Posted by: Kirsten | Tuesday, 24 July 2007

National Park-in-a-Box

Fossil Kit Can’t visit a park, or are looking for something to whet the kids’ appetite before you visit the park in person?  Check out these materials for loan!
Let’s face it — some parks are just too darn hard to get to.  I personally consider that a challenge and invitation to adventure, while many families will certainly consider it a logistical or financial obstacle.  But take heart; many of our national parks, monuments, and historic sites have materials they will loan out to schools and homeschooling families for free or a very minimal fee.

A few years back, my son and I were planning a geology field trip to Oregon, which happens to be a volcanic and fossil wonderland.  One of those really-hard-to-reach parks is John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in eastern Oregon.  We decided we were going to make the trip, and when exploring the park’s website I noticed a page on “Materials for Loan” under the “FOR TEACHERS” link. 

At the time we decided to request the materials, there was no information on the site that stated whether homeschool families were eligible for checking out the box of fossils, videotapes, worksheets, and lesson plans for kids in grades 3-9.  A quick call to the park, and the friendly interpretive supervisor was more than happy to send the materials to us. 

At the time, all we had to do was pay for the postage to send the box back in about four weeks. Nowadays, there’s a nominal $10 fee for use of the materials, but it’s still a good deal. After handling some of the fossils, you’ll see why they decided to charge a small fee — some of those fossils are very fragile and certainly need to be replaced from time to time.

For us however, there was no fee at all.  Since we were travelling to the park at the end of the month, we simply brought it back in person.  I was also able to use them for a cub scout meeting where the boys all earned their Geologist pin.  Having real fossils made all the difference.

Other historic sites might send you a travelling trunk full of historic objects (not the real thing, of course) and period costumes to try on.  A list of all parks with materials for loan can be found at  Check it out, then check ’em out, then check out the park in person if you can.  It will make your visit so much more enjoyable, educational, and exciting!

— Jon


  1. I stumbled across your site yesterday. I just wanted let you know that I think it’s a great resource. Especially for someone like me who is so new to the NPS. Thanks for the information about the Junior Ranger and passport programs. We went to White Sands this weekend and all we did was slide down the hills. Now when we go back we’ll have so much more to look forward to.

  2. Thanks Sabrina for your kind words. My family is visiting the Land of Enchantment in October… balloon fiesta of course, but a visit to three or four of the many New Mexico parks is definitely planned as well. I’ve already requested and received Junior Ranger books for these parks in the mail at no cost to us. The kids will work on them during September for the activities they can do without needing to be there, and will finish up the remaining activities when we get to each park. I’ve found it’s a great way to give the kids an orientation to the park before we even leave home, and they’re more likely to get some educational benefit from the visit knowing what the park is all about ahead of time. In fact, I need to write an article on this very subject sometime.

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