As we come off of National Park Week and as many families begin to look ahead to summer adventures, it is a great time to ensure the word is out about the Every Kid in a Park initiative. Thanks to this program, which started under President Obama’s administration, every 4th grader in America (and whoever ventures with them) gets free entry into national parks and waterways.

A badge icon saying "every kid in a park" with an invitation to fourth graders with a beautiful scenic vista in the background

We can thank many prior presidents as well for encouraging our country to preserve and enjoy beautiful places. For example, Theodore Roosevelt dedicated The Grand Canyon as a park in 1908, urging Americans to:

Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.

With the added impetus of “Every Kid in a Park” (our youngest son is in 4th grade), visited the Grand Canyon and came away with ten reasons why a National Park is a great destination, no matter which one you choose.

10 Reasons to Hit the Road and See a Park

Here are 10 reasons every family with a fourth-grader (and those without), should make the most of every kid in a park. Most of These reasons can really to virtually any place-based experiences.

1) It’s the best federal initiative of the year. The National Park Service’s gift of free admission for fourth graders and their families is a sweet deal — and most people live within driving distance of at least one national park.

2) Park visits are a good way to practice preparation. To earn access, kids need to complete a few activities and print out a pass (no digital passes are accepted). It was a pretty quick and easy process, yet still spurs a little advance planning.

3) Parks allow you to experience history. As we went to dinner, we walked the halls and sat in rooms where leaders like President Roosevelt had dined.

4) You’ll be getting active. We did a hike down the Bright Angel trail in the Grand Canyon. There are always ways to modify and extend hikes to adapt to each family member’s capacity.

5) Kids can become a Junior Ranger. Each National Park has a junior ranger program. The book is interesting, engaging, and differentiated by age and interest.

6) Parks provide great opportunities to learn. While there is an element of learning in all of these reasons, it’s worth calling out itself. There’s nothing quite like a park to teach history, language arts (how to express oneself), the visual arts (ranging from the hieroglyphs to the narratives), and science (the geology of the area).

7) It’s a chance to become more self-aware and take time to reflect. One of the activities in the Junior Ranger book is to take 10 minutes to be still and then report on what you feel.

8) Parks can turn you into a “noticer”. A couple of my best friends and former teammates coined the term “be a noticer” – in other words, tune into your surroundings and practice a sense of awe. While it seemed excessive to pack our simple, yet large, telescope, it was definitely worth the starlight gaze.

9) You’ll find many reasons to laugh. One of our biggest laughs came from re-enacting the scene from National Lampoon’s “Vacation” movie where the family does a quick head bob as they overlook the Grand Canyon–okay, perhaps not the most educational movie, but funny nonetheless. Even better, the Junior Ranger book came with a Madlibs-style activity. Not only did it allow us to apply (and in some cases, remember) various parts of speech, we enjoyed some great laughs.

10) It’s a chance to experience the world. While these are US-based parks, the visitors are diverse–we heard languages and met people from around the world.

Get Your Pass

The process is quite simple, and it includes an opportunity for the 4th grader to reflect a bit about why he or she wants to go.

The idea behind the Every Kid in a Park Initiative doesn’t just apply to 4th graders. All 3 of our boys had reasons they thought it was great. Our high school boys said it was good to get out and see new things once in awhile and gain new experiences that bring perspective. And they even admitted it was great to spend time together as a family!

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