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Unconventional Learning for an Unconventional Year

Unconventional Learning for an Unconventional Year

By Chelsea Rose Moore | Photos by Jennifer Gray

If anything best characterizes the year 2020, it might be our ability to pivot. While we’ve all reinvented plans on some level this year, schools and education centers have especially worked to overcome big challenges. And children’s museums, farms and camps relying on steady streams of students have changed up their learning programs to meet the needs of distance learners and homeschool families. 

Nestled in Middleburg, Camp Highroad has certainly done its fair share of pivoting. Before COVID, Camp Highroad served 80-200 students per day each fall, with between 200-400 students staying overnight on Saturdays. Now, unable to offer overnight camps, the team has focused on serving homeschool and distance learning families. 

“Now that things have changed, and homeschooling is the way to go for a lot of families, we have said, ‘We have some pretty cool options for you guys,’” Adam Davis, Camp Highroad’s director, said. “It’s fun to learn when you’re splashing around in the pond or riding horses. Because of that, we’ve had a surge in homeschool families. We need to get outside, [and] we need to run our energy off.” 

Camp Highroad

One of their new concepts is bubble camps. Similar to a pod, the bubble camp allows families to enjoy the camp’s activities with a group of friends. Bubble camps last for eight weeks, and families attend once per week, although many families have already signed up for a repeat session. Today, half of Camp Highroad’s midweek traffic is from homeschool or distance learning families. The rest is from local private schools. 

“From what I’ve seen with my own kids, having [kids] glued to a screen, they are cranky, grumpy and tired,” Davis said. “They honestly weren’t learning. It’s been hard for them to do online school in a way that keeps a 6- or 7-year-old engaged. What I’ve definitely seen [in] kids coming out [here], they are playing with sticks, climbing on a tower, throwing rocks into a pond. It’s a way for them to get a break from the screens and get dirty and be OK with it.” 

Girls riding at Camp Highroad

Day campers will learn to canoe, ride horses, go mountain boarding, practice archery, and learn survival skills. Activities are suited for preschoolers through 12th graders. “We are doing everything asked of us from the CDC,” Davis said. “We understand that we all have to be careful, but at the same time, we all have to live our lives.” 

JK Community Farm in Purcellville has also switched up their group field trips to offer self-guided, socially distant field trips for individual families. “We’ve seen kids have so much energy when they get to the farm,” Samantha Kuhn, the farm’s executive director, said. “Just getting some fresh air and away from the stress of distance learning and trying to navigate that whole process.”

Camp Highroad

Their farm is 150 acres, allowing people to spread out across its designated learning stations. Each hour is limited to 30 students. Since starting the self-guided field trips in September, they’ve had 120 students on the farm every Monday.

The farm is currently developing a winter curriculum, which will begin in November. The program will center around the seasonality of farms, cover crops and winter planters. Collaborating with the Children’s Science Center in Fairfax, they plan to build a strong food education program. The science center will be unveiling an exhibit at the farm in late winter or early spring. 

Everything grown at the farm goes to local food pantries. This year, they donated over 140,000 pounds of organic produce and protein. Their field trips are donation-based to help the farm continue to “grow more food for more families.” 

Camp Highroad

When a family signs up for a field trip, they select their child’s age level (from preschool through high school) and are sent appropriate activity guides. Once they arrive at the farm, they do hands-on activities and learn about food education and other age-appropriate skills. 

Places like Camp Highroad and JK Community Farm are learning to thrive during this challenging season and still giving children the opportunity to be kids, get their hands dirty, and discover the wonders
of nature. ML

If you’re in search of COVID-safe, kid-friendly adventures, consider these local attractions. 

Camp Highroad |
21164 Steptoe Hill Road, Middleburg, Va.
Adventure awaits at Camp Highroad! Learn to horseback ride, explore bamboo forests, practice archery, learn about local ecosystems, and so much more. 

JK Community Farm |
35516 Paxson Road, Purcellville, Va.
Tour the farm while learning about sustainable vegetable production and the value of food security.

Great Country Farms |
18780 Foggy Bottom Road, Bluemont, Va. 
Learn about farm life up close while enjoying a cow train, jumping pillow, putt putt course and apple cider donuts. 

Dinosaur Land |
3848 Stonewall Jackson Highway, White Post, Va. 
Walk through a prehistoric forest and see life-size dinosaurs and other creatures. 

Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum |
21668 Heritage Farm Lane, Sterling, Va.
Discover Loudoun’s agricultural history through daily programs introducing kids to Loudoun’s rich heritage. Or pick up a $10 “Museum in a Box” to learn from the comfort of your home! 

Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum |
19 W Cork St., Winchester, Va. 
Spark your child’s curiosity, inspire learning, and build STEAM skills through hands-on exploration and creative play.

Published in the November 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.

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