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Junior Ranger Program Guide
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Junior Rangers- What You Need to Know:
The Junior Ranger Program available through the NPS (National Park Service) Parks & Sites have kept our kids entertained, learning & interested on our visits for years. The program’s so effective at keeping kids busy, interested and educating them that quite a few non-NPS historic locations & museums have adopted similar activity programs. It involves completing a site specific, age-appropriate Junior Ranger Activity Booklet, approximately 12-20 pages long, filled with a choice of activities from ‘eye spy’ to fill in the blank, drawing pictures, crossword puzzles, scavenger hunts, wildlife spotted & more to learn about the Nature, Geology and History of the site. It’s a little like detective work or a ‘spy’ mission where they hunt for answers, rather than clues. They’ll search outdoors and the Visitor Center exhibits & film (which are more interesting than they sound) for answers. They may also need to interview a Park Ranger, which are easy to find. The booklets are colorful and full of interesting and fun facts. When completed, they’ll earn a cool badge, a signed certificate & keep the activity booklet. They make for great souvenirs & lasting memories for kids. Ours have earned quite a few badges & have loved doing every one of them. They have fun, they learn a ton, it keeps them occupied (so they’re not bugging you to go! 🙂 ) has good rewards at the end & make great keepsakes! Win win!
They also have at least 3 general badges that are not solely tied to specific locations. They are available at select parks or are available online (links below).
The Junior Ranger Angler badge is available through an activity book dedicated to marine life and fishing.
The Night Skies Explorer badge is focused on finding the North Star, discovering constellations, galaxies and other night-time treasures.
The Become a Space Flight Explorer badge teaches kids from grades K- 8th some of the Science, History & Math behind human space flight, rockets & rocketry, the solar system, stars & moon, and space vehicles. pretty cool because the NPS created it in a partnership with NASA. It is available at limited, related parks, but can be found on their site here at nps.gov or under the STEM section of NASA’s site @ nasa.gov, along with the answer key for parents.
A Webranger program is also offered to get involved online where kids can play games, complete activities, track their Junior Ranger progress, share pictures & stories of their visits, earn rewards & more, all from home.)
The program is available at nearly all of the NPS Parks & Sites, which encompass over 400 locations including:
- National Historic Sites, Memorials & Monuments
- National Parks (nature & military)
- National Natural preserves/ reserves, scenic trails & Parkways
- National battlefields
- National lake-shores, rivers & seashores
- National Recreation areas
- National Heritage areas
When you visit a NPS Visitor Center, ask for a Junior Ranger Booklet at the front desk. After completing the number of activities required for their age group, they’ll return to the Front Desk and turn in their booklet for the Ranger to review. They’ll talk to the kids about what they saw and what they learned. After that, they’ll have them recite the Junior Ranger Oath to promise to protect & respect the parks, wildlife & nature, and to spread the word for others to do the same. Then, kids will receive the site-specific Junior Ranger badge they earned & receive a signed, stamped official certificate for completing the Junior Ranger program for that location. They get to keep their booklet with all their hard work, cute drawings & answers. They can finish the extra activities on the drive to the next place, if they want.
Designed for kids aged 5-13, though many have booklets for ages under 5, another book for the 6-8 ages, and the most advanced for 9 and up. They can be slightly challenging, so they may ask for your help, periodically. Spanish language booklets are available at many sites & are available online for all participating locations.
The program, itself, is almost always free, although not quite 1/3 of the parks have entrance &/or parking fees that help keep the parks/ sites maintained & staffed. There are annual passes that can be purchased for ‘frequent flyers’ & certain passes that can be bought or obtained for US military (free), Seniors, Disabled & certain Volunteers. The Parks also have some Free Days throughout the year. For Junior Ranger booklets, I’ve heard that there are a couple of parks that charge around $3 for the them, but we’ve been to many & haven’t been charged. They can be printed from their site online for free at nps.gov.
This isn’t something you can complete quickly, it generally takes at least a couple of hours, sometimes less or more, but for a good visit to any NPS park, it’s about what you’ll spend there and the kids will be occupied the whole time, though they will ask you for some help & for you to keep an eye out for the things they need to find. They don’t have to complete every activity, but based on their age, they have a certain number to complete to earn the badge.
Good to Know:
1. Each booklet is available online at nps.gov for preview or printing prior to visiting, if they want an early look to familiarize yourself, or if you’re not able to visit, but your child is interested in doing the activities that they can from home. Online they are found under each specific location.
2. What to Bring- Pencils for the booklets. They’re usually available & free, however we’ve went to a couple that were for purchase only. Sometimes, they’re all out (in use by other Junior Rangers or are short & very dull). If you’re visiting a park, you may be hiking, so bring them comfy shoes, snacks, sunscreen, jackets and a stroller, if needed.
3. Where to store all of your badges It’s disappointing to do all of that work to earn your badges, only to lose them in the car or at home. At NPS Park Stores on-site or online at eParks.com, they have light-weight, embroidered Junior Ranger vests for sale that are super cute and very functional with plenty of space for all of your badges and 9 pockets with zippers & velcro for pencils, chapstick, tissues & treasures. They are pricey at $29.95, but well made. They’re available in pink & khaki green, though I think I’ve seen them in their stores in tan & blue, sizes 4-16. We just purchased ours on last summer’s vacation in 2018 at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming when we saw the pink ones for the 1st time. Our girls couldn’t wait to get home and load them up with all of their badges from over the years that they’d been saving! It was a great purchase and our twins are super proud of them. After years of working for so many, it was a nice reward and a beautiful way to display their badges and a nice keepsake even after they’re done. I’ve seen some kids come through with theirs on a fishing hat and handmade vest, too.
They also have other Junior Ranger merchandise, including Passport to Your National Parks (detailed in my post here) & National Park themed stickers, Junior Ranger hats, backpacks, patches, pins, binoculars, dolls, lanyards & much more.
You know how I like to pack a lot into our vacations, but don’t crunch your time too tight on these days. They take awhile to fully enjoy, the films are always good, the museum’s are well done and you’ll want time to visit the features or enjoy the nature to get the most out of your visit. It will also give kids the time to complete their activities, enjoy it and learn a lot, then have great souvenirs and memories to take with them!
Some allow pets. Some have campgrounds. They have great access for those with disabilities. The Rangers provide free talks & tours throughout the day. They have nice, clean facilities & bathrooms. The films are interesting & informative. They’ve done an all-around great job and we’re never disappointed. If you haven’t visited one of our National Parks, yet, put these Must See Gems on your list!
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