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How many times has the following situation happened to you? You’re out with your kids at a museum or hike and you are really interested in something. As you lean in to either read or observe, one of your kids begins to act up. Or, you’re reading something when you realize that one of your children has run off (or is sitting in the Louis XIV chair at the Met). This happens to me all the time. Outings can be a sanity saver to stay-at-home dads, or for that matter, any stay-at-home parent. We love getting out of the house with the kids, but then things can quickly go downhill on a bad behavior day. The National Parks have done a great job at keeping this disaster outing scenario to a minimum.

In 2009, Ken burns released a documentary about The National Parks titled, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The documentary was shown on PBS and provided detailed information on the history of our National Parks. If Mr. Burns did a 6 part series on my life, one of the episodes would be called, The Junior Park Ranger Program: The National Parks Best Idea. If outings are a sanity saver for parents, the Junior Ranger Program is a sanity saver for outings.

If you haven’t heard about this program, then immediately run to the nearest National Park with your kids. Here’s the deal:  at almost every National Park, kids may ask for a booklet when they enter the park. The rangers will help you if you are unsure what you are looking for. The booklets are full of information, activities, and games. Once they’ve completed the booklet, the child takes the book to a ranger and the ranger questions them about their day and findings. After the ranger has finished the interview, the kid receives a badge or a patch and is sworn in as a Junior Park Ranger.  Kids love free souvenirs.

The kids love doing this and I love them doing it. Not only is it fun for me to watch them filling out their Junior Park Ranger booklets and going on the various scavenger hunts, but it gives me time to appreciate my surroundings. And we all end up learning something.  While they are working to complete their book, I’m reading or taking in the exhibits. Recently, my seven year old son said, “You know, the older I get, the more “older” things I appreciate.” The Junior Park Ranger program is a big reason he has reached that conclusion.

Thank you National Park service for the many wonderful outings that my family has been able to enjoy over the years.

Other reasons to enjoy the National Parks:

  1. They are free, or low cost.
  2. The National Park Passport. We take ours on every trip or vacation. Every park has a unique stamper for you to ink your book. It is a great way to remember some of the things you’ve done over the years.
  3. Lovers of history will always get their fill of information.
  4. The same thing for lovers of nature.
  5. The Park Rangers. They’ve always been respectful and nice to my family. Well, accept that one time. But one out of 50 visits isn’t bad.
  6. The National Parks (and Historic Monuments, Landmarks, and Recreation Areas) are everywhere. My family always checks to see if there is a National Park nearby when we travel.
  7. Too often we say, “There is something for everyone.” This actually is true when visiting a National Park.
  8. Exercise. Walking around is exercise, right? The parks are great for low impact fitness.
  9. Trains and battlefields. Who doesn’t love those things? You’ll find a plethora of both.
  10. I mentioned that most of them are free, didn’t I?
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