Sunday, August 17, 2008


School starts a week from tomorrow and the kids will go back to a predictable "academic" schedule. Spelling tests, reading logs and coloring sheets. The first couple of weeks will be spent reviewing to make sure they know what they need to know -- like letters, shapes and colors. Can you tell I'm being sarcastic? There are things I love about the public school Claire and Benjamin attend. But for now, I'm thinking about all the things I loved about the experiential learning we did this summer. 

Namely, the Junior Ranger programs at the National Parks. Here are Claire and Benjamin reporting their findings to the ranger at Yellowstone.

All the parks have Junior Ranger programs. From our experience, they usually consist of an age-appropriate workbook with several choices of activities. There were fill in the blank questions, cross word puzzles, places to draw what you saw, wild life check lists, true and false questions, etc. If the did a specific number of activities, including attending a Ranger-led talk or tour, they would receive a Junior Ranger badge or patch (that Mom and Dad paid for).

Claire and Benjamin did the Junior Ranger programs at Teton, Yellowstone, Devil's Tower, Wind Cave and Mt. Rushmore. We learned so much. Really, there is just no substitute.

Yellowstone also has a Junior Scientist program. We got to check out a mini-backpack full of scientific tools including a thermometer that read with a laser pointer. (How cool is that?!) We took the three mile hike around the Geyser Basin at Yellowstone and studied thermal pools, bacteria, geysers, dirt, foot prints, plant life, sounds, sights and smells the whole way. We even got to see Castle Geyser erupt. It only goes off every 18 hours, so you really have to plan your schedule or be lucky. (We were lucky.)

It's a challenge, but Jeff and I really try to find these opportunities for learning in our regular lives. Even the grocery store has huge potential. 

As an aside, I must say what interesting people the Park Rangers are. Some of them are like cartoon characters with their unbelievable enthusiastic descriptions of the parks. Others are a bit crusty having spent many summers (and/or winters) in the park. I liked them very much.


Gerrie said...

Every time I visit a national park and witness the rangers doing their thing, I begin to imagine a life in the natural beauty of this country and the opportunity to share it with others. But, then there are those dorky outfits!!

You are very right about the public school system and the need to supplement!!

Kristin L said...

Yea you guys for finding such cool things to do on vacation. I bet the kids didn't even realize that they were "learning."

My sister is a college level educator specializing in experiential education and her partner was formerly an advocate for the wilderness areas in Arizona. Now he's more like a ranger or overseer (if that's an appropriate word). They both have a wide range of knowledge and love to share the way our world around us provides myriad life lessons.

Learning need not be restricted to the classroom, and the classroom need not be restricted to a formal building!