As a homeschooling family we are always looking for new opportunities to help our children explore and appreciate the world around them. As we plan our family travel we often include trips to America’s National Parks as a way to supplement our history, geography, and science lessons. In talking with friends about “taking their learning on the road”, I was happy to discover that many other homeschoolers love to learn at National Parks & Historic Sites too.
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America’s National Parks & Historic Sites
“A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors” Henry David Thoreau
Conservationism and environmentalism are important issues we have been discussing in our homeschool geography studies. Conservationism in America can be traced back more than a hundred years. “The writer Henry David Thoreau was one of the first widely known advocates for preserving nature so that future generations could enjoy untouched, wild spaces.” – North Star Geography.
During the Civil War Yosemite Valley was protected by the state of California. In 1872 President Grant made Yellowstone America’s first national park. In 1916 the National Park Service was officially formed with the goal of protecting the parks for the enjoyment of future generations.
Today hundreds of spaces across the United States have been recognized for their scenic, scientific, and historical value. The National Park System designates these places as national parks, monuments, preserves, memorials, historic sites, seashores, and battlefield parks.
Learn at National Parks & Historic Sites
Visits to National Parks help our children understand our country’s rich history and breathtaking landscape. Families can learn about history, science, and geography through guided tours, nature hikes, educational programs, and more.
To offer ideas of how homeschool families can learn in the parks, I asked some friends to share thoughts and experiences about their favorite National Parks & Historical Sites. Here are some of their stories, tips, and, family memories:
My family enjoys exploring the cave system at Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky. I remember going here as a child many times, and I’ve taken my oldest daughter a time or two. Many nature & science topics to explore, and some history lessons too.
We really enjoyed Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. It is full of history about the Pueblo people. There is so much to see (cliff dwellings, climb down inside a kiva) and most does not require a long hike.
We also enjoyed Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado. It was a one-day trip on the way to some place else in Colorado but was so fun. It is best visited in warm (not hot) weather and if you have elementary aged and younger children, bring a change of clothes. I wish we had known that before hand! There is a small creek that runs alongside the sand dunes that is a blast to play in.
And of course, the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona is amazing! Enough said. They do have a junior ranger program. We did not do that but did participate in some of the free scavenger hunts. We did purchase the National Park Passport Books so we can stamp our books as we travel to new National Parks. It is our goal to visit many of them before our girls graduate high school.
We took a trip to Yellowstone National Park recently and wrote about our adventures at the park and how we continued our learning at home – Yellowstone Learning~ Old Faithful Geyser Experiment.
A favorite park in our home state is Arches National Park, Utah. It is incredibly beautiful with red rocks and rock formations. We have been there hiking as a family & loved it. There is also river rafting and horse back riding.
Yosemite National Park, California is practically in our back yard! We love to walk the fairly easy trail to the base of Yosemite Falls because you can push a stroller and follow wandering toddlers but teens can run ahead at their own pace and are genuinely wowed by the falls when it’s not a drought year.
The Mist Trail up the side of Vernal Falls is a challenge for good hiking kids and sturdy adults. Prepare to get wet – it’s called the Mist Trail for a reason.
Pack a picnic and find a great spot in any of the meadows. There’s no lack of space on the Valley floor, even at the height of summer when visitors are everywhere. Degnan’s Deli in Yosemite Village makes fresh sandwiches in case you’d rather not pack your own lunch.
Take a homeschool field trip through the Indian Village. The center is staffed by helpful and interesting rangers. The John Muir gallery is lovely. Cyclists wend their way through the Village, and you might even encounter the occasional coyote running through.
Hiking Half Dome will take you a day to do, and isn’t for the faint of heart. The hiking is steady but the cables at the end to actually get you to the top require a lack of fear of heights
Yellowstone National Park is our favorite! I wrote about Our Yellowstone Family Vacation and Ultimate Field Trip in detail because it was the BEST vacation we’ve ever had.
As for learning programs – Sprite also did the Junior Scientist program at Old Faithful. She was loaned a backpack with rock samples, information about geysers, a stopwatch, and most fun of all a digital temperature gauge. She had a ball measuring the heat of the geysers and hot springs. She took notes of all her findings and reported back to the Old Faithful Ranger’s station.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota was awesome. It has been several years since we visited. There is a TON of learning to do around the area, so much fun stuff we would like to go again some day.
My Family Adventures at National Parks
My kids love to dive deeper into their history and geography studies. Some of our favorites places include:
Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia, including Historic Jamestowne and Yorktown. We lived in Virginia for many years and often made trips to explore Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America.
We have made several trips to the National Mall & Memorial Parks, District of Columbia and still have not been able to see and do everything on our wish list! On our most recent trip we walked all around the Mall stopping at the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, World War II Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and more. We are always in awe of how many symbols of our nation’s history can be found in this one space.
Extend Your Learning
Did you know the National Park Service offers a Junior Ranger Program for children between the ages of 5 to 13? This program gives children an opportunity to complete a series of activities during their visit to the park, share their findings with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger certificate.
If you aren’t able to plan a visit to a National Park, you can always bring the parks to you. Using the WebRangers Program and Nation Park Foundation Electronic Field Trips your family can learn all about the parks without leaving home.
And don’t forget about the many books, videos, and maps that showcase the beauty and details of our National Parks, including:
- Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 58 National Parks
- The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
- National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States
- National Parks: A Kid’s Guide to America’s Parks, Monuments and Landmarks
- United States National Parks [Tubed] (National Geographic Reference Map)
- National Geographic Kids National Parks Guide U.S.A.
Our National Parks & Historic Sites offer a glimpse into our country’s past as well space to learn, grow, and make new memories with your family. If you have a chance to take your homeschool lessons on the road and visit a National Park, please share your favorite stories and tips here so others can add to their family’s educational travel wish list!