The National Park Service (NPS) has a wealth of information for families and individuals traveling to the lands they oversee, including national parks, national monuments, national historical sites. The list really does go on and on! If you will be traveling, check out the NPS park list to see whether your next vacation destination is in or near one of the parks. Many of the parks have lectures and programs to enhance your park experience. For instance, we visited the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and found a wealth of programs in their newsletter. We heard a talk about pirates, explored samples of marine life, and even got to try our hand at crabbing!
NPS also runs a Junior Ranger Program at many of its parks, which gives the kids a chance to get more involved in their parks experience. The age range for the program varies from park to park, so check with the park you are visiting to see if your kids will qualify (the link above provides a list of parks with JR programs). In addition, the "prize" for finishing the program will vary-some parks offer a badge, some a patch, and others offer both. At Cape Hatteras, for instance, the program had two divisions, a program for kids ages 2-5 and another for kids ages 6-13. Each division had an activity booklet to learn about the seashore. Completing the booklet would earn the child a badge. By attending two ranger-led programs, the child can also earn a patch (my four-year-old got both and was thrilled).
If you won't be getting away this summer, you can also become a Web Ranger. Through this program, kids of all ages can learn about the park and earn Web Ranger status by completing a set of activities. Not a bad way to spend some computer time with the kids!
Another neat item you can pick up while in the park is a Passport to Your National Parks. The spiral-bound booklet contains spaces for regional park stamps, which can be purchased at park visitors' centers or through the mail. It also has space for you to put cancellations (ink stamps) to show that you have visited various national sites. The cancellations are available at the visitor center for each park and are free (the booklet costs $8.95 but will hold lots of cancellations if you stamp carefully). We bought one passport booklet to log family trips to the national parks and plan to use it often. What an unexpected way to add a fun and educational twist to your travels!
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