Are you headed to a national park for a family vacation? Are the kids less than excited about it? Raise the fun factor for the kids by initiating them into the National Park Service's Junior Rangers program.
According to the National Park Service, kids ages 5-13 make up the vast majority of the Junior Rangers program, but anyone can participate. Younger children could work with an adult to tackle the reading material, and older children may still find the activities engaging. Any child visiting a national park this summer can ask about the Junior Rangers program, as most parks are participating this year.
Interested kids complete a series of actions in each park to learn more about the park's environment and preservation. National Park Service Spokesperson Kathy Kupper says activities for Junior Rangers-in-training range from scavenger hunts to hikes to puzzles, and each park's activities are unique to the features of that park. The parks gear different activities toward different age groups, but all kids will learn to take the Junior Rangers motto of, "Explore, Learn and Protect," to heart.
"The beauty of the Junior Ranger program is it's supposed to immerse kids in the local parks and the resources they have to offer and get them familiar with those resources," Kupper says. "For example, in the Smoky Mountains, kids would learn about blacksmithing or attend a Ranger walk."
Any time a national park is open, a Junior Ranger patch is ready to be claimed. Summer is the busiest season, so expect to see plenty of young rangers out and about on your travels to national parks this summer.
To receive a Junior Ranger certificate or badge, present a completed packet to an NPS Ranger. Oftentimes, Kupper says, Rangers will announce winners over the PA system and invite park attendees to clap for the young Junior Ranger as he or she receives the certificate. You may need to mail some of the broader activity books to the headquarters in Washington, D.C., but each park will guide you on what to do.
Most national parks participate in the program and children can pick up the required packets at the visitors' centers for each park. Call ahead to check if the parks on your travel list are participating, or find your park.
If you can't travel to a national park this summer, don't fret. Though the packets are intended to be completed at a park, kids can still look at the packets featured online and complete some of the activities. Whether you visit a park or not, be sure to get outside and take in the Earth's beauty, even if it's only in your own backyard.
Visits to national masterpieces often go right over kids' heads. And why wouldn't they? Reading long plaques and listening to adults can certainly get old on a summer vacation. With the Junior Rangers packets, kids can learn about national parks and all they have to offer through fun, engaging activities geared toward children.
This year, the National Park Service is thinking about the kids especially as it celebrates its centennial anniversary.
"We're looking to the future in the next 100 years," Kupper says. "The Junior Rangers are the ones who are going to be the caretakers and the stewards of our parks over the next 100 years. We want them to realize the parks belong to them and, as they grow up, want to visit and take care of them and keep them going."
For more information, check the Junior Rangers website.