PORTSMOUTH, Va. - As families prepare for a school year filled with screen time, some parents are looking to give their kids a "greener" education.
They'll find that opportunity between the buzzing cicadas and soothing trickle of the Elizabeth River. Thanks to the Elizabeth River Project, kids of all ages have the opportunity to get "hands-on" with nature.
"We're so excited to offer parents an opportunity to get their kids outside, especially since their school in the spring was mostly inside in front of computers," said Sarah McBride, the youth resilience coordinator for the Elizabeth River Project.
The Elizabeth River Project is a non-profit created to restore the environmental health of the Elizabeth River. Understanding that sustainable changes start with how the next generation cares for the environment, the group places major emphasis on education.
They offer a wide variety of different educational programs for children and even adults who chaperone them.
Summer Brown, the Elizabeth River Project's Learning Barge manager, said, "[The kids who participate in the programs] do everything from art [to] water quality testing. They touch live animals and find out what kind of critters are in the river, they learn about wetland grasses and how to identify native plants."
Callen and Logan Tynch participated in this summer's water quality monitoring program.
Students were sent a water quality monitoring kit to take samples of the Elizabeth River. They tested the water for nitrate and bacteria and monitored the temperature.
"They had us test, like, how clear the water was," said 8-year-old Callen. "[I learned that] all the stuff that's on the land, like fertilizer, gets into the water by runoff."
The overall concept is so children understand how their actions impact local and regional watersheds.
12-year-old Logan said that's exactly what he learned, while also having fun. "It's a good way to get out and learn about your environment and the water. It’s a good way to find out about all the animals, see them and interact," he said.
From the water to the woods, registration is open for this October's four-week long Forest School. Participants will plant native seeds for birds and create eco-art like stick birds and houses for small creatures.
However, if you're not able to participate in the programs on-site for any reason, McBride said that's OK: a lot of the activities can be done free-of-charge at home.
"We have tons of activities and ideas on our website for parents to do if they are just going to be home looking for nature in their backyards," she said.
While these programs have been around for quite some time, many are realizing it's a new natural alternative to our current virtual world.