3 Questions and Answers About the National Parks Junior Ranger Program

Check out our National Parks Service Junior Ranger Program at Fort Necessity!

Our summer of social distanced travel found us sticking closer to home on road trips and diving deeper into things we could explore outside and keep to ourselves.  Throughout our adventures, we had a chance to do several of the National Parks Junior Ranger Programs this summer with our boys.  While these weren't are first Junior Ranger programs we've completed, I gained a new appreciation for how great these activities are for kids.  Here are 3 simple questions and answers about the programs to help you learn a little more.

How does the National Park Service Junior Ranger program work?

Listening and learning from a park ranger at the Flight 93 Memorial

Many national parks locations participate in this program which is free, educational, and fun.  I say "many," but the truth is I haven't been to a national park yet that doesn't have the program - I just hesitate to say "all" because I don't know that to be fact.  It's easy to find!  When you enter the visitor's center of any national park, see one of the rangers and ask about participating in the Junior Ranger program.  They'll be happy to provide you with an activity pack and a pencil to use to complete.  Make sure you visit the visitor's center first though because there are a number of activities in the book and you'll want to have it with you before you start exploring the national park that you're in.  Most of the books have a target number of activities to complete so that you have some flexibility as a family in what you're seeing that day and the age of your children.  When you're finished, bring the book back to the ranger and you get to participate in a cool ceremony where you receive a National Park Service badge unique to the site and get sworn in as an official Junior Ranger.

What ages are appropriate for the National Park Service Junior Ranger program?

This question is going to depend a lot on your own kids and the specific site you are visiting.  Last summer, we did the Junior Ranger program at Assateague National Seashore in Maryland when my boys were 4 and 7.   My 4 year old did just fine following along with the matching and picture activities since they were all animals, sea creatures, and familiar items.  However, this summer at 5 he struggled a bit at Fort Necessity and the Flight 93 Memorial as the content was less familiar. He was still able to successfully complete his requirements - just with more adult help.  My oldest at 8 is a perfect age to complete these tasks and they will easily continue to both challenge and engage him for years to come.  I would not recommend the program for kids younger than kindergarten and see middle school as probably the upper end of an age that will engage without finding the format too young for them.

Looking for more historic fun? Check out my family guide to FREE activities in Washington, D.C.!

What do you get when you complete the National Park Service Junior Ranger program?

Being sworn in as a Junior Ranger at Fort Necessity

At the completion of your activities, young rangers take their completed guides to a ranger for review and then a swearing in ceremony as the newest National Park Service Junior Ranger.  Your youngsters will walk away with a cool badge and the book they've completed.  We've also received certificates, but that hasn't happened all the time.  The swearing in ceremony is super cool.  The kids pledge to take what they've learned that day and continue to protect and celebrate America's national parks.  And that is perhaps the most important thing that your kids "get" out of this experience.  Completing the activities as you visit these historic sites keeps kids engaged and focuses them on content that is appropriate for their age.  

Where to learn more. . .

Ready to embark on your National Park Service Junior Ranger adventures?  You can learn more by visiting the National Park Service website.  While there, you'll even see some online Junior Ranger activities you can complete along with virtual tours during this time of COVID restrictions and limited travel.  With many kids engaging in virtual learning this fall, it's also a great place to find educational resources for your kids!  


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