This year in July we met up with some friends at Yellowstone National Park. They have young kids like us, and they love to visit national parks. They introduced us to the National Park Junior Ranger Program. I have found that most National Parks do not tell you about this program, you have to ask them. Even though we have always gone to a parks visitor center and asked for info about the park, they have never mentioned to us—even seeing and hearing our kids-- the junior ranger program. We are grateful to our friends for making us aware of this great program. The program is offered at almost every location managed by the National Park System, so this includes many monuments and historic areas as well, not just parks.
The program consists of a packet of learning opportunities for your kids. You pick it up at most visitor centers or you can print it online. As they complete the packet or a specific number of activities they earn themselves an official Junior Ranger Badge labeled by the park they visited. We love this program as it has helped our kids learn about the places we visit. They are excited each time we travel to visit a place and earn their badge. We have been to Yellowstone,Grand Teton, Zions NP, Bryce NP, The White House, The White House Visitors Center, Boston Downtown, Boston Charlestown, Philadelphia Independence Hall, Fort McHenry, and we plan to continue the list. Since we are homeschooling this year as we travel, we love planning field trips to a site where we can lean on the Junior Ranger Program to help provide teaching opportunities. It sparks questions and ideas in our kids and helps bring age appropriate learning to the sites we visit.
You can check out the list of their programs at http://www.nps.gov/learn/juniorranger.cfm and find sites near you! The NPS system has recognized that kids love to learn and may not be able to travel to all their locations so they now offer an online ranger program with the same concept of learning about certain parks or areas, and completing activities to earn a badge. Some state parks may offer similar programs as well. I remember doing a similar program and earning a ranger badge as a 7 year old at a Maryland State Park.