Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Junior Ranger Program at Shenadoah National Park

The boys worked hard for their Jr. Ranger patches at Shenandoah National Park! See my tips at the end of the post.

Part of the official ceremony is to be sworn in by a ranger. 

Yep, that's my son working on his Jr. Ranger program while we're driving through Shenandoah National Park. Have you ever tried one of these programs? It's a program for 7-12 year children at many national parks and historical sites. Children have a series of activities to complete while at the site or before. After completing the activities, they earn a pin or badge. While on vacation recently, our oldest two boys worked on their patch! See my tips at the end of the blog post! 

I printed out one brochure while at home, but then needed another one for the other child. There is an option at Shenandoah to rent an explorer backpack full of goodies and it includes a Jr. Ranger booklet. At the cost of $5 to rent the pack (including the $3 Jr. Ranger booklet), it made sense to try out one of the explorer packs. I needed to leave credit card information with the attendants and fill out information in case we didn't return the pack. It was a fairly easy check out process and we could use the pack all day. The program helps children understand the National Park Service in more depth.

My sister often does the Junior Ranger Program with her home schooled children. They recently went on a 2 week trip and completed another 10. They are up to 70 or 80 patches and badges. She said her best piece of advice is to print out the booklets before you go so children can work on the projects before they leave and or as they have time. I used the online booklet for the National Mall in Washington, DC to alert our children to what they may see. I just looked it up on my phone. I thought we might have time to work on it while there, but with just one day and other stops we didn't make it. However, I found it was a great scaffolding activity to activate prior knowledge with the boys and introduce them to other monuments they might see. They frequently mentioned snippets from our car ride intro while we were on the bus or on foot in DC. If you are not going on a trip, try out the online Webrangers program.

Part of the activities include attending 2 ranger programs. While we went to programs on Birds of Prey and Deer earlier in the day, we thought we'd try the Junior Ranger program, too. The kids started with a get to know you activity, passing around a fox and sharing things they thought were cool about their visit to the park. Many of them mentioned seeing deer in the park--there are a lot there! We see them at home plenty, too. I guess live animals in their natural habitats are pretty fascinating!

Then they took a quiz on what types of products come from trees, like t-shirts, gum, etc. They also passed around many unique animal items, like a turtle shell, deer antler, and snake skin.

My niece wanted nothing to do with the snake skin! What were the younger kids doing during this time? Our youngest was building a nest with sticks in the backpack carrier! He does notice birds a lot and sticks are one of his favorite toys!

Our five-year-old was exploring the Jr. Ranger explorer back pack during this time. Since he is a little younger, we didn't do the patch program for him. Having a special bag with tools for him to use was a GREAT addition. He used the binoculars to view birds, he drew with the color pencils, looked through the guide books, etc. I'd say just having something special for him to explore was worth that extra two dollars. It also gave me ideas of things that would be good for his own nature bag. 

Later the older boys and cousins were playing Birds and Worms from the Project Learning Tree book. I've used this with groups as well and here is how we did it during training. I liked how she used tricolored pasta for the worms. It made it easy to administer and would store easily as well. They found the orange "worms" stuck out the most, and then the light colored worms. The green ones were barely noticed!

We found fur nearby while the children were playing their games!

They also played a predator/prey game where the children tried to steal "food" (sticks) from the blindfolded child. The child with the blindfold tried to guess who was sneaking up on them. 

Later, they took a short hike and saw trees that had been rubbed by antlers, exploring antlers as well.

Another cool find was bear claw scratches on another nearby tree! We touched a bear's claw and were able to feel their fur.

We found more deer rubs and a woodland snail! Kids typically have good eyes for all of these. I always ask them to find one "interesting" thing while we are out.

It was another fun program and helped the kids get closer to their patches! Here are the contents of the backpack. It was nice to have a few guide books, paper, etc. 

My tips for doing Junior Ranger Programs:
1. Print the booklet out before you leave home. 
2. Have children work on some projects in the car, before the vacation, or during down time at the hotel or campsite.
3. Plan vacations to maximize Jr. Ranger Programs. My sister plans her vacation routes around these, visiting national parks and historic sites. Their kids have learned so much through these adventures!
4. Clipboards could be helpful to do the writing. Have a special tablet or materials for younger children below the target age so they can be included. 
5. Be sure to have pencils (colored would be nice, too) handy. Lots of them!
6. Visit some of the programs geared just for kids. While they tolerated other programs, they talked about and enjoyed the children's programs most. 
7. Know what needs to be done for the badges. Requirements vary by site. The boys needed to do a certain amount to get the patch. 
8. Encourage the children to ask questions while at programs. Usually, before getting the patch and being sworn in, the children need to talk to the rangers about their experiences in the park. Help them develop these communication skills. 
9. Check out the park's "For Teachers" section for additional educational materials. 
10. Try webrangersstate park programs, or local community programs if you can't make it to a National Park. 
11. Have fun with your children! :-) Talk about their experiences, what they learn in the programs, their observations, etc. What great conversations and experiences we are building!