3 years ago a friend let me in on a little secret. This secret has changed the way we explore when we travel, and it’s educational! The National Park Service offers a Junior Ranger Program at most of their locations, you just have to ask! I have fond memories of earning the Wisconsin Explorer patches during our annual family vacations, so this sounded like fun to me.
Junior Ranger for the Kids!
When you visit the visitor center or Ranger Station at each park you can ask for one to get started. Some locations have them available online as well. Once the child completes the required number of activies in the book, they will be sworn in as a Junior Ranger and receive their badge. The completed book and badge make a great FREE souvenir (and homeschool record) for the trip! Some parks have multiple levels you can earn that may include a patch in addition to the badge.
I have found that the Junior Ranger book is a great way to help kids focus when they visit a site. Filling out the required pages gives purpose to their exploration of the site. They can read the signs and artifacts in search of the answers to their packet much like a scavenger hunt. But they don’t realize they are learning along the way!
For sites that have their book available online, its a great way to build anticipation and prepare kids for the trip as they start to fill out the materials to take with them. We did that for a recent trip to Washington DC. The weeks leading up to the trip Lynn started to fill out her book about the monuments and Ford Theater that we would visit. Then she shad a starting point for her knowledge when we arrived.
Also there are several Junior Ranger Badges that can be earned exclusively online. These would make a great unit study for homeschoolers or a great summer project for a family. The online Badges can be earned by printing and completing the book and the mailing in the book to the provided address. Don’t worry, they will send the completed book back to you signed with your Badge!
Passports for parents!
While the Junior Ranger program is designed for ages 5-13, all ages are encouraged to participate. Another program that is available is the Passport to Your National Parks Program. You can purchase a Passport book and collect cancellation stamps at each National Park Service location. There is even an app available to help you find the stamp location for each landmark. I have even seen a cancellation stamp at our local county park because its part of a National Scenic Trail, so keep your eyes open!
Plan your next trip!
Every road trip we plan includes a stop or two along the way to collect another Junior Ranger Badge. Its fun to see what new insight to our country’s past we can learn as we explore these sites. When you start looking for them, it’s amazing how many national sites are only a day trip away! So far our family is up to 12 Badges earned. If you child is in 4th grade you are eligible to register for a FREE one year pass to the explore all the National Parks!
So where do you want to visit?