We especially love the Junior Ranger program available at all of our National Parks, where children can learn about the park, practice communication skills, and earn a Junior Ranger badge. A few times, my husband and I have wanted to rush through a park and not complete the Junior Ranger program but my children are determined to earn as many badges as they can.
Junior Ranger badge programs are generally free. We visited one park which charged a fee for the full color Junior Ranger booklet, but offered a black and white copy for free.
Junior Ranger programs are also geared to specific age groups, so older children will have to complete more challenging material than younger children. Programs are usually available for ages 5-13, and older children are not usually turned away if they want to get a badge too. You can also earn some Junior Ranger badges online and still for free.
Most Junior Ranger programs are able to be completed in an hour or two and require one hike, and/or one attendance at a Ranger-led program. Therefore, when you visit a National Park, the first thing you want to do is find out the requirements for Junior Rangers and plan your visit around the required element(s).
Ranger-led programs can be tricky, since the rangers are not usually creationists. If you believe in a literal seven-day creation you are probably used to discussing these things with your children when contradictions come up. We have this conversation often, and my kids are used to it. “Yes, the ranger did say that the bobcat evolved from another animal. No, that is not what we believe. God created the bobcat. Here’s why we believe that…”
Once your child completes all of the steps to get their badge, you need to find a park ranger at one of the Visitor Information Centers. When we visited Rocky Mountain National Park, we did not realize that the last visitor center we would drive past closed at 5 p.m. We arrived at 5:10 p.m. My children did not get their Junior Ranger badges at Rocky Mountain National Park even though we completed all of the requirements, and a couple of them are still a bit miffed about it three years later.
So, planning is important. Make sure you can get back to a visitor information center before they close.
Once you find the park ranger, he or she will look through the Junior Ranger booklet and talk to your child about your experiences in the park that day. The rangers are all friendly and kind to the children and are not grading spelling or details. Once the booklet is graded, the children are asked to say a pledge, committing to protect the National Parks. Each pledge is a little different depending on the park, the ranger, and the circumstances.
We especially enjoy the rangers who personalize the pledge based on what the kids say about our day. After all this, your child gets the badge. These are plastic badges with the seal of the park engraved on each. We save the badges of our children until they are old enough to look after their stuff and value keeping the badges. My oldest went through a phase where she didn’t want her badges and would have thrown them out, but she is so thankful today to have them.
We highly recommend visiting any National Park within driving distance – or even taking a trip – and earning your Junior Ranger badge at each park you can reach. You and your children will learn a wealth of information about one of our nation’s greatest treasures – the National Park system – and the many-splendoured gifts of God’s creation.
Complete Junior Ranger Programs for certain parks ONLINE.
Check out our National Parks Ultimate Homeschool Resource List.