National Parks Offer A Variety Of Kids’ Programs For The Summer

Countless programs in the national parks are tilted towards kids, who can earn Junior Ranger badges as they work their way through the park system. NPS photo.

America’s national parks are a great place for kids to spend their free time during their summer vacation. Many parks offer educational programs, summer camps and special tours, and present an opportunity for parents to instill a love of nature and history into their children. This is a small sampling of some of these programs:


Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

The park’s cooperating association, Eastern National, and the Flat Rock Playhouse are sponsoring performances of Rootabaga!, which features children’s stories set to music from Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, and are appropriate for kids of all ages. The events are free, and will be held every Thursday and Saturday at 10:15 a.m.

Summer camps and youth groups can also visit Carl Sandburg Home NHS for a day of educational fun and learning. ParKids! is a new onsite summer program geared to engage summer camps and youth groups in a variety of ranger-led and self-guided programming. Activities include live performances by the Flat Rock Playhouse, ranger-led house tours, barn tours and poetry activities! Self-guided Discovery Backpacks are also available to borrow, filled with interactive activities including scavenger hunts, sensory activities and sketching activities, as well as hands-on tools such as magnifying glasses, binoculars, and field guides. Click here for more information.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Voted America’s most beautiful place by ABC’s Good Morning America, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has a multitude of programs available for kids this summer, including one of the best Junior Ranger programs of all the parks in the system.

Visit the park on Mondays at 10 a.m. and your kids can experience Junior Ranger Romp, an opportunity for children to explore a meadow, search for animals, and learn about the ecosystem. The Heroes of the Storm program, a reenactment of a turn-of-the-century shipwreck rescue designed for kids of all ages, is held daily at 3 p.m. at the Maritime Museum, Glen Haven.

F.U.N (Families United with Nature) is an outdoor activity club for families, hosted by the park. The club provides a fantastic opportunity for families to get outdoors together and participate in activities, enjoy the scenery of the park, and meet other families who enjoy being outside. FUN meets every second Sunday of the month at 2 p.m., with additional special events throughout the year.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

Continuing a tradition by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who often held concerts in his studio for family and friends, a Summer Concert Series will be held at Saint-Gaudens NHS. Performances of classical, folk and jazz music will take place at the park weekly from July 1st through August 26th. Notably, Stephen Stearns will perform Laugh Me to the Moon on July 29th, a family concert of folk songs and stories will be enhanced by mime, juggling, and contortion. There is no additional charge for the concerts, after the regular admission fee to the park.

Click here for the full schedule.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Spanning part of the Mississippi and Florida coasts, Gulf Islands NS has many opportunities for kids throughout the summer. Not only do they offer Junior Lifeguarding programs, but several Junior Ranger and Sea Star Summer Camps are offered in both the Mississippi and Florida districts.

Gulf Islands NS will also be offering daily programs for kids in several subjects, including environmental education, the animals of the Gulf Coast, biking programs and much more. A special program commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is offered as well, beginning at the Naval Live Oaks Visitor Center. Programs are free after admission to the park.

Lowell National Historical Park

The Tsongas Industrial Center, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts and Lowell NHP, offers a variety of summer camp programs for kids ages 8 to 14. Campers will experience the rich industrial history of Lowell at Boott Camp, where they will build their own canal system, weave cloth on a four-harness loom, and take a boat ride on the Merrimack River.

Kids aged 10-14 can visit five local area affiliated sites, including Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site and the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, through Lowell’s National Park Adventures camp. For more information about these and other exciting summer camp programs, click here.

Richmond National Battlefield Park

The park offers programs with a variety of themes which include Civil War, nature, iron making at Tredegar and medicine during the Civil War era. In cooperation with the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, a multitude of exciting programs are offered to student groups of various ages. During The Cannon’s Roar program, kids will learn the importance of cannon during the Civil War and the mathematics necessary to operate them. Students will role-play an 8-member artillery crew with historically accurate equipment, and will be able to see an actual cannon that was made at Tredegar Iron Works and used during the Civil War. Reservations are required, and more information can be obtained by contacting Ranger Pat Ferrell at (804) 771-2018.

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Do your kids like digging in the dirt? Effigy Mounds National Monument has many programs that will pique their interest in Native American history, culture, and archaeology. Beyond the park’s ongoing Junior Ranger and kids’ archaeology programs, special guided Junior Ranger hikes are scheduled for June 16th, July 14th and August 18th at 1 p.m. A special annual event, Kids’ Archaeology Day, will be had at the park on August 11th. Children will enjoy many different types of activities including Native American games, beading and basket weaving demonstrations and an archaeological dig.

There are many more programs available for kids this summer at America’s national parks. Visit the National Park Service website for more details or to find a park near you.