While this may sound like a sponsored post, I assure you it is not. The company I’m currently employed by works closely with national parks. In fact, they run most, if not all, of the gift shops you will find in national parks from the east coast of the United States to Kansas! They donate their profits made from sales back to the park system. Pretty cool, huh? To get to my point, though, since I work IN the national park here in Hot Springs, I have learned about some neat programs the national parks have in place for children. Now that vacation season is upon us and some of you may be visiting national parks, I thought I would share some information on these programs.
The Junior Ranger program is tailored towards children ages 4-12, although each park varies slightly. For example, our park’s program is geared towards 6-12 year olds, Great Smoky Mountains towards 5-12 year olds, and I have seen at least one park whose program is suitable for ages 4-12. Upon first glance this might not seem like that much of an age difference, but think about how different a 6 year old is than a 4 year old in their development…and attention span, for that matter! While there is an age suggestion, children of any age may participate. (At least at our park.)
What exactly IS the Junior Ranger program? It is a program to get children involved and interact with the park they are visiting by completing an activity booklet during their visit. While the activities in the booklet are made to be fun for kids, they are also educational! One of the great things about this is that, from my experience, most of the kids seem to thoroughly enjoy completing the Junior Ranger program. It is the first thing that some kids (and parents) seek out as soon as they walk into our visitor center.
My favorite thing about this program is that children who either complete the entire booklet or a certain number of sections in it (again, dependent upon park) will get sworn in by a park ranger (It’s like a mini-ceremony. No joke. It’s the cutest thing ever. Be sure to have your camera!) AND receive either a Junior Ranger’s badge or patch.
While not all national parks, historic sites, monuments, etc. have a program, MANY do. Just be sure to look around or ask someone working in the visitor’s center wherever you go if they participate and have the Junior Rangers booklets. From my understanding the booklets are free most places, but I’ve seen at least one that charges a small fee. Also, I have found that some parks offer special summer Junior Ranger programs led by interpretive rangers, so be sure to ask about those too!
Be sure to check out some of the links at the end of this post for some other interesting facts about our national parks system and what parks participate in the Junior Ranger program. Also, please visit part 2 of this post on the “Let’s Move Outside” program!
Park systems nomenclature:
Number of parks, battlefields, monuments, etc. and listings of each by state: http://www.nps.gov/news/upload/CLASSLST-401_updated-03-27-13.pdf
List of parks, battlefields, monuments, etc. that offer Junior Ranger programs:http://www.nps.gov/learn/juniorranger.cfm