall in Mason Neck. Home of George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Tour the mansion and the beautiful gardens. Contact Gunston Hall prior to visiting and they will send you tons of information. A highly recommended field trip. You will find more information, programs, and a discount coupon for $1 off of the admission at their Web site. Adults: $8; Students: $4. Open daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.gunstonhall.org
Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, near I-64 and I-81. Learn about the cultures of four different 1800’s farms—German, Scotch-Irish, American, and English—and their traditions, their food, and their farming methods. Give yourself two and a half hours to see the exhibits. There are vending machines for snacks and drinks, but bring your own bag lunch. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but you want to visit in nice weather. Adults cost $10, children ages 6-12 cost $6, and students ages 13-18 cost $9. There are special educational tours and rates for groups. Call 540-332-7850 for reservations. www.frontiermuseum.org
Museum of the Confederacy located at 12th and Clay Streets in Richmond. Several folks with whom I talked consider this the best Civil War museum in the state. Over 15,000 items are on display including Mosby’s sword. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children. www.moc.org
For a couple of dollars more you can also get a tour of the White House of the Confederacy. According to the Washington Post, this mansion “is a meticulously restored neoclassical masterpiece that, in terms of quality, historical associations, and authenticity, probably is second only to Mount Vernon among restorations of historic American dwellings.”
Booker T. Washington National Monument, Franklin County. Open year round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, and special 45-minute programs are available if you call in advance. You will want to plan to stay for an hour or two to see the exhibits and video, and visit the bookstore. You can also hike the area trails. Booker T. Washington was born a slave on this tobacco farm. Your visit will explain what life was like in the slave era. 12130 Booker T. Washington Highway, Hardy; 540-721-2094. www.nps.gov/bowa/rangers.html
Presidents’ Homes. Virginia is the birth-state of eight presidents. Seven of them have homes in Virginia. (Zachary Taylor was born in Orange County, but there is no house to visit.) Have you visited the homes of the Virginian presidents? The homes include: George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Mount Vernon; George Washington’s birthplace, Popes Creek, in Westmoreland County; Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville; Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest near Lynchburg; James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange County; James Monroe’s Ash Lawn in Charlottesville; William Henry Harrison’s Berkeley Plantation in Charles City; John Tyler’s Sherwood Forest in Charles City; and Woodrow Wilson’s Manse in Staunton.
Arlington Cemetery in Arlington. First, stop at the Visitors Center and get a map. You will want to see the Eternal Flame at Presidents Kennedy’s grave and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here you can watch the changing of the guard ceremony every hour from October through March, and every half-hour from April through September. Before you visit, read the information about ceremonies on their Web site so you’ll know the difference between a ruffle and a flourish, and the origin of the 21-gun salute. It’s also interesting to read about the training of the guards who stand at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For hours and parking, see their Web site, or call 703-607-8000. www.arlingtoncemetery.org
Agecroft Hall, Richmond, is an actual 15th century Tudor estate on the James River. When it fell into disrepair in England, it was sold at auction, dismantled, crated, and shipped across the Atlantic, and then painstakingly reassembled. The museum and gardens are open year-round, Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday 12:30-5 p.m.. They are closed Mondays and national holidays. There is an admission charge, which covers an introductory film and guided tour of the museum. Garden tours are self-guided. There is reduced admission for seniors, children, and students. Group tours and education tours may be scheduled by appointment. Agecroft Hall and Gardens are located in Windsor Farms, not far from downtown Richmond and interstate highways. www.agecrofthall.com
Belmont Estate, The Gari Melchers Estate and Memorial Gallery, Stafford County. “The best trip I’ve had in awhile,” says homeschool mom, Katie Jay. “I brought a small group and they were treated to a wonderful tour, including Melchers’ studio, which was fascinating.” Located near Fredericksburg, the estate is the former residence of the American figure painter Gari Melchers (1860-1932). The museum consists of the artist’s home, studio, and gardens. The stone studio and galleries are home to the largest collection of Melchers’ works anywhere. All group tours must be arranged in advance by calling 540-654-1851, or e-mailing Nancy Heyward, education coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.umw.edu/gari_melchers/belmont.
WPA Murals. There are 27 post offices in Virginia that house WPA murals. WPA (Work Projects Administration) was a program established by Franklin Roosevelt during the depression. It was not only an attempt to employ out-of-work artists, but to show that art could enrich the everyday lives of ordinary people, not just the upper-class. Murals exist in Hopewell, Petersburg (2), AltaVista, Emporia, Chatham, and Arlington. Can you find the rest?
Millionaire’s Row in Danville. If you appreciate architecture, you will want to drive or walk down Millionaire’s Row where you can enjoy eight blocks of Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Included are five churches, giving Danville the nickname “The City of Churches.” For more information about the Old West End Historic District and Millionaires Row, contact the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce. www.dpchamber.org
Shenandoah Shakespeare’s Education Center in Staunton takes the fear out of Shakespeare’s plays. Actor-led show tours combine lecture and performance in an educational but entertaining look at Shakespearean theatre. Enjoy a lesson about England’s first indoor theatre, do a little performing, and understand how staging conditions of 17th-century London influenced the works of Shakespeare. Tours last approximately one hour and are offered Monday through Friday at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m.. (Wednesday only has a 2 p.m. tour.) Other programs and matinee information is available at their Web site. They are located at 10 South Market Street, Staunton. 877-MUCH-ADO. www.ishakespeare.com
Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria. The largest and most successful visual-arts center in the country, the Torpedo Factory has 84 working studios and six galleries. At one time, the building really was a torpedo factory, but has been renovated, and is visited by over 800,000 people each year. During your visit, you can meet some of the artists and watch them work. You can view different media being used: pottery, stained glass, photography, printmaking, to name a few. To see the floor plan identifying the different media, go to the Web site. For information about self-guided and docent-led tours, call the Artists’ Association office at 703-838-4565, ext. 6; or contact them by email at tours at www.torpedofactory.org.
O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke. O. Winston Link was a renowned photographer who documented the last mainline steam railroad in America, the Norfolk and Western, from 1955 to 1960. It is appropriate that the museum is housed in a restored Norfolk- and-Western passenger station. The Museum houses 190 of Link’s signed prints and 85 estate prints. Notice that there are some joint-ticket offers with the History Museum and the Virginia Museum of Transportation. www.linkmuseum.org.
Virginia State Fair in Richmond. What better way to get the “big picture” of our great state? There are many school tours available, see for programs. HEAV has partnered with the State Fair so that one day each year is set aside for homeschoolers. Check heav.org for updates and special rates.
Activities include agricultural and animal exhibits, the heritage area, technology center, and arts and crafts. Of course, there’s my favorite—the Rodeo! Check the Internet for updates on ticket prices and events. www.statefair.com
Waterford Fair in Waterford, is held the first week of October every year. This year it will be October 1-3, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.. During this three-day festival you can learn traditional crafts, tour historic homes, and watch military reenactments while enjoying music, dance, and good food. Tickets are $13 per person (per day) in advance and $15 at the door. Children under 12 are free. Call the Waterford Foundation office (540-882-3018) to purchase your tickets. www.waterfordva-wca.org/waterford-fair.htm
Market Fair Days at Claude Moore Farm in McLean. Held on the third weekend of May, July, and October. Claude Moore Farm is a colonial farm that can be visited Wednesday through Sunday from April to December. Three times each year, the farm holds its Market Days. There are activities for the kids and craftsmen, spinners and dyers, tradesmen, a “colonial” doctor, and even the militia to see! Foods and wares can be purchased. There is a free pass on the Web site, good for admission of up to six people. www.1771.org/market_fair
The Pony Swim at Chincoteague is held on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July. Read Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry before going! www.chincoteague.com/pony/ponies
“Camp In” at Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond. Grab your friends and have a sleepover at the Science Museum. You’ll be treated to interesting workshops, an IMAX show, a planetarium show, science theater, and opportunities to explore the museum’s exhibits. The Museum provides evening and breakfast snacks and souvenirs. For a sample “Camp In” schedule, visit the Web site. “Camp In” is recommended for grades 1–6. Pre-registration is required. The cost is $36 per child; $18 per adult chaperon. Additional adults are $36. For every six children, one adult chaperon is required. Call 804-864-1436 to register your group, or e-mail email@example.com if you have questions. http://www.smv.org/education/campin/index.html.
Appomattox Court House in Appomattox. Celebrate the 140th anniversary of the reuniting of our country! Special events planned for April 8-10, 2005. Mark your calendars now. www.appomattox.com
This article originally appeared in the summer 2004 issue of the Virginia Home Educator Magazine. A big thanks goes to friends and “strangers” who contributed ideas for this article. Special thanks to Helen Johnson and Darlene Levy for their abundant lists. Also, some ideas were obtained from Virginia—Off the Beaten Path by Judy Colbert.