Ever since my daughter received her first Junior Ranger badge at Great Falls National Park last year, she has been on a mission to collect more! It has proven to be a fantastic way to learn about American history, the history of the greater DC/MD/VA area, science, and develop critical thinking skills. Now that Spring is here, take some time to explore your national parks and take advantage of the FREE Junior Ranger program. There are over 300 badges to collect, and a good amount are in the DC metro area.
The Junior Ranger program is sponsored by the National Park Service, and is completely FREE for any child that wants to participate. Simply complete the workbook available in the park visitor center (or print at home) and a Park Ranger will then verify the work and present your child with a badge or patch. There are currently about 300 national parks, national historic sites, and national monuments that participate in the Junior Ranger program. For a list of participating locations, visit https://www.nps.gov/kids/jrrangers.cfm.
It usually takes an hour or 2 to complete the workbook, and younger children usually only have to do as many activities as they are years old. Activities include drawing, letterboxing, scavenger hunts, and other puzzles to solve. Throughout our own Junior Ranger journey so far we have learned about the Civil War and Underground Railroad, the history of the American Red Cross, the importance of the Chesapeake Bay and all sorts of earth science. Each National Park will present a badge with the park name and a certificate upon completion of the workbook.
Some non-park specific workbooks can be printed and completed at home, then mailed in. We have completed the Archaeology, Paleontology, Underwater Explorer, Cave Scientist and Underground Railroad workbooks, and have received in return some really cool stickers, patches, pins and maps. For us, the Junior Ranger program has been a crucial part of our family’s history, science and social studies homeschooling journey. But the program can provide some non-electronic fun for children during the winter months or Spring Break, and who doesn’t love to receive prizes in the mail?
This past November, we spent a weekend camping in the Williamsburg area, where we completed the Junior Ranger programs at Yorktown Battlefield and Fort Monroe –the largest stone fort in the United States. While my 5 year old wasn’t so enthralled with the history of war, she loves to learn about past presidents’ lives. She also really enjoyed learning about Red Cross and completing the web ranger program for the Clara Barton National Historical Site. When the weather warms up, we look forward to exploring the VA battlefields and some of the DC National Monument ranger programs. Consider stopping by a National Park or Historic Site during your next road trip–enjoy a picnic, let everyone stretch their legs and learn something new. Your child will leave with a shiny new badge and a sense of accomplishment!
Local sites where your child can become a Junior Ranger include:
Thomas Stone Historical Site
Oxon Cove Park/Oxon Hill Farm
Prince William Forest Park
Kenilworth Aquatic Garden
Glen Echo Park
Rock Creek Park
George Washington Parkway
Even the “President’s Park” offers a Junior Ranger badge—The White House!
While some parks and sites do require a nominal daily admission, others may be free or offer free admission during weekends or certain seasons. Also be sure to checking the visitor center operating hours of the park you plan to visit, as we have found some closed on Mondays and no ranger was available. Mark your calendars and take advantage of FEE-FREE entry to all National Park sites:
April 15-16 and April 22-23
Happy exploring! Let us know which is your favorite National Park!
This post was written by MWT Contributor: Piper
Photo Credit: Michael Quinn – Grand Canyon National Park