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The Virtual Junior Ranger Program Brings the Parks to Your Home

Education seems to be at a stalemate since coronavirus began making its way across the globe. As teachers and families have had to alter and adjust their manners of attending school, national parks have had to adjust their means of educating families. In a time of crisis, as we all adapt, it has been apparent that the National Park Service is working overtime to provide opportunities that sustain some normalcy in our “new normal.”

Photo courtesy of Shenandoah National Park/NPS

As an avid supporter of the Junior Ranger Program, it has been quite a comfort to see parks sustaining it online. For those of you that are not familiar with the program, it was developed to aid kids of any age (0-100) in enjoying their national park experience. When prospective Junior Rangers complete a workbook, attend ranger talks, and watch the park’s respective video in the visitor center, they receive a badge and are sworn in. As everyone merged to virtual learning platforms in March and April, the Park Service adapted the same concepts to their Junior Ranger Program.  

The virtual Junior Ranger Program has some of the same experiences as the regular program, but from the convenience of home—students of all ages can complete the program online and receive a virtual certificate. Some parks even request Junior Rangers to complete the program and mail it to the park; in turn, the park will mail a Junior Ranger badge back home. No educational experience matches actual in-person instruction, but it is commendable that the National Park Service has brought instruction into the homes of children (and adults) who crave normalcy. If anything can come from the experience of completing a Junior Ranger Program online, it is that of previewing a possibly never-before-seen park before attending. It offers the opportunity to explore the park before arriving to give families an even greater grasp of the meaning of the protection for the site.

Photo courtesy of Oklahoma City National Memorial/NPS

Although our ability to visit parks has been compromised physically, virtually we are still able to learn how to explore, preserve, and protect. All summer, park social media sites have been conducting live videos and question-and-answer programs via Instagram and Facebook. So far this summer, Yosemite has shown us how it takes care of its horses, Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument has demonstrated  how Charles Young led the Buffalo Soldiers, and Guilford Courthouse National Battlefield has shown us a virtual Revolutionary playbook. These services through social media, with the combination of the Junior Ranger Program, have demonstrated how parks can come to your home. 

Through the Park Service’s indelible stewardship and commitment to preserving American history and ideals, they have proven that no boundary exists in serving the citizens of this country. Visit any NPS website today to find out what they offer in terms of virtual education.

Header photo: Courtesy of Chickasaw National Recreation Area/NPS

Patrick Rodden is a full-time educator and a volunteer for the National Park Service. Learning about parks and playing with his Nikon are his hobbies. He’s been to 156 NPS units and counting, and loves sharing his passion with others.

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