Monday, February 1, 2021

Every National Park Junior Ranger Badge You Can Earn from Home (Updated February 2021)

This is an update of my original 2018 post. It includes all the Junior Ranger programs as of February 2021, both the ones kids can only complete on-site and the ones kids can complete from home.


It's been seven 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 a road trip, I check out my map to see what national park sites with Junior Ranger programs are in the vicinity. If there's an especially cool one, I'll even make a giant detour so that the kids can do it. 

I included a link to each site's Junior Ranger webpage with each map entry, to make it easy to double-check that the program is still running and if they're offering any national Junior Ranger badge programs there. If they offer a pdf of their badge book, it's also super helpful to print it and have the kids get started on it ahead of time. You will be VERY glad not to spend two hours of your day cooling your heels on a park bench while your kids work on a maze or search-a-word puzzle that they could have easily done in the car on the way there!

Alas, my 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:

NOTE: I do NOT include in this list Junior Ranger badges in which the badge book is offered as a pdf from the national park site, but kids cannot mail them in or submit them online to earn the badge without a visit to the site. 

I'm also not including any of the newer "virtual Junior Ranger programs," which let kids complete some web activities and then print an image of the Junior Ranger badge. Those can be fun, but this list is solely for physical badges that kid can earn from home.

This list is constantly changing, even more so during the pandemic, so if you see a Junior Ranger program that I don't have listed, or if you click on one of my links and see that the program is no longer available, please Comment below and let me know!

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!

If your kids love earning Junior Ranger badges, then they'd likely be interested in learning about the national park system as a whole--there's so much to explore there, from history and culture to geology and the sciences. Here are some of our favorite resources for learning about and exploring the national park system:


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!

1 comment:

Meagan H said...

You can also earn your Washita Battlefield junior Ranger badge from home!