The National Parks have a Junior Ranger program, which I both praise and curse them for all at once. They provide your children with a booklet and a number of pages to complete based on your child’s age. This give your child a clear focus to work through as you navigate the park. Once this is completed your child can turn the book in at a ranger station, take an oath and receive a badge. At Rushmore it gave us an excuse to sit down in the shade and to talk about something other than all the ways our children were being abused. At the Wind Cave it also gave us something to do while we waited in the line. The problem with these books is that they have excellent learning objectives in them, which means that at times it actually felt like forcing my children to sit down and do homework. And for what? A plastic badge that they will most likely lose or that they can then beg for a $40 vest to keep the badges on that they will never wear?
We were exploring the Wind Cave prairies, admiring the view, and all I could think was “We have three more pages to do in those booklets”. Notice the we. It quickly went from “you” to “we”. Not that they give parenting badges along with the ranger badges. Come to think of it, maybe they would. Or a drink voucher to use at the nearest bar.
As my husband waited dutifully in line at the Wind Cave we sat on a picnic bench with another family doing the same thing. The mother and I poked and proded our children to choose a page, answer the questions, think through the answers, spell words correctly, and do quick mini-lessons on how caves formed, the food chain in the prairie, and how the Lakota tribe can use every part of the buffalo. “Mommy, what do they use the bladder for?” I was so grateful to hear the other mom explain that you use the bladder to carry water - I didn’t know and there wasn’t an internet signal out there for a quick under-the-table google check. Not that cheating is OK. But, you know. It is hot outside.
The answers to these questions can all be found in the museums and information provided by the park, but that involves carefully attending to each sign, movie, and display. At Rushmore this meant memorizing what each child’s booklet required of them, scanning the signs and displays for answers, then grabbing the child, have them look at the sign, review the information, then say “wow, I wonder if that will answer a question in your booklet.” Every time that is met with “Nah, I don’t think so.” “No, really, please, let’s look.” And then me drawing the logic between the sign and the paper. Hopefully when it is time for my children to take college entrance exams they’ll understand worksheet logic better than they do now.
Rushmore’s booklet included a crossword puzzle, which would be fun except that in order to complete a crossword puzzle correctly one must spell the words right. This led to multiple tears as we asked our children to check their spelling, before ultimately just writing the word for them because this is suppose to be a fun, family activity and it is 100 degrees outside and I just can’t anymore.
The ultimate final task of the booklets is to take them to a ranger. At Rushmore they are required to ask the ranger what they do at the park and then draw the answer. For some reason my children equated this with asking a park ranger what kind of underwear they were wearing. There were more tears as we tried to point out the friendly looking rangers standing idly by, just waiting for children to come up and talk to them. “It’s OK” we said, “You don’t have to get the badge. We were here! We saw the monument! Let’s go!” But that wasn’t OK. My girls needed the badge. And so, eventually, they worked up their nerve and received the badges. Only to repeat the same experience the next day at the Wind Cave.
My girls are now the proud holders of two junior ranger badges. The Badlands ranger just gave me the booklets and the badges and made me promise not to give them the badges until they finished the booklets. I have a feeling I will be the proud holder of two junior ranger Badland badges because I highly suspect my children will not complete their worksheet packet now that we are ending our vacation.