You *must* let your kids do this!!
I will never forget this picture of my son: While packing up for home, after spending three days at the Grand Canyon, we saw a bunch of park rangers, literally about 20 of them. They must have just completed a ranger meeting or something and were sort of milling around, outside the North Rim Visitor Center. My 5yo Wesley called out to them, “Hey! Rangers!!” and he stood there with an expectant look, his chest puffed out with pride. My heart skipped a few beats, wondering if he would get the acknowledgment he was seeking. Thankfully, they complied, “Hey, ranger yourself! You’re a Junior Ranger! Good job!!! I like your badge!!” Without another word, but with a well-satisfied smile and a little swagger, Wes continued down the street.
This trip, we finally took advantage of a *free* program provided by the National Park Service for kids ages 4 and up. It’s the Junior Ranger program. Truly, it’s fantastic. More than 200 National Parks, Historic Sites, Monuments, Battlefields and more have a program tailored to what is being celebrated or commemorated by that location. The program comes with a booklet of suggested activities, broken down by age-appropriateness, each crafted to better understand the park. At the Grand Canyon, my boys had to each complete four activities as well as attend a talk given by a real Park Ranger.
At the end, a ranger goes over the work the child has done, asks them some questions, has a little “swearing in” ceremony, and gives them a plastic pin-on badge.
For $1.50, an embroidered sew-on patches can be purchased (but only upon completion of the program). The patch one earns depends on the age of the child. Wes & Grant were both Ravens, and Ethan a Coyote. I did buy the patches, and sewed them onto floppy “outback” style canvas hats I found at Wal-Mart.
I initially planned on having my boys do the Junior Ranger program so that we could take this trip and still call it “school.” Frankly, I was surprised at how eagerly and thoroughly they did the work it took to become Junior Rangers. They willingly participated in even the Ranger Talk on the canyon’s geology, which was well over an hour, sitting in front, asking questions. (One lady, afterwards, told me I had “marvellously well-behaved, intelligent boys.” She sounded surprised. I was, too!! :p )
The boys did the program on our second day at the Grand Canyon NP. Everywhere we went the rest of that day and the next, the boys were commended by park staff and rangers. I was really surprised by how detailed the program was, and how seriously the staff took it. Completing the program really gave the boys a sense of accomplishment, and truly helped their understanding of the park itself.
The whole thing was so successful, I’m now thinking about structuring some of our outings specifically to take advantage of the Junior Ranger program in other Arizona locales, even ones we’ve visited already.