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A pop-up heart card workshop at Visual Arts Center. Photo by Sally Kemp
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Photo by V. Lee Hawkins
It's often said that a parent is a child's first — and perhaps most important — teacher, and for families looking to bolster that relationship, Richmond offers a range of enjoyable activities that support learning.
The one-two punch of the Children's Museum of Richmond ( c-mor.org ) and the Science Museum of Virginia ( smv.org ), located side by side on Broad Street (CMoR also has a satellite location in Short Pump and another planned this year in Chesterfield County), is full of exhibits that promote learning, from fossil excavation at CMoR's Dino Dig Pits and craft- and art-making in its well-stocked studio to the Science Museum's permanent installations like Science Unplugged, which explores engineering and physics in an interactive way, and regular traveling exhibits.
Don't forget that the Science Museum is located in a former train station, and the massive Chesapeake and Ohio locomotive out back offers an up-close glimpse of a mode of travel that's particularly popular among preschoolers, thanks to Thomas the Tank Engine's ubiquity in recent years. Also worth a visit is the Virginia Aviation Museum ( vam.smv.org ), where flight simulators and interactive exhibits help visitors get a handle on the principles behind flight, while a collection of 37 historic planes gives you plenty to look at, including five Wright Brothers reproduction aircraft.
If you'd like to experience the past firsthand through living-history interpretation, there are many options that are closer to home than Williamsburg. Meadow Farm ( co.henrico.va.us/rec/recreation-centers-facilities/meadowfarm.html) , an 1860 farm/museum in Henrico County, regularly features costumed interpreters demonstrating various aspects of agricultural life from that era. An earlier era is on display at Henricus Historical Park ( henricus.org ), where visitors can explore a dozen re-created Colonial buildings with the help of living-history interpreters representing various players in the life of the 1611 Citie of Henricus, from American Indians to tobacco farmers. And if the Civil War's Sesquicentennial has sparked your children's interest in that corner of our region's history, Pamplin Historical Park ( pamplin
park.org ) includes the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, three miles of interpreted trails that reveal well-preserved fortifications from the conflict, and military and civilian interpreters ready to offer insight on life on the battlefield and at Tudor Hall, the park's 1812 Southern plantation. To explore the lives of Union and Confederate soldiers further, consider signing up for Pamplin's Civil War Adventure Camp. Overnight and day-camp options are available for parents and kids ages 8 and up.
One of the biggest resources for learning about the natural world, especially our local environment, is the James River Park System ( jamesriverpark.org ). Just head in and enjoy searching for wildlife, from spotted salamanders to great blue herons, and observing the abundant plant life. If you're looking for more guided activities, the James River Advisory Council ( jamesriveradvisory council.com ) publishes an annual brochure of such events, James River Days, available for download at its website.
The Richmond Audubon Society ( richmondaudubon.org) conducts birding field trips in the James River Park System and elsewhere that are family friendly, and every spring, the society offers demonstrations at a banding station in the Dutch Gap Conservation Area in Chesterfield. "It makes for some really cool up-close and personal experiences with birds," says RAS president Lewis Barnett.
"Butterflies Live!" offers similarly intimate experiences, and after it returns to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden ( lewisginter.org ) on May 25, the garden is planning programs for adults and children to learn about the winged insects. Of course, a visit to the garden is already an education in itself, from learning the names of the various flora on display to the Drop in and Dig gardening activities offered at various times from April to November.
Maymont ( maymont.org ) offers its own menu of flora, with the Italian and Japanese gardens serving as highlights, plus the added attraction of a range of fauna, including pigs, rabbits, goats, chickens, sheep and more at the Children's Farm; wildlife such as birds of prey, black bears and a bobcat; and the otters and fish at the Robins Nature & Visitor Center. In addition, Toddler Time classes allow parents to learn about some aspect of nature and complete a related craft with their children.
Parents looking to introduce their children to art have a partner in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts ( vmfa.museum ), where Young at Art classes for children ages 2 to 5 accompanied by an adult feature a story that ties in to some aspect of the museum's collection, a craft and then a gallery visit. The cost is $8 per class ($5 for members), and they take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the month, with activities changing each week. Children ages 5 to 12 can participate in Friday Family Art Nights. At these workshops, held once a month, parents and children complete an art project using professional materials. "I try to offer classes that may be a little advanced for the child, so the parents have to help them," says Megan Liles, youth and family studio programs coordinator. The cost is $32 per class ($28 for members). Registering is recommended for both programs, and scholarships are available.
At the Visual Arts Center of Richmond ( visarts.org) , Side-by-Side Saturdays, a program started in 2009, brings children and adults together to work on everything from stained-glass hearts to steampunk robots. "It's kids and adults working together — and it's magic," says Sally Kemp, the center's director of community outreach. The cost is $10 per adult-child pair (free for members, and scholarships are available). The gates open at 9:30 for 10 a.m. classes, and it's first come, first served.
Betsy Phillips and her 9-year-old son, Andrew, regularly drive in from their home in Bon Air for the classes.
"My son is really into art, all varieties of art, and each week he gets to do something new." Projects have included weaving, cartooning and beadwork, but mom's favorite?
"I loved doing the etched glass," Phillips says, chuckling, "because I've never worked with a sandblaster before."