Have you heard? The National Park Service is having a party, a birthday party. Since the NPS turns 100 years old, visitors can find special events all year. Need another reason? National Park Week is April 16-24. The National Park Service will give visitors a present – free admission all week. Kids have their own celebration on April 16 at Junior Ranger Day. I even have a list of eight national Junior Ranger badges you can earn at home.

Earning and collecting Junior Ranger badges is part of our national park experience.

Earning and collecting Junior Ranger badges is part of our national park experience. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

The National Park Service celebrates its centennial this year. When they throw a party, they give us a present – free admission. That’s right, the NPS will waive the admission for all parks during National Park Week, April 16-24, 2016.

The National Park Service loves kids, so kids get a special day on April 16, Junior Ranger Day. It’s the kickoff to National Park Week and parks will have special kids’ programming.

Find Your Park

This year the National Park Service wants everyone to find their park, especially kids. Every fourth-grader is eligible for a free annual park pass. The Every Kid in a Park program will continue into 2017. Starting September 1, 2016, current third graders will be eligible for a free annual park pass as well.

With over 400 parks and one in every state, find the park near you. Want an adventure to remember, check out the top ten national parks from 2015 for inspiration. With special programming, new parks and more funding, 2016 is the year to find your park. There’s even a Junior Ranger Centennial badge this year for kids.

If your kids are scouts, the National Park Service has a special patch for them. Junior Ranger, national parks,

If your kids are scouts, the National Park Service has a special patch for them. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

What are Junior Rangers?

Junior Rangers are junior park rangers. Kids from 5 to 13 can join the ranks as they explore, learn and protect our national treasures. Most parks, over 200 national park sites in all, hand out free booklets specially designed for each park (a few parks charge $3). Kids complete fun, educational exercises in their booklet as they experience the national park in a kid-friendly way.

Park rangers will always make time for junior rangers.

Park rangers will always make time for junior rangers, even on the busiest of days. Kids will have the undivided attention of a ranger. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

The Junior Ranger requirements are different for each park. Some parks require a short hike. Some parks require recycling or picking up trash. Most require attending a ranger program.

During the summer season when most kids visit national parks, the NPS offers special ranger programs just for kids. The programs are more active than the traditional ranger programs and discuss topics kids love, like animals.

How to Earn a Junior Ranger Badge

Junior Ranger booklets are available at the visitor center. I stop at the visitor center first and pick up the booklets before we explore the park as a family. I look over the requirements that are based on age and see if attending ranger program is required. I check the daily schedule for a ranger programing during our visit. With the help of a park ranger, I find hikes that are best for families.

As we explore the park, the Junior Ranger booklet points out the highlights. With activities like mazes, matching and word searches, school-age kids can complete the majority of the booklet on their own.

After completing their Junior Ranger booklets, kids take the Junior Ranger oath.

After completing their Junior Ranger booklets, kids take the Junior Ranger oath. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

After completing the required activities, the kids turn in their booklets to the park ranger on duty at the visitor center. Park rangers go over each kid’s booklet and discuss important features of the park.

After talking about their adventures with the park ranger, kids raise their hands to recite the Junior Ranger oath. Junior Rangers promise to explore, learn and protect our parks then tell their friends at home about their experience. Each kid gets a collectible badge or patch along with a certificate.

Watching my kids recite the Junior Ranger oath is as much a part of our national park experience as taking a hike or having a picnic. If your kids can’t make it to a national park for National Park Week, I have a list of special badges they can complete at home.

Kids have their Junior Ranger badges, I have a National Park Service Passport book to add stamps from all the parks we've explored.

Kids have their Junior Ranger badges, I have a National Park Service passport book to add stamps from all the parks we’ve explored. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks TravelingMom

Eight National Junior Ranger Badges Kids Can Earn at Home

The Junior Ranger program has national Junior Ranger badges that can be downloaded, printed and completed at home. Afterwards, the booklets can be mailed to the National Park Service which will review them and mail the earned badge back for free.

  1. Junior Archeologist activity book can be completed at home and mailed into the NPS Chief Archeologist. This Junior Ranger booklet contains a parent guide to help kids discover how people in the past lived.

 

  1. Junior Paleontologist Program is for the dinosaur-loving kid in your family. The National Park Service has 259 parks that preserve fossils. This booklet can be done in a participating park or at home.

 

  1. Junior Cave Scientist Program is for all the young speleologists out there. The National Park Service has 150 areas that protect caves or karsts (landscapes created by weak acids that dissolve rocks). This badge can be completed at one of the parks with a cave or at home.

 

  1. Junior Ranger Night Explorer helps kids learn about the night sky. It’s best completed in a dark sky park that hosts telescope or astronomy programs but can be completed at home.

 

  1. Wilderness Explorer concentrates on the outdoor knowledge needed to explore the wilderness areas within the National Park Service. It should be done in a park or another wilderness area. The booklet includes an answer key. This program is best for kids ages 8 and up.

 

  1. Underwater Explorer has Junior Rangers discovering what lies below the surface of the water. It can be completed at home and mailed to the Submerged Resources Center.

 

  1. Underground Railroad Junior Ranger activity book has kids learning about slavery during the Civil War and the road to freedom. It can be completed at home.

 

  1. Junior Civil War Historian is for Junior Rangers that want to learn more about the Civil War. Kids must visit three participating parks or two parks and complete the Underground Railroad Junior Ranger activity book.

The individual park Junior Ranger badges are best completed in the park but can be mailed in as well.

Your kids love Junior Ranger badges, the National Park Service has 8 badges you can earn at home.

Your kids love Junior Ranger badges, the National Park Service has 8 badges you can earn at home. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker / National Parks Traveling Mom

Other Special Junior Ranger Programs

The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have partnered with the National Park Service to offer a certificate or patch for registered scouts. Scouts who complete 10 hours of organized learning, like the Junior Ranger badges, or perform service projects are eligible for a patch. To earn a special certificate, scouts have to complete five hours of service or education.

Tips from a Traveling Mom:

  • Bring your own pencils, especially during the busy summer season when parks can run out.
  • Wear clothing and shoes appropriate for a short hike, one might be required.
  • The Junior Ranger program is designed for kids ages 5 to 13 though I’ve been helping my youngest earn them since he was 4. As Moms, we know the youngest will not be left out. Adults can earn badges too.
  • Bring food and water for your national park visit, food service can be limited. Kids love picnics too.

My kids loved the Junior Secret Service Agent badge the best. What’s your kids’ favorite?