When we embarked on our cross-country learning adventure, we had no idea the treasure that we would find upon stopping at our first National Park. At Fort Clatsop, in the northwestern tip of Oregon, our kids were introduced to the Jr. Ranger program. We had previously visited National Parks within our home state of Montana, but we had never heard of this incredible educational opportunity. What a boon for those of us who homeschool, roadschool, or simply want our children to look at every experience as a chance to learn more about the world we live in!
Many National Parks offer a fun, hands-on Jr. Ranger program that is a great tool for learning about that particular region of the US. Most parks that offer this program do so for free. So far, we have come across only one park, Zion N.P., that does charge per booklet ($1), but the workbooks were exceptionally nice and we felt it was worth the fee. The kids ask for a Jr. Ranger booklet for that particular park, usually through a park ranger at the information desk or visitor’s center. For some parks, there is one booklet for all ages, at other parks there are 2 or 3 different booklets of various difficulty levels for different ages. The program is geared mainly towards 5 to 12 year olds, but ANYONE can participate! When we were at the Grand Canyon, one of the J.R. requirements was to attend a Ranger-led program. The programs were so interesting and fun that my clan attended several! During one of the talks, the Ranger noticed the kids’ J.R. booklets, and made a remark to the audience that anyone could participate, and 2 elderly women went up and got booklets too. My 13 and 15 year-olds got a kick out of those seniors earning badges and now don’t feel so self-conscious about being over the suggest age limit. Our 4 year old also enjoys completing the workbooks with a little help.
The J.R. books have various activities, but generally have crossword puzzles, word finds, hidden pictures, observing nature and then drawing what you saw, letter scrambles, etc. They often include interactive activities such as finding wild animals and plants, and looking for specific details in exhibits or through-out informative films about the park. The booklets are easily completed during a single days visit (an hours worth of work, give or take). Our children have discovered so much more about each location where they have participated in the J.R. program than they would have without the program. They also tend to retain much of what they learned since the program is interactive.
The National Park Service offers information about the Jr. Ranger program online, including a complete listing of National Parks offering the program (this is such a great site that it’s in my favorites). The NPS also offers a Web Rangers program for select parks; it is a great way to learn about a park before your visit, or a great way to experience it if you are unable to go there in person.
We have found that the Jr. Ranger program is a great way for our kids to learn about the places that we are visiting, and Mom and Dad have learned some pretty cool stuff through helping them! Upon completion, a Ranger will go over the kids’ booklets with them, possibly asking the kids some questions regarding what they learned about the park, and then the Ranger will lead the kids in the Jr. Ranger oath. In some parks, the badges the kids earn are plastic pin-on style, while in others they are embroidered iron-on patches. Which ever they are, our kids are always anxious to earn other badge to add to their growing collection!
Give the program a try, you may find that your children enjoy earning the title of Jr. Ranger too!