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The Great American Backyard Campout

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 3:07 am

Great American Backyard Campout Homeschool.comTravel

Thousands of families across the country will be pitching a tent on June 22, 2013 for the 9th annual Great American Backyard Campout, organized by the National Wildlife Federat

ion. This yearly event is part of a larger movement, Be Out There, which encourages families to reconnect with nature.

“Whether camping in the great outdoors or in their own backyard, the Great American Backyard Campout is the perfect way for families to make lasting memories and will give them a better understanding of why it’s called the great outdoors,” says Karoline Hurd, senior manager of events for National Wildlife Federation.

Be sure to check out the website which has great information such as packing lists, recipes, wildlife guides, games, Campouts by state (if you are looking for a large group to join), and more. Families will need to register on the site, and can even opt to raise funds for NWF and the Be Out There campaign.

Whether you’re a seasoned camping family or using the Campout for the first time to test out how your family likes the camping experience, it’s a way to slow down busy family schedules, enjoy being together, and appreciate the simple joys only nature can deliver.

The Great American Backyard Campout is especially important for kids because, for the first time in our country’s history; we have an entire generation that is growing up disconnected from nature. Spending time outdoors, like Campout, makes kids happier and healthier.

Will you be participating? If you are looking for more inspiration, check out our other camping articles and our Pinterest Board:

Travel Experts Give Their Advice On Family Camping

3 Affordable Ways to Enjoy A Long Weekend

6 Tips For Camping Success

PINTEREST: National Camping Week


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Travel Experts Give Their Advice On Family Camping

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 3:13 am

Kayaking while camping at Mulberry River in Franklin County Arkansas. This photo was taken by a reader, Courtney Doudna.

The 4th week of June is National Camping Week.  Our family will be celebrating; will yours?  Whether you are new to camping, or adventuring in the great outdoors is old-hat, you are bound to find inspiration from this round up of family travel camping experiences. Read about camping in a fire tower, get some advice on what to pack for a camping excursion, and see pictures from one family’s early morning surprise!


Types of Camping Experiences

Jennifer Miner of The Vacation Gals takes you inside her adventure at a KOA Glamour Cabin. Can we really call this camping?? (Of course!)

Get some insight on camping in a yurt (and with a baby) from Kate Spiller of Wild Tales Of…

Jody Halsted, writing for De Moines Moms Blog, gives you the low-down on different types of camping, from rough and rugged to pampered escapes.

If you’re up for a little adventure, try one of these four alternative camping adventures suggested by Amy Whitley of Trekaroo.

First time campers will enjoy a ‘helping hand’ camping experience offered by many state parks around the country.  Erin Haag of Mommy Octopus details the program for Georgia; you can call your state parks program for more information in your area.

This post from Kirstie Pelling of The Family Adventure Project will inspire you. Using only bivis and tarps this family is sleeping under the stars in a host of environments.


Camping Tips and Tricks

Jessica Nugent and LiLing Pang of Trekaroo designed a packing list for the basic camping expedition, including essentials for babies, hiking and beach camping.

Even if you think you have the basics under control, don’t miss this list of creative camping gear for travel with the smallest of over-nighters, from Jessica Bower of Suitcases and Sippycups.

Michelle McCoy, with Trekaroo, offers advice about snagging a space at the more popular National Parks.

If you are escaping to the woods or beach in a camper, then you will love these space saving hints from Linda Kramer of Travels With Children.

Some of us can’t do anything without reading a book about it first {your illustrious author is raising her hand here}. If you fall into this ‘camp’, then check out this book review from Kara Williams at The Vacation Gals.

Stuart Wickes from Family Adventure Project gives you some detailed points to ponder if you are looking to gear up with your own tent.

Once you gear up, follow these tips for tent camping from Allison Laypath at Tips for Family Trips. I especially like her tips for a good night’s sleep!


Adventure While Camping

Camping was only a secondary adventure to Rhythm Turner, a student writing for Wandering Educators.  Her manatee experience was the highlight!

Daring families will enjoy reading about camping with Sue Rodman from Field Trips with Sue; she and her crew went on a cave tour and hang gliding experience.

And finally, Amy Stupovszky from World School Adventures reminds us that (mis)adventures sometimes arise when least expected. I love how Amy commemorates her family’s trials; it is definitely one to talk about year after year.


Looking for more travel expertise? Sign up for our Weekly Travel Update, and get our articles right to your inbox each Saturday.

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18 Free Family Adventures in Orange County, CA

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 5:49 am
18 Free Family Adventures in Orange County, CA

Huntington Beach, CA Photo by rachel_titiriga/CC Flickr

There is more to Orange County than Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, and you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to enjoy all it has to offer.  Whether you are in Southern California for vacation, or you call this area home, the family is sure to love these 18 FREE family activities.

  1. Low Tide Ecosystems. Observe and investigate anemones, starfish, barnacles and other water creatures by visiting the tide pools and various beaches around the county.  By venturing at low tide you are more likely to uncover the hidden flora and fauna. Bring a magnifying glass for observing, but remember not to disturb these delicate creatures or their habitats.
  2. Nature Centers. Orange County is host to a number of nature centers such as Turtle Rock, with a nature trail, native plant garden and labyrinth. Environmental Nature Center offers hiking trails, wildlife habitats and a butterfly house.  Muth Interpretive Center is a natural estuary with interactive displays.
  3. Bolsa Chica Wetlands. The Bolsa Chica Conservancy walks visitors through a free two-hour guided tour on the first Saturday of each month. Learn more about the birds and endangered animals of the wetlands. Discover more about the Bolsa Chica’s past, and how to restore the area and preserve it for the future.
  4. Huntington Beach Pier. Play in the sand, look for shells, and watch the surfers.  Older kids can bike or roller blade.  Bring a picnic blanket and a pile of books.  Fly a kite, or venture on the (much more crowded) weekend for a festival or farmers market.
  5. The Irvine Museum. Free on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, it is a lovely place to learn more about California impressionist art.
  6. Disney Fireworks Display. Load the iPhone with your favorite music, pack a “car” picnic and head to one of the top five locations outside the Park to view Disney fireworks, from VitaminOC.
  7. Heritage Park Irvine. Play in the pop-up fountains or take to the ocean themed playground.  Bring cracked corn and feed the ducks and geese in the grassy areas around the lake.
  8. Nixon Presidential Library. Explore campaign paraphernalia, news on Watergate, gowns of the first-lady and more at this library honoring the 37th president.  It is free on holidays.
  9. Vans Skatepark at the Block. After browsing the store, watch the local talent at the skate park.  Go Skateboarding Day each summer lets everyone skate for free.
  10. Heritage Hill Historical Park. Study the past with seven free walking tours over 4 acres of historical buildings.
  11. Orange County Great Park. Feel the dirt between your fingers in the hands-on garden lab, tour the Museum of Heritage & Aviation and walk the timeline of pivotal 1940’s events.  Check out sports equipment at the Visitor’s Center including Bocce ball, jump ropes, Frisbees and more. Climb Kids Rock to learn about ecology and the water cycle while working off some energy. See hot air balloons lift off or watch the carousel – and experience them for a nominal fee.  Sunday’s bring the farmers market and there are often outdoor concerts on the weekend.
  12. Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. See boards through history, ad sing a little Beach Boys karaoke. There are photos of famous surfers and ever-changing exhibits like movies and wax sculpted surfers.
  13. Bowers Museum. A museum celebrating cultural differences around the world.  There is also a Kidseum for a younger point of view.  Thanks to Target, admission is free the first Sunday of each month.
  14. Omar’s Exotic Birds. Visit this unique exotic bird store.  What makes it so unique? The birds are not in cages; they hang from perches around the store giving visitors a hands-on experience.
  15. Newport Sports Museum. See the world’s largest collection of sports memorabilia, with the benevolent mission of motivating at-risk youth to stay in school and off drugs. Who knows, you might even run into one of hundreds of well-known athlete volunteers.
  16. Pacific Marine Mammal Center. See the newest patients at this rescue and rehabilitation center.  Passionate volunteers care for seals and sea lions, and docents are available to answer your questions.
  17. Orange County Courthouse Museum.  Take a docent-led or self-guided tour of Southern California’s oldest courthouse.
  18. Fullerton Arboretum. A 26-acre botanical garden with plants from all over the world. Enjoy the historic house, volunteer veggie gardens, or just walking the dirt paths.

Where are your favorite FREE adventures? Join the conversation on Facebook.

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10 Family-Friendly Adventures in Monterey / Pacific Grove

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 8:04 pm
10 family friendly adventures in Monterey and Pacific Grove California

Monterey, CA Photo by amerune/CC Flickr

Pacific Grove, CA is known as Butterfly Town USA; October to February each year thousands of Monarchs migrate to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary to winter.  Neighboring town, Monterey, CA (only an eight-mile drive) is the setting for John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat. In these towns, where science meets literature, are 10 adventures for family fun.


  1. Older kids will enjoy a whale watching excursion to see Gray Whales in the Winter, and Humpbacks and Blue Whales Spring, Summer and Fall. Also watch sea otters, seals, pelicans and more.  Because these ventures can be long, they might not be suitable for younger children.  The little ones will find a trip on a glass bottom boat much more enjoyable.
  2. Dennis the Menace Park is a playground of fun for the kids.  There is a Southern Pacific railroad engine at the entrance to the park that kids are free to climb on.  There are unusual slides, rock walls, swaying bridge and obstacles du jour.  Hank Ketcham, a resident of Monterey, designed the park; he is famed for creating the Dennis the Menace cartoon.  You and the kids will want to relax here an hour or so every day, but be aware that it closes on Tuesdays and is only open from 10am to dusk.
  3. Adjacent to the playground is Lake El Estero.  This is a popular picnicking location. After enjoying a basket of plenty from the local farmers’ market, you can head out onto the lake itself.  Paddle boats are available for rent; 4 people can paddle for half an hour for less than $20.
  4. If paddle boating is too tame for you, consider a sea kayak tour with Adventures By The Sea.  The most popular route is along Cannery Row, the kelp forest of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where otters play, seals lounge on the rocks and pelicans dive for food among them.  You can take a guided tour or rent the kayak for the day. Rentals include all necessary equipment and an orientation to the wildlife.
  5. Tour Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel.  Kids can make a bead necklace, ride a surrey, pet starfish and collect a souvenir of the trip. Take lunch at the kid-friendly Schooners Coastal Kitchen with a view of the Bay, and top off the afternoon with an ice cream sundae at Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop.
  6. Also at Cannery Row is Monterey Bay Aquarium in the old sardine cannery, one of the country’s most esteemed aquariums.  Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours taking in the exhibits, but marine lovers can easily fill an entire day with activities here. Check the front desk for feeding times; older kids will enjoy the informative auditorium talks.  Summer gets crowded so save time by getting your tickets on line.
  7. Younger kids will appreciate a break from the sun at My Museum, the local children’s museum.  Kiddos can pretend to operate as they learn about the human body or sink a hole in one at the mini golf course.  There is also a small town hall, water play area and other tot-loving exhibits.
  8. Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, which manages the off-site Monarch overwintering location, explores the flora and fauna of the bay area.  This charming little museum will take about an hour to tour, with friendly and helpful docents available to answer any questions.
  9. The oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast, Point Pinos Lighthouse, is at Pacific Grove. For a small donation you can tour the lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters, and get a glimpse of what it is like for the single woman who runs the beacon.  The view alone is worth the stop. In the basement is a small museum, as well. There are both scientific and historical displays to take in. Plan to spend about an hour.
  10. Finally, relax at the beach at Lover’s Point.  This is the best beach for children, as the others are either rocky or have powerful waves that can pull in even the strongest of swimmers.  The water is chilly year-round, but kids will still enjoy getting their feet wet and playing in the sand.

Have you been to Monterey or Pacific Grove? Tell us your favorite place in this region of state!

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3 Affordable Ways to Enjoy A Long Weekend

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 7:01 am
Using the CityPASS to explore the Georgia Aquarium

Using CityPASS to explore the Georgia Aquarium

Two things often hold families back from traveling together: time and money.  Vacation time from work, for the typical family breadwinner, is infrequent and precious.  Escaping over an extended weekend gives the entire family opportunity to connect without having to dip into the “time off” pool.  Once a long weekend presents itself, a limited budget may still be a concern.  Consider the following three suggestions for making your ‘great escape’ affordable.


Take a day trip

Eileen Gunn, Founder and Editor at Families, Go! , recommends TripAdvisor’s Tank of Gas Tool.  It suggests places that are ¼, ½ or a full tank of gas from home, as well as attractions, restaurants and hotels in the area.  You might be surprised that some places are closer than you expect.

For example, the beach at Hilton Head, SC is less than a tank of gas from the heart of land-locked Atlanta (237 miles and $38.)  A half-tank of gas (144 miles and $25) will take you into the Smokey Mountains. Knowing this makes both options possible; simply select the distance that best fits your budget.  From many locations, especially on the coast, you don’t have to drive far to experience a dramatic change in your environment.

Consider that a ‘half-tank’ gas trip is 100 – 150 miles from home, about a two-hour drive.  That means you don’t have to leave the night before in order to enjoy a full weekend, which saves on hotel expenditure.  Leave early on Saturday morning and arrive at your destination before lunch. You can enjoy your stay until lunch on Monday, then head home in time to unwind before dinner and ‘back to the grind’ preparations.


Experience a ‘staycation’

What about exploring in your own backyard?  Between balancing multiple kids, scouts, choir practice, ballet and dinner, it is often difficult to embrace the family attractions that your own city provides.  Use your long weekend to wander the art museum or roam among the dinosaurs at the natural history center, right in your hometown.

Use a city discount card, typically marketed to tourists, to save on familiar attractions. CityPASS  and Smart Destinations bundle passes to attractions in multiple cities around the country, providing savings of up to 55%.   With your passes pre-purchased, you can usually skip ticket lines. Also, look for perks with your package. For example, CityPASS ticket books include coupons to local restaurants and the option to upgrade to behind-the-scenes VIP tours for a reduced price.

To make a staycation feel more like a true vacation, consider using the money saved on attractions and gas or plane tickets to stay at a hotel in your hometown.  Being away from the laundry and yard work will ensure you spend quality time together for the duration of the weekend.  Staying in the heart of the city can be an exciting adventure for rural or suburban-raised children; the sights, sounds and smells are new and unique.

When your book your hotel, be sure to tell them you are a resident of the area, and that you are taking a staycation.  There are often discounted rates for families embarking on this new trend.  Consider a room with a kitchenette; although priced a little higher, it will bring an overall savings when you consider the cost of dining out for every meal. Finally, don’t forget your swimsuit – the pool is the perfect place to relax after a day of sightseeing.


Camp under the stars

Camping can be as luxurious or as affordable as you want to make it. If you are on a budget, research the overnight rates at various locations.  The state park is an option, but it might not be the best one. In California camping in a state park is as low as $8 per night whereas state park camping in Georgia will cost you a nightly fee of $28.  If the state park rates are too costly then scout private campgrounds.

Cut costs by bringing your own food rather than eating out.  Sandwiches work well, or try a bucket of mom’s fried chicken, which can be delicious without a microwave to warm it.  Morning eggs can be cooked over a campfire or hard-boiled before leaving the house. Speaking of the campfire, bringing your own wood can also save you money.  Campfire wood sold on site is usually 2-3 times more expensive than what you will find at a convenience store closer to home. Another idea for the more adventurous family: catch your food!  Find a campsite near a stocked lake and plan your fishing activities right before dinner.

If camping is new to you, then the initial cost of camping equipment might feel daunting.  Consider scouring the thrift stores, Goodwill and Craigslist for the basics.  When other families are looking to upgrade their equipment, you can benefit.  Ask friends and family about their camping supplies; many people are eager to loan you their butane stove or portable chairs.  Who knows, maybe they’ll even join you on your adventure!  Additionally, places like Mountain Side Gear Rental will loan you the equipment. For example, a Eureka Assault 4 person tent retails for about $350, but a weekend rental with Mountain Side is under $50.


Whether you head to the city to take-in your own backyard, wander in the wilderness to escape the crowds, or explore a new city that is close to home, you can easily leverage a long weekend for affordable family fun.


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11 FREE things to do in and around Walt Disney World

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 3:11 am

disney ears

Airplane tickets (or gasoline), tickets into the Parks, the hotel room, 3 square meals a day, souvenirs….the list of opportunities to spend your money at Disney World is endless.  Did you know there are a myriad of FREE fun options as Disney, as well? As you plan your magical vacation, be sure to include these activities on your itinerary.

  1. From the Disney Resorts Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian, or within Magic Kingdom or Epcot, catch and ride the Monorail.  There are three lines; choose the inner rail for a view of the Magic Kingdom and beautiful resorts.  This is a great way to cool down, take in the view, or acclimate to the Park layout.
  2. Boat rides are free within the parks. Ride from Port Orleans to Downtown Disney and back via the Sassagoula. Enjoy the breeze around Crescent Lake (outside the parks) for an overview of Epcot, Boardwalk, various Disney Resorts, and Hollywood Studios. If you are visiting during the hottest months, consider taking these rides in the evening.
  3. Enjoy free samples from Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop in Downtown Disney; you don’t need to make a purchase in order to indulge.
  4. Stop at one of 11 Kidcot stations in EPCOT. Kids can draw, rest, see Cast Members and make special crafts.  A few dollars will get you an upgrade with more features, but the basics are free.
  5. Stop in and visit the resorts while riding the monorails, taking the ferry, or parking at the resort for three hours free of charge (get a permit at the gate.)  All-Star or Pop Century have great photo taking opportunities for the family (how about a family photo in front of a 35 foot tall Buzz Lightyear or a 25 foot tall Woody?) Table Service Meals and Counter Service Restaurants are located within various resorts; it is a way to experience a “change of scenery” during mealtime.  If you have a few bucks to spend, many resorts also offer activities like surrey rides or carriage outings.
  6. If you are staying at any Disney resort then you can embark on a free tour of Yacht Club, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Grand Floridian or Wilderness Lodge. Call ahead for reservations. These Deluxe resorts are outfitted as lavishly as the Parks themselves; you won’t want to miss them.
  7. Bring your swimsuit to the Parks and play in the water! Hollywood Studios has a 52-foot leaking water hose, Animal Kingdom has a small fountain area near Kali River Rapids, and Epcot has two interactive fountains (one near Test Track and another near Future World) as well as leapfrog fountains near Imagination! pavilion. Magic Kingdom has splash play for the little ones at Casey Jr. Splash ‘n’ Soak, the tiki statues near Jungle Cruise, and Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride.  Finally, Downtown Disney has interactive fountains and more water fun at The World of Disney Store.
  8. On the Disney Boardwalk you can watch the street performers and listen to various bands performing. You can also see the Ferry Boats cruise back and forth.
  9. Any Resort guest is welcome to join the campfire program at Fort Wilderness.  Meet near the Meadow Trading Post every evening around 7pm in the fall and 8pm in the warmer months. The kids will enjoy a sing-a-long and campfire roast; you can purchase food (including s’mores kits) at the Chuckwagon, or save and bring your own.  Chip and Dale sign autographs and then a Disney movie plays on an oversized screen to round out the fun.  There is some seating or you can bring your own blankets. If you prefer the beach to the forest then opt for the s’mores and movie through Beach Club or Grand Floridian.
  10. Take a break from the Parks and head 20 minutes south of the city to The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness System.  This Everglades ecosystem is open weekdays, 9am – 5pm. You can hike the 2.5-mile trail, and see animals like bald eagles and gopher tortoise in their natural habitats. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.
  11. While you are out of the Park, take a drive to Celebration, Florida, about 10 minutes from Disney World.  This community was planned and built by Disney (sold in 2004), and reminiscent of a scene from The Truman Show.  Market Street schedules a host of family-friendly activities each month, or you can leisurely stroll the area’s boutiques and specialty shops.  Venturing along the suggested walking tour path will ensure you see the most notable aspects of the town, including the oversize wicker chairs calling your name at the Bohemian Hotel Celebration. Providing another opportunity to save on lunch, pack a cooler and blanket, and head to the Interactive Fountain for a picnic and water play.

Do you have additional ideas for FREE FUN while at Walt Disney World?  Share them with us here or join the conversation on Facebook.

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Affordable Souvenirs for the Kids

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 7:21 pm
palebear/via Flickr CCL

photo from palebear via Flickr CCL

Souvenir: a French word for memory. We bring an object home from vacation so that we don’t forget the great time we had while traveling.  From the looks of many vacation hot spots, it is easy to forget that the point is not to consume, but to remember. When gazing at your trinkets collected from various adventures, you want to remember the happy moments you shared with your family, not the gut-wrenching knot in your belly that comes from spending too much money. Below are a series of ideas for you and the kids that will preserve your memories and won’t break the bank.

Lapel Pins and Badges

This happens to be my personal favorite.  My son collects a lapel pin from every place we visit – the space museum, an historic pirate vessel, the nature center, etc.  He puts them on his backpack and proudly shows them off to friends and family who visit.  Badges are a little cheaper, but as Lori Brown, owner of Expedition Mom, points out, they require the extra step of being sewn or ironed onto clothing or backpacks, and they do not transfer as effortlessly as pins. As kids grow, they will need a new backpack or vest; promoting a pin to the new attire is a breeze.

Pressed Pennies

Pressed pennies are a popular souvenir choice. Kids love manhandling the press machine crank, and parents love the 51 cent price tag.  Pressed penny books are available at various souvenir shops for holding your precious pennies, but why invest the money only to have them hidden in a drawer. You can glue magnets to the backs and hang your pressed possessions on the fridge, or drill small holes in the tops for a necklace or bracelet. According to On The Go With Amy, using pre-1982 pennies, which contain more copper, will hold their new shape better.

Rocks and Sand

The ultimate budget souvenir is the one that cost nothing: sand or rocks from the land you visit.  Quarry Orchard describes a souvenir project that is fun and easy for the family – collect a large rock from your vacation destination and use a permanent marker to note the place and year. Also consider collecting sand and displaying it in a small glass jar or vile with a pretty tag describing its origin.

Other Keepsake Collectibles

Other affordable souvenir collectibles include cups or mugs commemorating your stop. One mom collects a Starbucks mug from every vacation destination.  Mini snow globes depicting the city you visit are fun memorabilia for children. Christmas ornaments appear year-round in souvenir shops; they allow you to reminisce with the family each season as you decorate the tree. Cookbooks make fun collectibles, especially in foreign countries or if you visit the restaurant of the author. Finally, one mom I know collects playing cards from each place she visits. Her goal is to collect cards from 52 different locations so that they can be organized into a deck that features a single card for each vacation spot.


See our Souvenir Pinterest Board for more ideas.  If you haven’t already, join the conversation on Facebook; we’d love to hear about your souvenir collection!

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Junior Ranger Program: Fun, Educational and Free

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 5:00 am

Identifying leaves on a nature scavenger hunt for the Georgia Junior Ranger program.

The Junior Ranger Program.  Really, does it get much better than fun, free (mostly) and educational?

This program, hosted by a series of national and state parks, is an exciting way for your kids to learn the environmental and historical aspects of your region.  If you are anything like me, you have seen posts about the Junior Ranger Program on various blogs.  I’ve seen friends write about it on Facebook, too.  But only a few weeks ago did I stop g   l   a   n   c   i   n   g over these references; I finally clicked a link and did the research. Gold Mine! We’ve heard from moms that they want something exciting for the summer that will keep their kid’s minds active, but that won’t break the bank; the Junior Ranger Program is the answer.

In a nutshell, the Junior Ranger Program encourages kids to perform activities ranging from outdoor scavenger hunts to scramble word-finds, from volunteering to bird-watching, and much more.  Once prospective Jr. Rangers complete a set number of experiences at home and within a park setting, then they share their findings with a Park Ranger in order to receive a badge, patch, or certificate (depending on the program and location.) The program is usually available via the park’s website, and is self-directed.  This means you and your kids set the pace, select the activities and manage your own goals.

The program originated with the National Parks Service.  Almost National Parks, National Monuments, and National Historical Sites have their own, specific program.  For example, if you live in Arizona then you may enjoy the program for Petrified Forest National Park, and if you are traveling to DC then consider the program for the National Mall.

Most states also have a Junior Ranger Program for the state parks system, such as our program in Georgia. Other states such as North Carolina have a state program, but also have additional programs for specific state parks like Weymouth Woods – Sandhills Nature Preserve. You can also find specialty programs at the national and state level.  For example, Georgia offers the Junior War Historian Program; the National Parks System also offers Junior Paleontologist and Night Explorers programs.

I have not found a directory of all the state programs; I would recommend Googling your state park system and the term “Junior Ranger.” In addition to the program booklet, you may also find newsletters, Junior Ranger Camps (usually these require a fee), Junior Ranger family outings, and more.

Tips for starting the program

Each program indicates a recommended age; most fall between 5 and 12 years old.  There are a handful of programs for kids as young as 2 yrs and as old as 17 yrs.  I encourage you to look through the program contents rather than settle on the recommended age.  I almost did not start the program with my son this year.  The recommended level 1 age for Georgia is 6 yrs.  However, after reviewing the material, I would say he could have started at 3 yrs; at almost 5 yrs we are working on Level 2.  Keep in mind that each program is different. This is just another perk to being self-directed. You know your child best – when to start him, how much to expect, and how quickly you want to progress through the program.

If you are already an outdoor family like we are, you might find that your child could easily “check off” each activity and turn it in overnight.  Rather than doing this, use it as an opportunity to experience activities again with a new and fresh perspective.  We go hiking several times a month, but when the hiking activity came about in the program we didn’t automatically mark it completed.  We scouted a new hiking location and contentiously, with our new “Junior Ranger eyes”, trekked the forest floor. We learned new things and experienced a staple activity from a new angle.

Read the fine print; each program is different.  Most programs are free, but some may require a small fee – usually less than $5.  A park may provide different programs for different age groups or have the same program for everyone but require more of the older children.  Various programs offer a badge by mailing in your activity book; others require a Park Ranger to evaluate your child performing some activities in order to receive a patch or pin.  Even if you have completed a program in one park, be sure to read the details about a program in another park.

If you are wondering where to start, I recommend beginning with your state’s Junior Ranger Program (if you have one.)  It is usually a more general program, not created for a specific location.  This allows you and your children to get your feet wet in the program, while providing more freedom and flexibility with regard to where you complete the activities. With that one completed, your kids will feel confident about exploring site-specific programs.


If you are looking for free (or nearly free) ways to practice math, science, art, history, and more this summer – all in the guise of fun – then check out the Junior Ranger Programs in your area.  When you do, let us know! We’d love to highlight your Junior Rangers on

 We’ve added more ideas about the Junior Ranger Program on Pinterest.  

Also, join the conversation  on Facebook.

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Photo Essay: The Grand Dame of El Bruco

Filed under: Travel — Guest Author @ 4:46 am

When Bev sent me her story of visiting the resting place of Dama de Cao, I was immediately moved. This story had to be shared; I hope you feel the same way.  As a perpetual traveler, she offers an eye into places we may never go. I like to call this Arm Chair Travel. Educational, fun, captivating….all from the comfort of home. Stay tuned for more photo essays from Bev in the coming months. — Lesli

In the morning, greeted by our cheerful, friendly driver, my friends and I set off on tour again!  We drove one and a half hours north, passing through acres of sugar cane farms and finally leading us out of the desert.  Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, we reached our destination. The El Bruco archaeological site – an ancient pyramid monument of the Moche civilization.


First we visited the museo, a fabulous modern building.  The displays were wonderful and the presentations were interesting and informative.


1500 years before South America had its first female head of state, the Dama de Cao (or Señora de Cao) governed from this pyramid. Over the last six years, her story has spread far and wide, a replica of her mummy has toured the world, and NatGeo ran a widely-publicized documentary about her. This lovely museo seems a fitting resting place for Dama de Cao, located at the base of her pyramid.


A short trek from the mueso is the pyramid complex……

The Moche always built their pyramids with mud bricks, and when the El Niño rains came in the late sixth century (and again many times after that), the buildings melted away. Today, they look more like half-washed-away sandcastles or dirt mounds than the towering palaces they once were.

However, this process of destruction yielded a surprising result. As the top layers of the pyramids washed down onto the lower levels, they sealed them in, protecting them from the elements. Today we see only the lower levels of El Bruco…but what an amazing sight….

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As we stood atop the Huaca Cao Viejo it is difficult to envision this was once a grand city. Today there is just desert and sugar cane fields….

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Dama de Cao was discovered by an archaeological team in 2006, in a tomb high inside of the pyramid in an elaborately-painted burial chamber. The researchers and the world were shocked at finding the remains of the ruler of this grand pyramid and city belonged to a woman……yeah, go “girl power”!!!!…

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El Brujo dates as far back as the year 100 BC, and these ruins clearly show the remains of a large, stepped pyramid, a spacious central court, mural ornamentation and clay plaster with detailed polychrome relief work…..

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The temple wall on Cao Viejo soars five stories above the main ceremonial plaza, where animal and human sacrifices were performed. The 1700-year old murals, still plainly visible, portray vanquished soldiers being led to the spot where their blood would be offered to the gods!!

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It was incredibly hot in the desert but as we left the ruins there was a nice breeze from the ocean. Returning to the present day, we drove to El Bruco village (35 minutes away, population 500), we stopped at the charming Plaza de Armas, dominated on one side by a glorious colourful church….

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Now lunchtime, we ate at the town’s only restaurant. I have to say there was excellent food and cheap, too……We enjoyed one of my favorite Peruvian meats, grilled Cuy.  My poor friends were squirming!!!… translated….Cuy is guinea pig!!!….(they don’t eat much Cuy in South Peru, but they eat Alpacha which they don’t eat in the north!)


We then drove on to Huanchaco beach for the afternoon….. up next are the famous Tortora reed fishing boats….

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hasta mañana, B xx


About the Author

Bev Campbell resides…..well, where???!!!, my home is New Zealand….but i have been absent for a while, just over 2 years now in fact, as i’ve been traveling the World constantly. Asia, USA, South America, Latin America, Central America, the Caribbean, Europe, the Baltic’s, you name it!….. i even got up to Iceland and Far North Lapland. With previous extensive travel and the last 2 years non-stop, i’ve now visited 85 countries. The best of my travels…..meeting people, being privileged to share in their lives, to experience and appreciate new cultures, you’re never to old to learn.

International Travel and Homeschooling – A Great Combination

Filed under: Travel — Guest Author @ 10:47 am
via Flickr/roanokecollage/CCL

Photo via Flickr/roanokecollage/CCL

International travel provides opportunities for incredible learning experiences. 

Through travel we learn about other cultures, lifestyles, languages, unique and beautiful geography, history, politics and current events, art and more.  Because of this, international travel isn’t just for adults – our kids benefit as well!

There are numerous options for families when it comes to traveling and homeschooling overseas.

Regarding Travel

  • Live…learn…travel overseas together as a family.  This includes military families, expatriates, and adventurous homeschoolers.  Click on the following for oodles of information and inspiration

From Our Readers          

A number of readers wrote in about their personal travel experiences and a few of those comments follow:

Kimberly writes:

“We lived in Germany for one year, in 2004. Our children were 5 & 7 years old. We became official residents and actually received permission to homeschool while we were there, which is unheard of in Germany. They prosecute many homeschool families, extensively. We did carry that letter around with us everywhere just in case we got stopped and questioned, which never happened.

We used the K12 curriculum, and I shared the scope and sequence with the government so they would understand what we were doing. We were very open with them about our academics as well as our plans for being in their country. They were very receptive. We had also talked to the legal group who supports/protects homeschoolers in that country so we knew what kind of language to use (and not to use) when talking to government officials about our educational choice.

As for travel, in Germany, they workers received 5 to 6 weeks of vacation per year. We used it all! We loved to jump in the car (train or plane) and tour various countries on long weekends. We always had a GPS in the car so we got get distracted but always find our way home. Our goal was to expose our children to as many different cultures and see many of the places they have (and will) study. Each city was a treasure hunt to see what we have studied as well as all the cool places we didn’t even know existed, and taste all the various foods. We lived life to the fullest and loved it.

As with homeschooling here, we did it when we could where we could, to keep their academics familiar (a home base), but they learned so much by traveling. They are very comfortable with all kinds of modes of transportation and are always excited to visit new places and see what makes them special. One of the biggest lessons they learned, was that, deep down, people are people and all have feelings, needs, and dreams. The special part is that every culture adds its own spice to each person.”

Peggy writes ,

“My son and I traveled to England and France in May of 2010 with a friend and her daughter. Our friends from the UK have a holiday house in the south of France that they invited us to stay in for 5 1/2 weeks. We flew into London had spent several days there. Hotels are fine for short stays which we did in London and Paris, but a house, apartment or gite are better alternatives. You can have down time, meals at home and get to know the neighbors this way. By the time we left the little village of Trebe were we stayed, we felt like we were one of the locals.

My son, Luke and his friend Annika were 12 at the time which is a good age for travel. Their curriculum throughout the year included medieval studies so this was easy. They had also studied ancient Egypt and Rome as well as Luke being interested in World War II.

We also arranged for a Michelin trained chef to come to the house we were staying at in France. The experience was incredible for the children and us alike. He took us to the market and then showed us how to prepare a simple French meal. The children were included in every step of the way. We made sure that everything we did was tween friendly.”

International travel – a great gift you can give your children! After all, traveling is your time to “explore together and grow together.”


A special thank you to the author, Ann Simpson, who is our Regional Advertising Manager and Blog Writer.  She compiled this information from our readers. 

Download a PDF of this article here.

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