On the Road: Learning at National Parks
When I was a kid, we spent most of our family vacations in national parks. Going camping instead of staying in hotels allowed us to visit lots of places we otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to see, and from a young age, those trips fostered an excitement for conservation and preservation of the environment in both me and my sister.
During my recent cross-country adventure, we spent a few nights camping in both the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks. As I flipped through the parks' complementary newspaper and visitor guide, I noticed a few programs designed to teach kids more about the environment. The first was the Junior Ranger Program, which I distinctly remember participating in as a child. To earn Junior Ranger status, children have to complete a number of activities--going on a nature walk, attending a ranger program, or identifying plant or animal species, for example--and then fill out a booklet with what they've learned. When they're finished, each child receives a Junior Ranger badge.
The other program that I thought was interesting was the Young Scientist program, which was only available at the Old Faithful area in Yellowstone National Park, as far as I noticed. Kids pick up a toolkit, which includes a thermometer and stopwatch among other things, and complete a scientific investigation around the geyser area. I'm pretty sure this is a new program, since I have no memory of it existing when I visited the park a few years back, but it seems like a great idea to get kids thinking about science while they're walking through one of the most geologically interesting spots in the country.
Searching the Internet, I also noticed that both the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone have entire sections on their Web sites just for teachers with links to educational activities, fact sheets, and various curricula. It seems like a great idea to me. I mean, who wouldn't be motivated to learn more about the earth while surrounded with breathtaking views like this?