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.
When it comes to school, nothing beats a field trip. Studies prove that hands-on learning is the most effective, especially for young schoolchildren. Combine school and a road trip for some road schooling experiences in the green gem called Nelson County. Nelson’s one-of-a-kind Fruit Loop trail teaches kids history and agribusiness. From May to December, taste and tour some of the best produce in Virginia. Nelson’s local orchards and farms offer a wide variety of apples, Asian pears, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, strawberries, sweet cider, fruit jams, jellies, and more! What’s more, you and the kids can choose from pre-picked or pick-your-own fruit or berries to take home. It’s a well-known fact that eating fresh, healthy ingredients help kids learn, too.
Saunders Brothers farm market has a unique claim to fame: for years, Saunders Brothers Farm Market has supplied foliage for The White House Rose Garden. This year, Saunders was the sole supplier of boxwoods to The White House. Saunders Brothers boasts one of the largest privately-owned collection of farm antiques in the state of Virginia. Indian artifacts and much more can be observed at the museum.
Breathtaking views almost steal the show from the bright red strawberries at Critzer Family Farm, a fifth-generation family farm. Dickie Brothers Orchard is a Century Farm, which is a farm that has been recognized officially as being continuous owned by a single family for 100 years or longer. Drumheller’s Orchard holds festivals in the fall. Pick up a bushel of apples at Fitzgerald’s Orchard and let the kids gaze in awe at Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery’s indoor beehive – they can watch the bees come and go through a tube that leads out of the building!
What’s more- as you travel to and from Nelson’s farms and orchards, you’ll be enveloped by views of the majestic, ancient Blue Ridge Mountains. Visit all of the farms: Blue Ridge Fruit Company, Critzer Family Farm, Dickie Brothers Orchard, Drumheller’s Orchard, Fitzgerald’s Orchard, Hill Top Berry Farm & Winery , Morris Orchard , Saunders Brothers , Seamans’ Orchard, Silver Creek Orchards and Silver Creek & Seamans’ Orchards.
Nelson County Scenic Loop, The Nature Foundation, the Rockfish Valley History Center, and more!
Nelson County, located in the center of Virginia, offers great learning opportunities for home-schooling and online schooling in the state. It’s located a short drive away from Lynchburg, Waynesboro, Staunton, and Charlottesville, and the drive to Nelson is scenic and enjoyable.
The Nelson County Scenic Loop offers great opportunities for road-schooling. The 50-mile long loop is comprised of Route 151, Route 664, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Route 56. The loop boasts several stops to enhance learning in many school subjects. Enjoy views and attractions along the Rockfish and Tye River Valleys. Begin with a ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway to study the ancient geologic formations of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Enjoy the views of the mountains from the overlooks. Geologic formations are easier to see in the winter months when the leaves have fallen from the trees Kids will be surprised to learn that the Blue Ridge is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world and at one time were taller than the Rocky Mountains in the West. Tell the kids about how chemical isoprenes from the tress cause the hazy blue color that surround the peaks. View towns, villages, and farmland from above.
Enjoy a more structured learning experience at The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen, which offers field trip opportunities to study natural wildlife both outdoors along the trail and indoors in their impressive learning center. To get a hands-on experience of the Fall Line that hampered the initial settlements to the West, visit Crab Tree Falls, the highest group of cascading waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. A visit to White Rock Falls will impress your future geologist- the attraction gets its name from the abundance of quartz in the area. Stop at the Montebello State Fish Hatchery to learn more about local fish and their life cycles. The kids can feed the fish while they’re there!
Kids will enjoy the Rockfish Valley Natural History Center, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It currently showcases exhibits from the Virginia Museum of Natural History and is open from April to December. Stop at the Rockfish Valley Community Center to view local art and grab some coffee from Trager Brothers.
Young architects and horticulturists will enjoy stopping at Pharsalia. This former plantation is now a venue for special events and workshops. Tour the historic home as well as the outbuildings and extensive flowering gardens. Pharsalia is on the Virginia Historic Registry. Another amazing garden experience can be found at The Quarry Gardens at Schuyler, one of Nelson’s most unique attractions. Teach a history lesson about past industry as your student takes a look around the abandoned soapstone quarry, The Quarry Gardens at Schuyler which is now a botanical garden. Work in minerology with the fact that plants grow well in the soil due to the abundance of minerals deposited by one of the largest soapstone veins in the world. Tell them to be on the lookout for the sardine can, which was left behind by a soapstone worker decades ago and is now high off the ground – a tree grew around it and has been lifting it skyward for a long time!
Afterward, visit the Walton’s Mountain Museum to learn more about television history, as the attraction centers around the written works for Earl Hamner, Jr. and houses iconic TV exhibits from the hit TV show, The Waltons. Lessons about The Great Depression are there, too. Earl Hamner, Sr. used to work in Waynesboro and walk six miles back in the last leg of his journey home to see his family on the weekends.
The world itself is a learning opportunity, and this is no different in Nelson County, where people can learn about history, community, literature, art, and science in a peaceful location.
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.