If you have a child under 12, you need to know about the Junior Ranger program offered by the National Parks System. I have mentioned how much we love National Parks before (they’re historical, inexpensive, beautiful, and family friendly), but I have never explained just how much our kids love the Junior Ranger program.
The first time we learned about the Junior Ranger program, it was a complete accident. We were at Mount Rushmore and a very friendly park ranger asked if the kids would like to participate. They did, and they’ve been hooked ever since.
If your kids have never participated in this program, here’s how it works: when you arrive at a National Park, you ask for a Junior Ranger booklet at the Visitor’s Center. The booklet is filled with activities that pertain to the park you are visiting. Some parks have the kids look through exhibits to fill in information; some parks ask the kids to complete word searches or crossword puzzles; all parks have activities that get the children engaged with being in, looking at, and learning about their amazing surroundings.
While they are having fun, searching for answers, reading about history, and discovering things they have never seen before, sometimes Luke and Ellie forget that they are actually learning. (This is my favorite kind of learning – sneaky, fun learning.)
I particularly like the fact that the amount of work (or number of booklet pages) to be completed differs based on the age of the child. Luke has never been a fan of this policy, though, because he usually has to do more work than Ellie.
After the activities are completed, the kids bring their booklets back to the park rangers. In all the parks we have visited, we have only had amazing experiences with the park rangers as they review the work the kids’ work. These rangers are passionate about their parks, and excited to see kids who are excited, too. Luke has had a ranger compliment him on his artistry, and Ellie has been told that the poem she wrote was really good. These are such sweet boosts of self-confidence from someone whom they instantly respect. The rangers also correct wrong answers and discuss with the children why they might have gotten it wrong.
Once it has been determined that they have done the proper amount of work, children are then sworn in as Junior Park Rangers. They raise their right hands, swear to protect their National Parks, and then are given a Junior Ranger Badge. Some parks give pins that resemble the badges worn by actual park rangers and some give patches to be sewn onto backpacks. Both are completely free. (Have I mentioned how much I LOVE free souvenirs?)
Both Luke and Ellie look forward to going to National Parks, in large part because of the Junior Ranger program. I love how involved they are with the place we are visiting, and they love the challenge of completing their work. It really is one of the most fun things we do on our travels.
Have your kids ever been Junior Rangers? Tell us where in the comments.
For even more information, be sure to check out our video about becoming a Junior Ranger!