With school out and summer vacation in full swing, many families are making plans to visit their local State Park or National Park. Relaxing on the lake, fishing, boating, camping, and grilling are just a few of the activities you may find yourself enjoying at the park. However, did you know that many State and National Park authorities have programs designed specifically for children?

Check out a few of these naturalist programs offered at parks across the country.

Junior Ranger Programs

The National Park Service and US Department of Interior have a Junior Ranger program that is available at a number of National Parks across the US. The Junior Ranger program is the perfect way to incorporate some education into your summer vacation, while still making it fun. The Junior Ranger program is perfect for children interested in exploring, history, science, or nature.

One great aspect of this program is the self-paced activities. Your child won’t be tied down to specific program schedules. Rather, they enjoy the park at their own pace and learn as they go. The program offers guidance to learning throughout the program, but also allows the child flexibility. At the completion of the program the new Junior Ranger will receive a badge or certificate.

View a full list of participating National Parks here.

Junior Naturalist Programs

Many State Parks have Junior Naturalist Programs. We were recently at the Greenleaf State Park in Oklahoma and had the opportunity to learn more about the Oklahoma State Park Junior Naturalist Program first hand. These naturalist programs are little known gems that are hosted at most State parks. If the park has a nature center, this is the perfect start to learn more about the program.

junior naturalist

If your child is interested they will be given a workbook to complete during their visit to the park. They will be encouraged to learn about:

  • local wildlife
  • park safety
  • park care and upkeep
  • identifying animal tracks
  • identifying plant life
  • looking at the park from an artistic view

Much like the Junior Ranger program, these programs can be structured or unstructured. They can be completed at an individual pace over the course of the summer, or in one visit to the park. The child can choose how in-depth to take the course. At the completion of the course the child will receive a certificate from the State identifying their status as a Junior Naturalist and in many cases will be listed on the State’s official website.

The programs are specifically designed to help foster a relationship between the park and the child. They hope that the Junior Naturalist programs will encourage children to have a life long love for their park sanctuaries and encourage a generation to have an appreciation for the park system as they get older.

My daughter had lots of fun completing the program and by the end was impressing me with her leaf identifying skills. Have your children participated in a Junior Ranger or Junior Naturalist program?