The One Thing You Must Do When Visiting a National Park with Kids
You have been planning your National Park trip for months. You have a board on Pinterest full of activities you must do, hikes you need to take and great places to take pictures. You have researched what to take and have been sharing pictures with the kids to get them excited about your family trip. You are all ready to go, but we have one more thing you must read before setting out on your National Park trip. There is one activity you need to make sure is on your list of must do’s no matter what park you are visiting…the Junior Ranger Program.
If you have kids ages 5-12, they can participate in the Junior Ranger Program offered by the National Park Service. The goal of the Junior Ranger Program is to teach kids and their parents about the park, as well as help kids realize what the park means to them personally. Each park offers an activity book with age appropriate activities that can be picked up at any visitor center. Kids are asked to complete a certain number of pages in the book, as well as activities around the park, based upon their age. Once the book is completed, kids return the book to a visitor center. A Park Ranger will check the book and ask the kids a few questions about what they learned. Then the kids are asked to take the Junior Ranger Oath. Once they are “sworn in” as Junior Rangers, they are given a badge/patch and a certificate!
Since June of 2016, our family has visited 6 U.S. National Parks and are planning on visiting 6 more in the summer of 2017. The one thing our kids, ages 10 and 11, ask to do at every park is the Junior Ranger Program. They love learning about the park, the animals in the park and about rangers. Some parks require the kids to attend ranger led talks or go on a specified number of hikes. We have been to ranger talks about the geology of Yellowstone, animal safety, wildfires, and much more. Our kids have enjoyed every talk we have been to and always ask to go to more. They use the time waiting for the talks to begin and traveling across the park to complete their books. Each of my kids usually complete the entire book and not only the activities for their age group. They love turning in their books, taking the oath and getting their badges/patches.
As a parent and teacher, I love the Junior Ranger program for many reasons. The Junior Ranger program is a wonderful way to keep your kids’ minds active during long breaks from school and that makes the educator in me really happy. While the program is geared for teaching kids, it really is a program for the entire family. The mom in me loves how excited my kids get to complete the activities. I love watching them interact with the rangers at ranger led talks. My kids are usually the ones who raise their hands to volunteer every time! I love when they learn something while completing their book or at a talk, and then we see it out in the park. Nothing can beat these hands-on learning experiences. The mom in me also greatly appreciates the Junior Ranger program is free in most parks. A few parks do charge a few dollars for their books, but usually it is less than $3.00. Knowing kids can visit the park,and learn and have fun at same time has me telling everyone I know to participate in this great program.
When the planning time is over and you make your way to a National Park with your family, make sure your first stop is at a visitor center to pick up your Junior Ranger book. Your kids will have so much fun learning about the park and you may even learn a thing or two as well. (I know I have!) When your visit to the park is over and your kids turn in their Junior Ranger books, they will have a great souvenir to bring home. They will love showing off their Junior Ranger badges/patches, but the greatest thing they will bring home is the knowledge they have gained and the memories they made while completing the Junior Ranger Program.
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