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One of the very best things about RV travel with kids is having the ability to roadschool them along the way, weaving education into your travels as your family directly experiences and learns about all kinds of places, people, nature, and events rather than only reading about them in books. And one of our favorite ways to do this? The NPS Junior Ranger Program!
In this article, we are going to discuss this program in detail so you can take full advantage of it during your roadschooling adventure. Let’s get started.
What is the NPS Junior Ranger Program?
The Junior Ranger Program encourages kids to get excited about our country’s national parks. It gives young visitors a chance to play a part in the conservation of these lands and helps them understand the history and geology behind each park.
We love that the Junior Ranger Program really gets young national parks visitors thinking about the places they visit, ensuring they get the most out of every visit.
How Does the NPS Junior Ranger Program Work?
How does it work? Well, all of this national parks learning begins with a Junior Ranger book.
Junior Ranger books are available at all national parks, as well as national memorials, national monuments, national historic sites, and national historical parks. Each site has its own book, tailored to what the park is and what it has to offer. Most of the time, the books are 100% free, but we have come across a very few NPS sites that charge a small fee (usually just a few bucks).
Junior Ranger books are full of fun activities that the participant is asked to complete as they explore the park. Some common activities include nature scavenger hunts, questionnaires about the park (answers are usually found in the visitor center), and opportunities to draw and/or write about your visit.
Generally, Junior Rangers are also required to go to a Ranger program and/or walk on a trail, check out a museum or visitor center, or participate in another park activity. Specific instructions for each park can be found in the Junior Ranger book you recieve there.
Once a child has completed the activity book, a ranger will look it over and might ask some questions or have a discussion about their experience in the park. The participant will then be sworn in as a Junior Ranger and will receive a signed certificate as well as a Junior Ranger badge (or patch, depending on the park).
How Can We Participate in the NPS Junior Ranger Program?
Ready to get involved but not sure how? It’s simple!
- First, visit any national parks site.
- Head to a visitor center and ask for a Junior Ranger book (as stated earlier, very few NPS sites charge a small fee for the book; more often than not, you’ll get one for free).
- Follow the instructions in the book, completing the activities in the book as well as the required in-park activities. (Pay attention, as some books have age-based requirements.)
- Head to a visitor center and hand your completed book over to a ranger.
- Say the Junior Ranger pledge and don your new Junior Ranger badge!
What Are the Benefits of the Junior Ranger Program?
Not convinced the National Parks Junior Ranger program is for your family? You might want to think again. Here are some of the awesome benefits the program offers participants and their families.
Motivation to See and Do More
If you have trouble getting your kids excited about taking a hike or attending a ranger program when visiting a national park, the Junior Ranger program could be a huge help. A promise of a new badge might be the motivation they need to get out there and explore some more.
Opportunities to Learn New Things
In many cases, Junior Ranger books offer information that isn’t found in visitor centers and signage throughout the park—and even if the info does exist elsewhere in the park, the books at least present it in a kid-friendly way. Thus, these books are the perfect option for those who like to learn as much as they can in each park they visit.
Recurring Lessons on Caring for the Natural World
We love that Junior Ranger books are so focused on protecting the natural world. There are recurring lessons on this topic, meaning those who complete multiple Junior Ranger books should have a pretty good idea about how to take care of the Earth.
Chances to Connect with Rangers
National parks rangers are some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable people we’ve had the pleasure of chatting with. Participating in the Junior Ranger program gives kids the chance to connect with rangers, and they will almost certainly end up finding some awesome conversations and learning opportunities in the process.
Cool Collectible Badges and Patches
Finally, we love that Junior Ranger badges are so collectible. They also double as souvenirs, helping your kids remember every park they visit. Best of all, these badges are free and are small, making them easy to store and display in an RV.
Are There Other Ways to Earn Badges?
Chances are, your kids are going to adore earning and collecting Junior Ranger badges as they travel. If you find that your family would like to earn more badges, you might just be in luck! You see, there are even more ways to earn badges.
One option is to ask for extra badge-earning opportunities at the various national parks you visit. In addition to their main Junior Ranger badges, some parks offer specialty patches or badges as well. These can be earned by completing a separate book.
Another option? Those who want to continue their Junior Ranger experience when away from the parks can head to this page for online activities and opportunities to earn more badges.
We also recommend asking about possible badges for kids whenever you visit a park or other natural site. We’ve found badge-based programs for kids in many state park systems, including Washington State Parks and Florida State Parks. Additionally, the National Forest Service has a Junior Ranger Program that is very similar to the one offered by the NPS.
Last but not least, we should mention the Fulltime Families Explorers program, a great way for kids to earn badges on the go.
What Should We Do with Our Junior Ranger Badges?
With so many ways to earn Junior Ranger badges, you may be wondering where to keep them all.
Many kids enjoy displaying their collections on a Junior Ranger vest, which can then be worn when they visit national parks. That said, your vest is likely to get pretty heavy over time. You also might end up losing some badges along the way.
If you prefer to leave the badges at home, we suggest a banner for displaying them in your child’s bunk area. Another option is to pin the badges onto a wide ribbon, which can then be hung up in the bunk area.
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