Let’s Move Outside: Junior Rangers at National Parks

I’ve written here before about Michelle Obama’s efforts to address childhood obesity by encouraging children and families to spend time together outside. Last month, the First Lady unveiled a program through the National Parks Service called “Let’s Move Outside, Junior Rangers!”

As government programs go, it’s not much. Kids who participate in at least one physical activity in pursuit of a Junior Ranger badge at a participating national park will earn a special sticker designating them as a “Let’s Move Outside” ranger.

I don’t knock stickers — they’ve motivated my children to get their immunization shots and their teeth cleaned, both of which seem much less fun than doing something physical outdoors. And I certainly don’t knock the long-running Junior Ranger program. Ursula still has the badges she’s earned on trips we’ve taken to national parks. Each time, she spends several hours — sometimes more — going through the activities in each park’s Junior Ranger booklet. The books teach her about the park’s plants and geology, and about safety and Leave No Trace guidelines. She answers questions, draws pictures, goes on the scavenger hunts, even prepares for a final quiz from a ranger. Her badge from Mt. St. Helens touched off a fascination with volcanoes that hasn’t subsided, and she’s collected others from Mt. Rainier, Yellowstone, Yosemite. I think part of the reason she cherishes her Junior Ranger badges is that she feels she’s really earned them.

But the First Lady’s program doesn’t seem to be carrying over to the parks themselves, at least not on their websites. Of the 20 parks across the country that are supposed to have put the “Let’s Move Outside, Junior Ranger!” program into practice, I’ve taken a look at the websites for three near the AMC region — Great Smoky Mountains and Fort Dupont and Rock Creek in Washington, D.C. — and see no mention of the program or of Michelle Obama’s call to (physical) action on the part of America’s children. Stickers or no, that seems a lost opportunity to me.

That said, I found an event listing, just by looking around one park website, that I think our kids would enjoy. It’s “The Long Arm of the Law” at Minute Man National Historical Park in Lexington, Mass. Several times on Saturday afternoon, July 10, a “motley group of offenders” will be brought before a Colonial-era magistrate. The description asks, “Will the defendants be fined, sentenced to be flogged, or perhaps exonerated?” I might have to explain flogging and exoneration, but I have no doubt that Ursula and Virgil would want to check this one out.

And maybe checking it out is what Michelle Obama’s program is all about — there’s a surprising amount of fun stuff to do with kids at our national parks, with or without the stickers.

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... about what's happening this summer at the national parks

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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