Right now, I think this is one of .the best-kept secrets for kids and their families.
It also happens to be one of the best-kept secrets for fourth grade teachers across the country.
AND, as if that weren't enough, it totally added to the fun and "specialness" of our two-week family vacation.
AND it's FREE!
Oh my gosh, what else can I say? The thing that I'm totally building up here is a program called Every Kid in a Park.
It might be the euphoric exhaustion of post-vacation detox. Or it might be the overwhelming gratefulness for a trip where no one experienced injury, our car did not break down, and our home remained standing when we returned. But our recent experience with Every Kid in a Park and the Junior Ranger Program has been out of this world. Seriously. Mind. Blown.
But let's tackle just one amazing thing at a time.
Every Kid in a Park: Adventure Awaits
President Barak Obama and his administration instituted this program in 2015 as a way of encouraging kids and their families to visit our national parks and explore the outdoors. According to the Every Kid in a Park FAQ sheet, the "initiative seeks to bridge the growing disconnect between the next generation and the great outdoors by encouraging valuable opportunities to explore, learn, and play in the spectacular places that belong to all of us."
The program targets fourth graders because of their "unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways." It's believed that fourth graders are most likely to have positive attitudes towards nature, the environment and culture and grow into the next generation of stewards, ready to support and care for these natural wonders and historical landmarks."
To enroll, kids fill out a form online and print out a paper pass that serves as their access card to their first national park. Fourth-grade teachers, this would make an excellent computer activity. It's a great way to provide access to kids who may not have internet or a computer at home. Once the pass is printed, that's it, you're ready to go! The pass waives any entrance fee to most national parks across the country. It does not include camping fees or fees for extra park programs or excursions. The pass also covers anyone else traveling in one vehicle with the fourth-grader. So if you're traveling with the kids and cousins, grandparents, or friends in the same car, every one is included.
Every Kid in a Park also offers common-core aligned activities for educators (NOTE: "Educators" includes anyone working with a forth grader - teachers, parents, camp directors, religious leaders, etc.) The site offers four different activities for students, complete with detailed lesson plans and worksheets. Some activities use creative thinking and personal connections while others use the national park website - another great use of the computer lab. Educators can print up to 50 passes at a time.
Teachers can also utilize the site and the pass to plan a field trip. Simply type in your state and see what opportunities are available.
The Take Away
We used my son's pass on a recent trip to the southeast. It saved us on park fees to many (but not all) the places we visited. In order to activate the card, we presented it to one of the rangers at the first place we visited - the Washington and Jefferson National Forest. In turn, my son got a "credit card" looking thing. Some of the other national parks we visited did not have any entrance fees (Great Smoky National Park and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site), so it was a non-issue there.
The perks of this program lie in bringing awareness to fourth graders about the existence of national parks. It gives parents a bit of motivation to visit someplace new, and allows families to experience the many wondrous natural resources our country boasts.
In theory, I also think this would be a great way to encourage inner-city or lower-income kids and their families to explore national parks, but I'm not sure in practice how accessible it would be. That's part of the reason why I want to make sure all fourth grade teachers know about it.
In so many ways, teachers link their students to experiences and opportunities beyond the classroom. Teachers often provide both the means and information necessary to allow students to expand their life experiences. Teachers spark imagination, advocate for the impossible, and encourage improbable things - like getting EVERY KID in a park to enjoy the beauty of our natural world.