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We have found some wonderful resources that we use regularly to enhance our homeschool. But my very favorite resource is our National and State Parks. What better learning experience can you imagine than seeing, feeling, and experiencing the National Parks first-hand?
When we first left on our travel adventure I was slightly skeptical. Although I knew our National and State Parks were places of beauty, I wondered if my children would gain much from these beautiful “scenic” places? That was very naive on my part.
National/State Park Resources
In my experience, the National Parks usually have an extensive Visitor Center. Usually they are jam packed with resources, maps, and information. Most house a museum, a movie, and most importantly, knowledgeable Park Rangers. We have repeatedly come across incredible Rangers who embrace teaching others about their beloved National Parks. Often free Ranger tours and programs are offered, including nature walks, animal talks, and sometimes astronomy programs.
Junior Ranger Programs
In addition to these resources, there is personalized curriculum based on each Park! They will gladly provide you a Junior Ranger Booklet for free (with a very few exceptions). The booklets are for young children all the way up to adults. Each book has instructions about which specific activities are age appropriate, and how many are to be completed to earn a badge.
The activities range from writing activities, local history, animal and plant information, to map skills and art. My kids favorites are always bingo, crossing out pictures of plants and animals that they spot in the Park. Some of the books are uploaded on their websites, so you can download it before visiting. Once the books are completed, the Rangers look over the work and sign the book.
Finally, the Junior Rangers raise their right hand to complete the pledge that they will continue to enjoy and protect the National Parks. A badge will be presented, which is usually a plastic badge with the Park’s name and emblem. Occasionally, they receive a patch, depending on the Park.
A little secret that I learned, is that if you don’t have time to complete the book during your visit, you can mail the books later, and the Rangers will mail them back their badges. (Make sure to ask, because this is park specific.) This has given us more freedom to explore the park, and then an opportunity to concentrate more closely on the booklet over the next couple days. There is a lot of good information, that I do not like to skim over. This also provides opportunity for project or writing extensions at home.
National Parks Pass
A National Park Pass will run you $80 for an Annual Pass, and certain states also honor those passes at their State Parks as well. The Annual Pass begins from the date of purchase and is good for 365 days.
Fourth graders across the country can get a Free National Park Pass, which entitles them to bring their family along too.
Current Military are eligible for a free pass.
Seniors qualify for the Lifetime Pass for $80 OR $20 for an Annual Senior Pass.
Collecting Park Stamps
Another program that is available with the National and State Parks is one that I wish I had known about sooner. You can buy a special book to collect stamps as you visit the Parks. You simply go up to the Information or Cashier Counter and stamps are provided for you to collect in your own book.
Here are a few cool options that you can purchase:
There are so many great options for kid’s books and even book series about the National Parks. Check your local library to find free resources or second hand stores. Amazon also has a variety of book for many different age levels.
Hey Ranger! Book Series:
Scout Moore Junior Ranger Series:
Who Pooped in the Park? Series:
True Book National Park Series:
Adventures with the Parkers Series:
Other Kids Books:
Activity and Idea Books:
Family Geography and Tracking
Teaching Geography is easy when traveling to the National and State Parks. We enjoy using maps to scratch off or color in the Parks as we go.
Family Games and Activities
Aside from reading and visiting the Parks, there are some fun family games that can be enjoyed as well.
In addition, little ones love to dress the part:
Our Enriched Homeschool
Looking back at our year and a half on the road, I realize that most of the favorite places we have visited have been National or State Parks. The learning that took place was tremendous, for ALL of us. Here are just some of the experiences that my homeschoolers have had:
- Viewing constellations through massive telescopes
- Gazing up at cliff side dwellings
- Climbing into Native American tepees
- Wading in the Great Salt Lake
- Observing bison, elk, deer, bears, and prairie dogs in their natural element.
- Counting the rings of great Sequoia Trees
- Riding a tram above the Redwoods
- Marveling at geysers erupting next to them
- Sailing passed a gigantic glacier
- Playing on the beach next to a shipwreck
- Hiking among mountains, deserts, forests, red desert sand, waterfalls, giant trees, hoodoos, petroglyphs, and ancient ruins
To date, we have visited and collected badges at about 25 National Parks, Monuments, and State Parks, including Glacier Bay, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Montezuma Castle, and the Valley of Fire, just to name a few.