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The Fun and Educational U.S. National Parks Junior Ranger Program

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We happened upon the most amazing program quite inadvertently a few years ago.  The U.S. National Park Service offers a Junior Ranger program at many of the National Parks, National Monuments, Historic Sites, Preserves, and Recreation Areas.

The programs are free and many times have different booklets or activities for different age levels making the requirements age appropriate.  Upon completion of a set number of activities, which differs for each location, children are sworn in as Junior Rangers and receive a certificate and a badge or pin.  You can purchase a vest to sew or pin your various awards.

The programs are educational in nature.  To earn the award, children must complete games, puzzles, read information at the site, visit different areas in the location, learn about the nature, answer questions, or write a travel journal.  All information to complete these activities is found at the location, but some of it requires thinking and inference skills.

Once the required number of activities has been completed, you take your booklet to a park ranger who reviews it with you, and questions you about your visit, answers any questions you have, and then deputizes you as a Junior Ranger.

When sworn in, Junior Rangers take a pledge.  “As a Junior Ranger, I promise to leave all animals, plants and objects as I found them for others to enjoy, to reduce, reuse, and recycle every chance I can, to learn more about the National Parks, and to share what I have learned with my family and friends.”

We accidentally saw a family participate on our first U.S. National Park visit and were hooked ever since.  This is a great way to get kids out of the car, walking, exploring, and learning about America instead of just pretending to smile while taking the obligatory pictures.

Since hiking or walking is a common factor at many of these sites, you can often purchase a walking stick if the park has a gift shop.  Many parks offer hiking medallions that can be affixed to your walking stick that serves as a reminder of the places you have been.  I regret that we did not collect medallions from our early National Parks.  They are a fun way to remember each trip to the National Parks for kids.

More Inspiration: Read about our vacations to National and State Parks.

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Heather and her family were born and raised in east Texas, where she is an assistant principal. Her husband teaches high school chemistry and her daughters are…

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