Encourage a lifelong love of our national parks by making visits hands-on and fun for your students. Foster exploration and discovery with these ideas.
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Bring along a camera so kids can take photos of things that interest them as they explore a national park or other outdoor space. Issue photo challenges to focus attention. For example, have kids create a photo story of a hike, or challenge them to photograph something close up and far away.
—inspired by Cameron Ferguson, U.S.A.
Selfie Scavenger Hunt
This modern take on the scavenger hunt engages tech-savvy kids and removes the need to disturb plants and wildlife in the park. Create a scavenger hunt list for the specific park you plan to visit. As kids find each item on your list, they should take a selfie with it instead of collecting it. Offer a prize or bragging rights to the group that finds the most items.
Many national parks offer a Junior Ranger program that encourages kids to “Explore Learn, and Protect” their national park. Kids complete a series of activities during their park visit and earn patches and certificates. Most Junior Ranger programs are best suited for kids ages 5-13. Find out more about Junior Rangers.
—inspired by Tami Flaum, North Carolina
Geocaching is a treasure-hunting activity in which enthusiasts use GPS technology to both hide small “treasures” for others and find treasures others have hidden. Many national parks support this recreational activity, and anyone with a GPS unit can participate. Some parks also have EarthCaches; no physical treasure is hidden, but participants use GPS coordinates to find a unique geographical feature. To get started, create a free account. Then search for the national park you plan to visit to find the clues for the geocaches that are hidden there.
National Parks can provide an excellent space for exercises such as yoga, stretching, or even dancing. Select poses inspired by the natural world around you, such as the tree pose or the butterfly pose. Bring mats or blankets if you plan to do poses that involve sitting or lying down. You can also use yoga as a warm-up and focusing activity before a hike.
—inspired by Jennifer Puig, Florida
Wildlife is one of the main attractions for kids in many national parks. Before visiting a park, obtain an identification guide for plants and animals in the area. Many parks have specific guides available to print from their website or in the ranger station. Some guides are available here. As you explore the park, use the guides to identify the plants and animals you see. —inspired by Jordan Schaffel, Texas
As you hike or explore a national park, have kids point out things they see that start with each letter of the alphabet. Once an “A” item is found, move on to B, and continue in alphabetical order. If you have a large group of kids, divide them into teams and have each team play the game.
—inspired by Amy Blonn, Texas
Before going to a national park or other outdoor space, create an “explorer’s pack” to encourage kids to interact with the things they see in nature. An explorer’s pack could include a magnifying glass, compass, journal, pencil, binoculars, maps of the park, field guides, thermometers, and measuring tape. Keep the pack light enough for kids to carry it. The ways kids could use the tools in an explorer’s pack are endless, but some ideas include measure the girth of a tree, using a magnifying glass to examine insects or plants, using the map and compass to navigate in the park, using the thermometer to record the temperature, and using the journal to sketch plants or animals.