Monday, January 4, 2016

J is for Junior Ranger Program

I love visiting National Park sites.  With the 434 parks under the National Park Service, there is something for everyone, whether it's nature or geology or beaches/marine life or history of literally anything American.  And there's sure to be a site to visit within a short drive.  If you have younger kids, though, maybe you feel they don't appreciate these sites the way you do, and you leave more frustrated than fulfilled.  Enter the Junior Ranger program!

Grand Teton National Park
Each park has a booklet (almost all are free) for kids to complete as they move throughout the park.  Most have a combination of games, scavenger hunt, and short answer with instructions on where to go to find the answer.  While grade school-age is the ideal target, most parks require less out of younger kids than older kids and can be adapted down to kindergarten-age with some help from mom or dad or a helpful sibling.  Once complete, they get sworn in as an official Junior Ranger and get a Junior Ranger badge.  A couple of parks we've been to even had special surprises:  One Junior Ranger badge was wooden and smelled like a campfire.  Another gave us the option of a patch instead of a badge.

Petrified Forest National Park
There are two minor downsides to this program.  First, those with younger kids won't get the complete joy of focusing on the park while your child blissfully works on the booklet independently, but likely it's much better than having nothing to do, and, chances are, they'll learn something along the way and may grow to love National Park sites as much as you do.  Second, we've been to a few of the smaller sites that we've actually spent longer there than we needed to because we were working on the booklet.  Still, we're only talking half an hour to an hour longer -- not something exorbitant. Most booklets take about the same amount of time or less than you would want to spend at the park.

Lauren now looks forward to our visits to the National Parks, which is important since my Bucket List includes visiting all 434 sites under the Park Service.  If you're looking for a site, check out my NPS Sites page, which lists all 434.  They're broken down by subject, so you can find something that interests you.  Many also have links to the actual NPS website and will eventually have trip-planning information, so you may want to bookmark it and keep checking back.  Hope you find your park, and I hope your family enjoys the ride!

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  1. Sounds like a great program. I can't wait till my son gets older so we can do these things as a family.Loved your post.This will be great to do. Hope you have a great day.

  2. I just found out that they offer this program at a nearby State Park. I know my kids would love it!

    1. We've done a few similar junior ranger-style programs at parks other than ones in the National Park System.

  3. This is a great idea! We don't have any parks close to where we live, but we travel with my husband's job several times a year, so we will have to look for the parks when we travel!

  4. This looks like something by boys would enjoy. I'll have to look into it more. Thank you!