Liam earning his Junior Ranger badge at Mt. Rushmore
Junior Ranger Badge 101
Before we starting traveling full-time I had never even heard of a Junior Ranger Badge or the Junior Ranger Program. But after months of visiting state and national parks and earning dozens of Junior Ranger badges along the way, we feel a little bit like experts on the topic. And we love the program so much we thought we’d put a post together to help other families get involved in the Junior Ranger program!
- What is the Junior Ranger program?
- Where can you earn Junior Ranger badges?
- Who can earn Junior Ranger badges?
- How do you earn Junior Ranger badges?
- Why should you earn Junior Ranger badges?
What is the Junior Ranger program? The Junior Ranger Program is an activity-based educational program in most national and state parks. By completing workbooks and/or activities at a particular park you can earn a Junior Ranger badge. The Junior Ranger Program motto is “Explore, Learn and Protect” so the activities are geared toward reinforcing these values in the parks system.
Hadley working on her booklet at Glacier National Park, Montana
Where can you earn Junior Ranger badges? Most national and state parks have a Junior Ranger Program – just ask a park ranger. We have also earned Junior Ranger badges at wildlife refuges and national monuments – we always ask, you’d be surprised which places have them!
Who can earn Junior Ranger badges? Although anyone can complete the Junior Ranger Program the program is designed for younger school age children (under 12). Some parks have different workbooks or activities based on age while others have only one program for all ages.
Earning a badge at Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
How do you earn Junior Ranger badges? In order to earn a badge at a park you’ll need to complete the required activities. Activities can include attending a ranger program, going on a hike, observing nature, word searches, fill-in-the-blank, coloring, creative thinking and other educational activities.
Hadley getting sworn in at the Carlsbad Caverns Visitor Center
One you complete the required activities you bring your Junior Ranger booklet up to the park ranger desk. The park ranger looks over your booklet to make sure you’ve completed it correctly and often will ask the kids questions about their experience (in a friendly way, not a testing sort of way). If complete, the kids are “sworn in” as Junior Rangers – taking a pledge to protect and care for our parks and they are given a badge with the park name (sometimes it’s a fabric patch). It’s that easy!
Looking for answers and learning at White Sands Monument in New Mexico
Why should you earn Junior Ranger badges? We love doing the Junior Ranger programs because it helps our kids have a focus while at the park. While some displays and exhibits might be geared toward an older crowd – the Junior Ranger program and materials make the information easier to comprehend for younger kids. Because the program is catered JUST FOR KIDS we’ve found it gets them excited and interested in learning. I’ve really seen my kids appreciation for nature increase and they are much more aware of conservation efforts and properly taking care of our parks (and the planet). Plus the badge is a wonderful (FREE) collectible, souvenir from the park.
Tips for a stress-free Junior Ranger badge experience
- Allow plenty of time at the park to complete the Junior Ranger Program. When we are rushed we find it’s a much more stressful process and we don’t learn as much! It can take 30 – 90 minutes to complete the full Junior Ranger booklet (most are somewhere in between).
- Bring pencils and a clipboard. Parks don’t always have pencils to loan out, so we always try to bring our own. We also like to bring light clipboards so the kids have a hard surface to work on. We keep both in our truck which we almost always have when we go to the parks AND both are great when doing homeschool work on long drives!
- Work together with your kids. Jeremy and I have learned so much from helping our kids complete these Junior Ranger booklets. Although the kids officially get the badges we all walk away having learned something!
- If you have questions – ask a Ranger or a volunteer. We have found park rangers are so knowledgeable, approachable and happy to help. Most are great with kids – talking directly with them and interacting with them in a way that makes learning fun. If you are stumped on an exercise or task in the book – don’t think twice about asking for help.
- Have a special place to keep your badges! How you keep or display your pins is up to you, but we purchased the Junior Ranger vests from a National Park gift shop and they work great for all our pins in one place and they have lots of pockets for supplies! Having a special place for them will hopefully keep you from losing them – especially after all the hard work you put into earning them. See a picture of our vests in the kid’s bedroom tour.
Liam working on Junior Ranger badge on Selma-to-Montgomery historical trail, Alabama
We incorporate Junior Ranger badges into our homeschool curriculum – The home school curriculum (Bookshark) we use provides content for four days a week in reading, history, writing, math and science. The fifth day is designed for extra-curricular activities . . .for us, that means exploring as we travel and we’ve found the Junior Ranger badges are a perfect way to tie our travel into school!
We DON’T always do the Junior Ranger program! Believe it or not, we’ve passed on the badges when it doesn’t seem like a good fit. For example, we didn’t do the Niagara Falls Jr. Ranger program because it was 48 pages long and required 25 activities. It would have taken us several hours and frankly would have taken more energy than we had after walking to Canada and going on the boat tour. We also didn’t do the Jr. Ranger program in Boston – we walked the Freedom Trail and spent all day walking through the landmarks – and we just wanted to soak it all up, not worry about a lengthy booklet. If a park isn’t of interest to us and/or is a lengthy drive away – we will often skip it. We don’t want to complete the program JUST for the badge – we want it to enhance our experience and teach us something. If it’s going to stress us out, requires a bunch of travel outside of our route or isn’t an interesting area or topic – it’s not worth the badge. I’d say we probably complete 95% of programs along our route and we’re happy with that!
Some states have programs that are geared toward state residents and require multiple visits to earn a badge. Michigan and Virginia were like this, I believe. The Florida State Park badge was very intensive as well, but we were there for two months and incorporated it into our home school sessions. If you run out of time at a location most workbooks can be mailed in and the badges will be sent via mail to you. We have never done this, but it is an option.
And if you’re going to be visiting LOTS of national parks get the American the Beautiful Pass at $80 a year it quickly pays for itself if you’re visiting multiple parks. And it supports amazing programs like this!
Earning badges on Selma-to-Montgomery historical trail, Alabama
So that’s everything we’ve learned about the Junior Ranger program since hitting the road. It’s such a fantastic program I hope you’re able to find your local state or national park and give it a try!
Do you have questions about the Junior Ranger program that I didn’t answer? Do you have a favorite place that you’ve completed a Junior Ranger program?
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