It was fun to see it in Spring, before everything blooms, but when everything is just coming awake.We’ve visiting in Summer, Fall (boy these pictures take me back a bit!), and Winter now and not only have we gotten to see different exhibits, we’ve gotten to see the animals and habitats change for the season.
Here were some fun things we notice and talked about on this trip…
- Loud high school girls that scared the ducklings over to our side of the boardwalk.
- Apparently Virginia is home to a lot of turtles. 24 different species according to the VLM website.
- They just opened a new Children’s Garden. It’s meant for 2-5 year olds, but our munchkins enjoyed it too. There’s simple climbing structures, a touch and see plant garden, and a fun building table with blocks of wood and stones. There’s also a rain barrel with little watering cans for them to fill and water the plants. My crew were professionals at that part! They explored it for about 20 minutes and then were ready to move on. (I think it would definitely keep younger visitors busy longer!)
- The honey bee hive is waking up and busy again. This is a fun indoor-outdoor exhibit with a clear-cased hive for the children to observe as the bees come in and go out of the second story window. Last time we were here was over Christmas break and the bees were pretty much in hibernation.
- The beautiful flower gardens are just starting to grow. Not many blooms yet. They are beautiful in full summer growth–I could take 100s of pictures just of flowers, so we’re definitely coming back in a few months!
- It’s not gosling season yet. But it will be soon. (Another reason to come back soon!)
- Geese make me nervous. They’re unpredictable and when it comes to protecting their nests, young, or territory they fear nothing. This is just my personal observation, but we hustled right on past that goose after I snapped a few photos–even though there was a boardwalk and a pond between us and her. (Which probably means we’ll have some at the farm at some point because my life seems to be nothing so much as a study in eating my own words.)
3 hours seems to be a good visit for us. It’s long enough to see all our favorite parts without the kids getting too tired and crabby and we have the privilege of coming back again to see anything we missed. (The Cowboy loves the World of Darkness exhibit–which I didn’t know until we missed it one trip.)
Summer is coming up and we’ll definitely be renewing our membership. But if you’re going to be in Hampton Roads this summer, you should think about visiting too! (We’re not affiliates or anything, we just love this museum and think it’s a bit of a hidden gem here in Hampton Roads–especially for nature lovers and homeschoolers!)
If you’re planning a one-time visit, here’s how I’d do it…
1. Check and see if you have any memberships from a home museum that share benefits with VLM and could get you discounted tickets. They are part of the ASTC passport program–which is not the same as most local zoos, but is the same as a lot of local science and history museums. (We’ll be getting in free to a couple museums by my sister-in-law with these benefits.)
2. If you’re a family of 5 or more, consider the family membership rather than individual tickets–especially if any of your children are over the age of 12. Once you pay for 2 adults and 3 children (under 12) your almost at a family membership and membership includes ALL minor children (under 17) at the same address, a guest pass, planetarium passes, discounts at the cafe and gift shop (which is also pretty reasonable for little souvenir hunters), their quarterly newsletter (which our munchkins love) and all those ASTC passport benefits.
3. Definitely pack a lunch to eat there (they have a picnic spot by the parking lot) or plan to buy lunch at their little cafe. We ate at The Wild Side Cafe when we were there in January and the prices are very reasonable, but the food was only so-so. It’s a kid-friendly menu, but I would have preferred something a little more fresh and healthy focused. (Although I’m sure that would raise the prices as well.)
4. Check the Planetarium programs for the dates you plan to visit. It’s a nominal additional fee and members even get a couple vouchers! (Just be conscientious of content in these programs for your own family. A few of the descriptions I’ve seen indicate some mythology and evolutionary teaching that you may not feel is appropriate for your family. I’m sure you could ask the staff for clarification.)
5. Check the Teacher Resources page for fun learning guides to the exhibits.
6. I would try to get there at 9 or 10 am, enjoy the whole place for a few hours, then have lunch. After lunch I would plan to give myself another hour or two to hit any thing you missed or go back and explore the discovery centers more.
7. This is definitely a rain or shine option!
And if you’re going to be in Newport News visiting the museum–be sure to email us and stop by the farm!