The National Park Service recently proved that they do more than protect our natural resources. On my family trip to Mammoth Cave National Park in the heart of Kentucky, my young son completed his requirements for his Junior Ranger Badge. We had great difficulty conveying to him the natural beauty of the cave system. He was only interested in the bats. The Junior Ranger program gave us an opportunity to guide his interest. He was able to participate in the programs on his educational level and his sisters could enjoy their own interests. At the end, he was awarded with a badge, certificate and announcement over the PA of their newest member to the park system.
The majority of the National Parks have a Junior Ranger program. Each park tailors the program to the interests of the park and the age of the child. For example, Mammoth Cave required the purchase of a booklet (a reasonable $4.95) and the completion of a few activities. My son had to take a few guided hikes and the signature of the ranger. He then had to complete a few the activities in the booklet. The range of activities made it easy to select appropriate activity for his ability level. We were able to complete over a period a few days so that he was not burned out.
The National Park Service website is loaded with information on not just the parks but web activities for children. If you are planning a trip to a National Park this year, check out the park for a Junior Ranger Program. Some of the parks have online Junior Ranger programs. NPS has a Webranger program with online games designed to educate and entertain.
If your child is interested in dinosaurs, then check out Dinosaur National Park or the John Day Fossil Beds. Perhaps your child is like mine and into bats. You can satisfy just about any interest. Going to the beach, look into the any of the national seashores. Are you spending time in the mountains? Every mountain range has a park with a program.
After dragging my son through one cave after another, then look into, I was never prouder when he stood there smiling and holding up his certificate and badge. Perhaps he will be a real ranger someday!