If you travel with kids, you’re probably constantly on the lookout for kid-friendly things to do during your adventures. Fortunately, there are tons of awesome activities out there, and many of them are perfect for children.
One of the best kid-friendly options I’ve found is the Junior Ranger program at the National Parks. My family loves visiting these parks, so this awesome program is just perfect for us. In fact, we even invested in an “America the Beautiful” National Parks annual pass this year in order to take full advantage of the Junior Ranger program, as well as the other amazing things the parks have to offer.
Wondering what exactly the Junior Ranger program is? Lucky for you, this article is here to explain just that!
How to get started
When you arrive at a national park or monument you will be directed to an office or ranger station in order to pay or present your annual pass. This station is also where you can start your Junior Ranger experience for that park.
The program is completely free, so no fees will be added for joining in the fun. Simply request a Junior Ranger book and you’ll be on your way.
What to expect
With your book in hand, you’re ready to start your Junior Ranger adventure. The book given to you will explain exactly what you need to do, making it super easy to walk your kids through the process.
Basically, young rangers will be expected to spot certain animals and plants, draw some pictures, and/or answer a few questions. Everything in the book can easily be done during a normal visit to the park, meaning you won’t need to make a special trip in order to join the program.
Engaging your kids
Some kids are naturally excited by nature. For these kids, the Junior Ranger program is a perfect fit, and they will probably gladly fill out the entire book on their own. Other kids, however, may need a bit of help getting excited about the idea.
If your young rangers are not as enthusiastic as you might like, you can try to make the experience more engaging for them by:
- Bringing a camera — Many kids love taking photos of things from their point of view, and handing them a camera encourages them to be observant of the beauty around them.
- Making conversation — Help your little ones see the amazing natural wonders in the park by discussing it with them. Talk about the various plants and animals and why they might live in the environment you’re in. Ask the young explorers to point out their favorite bushes, trees, or flowers. Discuss the history of the area. Basically, make the park mean something by showing your child the magic of the place.
- Seeking out activities — Some little rangers may not be in love with the idea of hours of walking. They may find hiking to be boring or too tiring. Instead of forcing this activity on them, try seeking out alternatives. For instance, many parks allow horseback riding or bike riding, and others are great for rafting or kayaking. Finding an activity that your child enjoys will make the Junior Ranger experience much more fun and beneficial for everyone.
Claiming your badge
When you’ve finished filling out your book, head back to the ranger’s station. There you will be able to trade in your book for a neat little plastic, pin-backed Junior Ranger badge. These are a great reward for completing a mission, and kids love collecting them during their travels.
Be aware that ranger stations and offices do close for the day, even if the parks themselves don’t. Therefore, if you aren’t finished with your book in time, you may miss out on collecting a badge. Be sure to time things right in order to ensure your little adventurer goes home with a pin.
Displaying your collection
As I mentioned before, young explorers love collecting Junior Ranger badges during their travels. However, many of these kids would like to display these prized tokens. By getting creative you can help your kids proudly display their badges.
Here are some of my favorite ideas:
- Purchase a fishing vest or hat and display all badges on it. Have your young ranger wear their vest or hat during all National Parks visits.
- Display the badges on your child’s wall using a banner such as this one.
- Create a badge book to keep all your child’s pins in. This is a great way to store completed books and badges together and keep them organized.
I hope you and your kids decide to give the Junior Ranger program a try. I know my family loves it, and I’m sure yours will too!