Due to our unprecedented times, many school-aged children are learning from home. Parents can now supplement their child’s education with field trips all their own. Educate yourself about fun family trips that double as learning experiences – it’s a Schoolcation! As most know, most people prefer to learn tasks through hands-on training. Even famed physicist Albert Einstein is credited with writing “The only source of knowledge is experience.” We promise your children won’t even know they’re at school as they learn more about the natural world, get some exercise, or check out local programs in Nelson County.
Children who love animals will delight at a visit to Triple J Interactive Farm in Wingina. It’s open to the public with an affordable admission price at $6 per person. Children aged 2 and younger are free. Lots of farm animals are available to pet and feed. Visit Wednesday through Sunday and have fun!
Kids also love the Montebello Fish Hatchery; it’s located just a few minutes west of Crabtree Falls on Fish Hatchery Lane. The hatchery produces Rainbow, Brook, and Brown Trout for stocking; you and the family are invited to visit the holding pens, where the family can toss in some pellets and enjoy the eager splashes of the hungry trout.
What child doesn’t love horses? Appalachian Horse Adventures offers fun for children as well as adults. You’ll love riding the gentle horses down winding country trails as you observe the soul-affirming forests, mountains and valleys of Nelson County. Take a ride on horseback or ask about buggy rides.
Of course, some children like to scan the sky instead of peering into the water or trotting on land from the back of a horse. From August through September, drive up to enjoy the Rockfish Hawk Watch. You can stay in your car to enjoy the views or enjoy socially-distanced viewing as Rockfish Hawk Watch watchers come together annually to observe the spectacular migration of majestic birds from mid-August to November. The Watch is one of over 200 in North America and collects data during the birds’ fall migration. The site is easy to access and takes place each fall in the parking lot of the Inn at Afton.
If the children are studying geography right now, point out the 180-degree views of Rockfish Gap, the Piedmont, and the Shenandoah Valley. Bring a lawn chair, hat, sunscreen and binoculars of you wish to view the migration from the great outdoors. Peak migration occurs in the final two weeks of September; as many as 10,000 hawks on a single day.
Orchards & Farms
Fall generally lends to some great autumn experiences for children, and autumn 2020 is no exception in Nelson County. Visit Nelson’s orchards for pick-your-own weekends. There might not be many fall festivals this year, but the personalized experience of picking apples at Seaman’s Orchard or grabbing fresh apple cider, tomatoes, jellies, apple butter, pumpkins, tomatoes, and check out their selection of fresh apples straight from the orchard from Dickie Brothers 151 Farm Market. Give the children a taste of White House history visiting Saunders Brothers Farm Market — the exclusive provider of boxwoods for the White House Rose Garden. Teaching the kiddos how to make a perfect apple pie? Buy apples by the bushel from Fitzgerald’s – they store their apples cold to keep them crisp and flavorful!
Take a drive on the Blue Ridge Fruit Loop to learn about farming. The Blue Ridge Fruit Loop offers fresh fruits and berries from May until December. The Blue Ridge Fruit Loop includes Critzer Family Farm (Afton), Dickie Brothers Orchard (Roseland), Drumheller’s Orchard (Lovingston), Fitzgerald’s Orchard (Tyro), Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery (Nellysford), Morris Orchard (Monroe), Saunders Brothers (Piney River), Seamans’ Orchard (Roseland), Silver Creek Orchards (Tyro) and Silver Creek & Seamans’ Orchards (Tyro).
Teach math in a roundabout way at the Blue Ridge Mountain Maze at Wood Ridge Farm Brewery. The Giant 5-acre corn maze features 2.5 miles of pathways. Also available are giant slides, mini mazes, farm animals, tire swings, a farm obstacle course, hayrides, pumpkin slingshots and more. Be brave and make your way through the Night Maze.
Museums & History
Future Farmers of America enthusiasts will also enjoy a tour of the Saunders Antique Farm equipment museum in the antique farm equipment museum at the market. One of the largest privately-owned collections of farm antiques in the state of Virginia. Call ahead, since you may need to arrange a time to tour to reach social-distancing guidelines.
Nelson’s museums, library, and community centers offer great homeschool opportunities as well. The Rockfish Valley Natural History Center is currently closed, but when it’s open, it features exhibits from the Virginia Museum of Natural History, which include taxidermied native wildlife, animal pelts, insects, rocks and other artifacts. Please watch the highway sign along Route 151 and their website for updates concerning museum opening. Opening dates at Arrington’s Oakland Museum are currently to be announced in 2021, and when it again opens, history students learning about The New Deal can learn about the Rural Electrification Project. The Rockfish Valley Community Center along Route 151 and the Nelson Center on Route 29 have large outdoor spaces that are perfect for family outings – learn to ride a bike, practice your pitch, skateboard – physics and fun!
Weather enthusiasts can learn more about the 1969 flooding caused by Hurricane Camille. Hurricane Camille blasted into the US mainland on the night of August 19, 1969. The storm continues to be one of the only category five storms ever to make landfall in the United States. Camille was one of the worst natural disasters in Virginia’s history. There were reports of more than 25 inches of rainfall within a five-hour period. Nelson County received the brunt of the storm’s flooding. While Oakland Museum is currently closed, folks can take a self-guided tour throughout the county for a close-up look at where the historical flooding took place. It’s easy to take a drive around the county to see how the flooding has shaped the landscape. Visiting the sites associated with this historical tragedy raises awareness of the dangers of flooding. Visitors to Hurricane Camille points of interest can also learn more about a local event that is a defining part of Nelson County’s culture.
Nature, Hiking & Fishing
Physical Education is important, too, and that’s where Nelson County’s hikes and fishing come in. Many people think of fishing as strictly a summer sport, but even during late fall, 60-degree temperatures encourage the fish to bite like crazy! Check the extended weather forecast; the best fall fishing days are surrounded by colder days with highs in the 40-degree range. Fish along the Tye and Rockfish Rivers, the lake at the Montebello Campground, or Lake Nelson for bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill, and sunfish.
The Rockfish Valley Foundation was formed to encourage people to appreciate the natural world, to preserve the Rockfish valley, and to enrich the lives of Nelson County residents and those visiting the county. The Foundation currently reaches out to public school teachers, private school teachers, and homeschool teachers to discuss ways to incorporate nature and exercise into lessons. A great walk can be found at Spruce Creek Park, a recreational area off route 151, offers visitors a native plant walk, a wildflower meadow, and a nature trail. The Rockfish Valley Natural History Center also endorses the Kids in Parks TRACK Trails.
The Kids in Parks TRACK Trails merges exercise with learning opportunities. Kids in Parks is a network of outdoor adventures that includes self-guided experiences. By keeping a short online journal, Children can even earn prizes for tracking their adventures in Nelson’s fresh air! The county offers two TRACK trails- one at the Rockfish River Trailhead and one via the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail. If you and your children have supplemental hours to fill, the online journal offers that opportunity.
Virginia Studies students can learn more about Virginia’s Fall Line by hiking to Crabtree Falls or White Rock Falls. Crabtree Falls is the highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi and offers glimpses of the falls throughout the hike. Along the cascading waterfall, naturalists can see and hear hawks, owls, and other birdlife. Careful observers might even catch a glimpse of a white-tailed deer or the red streak of a beautiful, retreating fox.
The hike to White Rock Falls highlights a gorge, waterfall, and a natural wading pool. The abundant, glittering quartz throughout the area lends White Rock Falls its name. The White Rock Falls trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until November. Dogs are allowed on both waterfall trails but remember- keep Fido on a leash for his or her safety!
For more unstructured fun, build your own recess at The Whitney Loving Playground is at The Well, located on Route 29 just past the Nelson Rescue Squad building in Lovingston. The playground features unique, hand-made equipment.
Parents can now make appointments at Nelson County’s Jefferson-Madison Regional Library, where a $2 million construction project has just been completed. The library now offers a genealogy room and has tripled the amount of library space in the building. The library also offers curbside pickup. In the same parking lot is the Nelson County Parks and Recreation Department, which offers various recreation activities throughout the year. Check out their website for a full list of classes and sports to add to your child’s homeschool experience.
Homeschooling and distance-learning provide flexibility to families, so it’s easy to pick up one day and make up a personalized field trip, no matter what lesson you are teaching that day. Family field trips also offer an opportunity for children and parents to bond (before the COVID-19 pandemic, working families only spent time with their children for an average of twenty minutes a day). While you take them out to learn, your children can teach you, too.