When you think about spring break, relaxing on a beach might be the first thing that comes to mind. But, not for my family!
Last year, we towed our 1990-vintage pop-up camper trailer (pictured above!) to the dramatic desert landscapes and sandstone formations of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in Utah. Joshua Tree in California, with its unusual yucca trees and huge granite boulders is our destination this April. So far, we’ve explored 15 national parks, and we hope to visit all 63! On our trips, we’ve hiked, mountain biked, viewed incredible scenery, observed wildlife like bison, moose, bear, elk, mountain goats, and pika at close (but carefully safe!) range, marveled at the night sky, and learned so much about nature, history, and the importance of protecting wild places.
The mission of the National Park Service is “to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” There are many ways to appreciate and learn from these very special places whether you are planning a trip this spring break or not! Below, you’ll find a selection of amazing resources to engage students, from virtual tours, to learning about science and history, to understanding how and why it’s critical to care for the environment.
You may want to bookmark Find Your Virtual Park, the starting point for a vast collection of learning experiences from NPS.gov. Our favorites are linked here:
- Explore the Educator Resources and Lesson Plan pages from the National Park Service, searchable by park, grade level, topic, and common core standard.
- Teaching with Historic Places offers activities and materials to engage students in learning about America’s diverse past.
- Students can experience the parks live with fascinating webcam views. I just checked out the West vent in Halemaʻumaʻu and lava lake in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park!
- Visit the Games and Challenges page for fun and unique activities that will get students excited about the parks.
- Encourage students to become Junior Rangers! The Junior Ranger motto, “Explore, Learn, Protect,” is a wonderful idea to share with students. Nearly every national park has a junior ranger book, full of learning activities, which you can download from the site. Students can complete their books alongside your virtual tour!
Here are a few more ideas for your virtual vacation!
- The National Parks Foundation is the official charitable partner of the National Park Service. Their website has lots of great resources to explore. Their Virtual Visits are incredible!
- After your online visit to a national park, share the Every Kid Outdoors program with families to continue the adventure. All 4th graders can receive a free family pass to visit any national park. You can even get passes for your students!
- 1,000 Hours Outside is dedicated to encouraging kids to spend time playing outdoors and families to prioritize unstructured experiences in nature. It’s a great resource for families!
- To learn about the history and creation of the national parks, view Ken Burns’ documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The PBS website provides clips from the film with accompanying lesson ideas for different age levels.
- For even more inspiration, check out this Checklist of 20 Virtual Ideas to explore the parks.
- Unplugging and getting out in nature is good for our hearts, bodies, and minds! Visit the Wellness in Nature page for ideas to get active, de-stress, and become a Park Health Ambassador. There are great ideas to support student wellness, too!
The archway at the entrance to Yellowstone, the first national park established in 1872, is carved with the words “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This inclusive vision invites all Americans (and international visitors!) to treasure and protect our beautiful natural places. Wallace Stegner called the national parks “America’s best idea,” and it’s an honor to share this idea with young people. Hopefully, you and your students can enjoy a virtual or real-life adventure in the national parks soon!