Have you ever wondered how to get your kids more connected with the places they are visiting? How do we keep them engaged? How do we instill a sense of wonder and respect for the nature around us, history it holds, skills to learn from it? Cue the Junior Ranger Program hosted by the National Park Service! This is such a fun and cool way to have your kids really feel like they are a part of something.
The Junior Ranger Program is an activity-based program conducted in almost all parks and some programs are national. It is an opportunity for kids 5-13 to join the National Parks “family” as Junior Rangers. The program is as simple as visiting a park, completing activities within them, sharing answers with a Park Ranger, and receiving a patch and certificate. You can do it virtually, or you can download the book. Whichever way you choose to take on the adventure, soon, your kids will be reciting the ranger motto: “Explore. Learn. Protect.” But, we’re positive you’ll learn a little something from it too.
Find Your Park
There are a few different ways to approach this. Maybe you already have a trip planned, a park is a part of the trip, and you want to find the program associated with it. We’d recommend visiting the National Park Foundation website. Here, you can learn a little more about the foundation itself, the particular park you’re visiting, and eventually the Junior Ranger Program activities within it. Maybe you’re not quite sure where you’re going next, but want an idea of what programs, activities and places are out there. Check out this list of parks with Junior Ranger Programs from A-Z for some destination ideas. Keep in mind, you aren’t just limited to National Parks either! You’ll find programs associated with National Parks, Historic Sites, and Monuments alike. And with that being said, maybe you’ve got your trip mapped out, but are curious if there are parks or stops along the way that you can incorporate into your kids’ activities. You can print or download the program booklets of certain parks to have with you on the road as well. Treat the program like an additional itinerary item to include on your travel list to do’s. You are in control of how quickly or slowly you complete these items too.
Complete Your Activities
The next step into completing your junior ranger program, is to actually visit the park! And, to do the actual activities of course. Each park has different requirements to earn your patch and certificate, so be sure to check in at the visitor’s center or read the requirements online before you get started. Some require kids to take a short hike, or go on a ranger-lead program in the park. Others require kids to share what they’ve learned with others, or pick up litter. Examples of the activities included in the booklets are bingo, fill in the blanks, connect the dots, scavenger hunts, crosswords puzzles…the list goes on, but these activities all incorporate educational pieces to the park. So while you are exploring the park, you’re also learning about it in a more hands on way. Double whammy!
Submit Activity Booklet For Approval
Once you’ve completed the required amount of activities and/or lessons for your chosen Junior Ranger Program, you will turn in your booklet to a park ranger to review. This can be done by physically visiting one of the designated visitor’s centers in the park and turning in the booklet. Or, you can also mail it in for review. The Park Ranger will sign your certificate and hand you your Junior Ranger badge (or patch depending on the park program).
Collect Your Badges
Your kids will wear these badges with such joy and pride in what they just learned, experienced, and accomplished on their trip. Soon, the Junior Ranger Programs will become a necessary part of every National Park trip. These badges will be keepsakes from your travels, and you can collect them however you wish. Some ideas we have for you include purchasing a hat or vest from the park or local store to attach your badges to, or you can get a fun little chest to keep them in, or magnetize them and display them on your fridge.
Here at Tumbleweed Travel Co, we have several already curated travel plans in sync with National Parks. Incorporating the Junior Ranger Programs into one of these trips would be a breeze. We hope this serves as yet another reason to get out on the road and see all the beautiful places the U.S. has to offer – with the added bonus of it being another way to keep your kids entertained on your trip! Whether a curated travel plan is your scene, or you need help building your own, our team is here to turn your road trip dreams into a reality. We’ll see you out there, Junior Rangers!