Every Kid in a Park

Two fourth graders show off their park passes, good for a year and any National Park, monument, forest, or wildlife area in the United States. [Image: www.doi.gov]

Two fourth graders show off their park passes, which are good for a year at any national park, monument, forest, or wildlife area in the United States. [Image: www.doi.gov/]

Last year, President Obama signed an initiative called Every Kid in a Park. The initiative, which took effect in the fall, makes it possible for any fourth grader in the U.S. to receive and use an annual pass from the National Park Service at any of the NPS parks, monuments, waterways, forests, or wildlife refuges. And while the initiative conveniently coincides with the National Park Service’s centennial year, the initiative looks past 2016 as it seeks to help young people develop an understanding of and respect for nature and everything our parks grant us. Its goal is to help preserve the parks’ integrity through future generations.

Some junior-rangers-in-training learn the ropes from a park ranger in Florida. [Image: floridastateparks.org]

Some Junior Rangers-in-training learn the ropes from a park ranger in Florida. [Image: floridastateparks.org/]

Even though the Every Kid in a Park initiative is for fourth graders and their families, there are many ways that kids of all ages can get involved at their nearest state and national parks. Perhaps the coolest among the numerous options (volunteering, anyone?) are the various Junior Ranger programs at state and national parks for kids as young as five and up. The Junior Ranger programs center on instilling general ranger qualities, like knowledge of the natural and human history preserved in our parks or how to experience nature without impacting the animals and plants that live there all the time. There are also more specific Junior Ranger programs that are dependent on the regional history of the parks they focus on. A kid can learn how to be a Junior Archaeologist in the Southeast, a Wilderness Explorer anywhere there’s a national wilderness to explore, or a Night Explorer pretty much anywhere it gets dark enough to see the stars.

you might not get a hat out of your Junior Ranger study, but a park ranger just might tip theirs at you. [Image: www.nps.gov]

You might not get a hat out of your Junior Ranger study, but a park ranger just might tip theirs at you in that slow knowing way. [Image: www.nps.gov/]

According to the NPS, more than 800,000 children have completed their workbooks and become Junior Rangers in just the last year, and every day more kids become familiar with the “Explore, Learn, and Protect!” motto. With these teachings, they learn about the diversity, extremes, and importance of our national lands and waterways as well as our history, environment, anthropology, and ecological impact. It’s great that there’s a program that puts kids in touch with the rich cultural significance of our shared lands and of those that have been here for millennia, whether human or not.

If travel to a national park during this time of year is too much hassle, but you want to get going on your Junior Ranger passport, don’t worry! The NPS offers the WebRanger program with lots of fun interpretive and educational activities to enjoy from your computer, perhaps while you await or plan your next trip to a national or state park. And as always, look to our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps for your next state park adventure!

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