Project overview: Inspire future stewards through year-round Junior Ranger programming, and introduce new adaptive activities and materials to better serve kids with a range of learning needs.
The backstory: Spending time outside has well-documented benefits for kids, from improving physical health, to sparking creativity and reducing stress levels. For many children, though, growing up has become a largely indoor activity. Yosemite’s Junior Ranger programs create fun, educational experiences that inspire kids to feel comfortable in and connected to the outdoors.
Each year, thousands of children earn their wooden Yosemite Junior Ranger badges through ranger-led walks and talks, educational worksheets, and stewardship activities. Participants might explore ecology during a forest wander, practice Leave No Trace skills while meeting a meadow, or learn about American Indian history next to a bark-covered umacha in Yosemite Valley. Yosemite’s youngest visitors aren’t the only ones who benefit from Junior Ranger programs. Many activities lend themselves to intergenerational engagement, prompting older siblings, parents, grandparents and other family members to learn and explore, too.
Our donors first funded the park’s Junior Ranger activities in the early 2000s. Since then, donors’ support has helped the program expand to offer more activities, at more locations in the park; more than 200,000 children have earned their Yosemite Junior Ranger badges since 2008. Even a global pandemic couldn’t stop Yosemite’s rangers from connecting kids with nature: With support from our 2020 grant, Yosemite educators shifted some Junior Ranger programming online when the park temporarily closed as a public health precaution, inviting kids to learn through fun videos (like this “Kids Ask Rangers: Virtual Junior Ranger Party” episode), and activities they could do at home.
This year: In 2021, Yosemite educators plan to lead multiple daily Junior Ranger programs throughout the park during the summer season, with activities in the Valley the rest of the year. They’ll experiment with different activities and locations — and, depending on the status of the pandemic, will once again offer creative online programming.
With your support, Yosemite’s Junior Ranger leaders are working to develop ways to better serve kids with a variety of learning needs, such as by creating props for children who might respond better to visual experiences, modifying activities to engage kids with a range of sensory processing abilities, and setting up a nature-based independent play area. This grant also funds training to help park educators learn techniques for making their lessons more inclusive and welcoming to all visitors, and in collaboration with the Conservancy, the production of a new Junior Ranger booklet designed to be accessible to a wider range of learners.
Ultimately, improving Junior Ranger programming for kids with varied learning styles and needs will help create an even more valuable and memorable experience for all participants. Your gifts will enable many more kids and families to participate in enriching educational activities, experience the park in a meaningful way and develop a lasting appreciation for the outdoors.
Project partner: Yosemite National Park.