In my snippets from unschooling post earlier this week, I mentioned we spent a few days last week in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
It’s a great “home base” for a beach vacation, because you can drive up and down the Delmarva (that’s Delaware-Maryland-Virginia, for those non-East-Coasters!) shoreline and see a bunch of great things, everything from the Cape May/Lewes Ferry that’ll take you to New Jersey, smaller beaches like Dewey and Fenwick Island in Delaware, to Ocean City, Md., to Assateague and Chincoteague, islands in Maryland and Virginia respectively.
We’ve lately done most of our lodging through Airbnb, which is essentially a brokerage for private house or apartment rentals. We’ve stayed at some amazing places – for a fraction of the cost of hotels.
For this trip, we rented a two-bedroom apartment in Rehoboth, literally within view of Coastal Highway (Route 1, the main route down the coast).
And from there, it was about an hour’s drive to Assateague Island National Seashore and then another hour down through Maryland and Virginia farmland to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. (If you’re planning a visit, this is important – there is no public road that goes from one end of the island to the other; you must return inland to travel to the southern end!)
These areas are most noted for being the home of wild ponies (and here’s a good overview about them)… but there is so much more to see there! Here’s a look at some of the highlights of our trip – and a list of resources available to you if your family would like to learn more about Assateague, MD, and Chincoteague, VA!
Assateague Island National Seashore
On our visit to the north end of Assateague Island (the Maryland side), we loved checking out the Assateague Island Visitor Center, where we spent a couple of hours (it’s that good). Then, we took a driving tour of about 45 minutes around the island, looking for the wild ponies! We didn’t see any up close, but spotted several birds (including the great blue heron seen above) and visited some wonderful areas of unspoiled beach.
And Sarah got to pet a horseshoe crab at the visitors’ center! She could have stared at it for a half-hour easily.
Sarah also spotted a seahorse in another aquarium – probably the first I’d seen in person!
After leaving the visitor center, there is a fee of $15 to enter the main part of the island by car on the Maryland side, but the pass is good for seven days!
Here are some of the other cool Assateague things we found.
- The Assateague Foster Horse Program allows you to help support the care of the ponies of Assateague by “adopting” a horse of your choice for about $40. In exchange, you receive a fact sheet on your horse, plus a nice portfolio with an 8×10 photo and a certificate. Conveniently, you can see an example above – as we are now proud supporters of “Boots.” (Boots, by the way, was the nickname of my mom’s dog in high school!) One of the great things about this program is you can support the horses even if you’re not able to visit in person – but we were lucky to be able to try to spot our horse while visiting! (No luck, but that’s OK!)
- The foster horse program is run by a friends’ group called the Assateague Island Alliance.
- The official National Park Service site on Assateague Island National Seashore is as thorough as I’ve come to expect from NPS! There’s much there to recommend, so browse around, but I’ll highlight a few of our favorite links here.
- The NPS brochure on The Wild Horses of Assateague Island is a great basic overview of the herd, in easy-to-read Q&A format.
- The Prince Georges Audubon Society offers a great map and links to other resources on the Assateague area.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
We weren’t sure what to expect, but were lucky to have a slightly closer look at the ponies here on the southern end of the island!
There is a fee of $8 per car per day to enter the island from the Virginia side; and, like with the northern end, there is also an option for a $15 one-week pass.
- While the ponies are the “main attraction” for many first-time visitors to Chincoteague or Assateague, we were just as impressed with the variety of birds we were able to see! We were amazed to be able to spot both a kingfisher and a bald eagle – and Sarah was the first to identify both! (You can see them above.)
- Speaking of ponies, though, here’s a guide to some of them, along with photos.
- There are two visitors’ centers on the south end of the island – one operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the other by the National Park Service (that’s the “Tom’s Cove” visitors’ center that you might read about in some of the links above.) Here’s the Fish and Wildlife Service’s page on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Not only was their visitors’ center amazing, but the staff members working at it were too; they really enjoyed talking with Sarah about their projects and the wildlife of the area, including some interesting local squirrels!
- The Fish and Wildlife Service offers a great resource page of lesson plans on local animal tracks, invasive plants and more topics.
- The Chincoteague Natural History Association is a friends’ group that supports Chincoteague; their website has everything from information on the lighthouse to bird sightings and more!
- And, because I can’t forget the obvious, the Misty of Chincoteague series by Marguerite Henry is a great realistic fiction acccount of the Chincoteague ponies!
The beaches on the Virginia end of the island are also beautiful; there, Sarah found the tail of a horseshoe crab!
Sarah took this photo of the trip from Maryland to Virginia – very colorful fall fields along the way!
One other, uh, interesting facet to the trip occurs just as you’re crossing to Chincoteague Island. This was a first for me, and my photo isn’t particularly clear, but…
The whole highway is a bridge. And then there’s another bridge intersecting the main bridge, which you can see to the left! Bridge meets bridge… the first I’ve ever seen! (I’m not a huge bridge fan. So it was a little scary. Don’t make fun of me.)
Other Great Assateague and Chincoteague Learning Resources
- The National Park Service has a set of teacher guides and student worksheets designed for groups visiting the both the Virginia and Maryland parts of Assateague Island, but I found them to be helpful even regarding things we didn’t see on our visit! Here are the Maryland guides, and here are the Virginia resources!
- A site called Teach Ocean Science offers a free oceanography curriculum for a variety of ages that I thought was great. Specifically to those interested in the Assateague area, there’s a module on barrier islands and sea levels that’s very relevant!
- One place we were amazed to pass in our travels was the NASA Visitor Center at Wallops Flight Facility. We didn’t get to take the free tour because they were closed while we were there, but we did find a lot of info on research programs going on at Wallops and chances to watch rocket launches there.
- Speaking of NASA, their NASA education home page includes a catalog of resources for educators. If you’re interested in space, I’ve actually included more info on this in our list of best resources for solar-system study!
I can’t say enough good things about this trip. We actually didn’t know what to expect, but we were thrilled with what we found!
If you have any other suggestions for good Chincoteague or Assateague study ideas, please comment; I’ll be glad to add them to the list!
Many of these will work even if you can’t visit in person!
Earlier in the series, we shared free resources to help you learn about Philadelphia, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell!
This post is also part of the iHomeschool Network’s Best Homeschool Field Trips linkup. Click the image at right to read more!