Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 21, 2012.
Ever since I learned about the Junior Ranger Program, I’ve been looking forward to when my son could participate. Any child age 6-12 can participate, and it’s a great way to get outdoors, explore nature and learn about Georgia’s history. It’s also a good way to teach about setting goals and working toward something.
In order to participate, all you have to do is pick up a copy of the Junior Ranger Activity Book at any Georgia State Park or Historic Site office. You can also download the book online in pdf format at http://www.gastateparks.org/JuniorRanger.
The book has a series of activities for children to complete, and a checklist for an adult to initial when they complete each activity. Adults can help children with the activities. There are three levels, and upon completion of each level, children will receive a junior ranger badge to display proudly wherever they want.
Level 1 is recommended for ages 6-7, and they must complete seven of the activities. Level 2 is for ages 8-10 and requires 10 activities to be completed. Level 3 is for ages 11-12, and they must complete 14 of the activities. Children may use the same booklet for each level, and the activities they did for their first level can count towards the next, if they want them to.
There’s information in the booklet for parents to read to the children so that they’ll become aware of things to stay away from when they hit the trails, such as poison ivy and venomous snakes. It tells you how to prepare and be safe while exploring the wilderness. After this, there are several pages of activities for the children to complete. Each page gives separate instructions for each level of participation. My son is working on his first badge, Level 1, so the activities are fairly easy.
Some of the activities my son has done so far are identifying Georgia pine trees, taking a guided walking tour, observing wildlife, and visiting a historical site. He only needs to complete three more activities to obtain his badge.
There are plenty to choose from. He might identify plant and animal life in a body of water, or go fishing, go on a plant scavenger hunt, visit one more historical site, observe the night sky, or identify at least two nocturnal animals. If my son isn’t into any of that, there are some other choices too.
With 63 sites statewide and a site 50 miles of every Georgia resident, it should not be hard for any child to participate in this program, especially since participants can take as long as they need to complete the activities. You don’t have to do the activities in a state park either, although some of the activities such as visiting a historical site might require that.
When completed, all they need to do is present their checklist at any Georgia State Park or Historic Site office, or there’s an address in the booklet to mail the page to. Participants who mail their page in will receive their badge in 2-4 weeks.
Occasionally there are Junior Ranger day camps or workshops that participants can attend. These usually happen in the summer, and will be listed on the Georgia State Park and Historical Sites calendar of events: http://www.gastateparks.org/events.
Recently they have also started a Get Outdoors Georgia Gopher Badge too. This is for kids 7-14 years old, and there’s a separate list of fun requirements for this badge too. You can download the requirements for this badge here: http://www.getoutdoorsgeorgia.org/downloads/JrRangerGopherBadge.pdf.
If you are interested in this program, you’ll also want to subscribe to the Junior Ranger E-newsletter. My son receives it at his own e-mail address, and he has fun reading about wildlife, viewing photos and doing some of the suggested activities.
For families able to travel, there’s also a Junior Ranger Program for the National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/learn/juniorranger.cfm. I don’t know when we’ll get a chance to visit a national park, but my son has had fun using their on-line Junior Ranger program. Children can play more than 50 games and learn about our national parks, monuments and historic sites. The website also tracks the children’s progress.
Whether you have some Junior Rangers in your house or not, I hope you get a chance to get outside and experience the healing qualities of nature this holiday season.