Leander McCormick Observatory in Charlottesville Photo by George Privon
While most students get a heavy dose of Standards of Learning requirements in the classroom, an extra fun-filled field trip or two has never hurt the GPA. A science-focused day trip can be the perfect way to reinforce your child's curriculum.
Show your Maria Mitchell in training to reach for the stars by viewing them together at Charlottesville's Leander McCormick Observatory (434-243-1885 or astro.virginia.edu ). Open to the public on the first and third Friday of every month, the free observatory features two telescopes built in the 1880s and gives tours.
If viewing the stars doesn't satisfy the intergalactic itch, how about simulating a lunar excursion? At the Virginia Air and Space Center (757-727-0900 or vasc.org ), space cadets can train for a trip to the moon, simulate a lunar landing and view a re-creation of the surface of Mars. The Hampton museum is also home to more than two dozen aircraft and spacecraft, including the Apollo 12 command module and a reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer.
For those with more aquatic aspirations, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (757-684-7846 or vims.edu ) holds weekly summer tours for ages 10 and up in Gloucester Point. Tours include a visit to the VIMS aquarium, research laboratory and teaching marsh. VIMS also holds discovery labs for all ages once a month, engaging younger guests with hands-on activities, live animals and games.
Its name might have dreary connotations, but the Great Dismal Swamp (757-986-3705 or fws.gov/northeast/greatdismalswamp ) is anything but. The wildlife refuge features more than 111,000 acres of forested wetlands, and it's a prime location for fishing, boating, camping, hunting and hiking. Just a couple hours south of Richmond, the refuge is home to abundant plant and animal life, including more than 200 bird species.
For the budding ecologist, Newport News' Virginia Living Museum (757-595-1900 or thevlm.org ) has plenty to explore. From the museum's Deer Park Lake boardwalk, visitors can walk through woods and wetlands, viewing otters, bald eagles, foxes and bobcats along the way. The Coastal Plain Aviary holds 16 species of birds, including herons, pelicans and egrets. Be sure to check out the World of Darkness exhibit, showcasing how animals such as ghost crabs, flying squirrels and moon jellyfish adapt to nocturnal life.
Step into the void at Luray Caverns (540-743-6551 or luraycaverns.com ), located in the Shenandoah Valley. One-hour tours offer breathtaking views of limestone formations, some of them 10 stories high. Don't miss the Great Stalacpipe Organ, which Luray claims to be the world's largest musical instrument. Connected through a keyboard, rubber-tipped mallets strike stalactites, producing musical tones.
If Johnny Appleseed is more in tune with your tastes, check out Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce (540-837-1758 or blandy.virginia.edu ). The 712-acre farm has the State Arboretum of Virginia, monthly full-moon hikes, nature camps and a BYOH (Bring Your Own Horse) bridle trail. The farm also features a pollination garden, a native-plant trail and a young-naturalist education series for first through fifth grades.
From the Elizabeth River, Nauticus (757-664-1000 or nauticus.org ) might resemble the stern of a ship, but the design of the maritime museum only serves to help it blend in with the USS Wisconsin, which is docked next door. The 887-foot Iowa-class battleship served in World War II, the Korean War and Operation Desert Storm, and it can now be toured as part of the museum. Nauticus also features a shark lab, NOAA exhibits, interactive theaters, a weather station and more.
The International Spy Museum (202-393-7798 or spymuseum.org ) has more than enough to keep your Harriet the Spy entertained on a visit to the nation's capital. Exhibits include surveillance equipment from the 1940s to the present, as well as a reproduction of James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger. The interactive "Operation Spy" exhibit allows visitors to assume the role of a covert agent and take on a mission intercepting a secret arms deal for a nuclear device. The museum exhibit also explores the history of espionage from ancient to modern times.
While you're in Washington, the free Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (202-633-1000 or mnh.si.edu ) on the National Mall is also worth a visit (as is the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum). The Hope Diamond, a butterfly house, two giant squids, a set of 7-foot-tall megalodon jaws and a cast skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex are just a few of the attractions on display at the Museum of Natural History.