Junior Ranger Program
Rangers are the folks that you see on national park properties that wear the green and brown uniforms complimented by a badge and often a cool hat. Kids can complete a booklet with information about the park to earn their own badge and pretend they too are a park ranger as part of the Junior Ranger program.
When you arrive at a property within the national park system, make the visitor center your first stop. Get a map, any brochures, a Junior Ranger Booklet, and a schedule of any Junior Ranger programs. Most parks have different requirements for completing the booklet based on the age of the child. For example, a younger child might only have to complete 4 pages while a teen would be required to complete the whole booklet. Even with this leveled expectation, younger kids may still need guidance from a parent to get some of the pages done. Often there is a portion of the booklet to be completed in the visitor center. This gives the kids a purpose as they travel through visitor center exhibits, looking for answers on a sort of scavenger hunt. Other answers can be found among interpretive signs throughout the park, or might be open ended questions that they can use their own creativity to complete. Often they have a choice of which activities to complete within the booklet, allowing them the choose what interests them. Sometimes the booklets also have activity based options, like picking up garbage around a parking lot or attending a ranger led activity. There have been times when even my husband has joined into the fun and completed his own book to receive a badge. After all, learning has no age limit.
Once your booklet has been completed, it's time to return it to a ranger at a visitor Center. The tricky part about this sometimes is that the visitor centers are only open until 5:00 at most locations. If you are unable to return to a visitor center, you can often mail your completed booklet back after you get home and they will then mail you your badges. Check with the staff to see if they will do this for you first, as not all will. If you are able to return your completed booklets in person, you just being them to the counter and the rangers will be very familiar with the next steps. Usually the ranger will peruse the completed book and ask the kids a few questions about what they have learned. They they'll ask them to raise their right hand and repeat the Junior Ranger oath and give them the coveted badge. Most of the badges are a golden plastic. Our favorites are the occasional wooden badges. Sometimes patches can be earned as well for other activities and events. And we've also gotten different badges and patches at state parks, national forests, and other public lands.
I have seen banners for sale in visitor center gift shops that can be used to display a Junior Ranger badge collection. We found those to be too small for our collections and ended up making our own display banners out of felt, twine, and a dowel rod. Badges are easy to attach and we hot glue the patches and stickers on as well.
Here's a closer look at some of their badges and patches:
One tip for long road trips where you will visit multiple park properties is to print your Junior Ranger booklets out online ahead of time. Many of the parks have an online copy available to print from their website. Assemble them all into a binder so that kids can work on as much as possible before they reach the park. This is a helpful time saver, gives them something to do in the car, and they can keep the binder with all their hard work as a memory of the trip.
My kids, who are now teens and tweens, say that the Junior Ranger program helps them identify and learn the important things at the park, gives them something to focus on and do both in anticipation of and during their visit, and provides a souvenir memory that is fun to collect from park to park.
So next time you are at a national park property, ask for a Junior Ranger booklet and get your badge collection started!
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