Monday, June 4, 2018

Here's Every National Park Junior Ranger Badge You Can Earn By Mail

It's been four years since the kids first discovered the Junior Ranger program at Badlands National Park, and thus began their obsession. I'm never one to let an educational experience go, so since that first thrilling day, I have deliberately organized ALL of our US vacations to include as many Junior Ranger programs as possible, and I've included all of the Junior Ranger programs that it's possible to earn by mail into our homeschool plans.

"How did you figure out where all of the Junior Ranger programs are?" you ask.

Friends, I made a giant freaking map:



Yes, that is EVERY SINGLE NATIONAL PARK SITE WITH A JUNIOR RANGER PROGRAM. I put them all in by hand. I went to every single national park's website, searched for its Junior Ranger program, and if it had one I put it on my map.

When I plan road trips, I check my map for all the nation park sites with Junior Ranger programs that we could detour to, and then we detour to them. During our upcoming road trip, for instance, we're visiting Saint Croix Island and Acadia National Park, primarily for their Junior Ranger programs.

But the kids' enthusiasm for earning Junior Ranger badges is unceasing, and yet we cannot spend our entire year traveling to various national parks. If only!

So I went back through every one of those websites, and I noted every park that permits children to earn their Junior Ranger badge by mail. Most of these parks provide the badge book as a downloadable pdf for kids to complete using internet or book research (often the park's own website, but we've also found useful park videos on YouTube). They mail their completed badge books to the park, and in return, the park rangers mail them back their badges and certificates.

It's always, eternally thrilling.

The kids have been doing this for years now, and still have tons of Junior Ranger badges left to earn by mail. They've learned geography, history, and several sciences in the process, experienced the breadth and depth of the national experience in ways they haven't had the opportunity to do in person, and have an intense appreciation for the variety of cultural, historical, and geographic artifacts and monuments that must be explored, preserved, and protected.

Not every national park, or even most national parks, allow their Junior Ranger badges to be earned by mail, mind you. You'll know if one does, because it will say so on its website or on the book, and it will have the book available as a downloadable pdf and include a mailing address for the completed book to be sent to. Many parks will state, kind of pissily in my opinion, that they do NOT allow badges to be earned by mail, and that's their right, but I think everyone loses when they do that--why stifle a kid's desire to learn? Why refuse an opportunity to grow someone's knowledge and love of your national park?

Before you get your kid all revved up on earning these badges by mail, you should know that since you've got to mail the completed badge books to each park, you'll be paying a few bucks for postage and manila envelopes each time. If you're conserving resources, check out the online badges that I've noted in my list--those let kids either do or submit their work online, so you don't have to pay for either supplies or postage.

Fortunately, MANY national parks are happy to have more kids interested in them and working to learn more about them! Here are all the national park Junior Ranger badges that you can earn by mail:

  • Jimmy Carter National Historic Site (Georgia). This is another badge that had a profound effect on Will. She was unexpectedly moved by the story of Jimmy Carter, and now longs to meet him.

This is one of my absolute favorite activities that we do in our homeschool, but it's partly so wonderful because it's so adaptable. Sure, it can be your entire geography curriculum, or just an enrichment to another spine. You can include it in your history studies, or in the natural or earth sciences. Even if you don't homeschool, these Junior Ranger books are so fun that kids can simply DO them for fun. My kids do, and they think it's a nifty trick that I also let them count them for school!

P.S. Want more obsessively-compiled lists of resources and activities for kiddos and the people who want to keep them happy and engaged? Check out my Craft Knife Facebook page!

15 comments:

My Discovery Destination! said...

This is AMAZING!! Thanks for sharing~

Miss Anna said...

THIS IS GREAT!

We just did our first two JR badges at Death Valley & Grand Canyon but are heading to Mammoth Cave next week for our 3rd.

Question - I love the pins, but the iron on patches are even better, Did the parks send you both or how did that work? Just curious. I know you can buy some of them online, but was wondering what you ended up receiving in the mail.

Thanks again for posting this guide!

Diane said...

THANK YOU for all the research you did on this and your willingness to share it!
My son got so many badges when we traveled, but that was a few years back and I never knew about anything online.
This is cool!!

dew said...

This is amazing! Thanks for all your hard work!

Lisa Healy said...

How fun to discover another family as wild about these badges as ours! Your obsessive searching sounds just like mine and we're embarking on a massive road trip again this year that will allow us to visit at least 24 NPS sites!

Joli Finsel said...

For the parks that you need to visit, how much time is required to get the information they need to complete the badges? I am taking the kids out west this summer and most places we will only be there a few hours.

Robin Resch said...

This is insanely helpful- thank you SO much!!

julie said...

Sometimes they will send just the badges, and sometimes they will also send patches. Sometimes, the children have also received pencils, stickers, or other small treats, as well. I just took a wander past the kids' vests, and out of the ones they've earned by mail, it looks like Jimmy Carter, Junior Archaeologist, Petrified Forest, and Point Reyes sent them patches. The kids have several other patches from sites, but those were all ones that they visited in person, so I'm not sure what would be mailed from those.

Each park creates its own Junior Ranger book, so the time taken to complete them varies a LOT. In some parks, the kids have earned their badges in an hour or so at the visitor's center before we've even toured the rest of the park, and in some parks, the kids have worked on them for a couple of days and we've seen every part of the park and learned every single thing there is to learn about it in the process, I feel like. And other parks have time commitments of just about every possibility in between. When we're planning a trip, I will usually print out the park's Junior Ranger book (if they've made it available as a pdf online), and ask the kids to complete all of the activities that don't require our presence in the park ahead of time. That way, when we're there we can concentrate on the park, and I won't have to sit on a bench for an hour while they work a crossword puzzle, say. Also, a total of two times this was the only way the kids could earn a badge at a particular park--twice, we've gone to a park and had the ranger tell the kids that they'd run out of badge books. Each time, when the kids excitedly showed them that they'd printed their books at home, the rangers were happy that they could do the work and earn the badge.

Melissa Sack said...

Great idea. I think we will use them to form a class at our local library. I do notice that some of these referenced things that can only be done at the park, how do you get around those?

Unknown said...

this was an excellent resource for planning our (nearly) crosscountry trip last month. We ended up hitting 18 parks. A couple of additional notes:
1. Some parks will have additional books for certain subject matters, for instance Hot Springs had a second book specifically on Bats, and many of the parks along the path of Totality had a special Eclipse book back in the fall. These weren't offered automatically, typically only the normal park book was presented
2. I found most were free, but at least Great Smoky Mtn Park charges a nominal fee for the program.
3. Most badges are plastic, but some are wood (I was told reclaimed maple), and apparently there are 4 metal ones (Stones River NB is like pewter, and I'm told Lincolns home and Fort Donnelson, not sure what the last is)
4. Arizona has a secondary program as well where by completing a couple of additional activities and visiting 4 AZ based NPS sites you can get a special Arizona National Park patch with park specific minipatchs
5. If you were wondering why some are Parks and some are Monuments, Parks require Congressional approval but Monuments only require the President to declare.

Unknown said...

So this is a terrific post. Thanks for taking the time to put it together. My family gets our junior ranger on whenever we can. As a prior commenter shared, sometimes parks run out of books or badges/patches. I thought I'd share another program called Redwood Edventures through the California Parks system. They are great, action/clue oriented activities which earn you patches for each one completed. You can find out more at http://www.redwood-edventures.org.

Brad said...

Great map! We also are planning our vacations around these stops, and the kids are obsessed with the badges! Recently while driving from NC to Cleveland, we randomly noticed a sign for the First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton, OH. We literally pulled off and called to ask whether they have a Jr Ranger program. They do, and they have these unique round medallion badges. Consider adding this to your map. https://www.nps.gov/fila/index.htm http://www.firstladies.org/

julie said...

Thank you for letting me know--I added it to the map!

IR Jordan said...

First of all thank you for compiling this amazing resource. Do you find when you mail in the completed activity books that they are returned to you? I was hoping they do because they contain a lot of valuable information.

Thanks
John and Junior Ranger Ian

julie said...

It depends on the national park. Most parks do return the books, and some will even include other souvenirs, such as pencils or patches.

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