I have always been on the lookout for interesting ways to teach my kids about the world around them. Books are fine. But they can only take you so far. So, when you want to immerse yourself, go where the action is!
One of the best discoveries we have made while homeschooling is the Junior Ranger Program of the National Park Service. It has brought a whole new meaning to the term “field trips” and once we tried it, we were hooked! There is nothing else quite like this for discovering the natural world and experiencing the history of our country. So, what is it and how can you join in on the fun?
First of all, the National Park Service (NPS) consists of over 400 areas throughout the United States. Some of these are called “parks” (think Yellowstone Park!), but they also include monuments, historical sites, battlefields, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers, and more.
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Here’s the impressive part for kids, though: At nearly every one of these places, you can go to the Visitor Center and ask for a Junior Ranger booklet! Usually, it is free, and it is always an excellent way to engage the kids in learning about the park. These workbook-type little jewels are full of fun activities like puzzles, observation journals, writing prompts, trivia questions, art assignments, and the like. Each site issues its unique book, so it is different every time.
Most of the Junior Ranger Programs are designed for ages 6-12, but some have activities for younger children or teens. Some parks have different booklets for various age groups. Other places put all the events in one book but have different levels for younger vs. older kids. A few even have “Senior Ranger” programs that are designed to be completed by older teens and even adults…so parents, feel free to get in on the fun! In my experience, most of the NPS sites will allow anyone who wants to participate the chance to earn a badge, regardless of age…so it never hurts to ask.
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As you explore the park, use the Junior Ranger booklet to help you get the most out of your learning experience. You will find many of the answers to the questions by looking at the visitor center, reading the park brochure, checking interpretive signs, or attending a ranger-led program. When you are all finished, have your children take their books back to the Visitor Center, where a Park Ranger will check over their answers and help them say a “pledge” about protecting and learning about the park. Then the ranger will issue a certificate and a special badge or patch (perhaps both!) to each child to commemorate their achievement.
So if you’re looking for ways to take homeschooling “on the go,” take to the road and enjoy one of our country’s national treasures. Remember the Junior Ranger motto “Explore, Learn, and Protect!” and may you and your family be blessed with this unique educational opportunity!