Most kids in our Central Virginia publishing area have been out of school for a while now and their summertime cry “I’m bored!” is second only to “Are we there yet?”
Happily, our region abounds with kid-oriented events, activities and outings to keep them happily occupied during the summer months. Options range from visits to museums and historic sites to sports and pastimes in nature or theater or water.
“We love living in this area because there are so many options for things for kids to do,” confirms Kelly Ceppa, a REALTOR® associate with Nest Realty Group in Charlottesville. “My son is 12 now and we have found fun activities all along the way starting with the McIntire Wading Pool when he was only one. In grade school, he loved the swimming lessons, soccer and basketball programs offered by the City in the summers and the spray pool at Belmont Park.”
Ceppa adds that the entire family likes walking, biking and roller blading on Charlottesville’s Rivanna Trail, which is accessible from many points around the city. “We also enjoy some Albemarle County amenities like a day at the beach and a picnic at Mint Springs Park or Walnut Creek Park and really love canoeing and fishing at Beaver Creek Reservoir Park near Crozet.”
Other nearby counties also have activities and attractions for families and young people—often through recreation departments.
Parks and Recreation Programs
Many counties have a wealth of recreational opportunities for children. Some have swimming beaches or pools, often with season passes. Others have a wide range of summer camps and classes for children. Google “parks and recreations” plus your county for specific information. Here’s a quick thumbnail for counties in our circulation area.
Albemarle County Parks and Recreation has 12 parks including three with sand beaches and lifeguards for swimming. Some parks rent canoes. There is an extensive list of programs for youth ages 4 and up including summer playground programs, and classes from swimming to volleyball to tennis and karate.
City of Charlottesville
Charlottesville Parks and Recreation has three swimming pools, several spray parks, hiking trails, and a number of classes in arts, dance, fitness, gymnastics, martial arts and play groups. An extensive on-line catalog lists 43 facilities including pools, recreation centers and parks plus many special activities such as movies.
Fluvanna County Parks and Recreation has an extensive on-line catalog of locations and activities for everything from ballet lessons to martial arts, horseback riding to dog obedience, flag football to a kite festival and a youth swim team. Also offers discount tickets to area theme parks. Summer camps for youngsters from 6-17 include guitar, pottery, lacrosse, gymnastics and much more.
Louisa County Parks and Recreation has a three-pool complex for swim lessons and a swim team. It also sponsors family-friendly concerts, summer camps for kids including TeenQuest Adventure Camps for middle school aged teens, plus t-ball, tennis, gymnastics, horseback riding, and a summer basketball league to keep youth of all ages moving and active. Classes include guitar, dog obedience, sewing machine basics, and even an introduction to wildlife class as well as courses in boating safety, hunter education, firearm safety, CPR, and First Aid.
Orange County Parks and Recreation offers instruction in CPR, First Aid, karate, dance and hunter safety. Other programs include a youth soccer league and discount tickets to many area theme parks. Madison County Parks and Recreation operates Hoover Ridge Park with a Farmers’ Market, trails, a fishing pond, fields for youth sports including football, soccer, baseball and softball and an outdoor amphitheater.
Libraries Keep Kids “Up To Speed”
“At about age three, my son started the summer reading programs at the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library,” recalls Ceppa, the Charlottesville mom with Nest Realty Group. “He loved them.”
Indeed local library systems offer activities that are not only fun, but reinforce learning over the summer. Nancy Cook is the Children’s Services Manager for the Jefferson Madison Regional Library (JMRL) that serves Charlottesville plus Albemarle, Louisa, Greene and Nelson Counties. “We also serve a lot of patrons from Fluvanna County,” she says.
“Each branch sets up its own year-round programs,” she explains, “and in the summer there is a special high-quality reading program.” This year’s summer reading program—titled “Dream Big: Read”—is the result of a collaboration involving the whole staff of JMRL Children’s Services. In addition, Cook started last December to book performers for summer family programs which this year will include the Wildlife Center of Virginia and a wide variety of musicians both local and out of state such as a drumming group from North Carolina.
“I’ve been given the mission to beef up the kids’ web pages,” she says, “so I’ve added links to play game with favorite characters like Clifford and Magic School Bus.” Cook notes that all JMRL libraries have public access to computers. “On our web page [www.jmrl.org], go to ‘Kids and Programs’ and link to Tumble Books,” she suggests. “It’s a nice source for listening to tons of stories on line, some in different languages.”
JMRL also is part of Overdrive with its special downloadable free software program to download free audio- and e-books including many children’s titles. This requires a library card. For more information, visit www.jmrl.org.
The Fluvanna County Public Library’s home page includes a calendar and a place to sign up for email announcements of events such as free movies, Tumble Books and a summer reading program. It also provides Overdrive access. For more information visit: www2.youseemore.com/Fluvanna
The Madison County Library is one of only 8 independent libraries in the state. It offers Internet and wireless access. It is also provides access to the Overdrive system which requires a library card. Visit: www.madisoncountyvalibrary.org.
Orange County Libraries offer activities from crafts to movies for toddlers through teens, including the “Dream Big: Read” summer program. Visit: www.ocplva.org for more information.
In The Footsteps of Presidents
Three historic presidential homes in the area offer tours and often have special events targeting children’s interests. For example, Monticello, the home of our third president, Thomas Jefferson, offers daily hands-on tours designed for youngsters from 6-11 as well as other specialized tours.
The visitor center is home to the Griffin Discovery Room where youngsters—especially those ages 6 to 12—can explore history through hands-on activities revealing the lives of children in the early 1800s. Children can write on a polygraph machine like Jefferson’s—the way he made copies of his hand-written documents—try on old-style clothing, weave, and play games popular in Jefferson’s time.
Montpelier was the home of James Madison, our fourth president. The massive recent restoration back to its brick Colonial appearance from the time it was covered in pink stucco is just about complete. There is also a new visitor center plus archeological sites, hands-on activities and historic buildings. Summer has special family-friendly tours, as well as a Kids Only! tour on Fridays in July and August where youngsters cook over an open fire, use old tools and search for artifacts like archeologists.
Ashlawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe—our fifth president—offers special workshops such as making candles, rope, ornaments and tin lanterns and paperquilling. Families or other groups can also opt to bring their own sleeping bags to overnight in the Conference Room (until 10 a.m. the next day) and explore the grounds at their leisure. Camp-in minimum is 10 persons, maximum 30.
There are many potential destinations for entertaining day trips in the region. In Nelson County, for example, the Crabtree Falls Highway—rather a misnomer, since it’s a winding scenic two-lane road—takes visitors to the spot where the Tye River creates the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi. There are a variety of hikes, little waterfalls and swimming areas, picnic tables and a campground. Nearby hikes include the Appalachian Trail with a unique swinging bridge and Spy Rock. About seven miles farther up the highway is the Montebello Fish Hatchery, which is also fun to visit.
The Shenandoah Valley is home to two major cavern systems open to the public and both are excellent refuges from summer heat. Shenandoah Caverns, near Exit 269 on I-81, has been open since 1922 with a trail of about one mile. With its elevator and no stairs, it’s suited to those with disabilities. An adult discount coupon may be printed from their web site. A large exhibit of parade floats, the Yellow Barn with restored antique farm equipment and the Main Street of Yesteryear with more than 100 animated exhibits are included with the guided caverns tour. Information at www.ShenandoahCaverns.com.
Luray Caverns, about 10 minutes from the central entrance to the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, can be reached traveling east from I-81 or west on Route 33 from Route 29. Since the discovery of this largest series of caves in the East, the attraction has been expanded to include a Garden Maze with a half-mile pathway and 40 decision points as well as a Car and Carriage Museum. The web site www.LurayCaverns.com lists a variety of available discounts and some on-line activities for youngsters from cave science facts to coloring pages.
The Frontier Culture Museum, near Staunton, is an outdoor living history museum open seven days a week for self-guided tours including hands-on activities, living history interpreters and heirloom livestock breeds. The new American Indian Exhibit is nearing completion. Weeklong summer camps are available for children 5-12 with activities varying from one week to the next. Information at www.FrontierMuseum.org.
The Discovery Museum is a landmark on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall and includes activities and exhibits for children from toddlers on up. “Our mission,” says Museum director Amy Wicks-Horn, “is to engage minds, excite imaginations and encourage exploration of the world.” Visit www.vadm.org. The first Sunday of each month is a pay-what-you-wish day at the museum. The nearby Free Speech Wall gives youngsters an OK to chalk their names and ideas in public. And the Visitors Center by the wall offers many brochures, guides and maps to more things to do in central Virginia. And there’s lots more to do from tours at the Ivy Creek Nature area to concerts, to picking your own fruits at local farms to festivals, movies, theater activities and so much more.
Marilyn Pribus and her husband live in Albemarle County near Charlottesville and pursue the wide variety of opportunities in the region from family birthday parties at Walnut Creek Park to a getaway for two on the Blue Ridge.