The National Parks’ Best Kept Secret? Junior Rangers

The National Parks may well be “America’s best idea” (goodness knows the government has had many worse ideas), and one of their best programs is the Junior Rangers. As homeschooling parents of young children, we have gone to many national parks and found that doing the Junior Ranger activities is just the trick for maintaining our kids’ interest. On our recent family trip, we did the programs at Jamestown and Yorktown in Virginia, and will be submitting the Chattanooga & Chickamauga park program by mail.

I don’t get the impression that the NPS markets the Junior Ranger program very hard, and I don’t know why. In any case, for any parent or grandparent wanting to do more than ride rollercoasters on your vacation, Junior Rangers is an excellent educational alternative.

If you’ve never done it, here’s how Junior Rangers works: at the visitor center, you ask for a Junior Ranger activity book. Sometimes the books are free, sometimes they charge a nominal fee. They usually have broadly age-graded books, requiring more work from older children. They include a variety of activities, from Q&A about the history and features of the park, to crossword puzzles and matching games. Some books are much more demanding than others; some are quite demanding (and often rewarding) for the adults. We shamelessly help the kids do their books, which is indispensable for elementary-age children.

When you return to the visitor center (doing the program in one day usually requires at least a couple hours’ investment in the park), the ranger “checks” the book and asks the kids an obligatory question or two. (No ranger, I trust, would ever flunk an aspiring Junior Ranger.) Then, with varying degrees of pomp and ceremony, the ranger awards the kids a badge or patch for that park, and swears them in as official Junior Rangers.

We have done the program at many parks, from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan) to Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico). But my favorite Junior Ranger moment came in Big Bend National Park, the vast, desolate park along the Rio Grande in southwest Texas. At the Castolon Visitors’ Center, a very nice ranger enthusiastically announced to all the visitors there that he wanted to introduce our children as the latest additions to the ranks of the Big Bend Junior Rangers. The kids beamed.

For those of you who’ve done Junior Rangers, do you have any favorite experiences, parks, or suggestions for getting the most out of the program?

 

  • http://www.nephos.wordpress.com Cameron

    We’ve done several with our boys – they love it! I agree, much of the park involvement has to do with the ranger. Some were ho-hum about it, some gung-ho. One of the best we experienced was at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

    They really are great fun. In fact, after they increase their marketing of the kid’s program, they might should also consider developing a grown-up version of it!

  • https://twitter.com/#!/ThomasSKidd Thomas Kidd

    Thanks, Cameron. I’d love to try Manassas (went there when I was growing up, but now we need to take our kids!). I actually find that some of the Junior Ranger programs are so demanding that they are fully a joint effort between kids and adults. Not sure that’s the best in terms of pedagogy for kids, but it makes it more of a family activity anyway.

  • John Fea

    One of my favorite moments as a college professor was when I took some students in my Revolutionary America course to Philadelphia. One of them wanted to become a junior ranger and went through the entire process that you describe in the post. At the end of the day we all returned to the visitor center to watch her get sworn in. The Ranger was giving her a hard time about it and so were her classmates, but we all found it incredibly amusing.

    When my girls were younger they used to love doing this kind of thing.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/ThomasSKidd Thomas Kidd

      yes, I suppose there must be an age limit!

      • Randy

        Yeah, you two have PhDs – you don’t qualify. I should add that I enjoy the way this ‘blog works.

        • https://twitter.com/#!/ThomasSKidd Thomas Kidd

          thanks Randy!

  • Pingback: Best Summer Trips: America's Great National Parks | Giant Traveling

  • Mike Roles

    People who rescue someone, as in the two recent incidents at Pictured Rocks and Grand Island, at Munising, MI, should be awarded SENIOR Ranger status!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X