As summer winds down, parents may be running out of ways to entertain their kids. (Okay, it’s me. I’m the one who needs entertainment.)
You may recall the last time I wrote about our summer adventures, my youngest son, Finley, was still an infant. This year, he’s a rowdy two-year-old, ready to join in the fun with his big brother, Mason.
As a military family, we’re set to move again this fall, so this will be our last summer in the area (at least for now). I wanted to make it extra special, so we scoped out the best family fun happenings, and the two boys and I began our adventures.
We explored Aquaticus, the new permanent children’s exhibit at Nauticus, visited Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood at the Children’s Museum of Virginia, and stepped right into a painting at Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience.
Who knew that right here in our own backyard, so many new worlds await discovery!
Journey Under the Sea:
Aquaticus at Nauticus
Our first stop: Nauticus. When I found out that a new permanent early learner gallery and aquarium recently opened as part of Reimagine Nauticus, the $21.5 million redesign of the maritime center, I knew we had to check it out.
Our Nautical Neighborhood greeted us on the third floor as we exited the elevator. We learned about local fish species like Atlantic stingrays, seahorses, and more that live right here in the Elizabeth River and Chesapeake Bay. The boys enjoyed watching these fish dance in their tanks, welcoming us to their newly furnished home.
Just across from the aquarium was Aquaticus, the all-new children’s exhibit gallery featuring a floating ship, a groovy submarine, and dozens of flashing buttons, oh my!
The boys loved touching the various sensory circles along the walls. These “Sea Senses” introduced them to different textures they might find underwater. The flip sequin panels were a fun touch, too. Finley could have spent all day running his hands along each circle.
Mason, on the other hand, had a bit more energy to burn. He climbed up a padded structure, darted across a hanging fish net, and rushed down the newly installed metal slide more times than I could count. Finley was hesitant at first because the slide was pretty steep, but his big brother held his hand as they slid down side-by-side.
We’d been to Nauticus several times before, but this was by far our most favorite trip, thanks to these incredible hands-on features that allowed my kids to learn while playing in a museum setting. For parents, that is the best gift of all.
Even more big changes are coming to Nauticus during Phase Two of renovations, including three new exhibits and a complete redesign of the lobby. Visit https://nauticus.org/reimagine-nauticus/ to get the scoop on what to expect in the coming year!
Nauticus • One Waterside Drive, Norfolk • www.nauticus.org • 757-664-1000 ($)
A Grr-ific Day Out
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood at the Children’s Museum
All aboard the trolley–we’re headed to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe! My boys were particularly excited to visit to the Children’s Museum of Virginia, where we found Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: A Grr-ific Exhibit.
Even if you’ve never seen the TV show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, you’re in for a treat. Pulling elements from the original Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this adorably animated tiger tackles real-life scenarios that kids navigate every day: erupting emotions, conflicts among friends, and even jitters over an upcoming doctor appointment.
Daniel Tiger’s familiar home at the center of the room welcomed us into a world of imagination. A mirror to the left invited Finley and Mason to dress up as their favorite character before venturing into the neighborhood to visit landmarks from the show like the post office, the trolley, and more. Both boys particularly loved the music shop, where they learned how common objects like spoons could make some very interesting sounds.
Mason found a set of blocks nestled beneath a jukebox. After carefully plugging one of the blocks into the jukebox, catchy jingles from the show played like magic. Mason happily sang along: “When you feel so mad that you wanna roar, take a deep breath and count to four...”
While the boys continued winding up the clock tower, I stepped aside to view a more poignant display in the back of the room: Mister Roger’s distinguishable red sweater and blue sneakers. A photo of the late Fred Rogers along with a matching photo of Daniel Tiger putting on their red sweaters reminded us that even through the passing of time, it’s always a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: A Grr-ific Exhibit • On view through Sept. 10, 2023 • Children’s Museum of Virginia, 221 High Street, Portsmouth • www.childrensmuseumva.com • 757-393-5258 ($)
Skidoo into a Painting
Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
Run—don’t walk—to purchase your tickets to Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, presented by Paquin Entertainment Group in partnership with Virginia Arts Festival. From the moment we stepped into the Virginia Beach Convention Center, we could tell we were in for an otherworldly experience. Booming ambient music set the mood. The lights dimmed. Dark curtains and signs ushered us to “Gogh this way.”
We strolled through a series of winding projected images detailing the life and legacy of the tortured artist, from his beginnings as an art dealer working with his brother Theo, up to his death and onward through modern influences.
Mason was a little scared of the eerie setting and clung to my arm. I knelt beside him and asked, “Do you remember in Blue’s Clues when Blue and Josh skidoo into pictures all the time?”
“Yeah, they go into new worlds and do fun things!” Mason replied.
“We’re going to skidoo into some paintings by a very famous artist. Are you ready?”
He squeezed my hand, and together we quietly sang the words from the TV show, “Blue skidoo, we can too!”
It certainly felt like we had skidooed into a painting! The room opened into a mosaic of familiar artworks with glimpses of Van Gogh’s distinct Vincent signature scattered throughout.
Soon we were swallowed by darkness. White sketches and letters began trickling down from the walls and onto the floors, growing more and more frantic until, suddenly, they faded away.
As color seeped into the room again, we were transported from painting to painting. We dove into picturesque landscapes as flower petals rained down on us. We dined at The Café Terrace and gazed upon swirling stars in perhaps Van Gogh’s most recognizable artwork, Starry Night.
Finley oohed and aahed as the pictures danced around his stroller, surely quite the spectacle for a toddler. Occasionally I spun the stroller around to give him a different view. At times he was antsy to be let out, but music and movement seemed to lull him.
The show lasted about 45 minutes. I opted not to try the Virtual Reality headset on the way out since my kids were ready to go, but it was amusing to watch others turning in their seats, reaching hands out to touch some invisible object they saw on their own headsets.
At the gift shop, we browsed every Van Gogh item you could imagine—hats, t-shirts, magnets, coffee mugs, sketchbooks...even an EAR-aser (an eraser in the shape of Van Gogh’s chopped ear)! Mason chose a keychain, and I picked out a couple of my favorite art prints and an ornament for the Christmas tree.
As a Van Gogh fan, I was thrilled to experience his artwork like never before. I could have stayed all day, soaking up the zen from paintings come to life. Plus, my kids learned about one of the most notable artists in history in an immersive encounter they’ll remember forever.
Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience • Through Sept. 2, 2023 • Va. Beach Convention Center, 1000 19th St., Va. Beach • www.vafest.org/van-gogh • 757-282-2800 ($)