Junior Ranger Programs are a great way to get kids excited about National Parks, National Monuments and National Historic Sites. Junior ranger programs are available at many National Park Service sites. Workbooks are often available for children in a range of ages (or require different levels of participation for different ages) and can be obtained from rangers are park sites or can be accessed and printed online prior to travel. Most workbooks are free, or may be available at a nominal charge at larger parks (like Yosemite).
Junior Ranger programs enable adults to immerse children in the experience and education available at National Parks in an age-appropriate way. While most informational signage and general guides available at parks are targeted towards adults, the Junior Ranger programs make the information really accessible for kids – vocabulary, history, geography , concepts, etc., delivered through fun activities. Matching games, word searches, crosswords, coloring, search and finds and fill-ins are typical examples of Junior Ranger activities. Some of the Junior Ranger activities might also involve attending scheduled programs or hikes and getting the signature of a ranger or park personnel to verify participation.
A lovely part of the Junior Ranger experience is that in addition to the park-specific education, Junior Ranger programs can provide a framework for a family traveling with young kids. Children are engaged at their level and remain excited and interested for longer periods of time giving adults the opportunity to spend more time and experience more than a child can normally handle. As an added bonus, the programs sometimes also touch on a wider range of locations and topics than the “top tourist experiences” and can really add a lot of depth the adult experience as well.
When Junior Ranger activities are completed, kids bring their booklets back to a ranger or visitor center information desk for evaluation. A ranger will look over their work for basic completion of requirements and ask them questions about their experiences. It’s not like a test, just a way to let them share what they learned and what was most interesting or exciting.
The kids may be able to sign a log recording them as junior rangers and will take a pledge promising to help to protect and respect our national parks and to share what they have learned. The kids then receive a patch and/or plastic badge. Some of the larger parks may offer additional merchandise in gift stores, such as apparel, bookmarks or other items with the insignia or pledge. If the kids are unable to complete the program while in the park, or after-hours, workbooks can be mailed in with completed work and a signed pledge and will be returned with the patch/badge.
The number of National Park Service Sites and Junior Ranger programs is truly astounding, and before taking a trip with young children it is a great idea to check the website (listed in the Travel With Kids section of the BellaOnline Early Childhood Website) to see if there is a Junior Ranger experience available. If visiting a park site unexpectedly, be sure to check the website after returning home (or to an available computer) as printing and completing the program and mailing it in can be a great way to cement the experience.