New Junior Ranger Program Promotes Life-Long Love For The Outdoors
By Deborah Locke, DNR Information Officer
One of the best features of the new Minnesota Parks and Trails Junior Ranger Program book is that it gets adults thinking, too. Here’s another great feature: the impression made on children as they earn a patch that might lead them to a lifetime of love for the outdoors. That’s one of the finest gifts an adult can give.
The new Minnesota State Parks and Trails Junior Ranger Program replaces the 30-year-old Junior Naturalist Program with updated activities and illustrations. The free book, designed for children aged six to ten, is available at most state park offices and visitor centers, or it may be downloaded here: mndnr.gov/Junior-Ranger. Children who complete the activities can pick up a free Junior Ranger patch during their Minnesota state park visit.
“When we started work on a new program, we thought about how to engage children and returned to the idea of a book,” said Jenni Webster, an interpretive naturalist at Interstate State Park and one of the book creators. “The book wouldn’t require special devices or equipment. All anyone would need is a pencil, the book, and a focus on the landscape.”
That landscape and the plant life and wildlife living there is divided into categories, like the way animals move and how they adapt. There are lessons for adults, too. For example, I learned from an illustration which part of a poison ivy plant causes the itch (an oil), how all the fish in a lake manage to find enough food, and the way sunlight feeds a leaf.
As a child completes the activities from the 24-page book, she or he earns points. When six points are achieved, a patch is awarded from the park office. To be assured that a patch is available, call ahead to learn the office hours of a park. It’s always good to check the park website anyway before you leave home for miscellaneous information.
Once the activities are completed, the book serves a second purpose: coloring. The illustrations show a variety of park visitors and park inhabitants, like squirrels, birds, trees and water. Well past your park visit, your child will re-live the memories with the use of crayons,
Memories and connections are the whole point, Webster said. The program helps children – and their families – connect with and become comfortable with the outdoors. Earning the patch by completing activities adds a competitive edge to the program, which so far, is catching on.
“It’s quite new, but I already see kids with patches,” Webster said. Not only that, but the children finish the activities at higher rates than with the previous book.
If you’re still not sold on the popularity of the Junior Ranger Program book, consider this. The activities prove so popular with the kids that some adults expressed a desire for their own book, and their own path to earning a patch.
Images courtesy of the Minnesota DNR.
The Junior Ranger Program book and patch are free. They are not mailed out, but the book may be printed before your visit. For more information on the program, go to mndnr.gov/Junior-Ranger. Visitors pay $7 for a daily state park pass, or $35 for an annual pass that allows access to all the state’s 75 parks and recreation areas.