Posted by: Kirsten | Thursday, 6 September 2007

Beyond Junior Rangers… Now What?

Hats Off to Yellowstone
“Hats Off” to Yellowstone for their new
Young Scientist program!
So your kid has just collected his 67th Junior Ranger badge at age 10 and has begun giving you “that look” when you ask if s/he wants to earn another at the next park.

“Mom… Dad… I know all this stuff already.”

Thankfully, Yellowstone National Park has taken the lead in addressing the question of “What’s next after Junior Rangers?” — head on. This season they introduced their new Young Scientist program, which as you guessed it, focuses on the science behind the park and is geared toward both the young and the teen set.

There are two programs — one available at Old Faithful Visitor Center which focuses on thermal features and microbiology of the Upper Geyser Basin at the southern end of the park, and the other at Canyon Visitor Education Center which focuses on volcanism, geology, and the features and stops found along the northern loop of the park.

The offerings at Canyon come in two age divisions: a book for ages 8-12 and another for ages 14 & up. Both cost $5 each, and when completed, your Young Scientist can earn a nifty patch or keychain showing the Young Scientist logo.

The 8-to-12 program at Canyon focuses on the question “Can you figure out how the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was created?” 8-9 year olds complete 6 of the 12 activities while 10-12 year olds complete 8 of the 12 activities.

The 14+ program at Canyon is definitely a bit “cooler” as it was written in the comic book style (they obviously studied their target audience), and it’s more open ended, allowing your science ranger to pick what s/he wants to observe, record observations, and optionally check out a backpack (only available at Old Faithful) for three hours to use some handy tools like a magnifying glass, stopwatch, rock samples, infrared thermometer, etc.

If it’s not convenient to stop by one of the Visitor Centers when finished, you can always mail it in when you get home. (Uh, the booklet, NOT the backpack!)

At 11, my son did the Junior Ranger book last week and next time we visit we’ll probably do Young Scientist. I picked up a copy of the Canyon booklets anyway to have as a reference, and so I could report on them here for Homeschool Rangers.

I didn’t get a chance to pick up the Old Faithful versions of the Young Scientist booklets (I could hit myself) but I’m sure they are equally challenging as the Canyon booklets, yet focus on features present at the southern end of the park and offer activities for budding [insert your favorite prefix here]-ologists down to age 5, I believe. Hopefully in a few years we’ll start seeing these booklets as a regular feature in many parks throughout the country.

Credit goes to my son for this suggestion — for extra credit, we’d like to see an addition to the booklets in the future where kids need to invent some gizmo that retrieves people’s hats from the delicate thermal features after they’ve blown yards away from their reach along the boardwalk trails! We saw no fewer than 8 hats along one trail and my son immediately started thinking up ways to get the hats without damaging the park resources. Ya gotta love homeschooling sometimes! Real solutions to real problems in real time…

— Jon



  1. Glad you found Yellowstone’s new Young Scientist program of interest. We hope to expand the program this summer.

    It’s great to see your compilation of learning opportunities utilizing parks as teachers and classrooms!

    If you contact me by email, I may have some information of interest to your son.
    Ranger Beth

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