Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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There is something magical about the way “ranger” rings to our ears. It evokes pristine wilderness, preserved nature and protected wildlife. Rangers wear funny hats, shiny badges and know about bears. They can start fires better than mom and dad (even with fancy square bases) and like to sing songs at campfire circles. To a child, they’re nice guardians of the outdoors and that’s immensely respectable. So when you ask a five-year-old if she wants to become a junior park ranger, the answer is a loud and clear yes.
When reading the Yosemite Park News, I noticed a full page about the Junior Park Ranger program. Basically there are two categories. For children between three and six years of age, there’s a Little Cub button that you earn by doing some nature-oriented activities. For children between seven and 13 years of age, you can earn a shiny Junior Park Ranger badge by doing more nature activities.
I was aiming at the Little Cub category so we filled the page of the Yosemite Park News, attended a campfire circle for children, collected a bag of trash on the campground and my girls drew a picture of a Yosemite sight.
The campfire circle for children was particularly fun because Ranger Joanna Cooke performed a skit with two children about what not to do when a bear approaches your campsite. As the ranger growled and crawled towards the first little girl, the girl screamed and ran away. “Perfect,” said the ranger, “that’s exactly what not to do.” The second time round, the ranger gave instructions to the second participant and as the ranger growled and crawled forward, the second little girl completely told her off, pointing her finger and yelling not to come take her food. Big rounds of applause for the right attitude.
We then sang “Tuolumne” to the tune of The Sound of Music’s Edelweiss, and heard an African story about how the spider got her narrow waist.
The next day, having completed the page, I took my girls to the Tuolumne Visitor Center and Ranger Anna Cummings came to us. She asked simple questions to my oldest while the youngest avidly sucked her favorite thumb: “What do you remember from the campfire circle?”, “What have you learned about animals?” and so forth. She had my oldest repeat the junior park ranger oath after her and then swore her in.
To my surprise, she handed over a Junior Park Ranger badge to my oldest and a Little Cub button to my three-year old. Even more unexpected, she asked for silence in the visitor center and introduced my girls as the new junior park rangers that day. Wow, what a thrill!
My girls blushed to their ears when everybody clapped but deep inside they were super proud. The first day of school was Tuesday and the first thing they brought to class was … their junior ranger badge and button.