Parents know, the struggle to get our kids away from the TV, video games, or watching other kids play with toys on YouTube is real. Now, some kids are lovers of outside play. They want to run, climb and jump. But even park visits for my girls often only lasted 15 or 20 minutes, especially if no other kids were there to play with.
When my girls were younger even going for a walk was a struggle. My husband and I love to hike, but my girls? They wanted nothing to do with it. But, that all changed one faithful day at Stephen Foster State Park near White Springs, Florida. A ranger mentioned the thing that changed it all: The Junior Ranger Program.
Ever since then, my oldest has been begging to hit new state parks, hike trails and answer whatever questions needed to gain a new stamp in her passport. Finally, we can enjoy hikes as a family.
So, what is the Florida State Parks Junior Ranger Program?
The Florida State Parks Junior Ranger program is designed for kids to encourage a love of nature, education, and nature conservation. At any participating Florida State Park you can ask for the Junior Ranger workbook. Help your child complete it, they say a pledge; get an official Junior Ranger badge, a passport book and a new love for our state parks. Once the passport is in hand, you visit other parks, complete an activity or two and they get a stamp in their passport. Fill the passport, and you earn a Junior Ranger Patch.
Thanks to this amazing program, we have hiked and toured more Florida State Parks than we ever thought possible. Our girls have learned about different plants and animals as well as some of the history of Florida. But the best part is our girls get out of the house, away from electronics, in the fresh air, getting exercise and making memories as a family.
There are quite a few Florida State Parks in the Jacksonville area. Fort Clinch, Big Talbot Island, Little Talbot Island, Fort Mose, Mike Roess Goldhead Branch, Anastasia State Park and Ravine Gardens are all a short drive from Jacksonville and all participate in the Junior Ranger program.
If you are willing to drive more than an hour away, you have access to so many more great parks. So what are you waiting for? Adventure is out there. Pack a picnic and get the kids outside to explore all it has to offer!
Melody is a graduate of Jacksonville University, married a Jax Beach resident, moved away for 12 years, then returned to the area in 2016. Together they have two girls. Melody works as owner/photographer of Melody Coarsey Photography, she loves yoga, family, traveling, dining with a view and the ocean.