Get Students Excited for Learning with the National Parks

I LOVE teaching with the national parks. It is something that has brought me great joy, and I love when school families plan their vacations around the parks we learned about. Incorporating the National Park Service into my classroom is pretty seamless, as I teach about the regions of the country and many parks are part of our curriculum. You can easily tie the parks into science as well.

I wanted to share a few of my favorite ways I use the parks in my classroom.

The first way I share the national parks with my students is through virtual field trips with park rangers. Over the years my students have met virtually (well before COVID hit) with several of the national parks, but I wanted to point out three of the virtual field trips that I thought were most beneficial.

  • Denali National Park is the first national park that I ever Skyped with. They have several different distance learning sessions, but I am partial to the “Science of Sled Dogs”. If you teach using the Iditarod Sled Dog Race like I do, then this is the distance learning session for you. However, they do have a few others and all of them are great!
  • Joshua Tree National Park also does a fantastic job with their distance learning. This past school year my students and I met with a park ranger from Joshua Tree and we all learned so much. The park ranger was outside actually showing us the plants that she was talking about and showing us the landscape of the park. It was unique for sure!
  • Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state also did a wonderful job with their distance learning this past spring. My students learned a lot about the different animals that are in the park and they really enjoyed learning from the park ranger. We did this Google meet during the height of quarantine in the springtime and my students were SO engaged. I even learned a few Google Classroom tips from the rangers!

Another way that I like using the national parks in my classroom is by having my students become Junior Rangers for the parks we are learning about. Before we dive into any Junior Ranger badge I contact the park, typically using Facebook, to make sure that they are accepting Junior Ranger packets from students that complete it remotely. Oftentimes they are more than happy to accept Junior Ranger packets from my class and if the packet isn’t already online the ranger will share it with me. 

When it comes to the packet though, I don’t want my students to just read about the national park, so we will tie our Junior Ranger work to a distance learning session, along with an episode of Rock the Park. If you have not watched the show Rock the Park it is a fun way to learn about the parks and very kid friendly. Another way my students learn about the parks is through Google. Google teamed up with the national parks and they have some really great interactive resources.

I also like to tie in what we’re learning in social studies to language arts class, so I’ve created a set of national parks comprehension packets. These packets include both a nonfiction article and fictional story that will engage your students, but also teach them about the national parks. They focus on comprehension, vocabulary, sequencing and more. I created these packets for both print and for Google Slides. If you are interested in either of those you can click the links below. 

And don’t forget, if you teach 4th or 5th grade you can get your students free National Park passes! Check it out here!

I hope you find a way to incorporate the parks into your classroom this year! 

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