From the profusion of waterways running through our coastal city and the biodiversity of the mighty Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, to a unique history that predates the founding of our country, there is no shortage of educational opportunities and unforgettable fun to be had in Virginia Beach. Students can explore one of the most environmentally smart, energy efficient building in the world at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center, climb back in time at the first lighthouse built in the newly-formed United States, and much, much more. With our arts scene, museums, rich history and unique coastal environment, this helpful homeschool guide has everything you need to help you find the perfect combination of education and vacation for your family in Virginia Beach.
Virginia’s only museum devoted to contemporary art, “MOCA”’s regularly changing exhibitions feature painting, photography, sculpture, glass, and mixed media from local and internationally acclaimed artists. The museum’s mission to foster awareness and understanding of the significant art of our time—and help young and old create their own—is embedded in every exhibit they host through gallery guides, audio tours, studio art classes and other interactive elements. And with more than 30-40 exhibits per year, it’s a place you can return again and again for a new experience.
Inspiration from fellow students and teachers can be found in the museum’s Fleming Gallery. Changing monthly exhibits feature art in many mediums created by Hampton Roads students, Virginia Beach art teachers, and other community groups.
Year round family festivals include art-themed scavenger hunts and art projects. There are also workshops tailored to young children, teens, and teacher workshops where parents can learn interactive techniques to help their kids create connections to art. Week-long summer art camps give toddlers through teens an opportunity to experiment with everything from animal art, to 3D printing, painting, ceramics and digital art.
For homeschool groups, the museum’s manager of school & educator programs can arrange a one hour guided inquiry based tour of the current exhibit, or two-hour tour that includes an art making activity inspired by it.
$7.70 adults, $5.50 students/seniors (children 5 & up considered students, 4 & under are free.) Free audio tour included with admission. Note: Closed Mondays. Check the website before you go. The museum closes twice per year for 4-5 weeks to change exhibits.
The website’s teacher resource section has numerous printable posters with provocative prompts that foster critical thinking about art and the world around us: http://www.virginiamoca.org/printable-posters.
An example from the poster on Mikalene Thomas: Do you pick out your own clothes? Do your parents? Are most of them hand-me-downs? If you could wear whatever you wanted to, what would it be? Draw or write about your outfit.
Enhance your science curriculum with a visit to see more than 10,000 animals—including sea turtles, harbor seals, and sharks—at Virginia Aquarium. What sets the aquarium apart are the hands-on opportunities to learn about everything from deep sea exploration to animal habitats. Choose from a self-guided tour, an educational 3D film, or boat trip, as well as separately booked onsite programs for groups of ten or more similarly aged students. These 45-75 minute experiences include Marine Mysteries, an opportunity to explore real animal bio-facts in ten stations, and a Wandering through Wetlands program where students can get muddy exploring a salt marsh to learn the importance of wetlands to Virginia’s watershed health.
The aquarium’s in-depth Field Trip Guide helps make the most of individual self-guided tours with pre and post-trip activity suggestions, and Virginia SOL based "Find and Explore" questions, which range from “Understanding animals and their habitats,” to “Understanding ocean environments,” plus ecosystems and adaptations, and more.
The Aquarium’s popular homeschool day is held twice per year, typically in January and the fall, each with its own theme. A recent conservation themed day included talks and activities that ranged from a light bulb comparison experiment, determining your carbon footprint, and how to compost at home. Another themed day focused on the science of fear featured a squid dissection.
Discounted rate is $12 per homeschool student age 2-18, $18 adults. Proof of homeschooling required (copy of your notice of intent or HEAV membership card). $5 per person for current movies. Onsite education program for groups of ten or more, $2 per person.
Rent a ‘Suitcase Science’ kit to take home for two weeks. These themed kits include lesson plans, books, DVDs, posters, and animal bio-facts and models, each tailored to kids in grades K-12. Choices include the popular Animal Adaptations suitcase—which includes real animal bio-facts such as a horseshoe crab molt and seal fur, and food-chain activity—Sea Turtle Science, Climate Science, and more. $30 per kit if you pick it up and drop it off, shipping also available.
Discover Virginia Beach’s role in our country’s heritage at the four historic sites that make up the Virginia Beach History Museums, each with its own guides who engage students. Learn about one of Virginia’s first colonists and see a dramatic turned staircase at the oldest home, Thoroughgood House, circa 1719. The house (reopening May 2018) has a new education center that brings the early 1700s colonial time period to life with hands-on activities and school programs that include a mock archaeological excavation.
Also in Virginia Beach, the Lynnhaven House, circa 1725, is an example of early Virginia vernacular architecture with several artistic design elements. Lynnhaven tours highlight the roles of the original builder and homeowners, their five sons, and several enslaved people that worked on the smaller plantation. The Lynnhaven House is projected to reopen in 2019. Tours of Francis Land House offer a good overview of plantation living, complete with 1800s fashion, Federal style furnishings, and a look at how the new nation’s formation affected private lives.
The Princess Anne County Training School and Union Kempsville High School Museum tells the story of the African American community to build a high school for black children during segregation, on through the civil rights era and integration. The exhibits include textbooks and school yearbooks from the 50s and 60s, plus oral histories from school alumni.
A Free Fun Saturday program (held the first Saturday of every month) includes period crafts and games, including “Graces,” a game of catch that once taught girls to be graceful. Homeschool group tours available (see listed Scouts offering) include a costumed interpreter led tour (dressed in the period attire to match the home), choice of activity—i.e. Woodland Indians and pinch pot craft, or making your own Jacob’s Ladder game, and more. Available throughout the year for groups of ten paid admissions ($30). Call 757-385-5100 to reserve at least two weeks ahead.
$8 for adults, $5 for students per house. Group tours: $3 per attendee. Open Thursdays - Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Borrow a traveling trunk complete with reproduction artifacts, lesson plans, and activities. Trunk themes include, “Growing Up Colonial,” and “Life in Early Virginia and From Slavery to Abolition (1793-1860),” a traveling trunk aimed at fostering discussions for middle and high school age students on the issues that plagued a divided nation.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has led the efforts to Save the Bay through environmental advocacy, education, science, policy, litigation, and restoration. Today, the foundation has six outdoor environmental education programs across Virginia, including Virginia Beach’s Brock Environmental Center. The center itself produces 83 percent more energy than it uses and is the first commercial building in the continental U.S. permitted to capture and treat rainfall for use as drinking water.
Take a free Green Tour (best to reserve in advance) to learn more about Brock’s innovative building and design, including the use of solar and wind, composting toilets, and how grey water (lightly used water from sinks and showers) is processed and made fresh again. One-day field experiences are customized for homeschool groups of kids in 4th grade on up (6th graders and older for canoe). Lessons on oyster reef ecology, estuarial food chain, and water quality testing are just a few of the topics students can learn about with their Wilderness First Responder Certified Educator who leads the experience. For more information and requirements, visit: http://www.cbf.org/document-library/education-field-program-overviews/brock-environmental-center.pdf. Homeschool groups are billed at the school flat rate of $220 for a one-day program.
Videos on bay topics, “An Educator’s Guide to the Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience,” a student guide on how to build your own rain barrel, and numerous other educational resources are all available at: http://www.cbf.org/join-us/education-program/resources/. As you tour the center, think about one action step your family can take that would have a positive impact on the bay.
Visit the world’s largest collection of military aircraft still in flying condition from the two World Wars at the Virginia Military Aviation Museum. Housed in multiple hangers—including one dedicated to Army and another Navy—the collection shows the rapid advancements in aviation that occurred from the time the Wright Brothers first got off the ground in 1903 to the Royal Air Force’s famous Spitfire and Hurricane fighters that defended the skies of Britain during the Second World War.
The main museum is open daily from 9-5, with tours to the WWI, Cottbus German Hangar and Fighter Factory offered at 10:30, 12:00, 1:30 and 3:00. The tours are led by volunteer docents, a group made up of former military personnel and retired educators who share a passion for the stories behind the aircraft, including one about the all-female soviet squadron who flew throughout World War II and were referred to as The Night Witches by the Germans. Support your science studies with questions about gravity, kinetic energy, and the benefits and challenges of various wing formations.
Don’t miss the 1939 German Luftwaffe hangar (Cottbus) and an English control tower, both rebuilt on the museum grounds using materials from the buildings’ original sites in Europe. The Cottbus hangar houses Nazi “butcher bird” planes. The Goxhill Control Tower was an actual building on America’s first World War II airfield in Lincolnshire, England. Pieces of that tower were flown here and reassembled at the museum. Touring it is like entering a time capsule of wartime Britain, complete with rotary phones, typewriters, narrow staircases and a government map armoire.
The adventurous can take either a 15 or 30-minute ride in the museum’s 1941 Boeing Stearman or Waco, both open-cockpit biplanes (see website for current pricing). Annual special events include the Flying Proms airshow and a children’s summer camp. The museum’s entrance is home to “Jerrassic park,” a collection of dinosaur sculptures. Print out the scavenger hunt map on the museum’s website before you go.
$15 adults, $7.50 for children aged 6 to 17. Groups of 10 or more: $13 adults, $6 per child. Discounts available for retired and active military personnel.
Make a list of planes, selecting one from at least four different countries, and note which country’s air force it flew for and why it was significant.
Mix a history lesson with outdoor education at First Landing State Park. This 2,888-acre park gets its name from the landing of the Virginia Company on Cape Henry—the group of settlers that first came ashore there eventually moved west and founded Jamestown. Upon touching the shore of the New World on April 26, 1607 (13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock) the first permanent English settlers from the London Company set up a cross on the newly named Cape Henry shore in gratitude to God and to affirm England's claim to the site. These settlers later traveled up the James River to Jamestown. The present-day granite cross was erected in 1935 and is a national landmark.
The park has over 18 miles of hiking trails that run through saltwater marshes, maritime forests and bald cypress swamps. Trails vary in length and difficulty and include a 1.5 mile stroll along the Chesapeake Bay Beach. For explorations on water, rent a canoe or kayak at the park concession near the Narrows boat ramp, located at the 64th Street entrance. For a sleepover in the park, rent one of the 20 two-bedroom cabins, or book a campsite (800-933-PARK for reservations).
First Landing offers self-guided and guided programs that cover crabbing, junior rangers, beach walks, nature hikes and structured environmental education programs. The park’s visitor center includes an interactive museum-like space that focuses on the Native Americans who lived on the Virginia coastline and what the land looked like when European settlers arrived. The trail center exhibit shows the history of the park itself as well as examples of the plant and animal life that can be found there. Numerous special events, workshops and interpretive programs are held throughout the year, details at: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/park-events.
Use of the park itself is free. Parking: $4 per vehicle weekdays; $5 weekend days. For overnight campers, cabins range in price from $94 to $139 per night. Campsites run between $24-32.
First Landing participates in Virginia State Parks’ “Your Backyard Classrooms,” a 40-activity curriculum guide used by K- 12 teachers and home-school coordinators. Print “Telling Tides” and investigate tidal patterns using a tide chart, and compare the effects of moon phases on tidal height.
Reopened in May 2018 after an extensive renovation, this circa 1903 United States Life Saving station is a white clapboard museum devoted to the tales of rescue missions and the forces that created a region. Long-standing museum favorites include exhibits on super storms that have shaped Virginia Beach, the life saving station’s history and the men who served there, plus intriguing stories of shipwrecks.
Thanks to the renovation, more than half of the exhibits are new. The lower gallery showcases local surfing legends and a look at the art and science of surfboard design and how it has evolved. In addition, you can see how Virginia Beach transformed from a rural outpost to a popular resort town in the early twentieth century. Kids can try on vintage service uniforms and beach attire from earlier eras in the new costume corner.
Contact the museum to book a group tour tailored to your students’ ages and interests. Themes could include surf and rescue, a scavenger hunt, or shipwrecks and ghost lore. Homeschool days on November 9 and 10 will be surf-themed and incorporate several academic disciplines. A rescue-themed spring 2019 date is in the works.
Adults, $6 per person; kids 18 and under admitted free, with the exception of special programs. Group tours run $5-10 per person. See website for coupons.
Write a short story imagining what it was like to be a rescue service member and respond to a shipwreck. Or, study the various surfboard designs and sketch your own, listing what aspects of your design will contribute to how the board would handle waves.
Established in 1938 and managed by US Fish and Wildlife, Back Bay Wildlife Refuge is a more than 9,250-acre feeding and resting habitat for migratory birds and a critical segment in the Atlantic Flyway that includes beach, dunes, woodlands, and emergent freshwater marshes. Thousands of tundra swans, snow and Canada geese and a large variety of ducks visit during fall and winter migration. The refuge is also home to threatened and endangered species such as the loggerhead sea turtle and piping plovers. Stop by the Visitor Contact Station for information on trails, interpretive programming and educational opportunities. Open Tuesday - Sunday Memorial Day through Labor Day; Tuesday - Saturday Labor Day through Memorial Day.
Nestled between Back Bay Wildlife Refuge and the Atlantic Ocean, False Cape State Park is one of the last remaining undeveloped areas along the Atlantic coast. Explore the Barbour Hill self-guided interpretive trail, six-miles of pristine Atlantic Ocean beach, or book a guided kayak trip. The sunrise and moonlight tours are especially beautiful. Introduction to Archery, and Art in the Park outings focus on painting and photography also available. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and insect repellent.
False Cape is only accessible by foot, bicycle, beach transport, tram or boat. Tram transportation is available April 1 through October 31 through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Between November 1 and March 31, access to the park is restricted to hiking or biking along the beach, or by the park’s beach transporter, the Terra-Gator which looks like a cross between a tractor and school bus. Call 800-933-7275 for reservations. The Gator is $8 per adult/$6 children; $100 for school field trips, minimum of 10 riders, maximum 36. Operates weekends only from November 1 through March 31.
Visit the “For Educators” section of Back Bay’s website or details on summer educator workshops and lesson plans. Topics include exploring marshes, pond habitats, and an opportunity to simulate the beach monitoring done by refuge biologists during Sea Turtle nesting season.
Climb to the top of one of the oldest surviving lighthouses in the United States for magnificent views of the Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay. Completed in 1792 and located next to the “First Landing” site where English settlers arrived in 1607, the octagonal sandstone lighthouse was authorized by George Washington and overseen by Alexander Hamilton. Cape Henry Lighthouse was in active use for nearly a century before being replaced by a new cast iron lighthouse, which stands nearby. Take a self-guided 30-minute tour of the tower and dune. Dune Talks are offered typically in the summer months and warm-weather weekends (and for groups) from opening to last climb. The lighthouse’s historical interpreters share stories on the area’s history and STEM related topics such as ecology, geology and optics.
Open year-round with the exception of some holidays. Adults, $8; military and AAA members, $7; students $6. Youth groups $5. All climbers must be 42 inches tall. Note: Cape Henry Lighthouse is located within the Joint Expeditionary Base Fort Story military base. To visit the lighthouse, you must pass through the security gates at 89th Street and Atlantic Avenue and inform the Security Guard that you’re visiting the lighthouse. All visitors are directed to the Vehicle Inspection Station and asked to provide picture identification for all occupants over the age of 16.
The lighthouse is run by Preservation Virginia, an organization that offers hands on site experiences, summer camps, workshops, and Virginia SOL based lesson plans. Call 804-648-1889, extension 315 for resources.
Lynnhaven oysters, once coveted around the world for their size, saltiness, and taste, were near extinction just 12 years ago. Thanks to habitat revitalization efforts—an effort the folks at Pleasure House Oysters helped spearhead—the river’s oyster population is thriving. Pleasure House owner and oyster farmer, Chris Ludford, offers customized educational tours where you’ll learn more about that success story and the important role oysters play in the river’s ecosystem. He also tells a good tale about the history of these local delicacies. Captain John Smith himself described the bounty of the area when he spent three days in Virginia Beach shortly before establishing Jamestown in 1607. He said “oysters lay as thick as stones,” with the Bay and rivers containing more sturgeon “than could be devoured by dog or man.” There may not be the numbers there were in Smith’s day, but the local oyster population is on the rise and we are all better for it.
On the journey to the farm, you might see an eagle, blue heron, or an osprey carrying a fish back to its nest. The best part: getting knee-deep in the river for a behind-the-scenes look at how oysters are harvested. You’ll get to pick up oysters (as well as crabs, eels and fish pots, when in season) and sample an oyster or two.
Chris’s son Carson, age 9, sometimes accompanies his father on tours and is a charming and competent guide, chiming in with facts and stories about the boat, and his love of fishing.
Contact Chris to schedule a tour, which will be planned based on tides and weather. Tours run year round. Book a summer weekend day a month in advance. Monday—Thursdays are easier to schedule and the experience is more serene. Tours leave from the Lynnhaven Municipal Marina. Bring water, snacks, and water shoes or you can borrow waders from Chris.
The Waterman Tour is $82.50 per person, minimum of four.
After tasting the oysters, write a food review using at least three senses—what do you smell, how does the shell look or feel, and what does the oyster taste like?