“Whatever landscape a child is exposed to early on, that will be the sort of gauze through which he or she will see all the world afterwards.”
Our family travel always has been the educational kind. We go out into the world to see and learn all we can all the while striving to be good role models to our children and the children we travel with.
Traveling to the National Parks is the easiest, fastest, and sometimes cheapest vacation option for families. They are the best place to see our nation’s amazing scenery and cultural heritage all while offering something for all ages at a wonderful price tag.
Our National Park Service offers something a little more special for our children: the Junior Ranger Program.
“The NPS Junior Ranger program is an activity based program conducted in almost all parks, and some Junior Ranger programs are national. Many national parks offer young visitors the opportunity to join the National Park Service “family” as Junior Rangers. Interested youth complete a series of activities during a park visit, share their answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger patch and Junior Ranger certificate. Junior Rangers are typically between the ages of 5 to 13, although people of all ages can participate.” (1)
Here are 10 reasons to love the Junior Ranger Program:
1. The Junior Ranger Program is (Mostly) Free
Depending on the park and program offered, children an earn a pin on badge or an iron on patch. The pins are free, but the patches cost usually between $3 – $10 when you pick up your booklet.
2. The Junior Ranger Program is Easily Available
As you enter the park, stop by the visitor center and simply ask for a Junior Ranger booklet. When complete, you can bring the booklet back anytime.
3. The Junior Ranger Program is Packed with Activities
The booklets are designed to teach your child all about the Park and the National Park Service. Depending where you are, you can learn anything from: astronomy, geothermal activity, Native American History, wildlife, geology, how to be a smart and environmentally friendly visitor to the parks and much more.
All of these lessons are taught in a child friendly environment of mazes, puzzles, word matching, sensory experiments, drawing prompts, and discovery of sites within the park. There is something for all children no matter how they learn.
4. The Junior Ranger Program Activities are Tailored by Age and by Park.
Most programs are tailored toward children between the ages of 5-12. The Junior Ranger booklets include a variety of activities, and kids must complete a required number depending on their age.
If you have a younger child who wants to participate, some parks have special booklets for younger children- just ask!
5. The Rangers Want to Meet You!
While in the park, the booklets always encourage your little Junior Ranger to meet the park Rangers. Go on a Ranger led walk or listen to a Ranger led talk. If you see a Ranger, tell them you are doing the program, they always get very excited and offer to help out with whatever you are working on.
When you are done with your booklet, you can’t just turn it in, grab a badge and walk away. Your child must talk to a Ranger and they will go over the book with them, ending with your child taking a park pledge to always: explore, learn, and protect the parks. Talking to the Rangers is always our favorite part, they were always so enthusiastic that your child learned about their park.
6. The Junior Ranger Program is Flexible
The activities in the Junior Ranger program are fun and easy making this a great supplemental activity whether you are visiting a park for a day or longer. Most of the activities can be completed in a day, and if not the book will tell you approximately how much time is required to finish.
Forget to return back to the Visitor Center after finishing the booklet? No problem, you can even mail your booklet signed to the National Park you visited and they will mail you back your badge!
7. No Junior Ranger Park Program is the Same
The Junior Ranger program may be offered through the National Park Service, but every JRP is customized from park to park, to help children appreciate the unique features of each park.
8. You Earn Great Memories as well as a Unique Souvenir Patch or Badge
The pin-on badges are fun for kids to wear and collect. They are made of a simple plastic or wood, and are a bit flimsy so they require care if you want them to last.
The kids will also get to keep their activity book, which includes a certificate the ranger signs.
The badges and pins cannot be bought, and this simple badge has always been more meaningful to our family because we learned so many new things earning them. T-shirts were outgrown, mugs shattered on the floor, but these fun little badges displayed proudly in my child’s room represent the unique family moments we spent together in all the different parks we visited.
9. The Junior Ranger Program has Special Programs and Patches to Earn
Depending on when you visit, your child can earn special patches or badges that are even more unique to the Park. For example: Yellowstone National Park offers a special Snowflake Patch for children that visit and complete wintertime activities. Or the 2017 Eclipse has parks offering a Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer badge!
10. The Junior Ranger Program Can Continue Online or at Home
Want to continue the fun with your child at home? The Junior Ranger program offers downloadable National Junior Ranger badge booklets to print and complete at home. Afterwards, just mail the booklet back to the National Park Service where a ranger reviews it and mails the earned badge back for free.
- Bats activity book helps kids learn all about Bats and their importance in our ecosystems.
- Junior Archeologist activity book help kids discover how people in the past lived.
- Junior Paleontologist Program helps the dinosaur-loving kid in your family.
- Junior Cave Scientist Program excites all the young speleologists out there.
- Junior Ranger Night Explorer helps kids learn about the night sky.
- Historic Preservation teaches kids about the importance of our past history and preservation.
- Wilderness Explorer concentrates on the outdoor knowledge needed to explore the wilderness. Best completed in a park or another wilderness area.
- Underwater Explorer teaches kids what lies below the surface of the water.
- Underground Railroad Junior Ranger activity book teaches kids learning about slavery during the Civil War and the road to freedom. Students must visit three participating parks and complete the Underground Railroad Junior Ranger activity book.
Or Join the WebRangers!
The program is fun and free. Help your child set up an account, they are not asked for personal, identifying information just a login name and password to join the site. They can then play one of the dozens of games and activities that teaches interesting facts about everything from: animal behaviors, historical people, habitats, different park histories and much more.
Once your child completes a certain number of activities, they earn a badge – just as if they complete a Jr. Ranger program at a National Park! The National Park Service will send an email link so you can request that your child’s patch be mailed to your home (remember no identifying information is entered on to the WebRangers).
The Junior Ranger program makes it easy and fun for kids to develop a deeper understanding of the unique features of our National Parks. If you are looking for a passive way to sneak in learning for your child on your next Park visit, the Junior Ranger Program cannot be matched in educational value or fun.
- Junior Ranger Programs. National Parks Service. Retrieved from: https://www.nps.gov/kids/jrRangers.cfm