Education? Road trip? How do you combine these two without causing stress and anguish? My friends, it IS possible with just a little bit of planning. On your trip, you may choose to just have it all be about the fun, and that’s ok! But, if you would like to incorporate a little – or a lot – of educational value – and still have a lot of fun, here are some ideas to get you going. These have all worked for us in some form or fashion, and I hope you’ll give some a try! Let me know how they work for you!
Included in our Education Tool Kit:
- National Park Service Programs
- Museum Programs
- Homeschool Resources
Did you know that the National Park Service has a really neat program called Junior Rangers? Prior to our Yellowstone trip, I did not. However, I quickly found out this is an excellent program to not only engage kids, but to teach them all about a variety of topics. On our travels over the past several years, our kids have learned about volcano formation at Capulin Volcano National Monument, four great presidents at the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and about the Civil War at both the Vicksburg and Gettysburg National Military Parks (and these are only just a few). Most – not all – places run by the National Park Service will have Junior Ranger programs.
How do your kids participate in Junior Ranger Program? Have your child approach the ranger, or whoever is running the visitor desk, and ask for a Junior Ranger booklet. It’s a good idea to have your own pencil, as sometimes they are running short. The booklets are designed for children of different ages. Younger children will only complete a certain number of pages; for example, coloring sheets, matching, and other age-appropriate activities. The older kids, however, have to dig a bit deeper. Their pages will require them to locate answers, either in exhibits or from real rangers. Some parks have Ranger-led talks which are quite fun and informative (we attended one on bats at Wind Cave National Park), or watch a short movie. Other activities that we’ve participated in have been short hikes, where the children record or identify plant life or animals that they’ve spotted. When they are finished, they’ll take the booklet back to the visitor desk where it is checked over by a ranger. Sometimes the ranger will ask a question, but if the child doesn’t know the answer, the ranger will walk them through it. After that, most booklets have a certificate in the back that is filled out with the child’s name, date, and the ranger’s signature. Then, the child will repeat the Junior Ranger Oath (led by the ranger). It sounds very formal, but it’s a very fun thing to do, and the kids feel a sense of pride upon completion. Most parks will have pins that they present the kids with. Of course, in the gift shops you can purchase Junior Ranger merchandise on which to display your pins. We were at Grand Teton National Park when I spotted a young girl who had a vest completely adorned with these pins. So of course, I had to go get both kids their own vests to display their growing collection of pins.
From the National Parks website, you can search for the park you are visiting. Many times, parks are not just limited to having Junior Ranger programs. Each park varies, but you can find other educational material in the form of printable worksheets, or other educational resources. You’ll want to check out the “About the Park” section (again, for the park you are planning to visit), where you can find “Education” and “Kids & Youth” sub-sections. This seems to be pretty consistent from one park to another. The Education area will contain more curriculum-type materials. You may be thinking, ‘well, that’s great if you are a teacher or homeschooler but I just want something for my kid to do.” I would urge you to check it out; currently the materials for Mount Rushmore have a variety of material to include math, that can not only help your child stay engaged with the family, but also keep those math skills up to date over the summer. Before you leave your park’s website, definitely check out their calendar of events. Many now offer hands-on demonstrations that kids and adults can both enjoy. For example, Russell Cave National Monument in Alabama offers atlatl demonstrations and kids can participate. For your hands-on learners, this is a huge hit!
One last thing I’ll mention in regards to the National Park Service: If you’re planning on visiting a lot of them, get the Park Passport (available in the gift shops)! Kids of all ages love going to the stamp station and stamping their passports! Heck, I have fun stamping the passports!
If your family is like ours, chances are your kids enjoy a good science museum. In this section, I’m going to focus more on historical-type museums. “But, those are boring…especially for young kids,” you might be saying. And, that’s exactly what I thought when planning our trip. However, our first big museum we stopped at was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library. At the time, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they had a scavenger hunt, of sorts, for younger kids. They enjoyed it so much, and in the process really learned a lot about Lincoln. After that, I learned to not only ask at other museum’s ticket counter about kid’s programs, but also do a bit of research before our visit. In the case of the Lincoln Museum, there are a ton of other resources available online. While targeted to public school teachers, many links do contain activity sheets that you could use either as “busy work” in the car, or simply supplemental material for your visit. I’m certain many other museums would have similar links and resources.
If your child learns more through hearing, many museums, such as Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, also have kid-oriented audio tours. Very much worth picking up! At the Hermitage, the audio tour was included in our tour package, but you’ll want to research if your destination operates that way…or not.
If you have the ability to watch movies on the go (we do not), check out Cross and Quill Media. This is a great website I use for homeschooling, but anyone can look at it. It has movie listings per topic; for our purposes it breaks down historical periods and offers suggestions from Amazon Prime, Netflix, YouTube, among others. Please note, it is Christian-oriented. Other homeschool resources to try are free printables available online. There are SO many websites dedicated to this, I’m at a loss to name just one or two. However, I would suggest simply doing as I’ve done – type your topic in a Google search followed by “free worksheets,” and see what comes up. For example, I typed “Eisenhower worksheets,” and the search returned a lot of options from Eisenhower word searches to more in-depth fill in the blank type questions. Admittedly, we did NOT do a lot of these on our trip; I kept some on hand just in case I needed some “emergency activities,” but we had enough other things without worksheets floating around the car. If your child loves this type of activity, however, by all means load up on them!
And, last but not least – books. If you have avid readers, as I do, check out the gift shops of your destinations. Many times, there are books suited to ALL ages and all budgets. Not only educational, it will keep your child occupied for a chunk of time too!
What destinations are your road trip list this year? Do you plan on making them “educational?” How can I help?
Roadtripping Part 3: Educating Kids On the Sly
©2015 Stacy De Smet