Shore People Advancing Readiness for Knowledge

Listing Last Update: January 10, 2017


34001 Mill Dam Road
Wallops Island, VA 23337

Primary Contact

Anne Armstrong

(757) 824-5636

Educational services

  • To read and write better
  • To help my child learn

Instruction Type

  • In-person

Program Overview

SPARK, Shore People Advancing Readiness for Knowledge, is an innovative, experiential family learning program based on nature and the environment. Designed for families with young children, the program's underlying philosophy is that learning together as a family outdoors can be fun and purposeful for all involved.

SPARK's main objectives are to introduce children and their families to nature, to encourage good reading comprehension while introducing basic math and science concepts, and to foster positive learning interactions between parents and children.

Using nature as a springboard works exceptionally well. It provides a common denominator, bringing together families from diverse economic, educational and ethnic backgrounds. The hands-on experience of enjoying the outdoors becomes a shared adventure as the parents (including many fathers) and children discover and discuss all they observe and experience.

There are three key elements of SPARK:

Family Learning/Family Fun (FLFF) days

Activity packets

SPARK Kids books

SPARK began in 1998 with 25 families of preschool-age children in rural Accomack County on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Today SPARK is a multifaceted program enrolling over 200 families each year. It includes families with children in preschool to fifth grade. The older children are Sparky Nature Detectives. A few students who have been in SPARK all along are now in middle and high school and help out as SPARK Junior Leaders.

Since 2012, SPARK has been partnering with the Chincoteague Bay Field Station to offer more advanced opportunities for older students. In 2014, the Chincoteague Bay Field Station will begin operating all SPARK programs out of its premises.

The Eastern Shore has been battling poverty and low literacy for generations. The Eastern Shore is a very beautiful place with rich and varied habitats, yet many residents are not in touch with the natural world around them. Grace Cormons started SPARK because she wanted to make it easy for busy parents to do constructive and interesting things with their children that would help bring families closer together and make learning fun while teaching about the environment. She hoped the end result would be to stimulate positive attitudes about education, especially science, and a respect for and understanding of, the environment.

As Richard Louv points our in Last Child in the Woods, the past few generations have lost the connection to the environment that had been so important to their parents and grandparents. Today's parents needed to learn where to go and what to look for. Spark provides this, connecting parents with the environment as well as with their children.

As we suspected, enjoying the outdoors is not restricted to children. It is heartening to see that parents and grandparents experience a reawakening once they are exposed to the outdoors in positive ways. They have fun exploring and observing with their children, even getting wet and muddy and climbing trees with them! It was even better than we had hoped for, and the children in their care have benefited from it.

It doesn't matter what the backgrounds of the families are. Rediscovering nature proves to be a great equalizer. Ethnicity, educational and economic levels are trumped by excitement, interest, pleasure and enthusiasm. The intermingling, the obvious pleasure in one another's children and shared laughter are heartening to see. The program has proven to work very well, to the benefit of the children, parents and community.

Hours of operation: 8:00-4:30