Heading to any national parks this year? Have you heard of the National Parks Service Junior Ranger Program? It changed the way my family experiences national parks!
Last summer, a little worried my children wouldn’t enjoy the historical sites my husband and I wanted our family to experience, we were thrilled to come upon The National Parks Service Junior Ranger Program. The Junior Ranger program is essentially a self-guided tour with age appropriate activity booklets children complete as they explore the park. Much like a park ranger or guide at your side, these books encourage kids to learn about the plants, animals, monuments, and history associated with the area.
A little skeptical at first about how fun a workbook would be, my kids loved how the books are set up like a treasure hunt, and how many ways they were encouraged to engage. The activities varied, appealed to different learning styles, and challenged them to find information right where they were.
When they finished, a park ranger asked them questions about what they saw and learned, swore them in by asking them to promise they would always be a steward of the land, and gave them a badge or patch.
The best part, these booklets didn’t just engage my kids, they got our whole family involved. We sought out new information together and moved through the sites in a way we probably would not have without the books as our guide. Boredom didn’t creep in, history and science came to life, and my family was (and still is) eager to find new parks to explore.
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What is the Junior Ranger Program?
Activity booklets specific to each national park offer kids and families an opportunity to experience the Junior Ranger motto, “Explore, Learn, and Protect”.
Where can I find a Junior Ranger Program?
Where can I found Junior Ranger Booklets?
Check out the park’s website you’ll be visiting. Most parks have booklets located at the visitor’s center. Many also have a downloadable/printable version on their website.
How much does it cost?
The Junior Ranger booklets and badges are free.
Got a Free Park Pass??
The National Parks Passport is a great way to track your travels no matter your age. Set up much like a real passport, find special stamps for each park located inside visitor centers. The passport also offers information about each park.
Kids’ Park Passport Companion
Found in park gift shops, the Kids’ Passport Companion is a fun, educational way to keep track of where your family has traveled and where you’d like to go! Inside there is information about each park, a field journal, a journal for tracking Junior Ranger programs, and places to list plants, trees, mammals, birds, and other treasures found.
What about State Parks?
Many of the state parks we’ve visited have similar programs. Park websites and visitor’s centers are the best resources. Find a state park near you or your travels.
The United States is home to more than 400 national park sites. That’s 84 million acres spread across the country and territories. Maybe more than ever, it’s important to get children out into national and state parks to learn and experience what the land and history have to offer.
Find a Junior Ranger Program next time you adventure into a national park and encourage hands-on learning wherever your travels take you.