Taming the Souvenir Beast…

When traveling and visiting a new location, whether it’s a theme park, museum, zoo, or national park, all this mom is interested in taking home are great memories and breathtaking photos!  The kids, however, always seem to want an item or two (or three…) from the gift shop. 

taming the Souvenir Beast | TicknorTribe.com

Old Salem has a great gift shop!

I don’t know if it’s the fact that we travel with 9 little (and not so little) souvenir wanters (let them choose what they want, times 9, and we are talking big money!), or that we live in 400 sq. ft and have no room (or weight to give up) for plastic junk more memorabilia, or just that I have an aversion to collecting things (I have never been known to be big on dusting), but souvenirs are nowhere to be found on my ‘top 100 vacation priorities’ list.   But they are important to some of our kids.  To alleviate the pathetic puppy-dog eyes, and occasional pouts, we’ve come up with some ‘souvenir rules’, and ideas, that work for our family. 

Traveling in an RV and all, many of our restrictions are due to weight and space issues. Whether you have those same limitations or not, these are a few of the fun, yet frugal, souvenirs that work for us.  We’ve also included a few additional ideas that we have found valuable for limiting the struggles that often come with visiting gift shops during our travels:

Taming the souvenir beast | TicknorTribe.com

*Bumper stickers – this is a family collection for us – we keep our bumper sticker collection displayed on the back of our RV!  The kids help us chose which sticker to purchase at each location that has them, and the kids usually put them on the rv themselves.  This souvenir is unique to the destination, practically weightless, and inexpensive (typically run between $1 and $4).  If you don’t want to display them on your vehicle like we do, let the kids adhere them in a sketchbook and write out a favorite or humorous memory of the visit to go with it!

bumper stickers make great souvenirs

some of the bumper stickers on the back of our rv…

*Jr. Ranger badges and patches – These are actually my favorite souvenir ever!  Offered at nearly all National Parks, you and your kids can earn plastic badges (and sometimes patches) by completing an educational workbook about the park.  The program is almost always free, usually takes anywhere from half an hour to two hours to complete, and is educational yet fun. (you can learn more about the Jr. Ranger program here).

National Park Jr. Ranger badges make great souvenirs | TicknorTribe.com

3 of our NPS enthusiasts with their Jr. Ranger vests

*Postcards - costing anywhere from 25 cents to $1.00, postcards are the perfect souvenir!  Go prepared with a small slide-in photo book, encourage the kids to chose site specific postcards, and then have them write down the date and their favorite thing about the location or a fun memory on the back.  Slip the postcards in the booklet in order of visit, and the kids have a great journal of their trip!

Molly pressing a penny for a souvenir | TicknorTribe.com

even little ones get in on the fun of pressing pennies!

*Pressed Pennies - this is the souvenir of choice for several of my kids!  They love to look over all the different designs offered in the pressed penny machines at a location before deciding which one to get!  Cost? 51 cents = 2 quarters, and the penny that they press.  My kids like the way shiny new pennies turn out best, and each of my collectors have a book just for displaying their pressed pennies.  Some locations even offer machines that press quarters; the kids have done a few of those, but they are considerably more expensive (anywhere from $1.25 to $2.25 each – adds up x9!).

close up of pressed penny souvenirs | TicknorTribe.com

just a few of the pressed pennies one of our boys has collected

*Magnets – site specific, or state magnets, are popular memorabilia; many traveling families find them a fantastic, travel-friendly collectable due to their small size – they fit well in luggage or an rv, but they do tend to add up weight-wise over time.  Some families hang a large cookie sheet in their rv just for displaying their travel magnets.

*Photo Books – Give older kids a digital camera to take their own photos through-out the trip. At the end of your roadtrip, let them make a photo book, using the pics they took, at a site like Shutterfly, Snapfish, or Blurb.  (the books are incredibly easy to create!) To keep it inexpensive, search for Shutterfly coupons at retailmenot.com, or join the photo site’s mailing list and wait for them to send you a code (which they do frequently).

Other tips for taming the souvenir beast:
*Decide on a memorabilia budget before you hit the road…some families set a ‘per destination’ monetary cap, while others give their kids an amount for the whole trip.  Decide which will work best for your child’s spending habits ahead of time.  Set the rules and talk them over with your child before you leave;  vacation is not the time to get into a drawn out disagreement with your little shopper over their money management.

*Let your child earn ‘souvenir dollars’ before leaving home.  Give your child special jobs and goals that credit them money to be spent on your trip.  You can print up fake money (just google it) that they can change into credit from you in the store (then you can still use your credit card if desired), or just keep a chart of their earnings…

*If you are embarking on a crazy-fast roadtrip over several states, without hitting lots of destinations on the way, think of a single keepsake to collect from each state to commemorate your crossing.  Magnets work great for this one, as do bumper stickers.  Visitor’s Centers on main highways, at the state lines, almost always have a great selection of state-specific mementos.

*Consider agreeing ahead of time on a consistent, inexpensive item to collect.  In addition to the above ideas, some others are: collectable spoons, a paperback book about the location (we are history buffs, so love this one!), walking stick emblems or location exclusive embroidered patches, or even a small stuffed animal that is a native to the area (like the 8″ stuffed alligator that we bought Caleb when we toured Gator & Friends in LA – he even named it George just like the G&F’s real gator, “George”, that we all got to hold!)

pressed penny souvenirs in a display book | TicknorTribe.com

pressed penny display books keep their collection together

Remember that only you can determine which ideas will work best for your family.  Being pro-active about setting up some boundaries about vacation keepsakes ahead of your trip, and talking about them with your children, will help to ensure those forays into tempting gift shops are enjoyable for everyone in the family!

Love the NPS Jr Ranger program? Check out WebRangers!

One of the activities that we actively pursued in our RV travels is to visit as many state and National Parks as we can.  The kids do the National Park Service’s Jr. Ranger programs at many of the national parks, and most of the kids have over 100 badges/patches.  We really enjoy the programs as they are generally very educational and include many details about the parks that we would otherwise not have known.  They are a great way to get in some site-specific learning – and some nag-free roadschooling in.

WebRangers online page | TicknorTribe.com

WebRangers is the online version of the popular NPS Jr. Ranger program!

We also found an online program that the boys thought was nearly as enjoyable as the real thing:

WebRangers = Jr. Rangers with a twist.

WebRangers is the National Parks Service’s online Jr. Ranger program.  The program is fun, free, and you do not have to download anything onto your computer to play it.  The kids each set up an account; they are not asked for personal, identifying information, just make up an onscreen name and password.  WebRangers features dozens of different games and activities that teach kids interesting facts about everything from various NP ranger uniforms, signal flags, water quality, animal behaviors, and many different famous Americans.  It includes lots of different activities, of varying difficulty, to interest everyone from the non-reading preschooler who is learning to use a mouse, to your teens that like to discover new places. WR will give the kids a glimpse of many unfamiliar land and ocean animals and their habitats, and teach them many new details about historical people and places.  The program requires several hours to complete, and can be done all at once, or one activity at a time over a long period as their work is saved under their account; the kids can even do their favorite activities multiple times.

boy using laptop to complete Web Ranger program | TicknorTribe.com

the kids loved the fun activities on WebRangers that taught them about different National Parks around the US.

My kiddos thoroughly enjoyed the program and when they earned computer time by completing their regular schoolwork, they would use it to work on their WebRanger badges.  Currently there are around 70 different activities that your child (or you! – it’s fun, give it a go!) can complete; each activity’s difficulty level (and interest area) is marked so your child can find the ones that are best suited to their skills.  Once your child completes a certain number of activities, they earn a badge – just as if they complete a Jr. Ranger program at a National Park!  The National Park Service will send you (the parent) an email link from which you can request that your child’s patch be mailed to your snail mail address (no personal, identifying info is entered on to the WebRangers website until the child finishes their activities and they enter their parents’ email address).

Four of our kids have completed the program so far, and have received their badges in the mail; we actually did them a few years ago, and now the little girls want to get started on earning their own Web Ranger badges!  Even the boys that have completed the program like to go back and redo their favorite activities off of the program, and to do new ones as the site is updated!

boys with their vests and web ranger badges

3 of the boy with some of the badges and patches they have earned

Even if it’s not your goal to collect Jr. Ranger badges from every National Park that offers the program, Web Rangers is still be a fun and educational activity for your little camper!

(the above pic is Joel, Daniel, and Thomas, holding their WR badges, just 2 months into our Jr. Ranger journey – it’s from Dec of 2010.  The picture below is the same boys from July of 2014…)

Jr. Ranger vest, badges, and patches

The boys (now) with their larger, and fuller, Jr. Ranger vests ;)

If you would like to learn more about the traditional, onsite NPS Jr. Ranger program, I wrote a post about it here: Intro to the NPS’s Jr. Ranger program.
Can’t travel to the parks themselves right now? Web Rangers is a great activity to pass the time until the next camping season (or trip), and may even give you some great ideas for new destinations based on the many National Parks that you will discover via 
The National Park Service’s online Web Rangers program!

Fun selling fireworks with the tribe…

I guess I took a bit of a break on here. lol. Things were pretty crazy around here for the last 2 months…after some time of volunteering on the road, we came back to MT, and had 2 days to settle in before Vaughn and Jake flew out for a month in Alaska.  When they got back (AK will be it’s own post after I find time to wade through all the pics they brought back), we had 2 days before we had to stock both our pyro stands, split up again to man them, and then have lots of fun selling fireworks.

DSC_0777_705ed For 12 days we peddled powder

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and played pyros.DSC_0790_718ed And boy did I have lots of help! ;) DSC_0765_693ed

During our time at the firework stand, we celebrated Emma’s 9th birthday.  I can always remember how many years we have been selling fireworks because Emma has had every one of her birthday celebrations in an RV at a firework stand. lol.
She loves it tho – the first thing she and her little sisters do when we set up the stands is to go out and pick the colors of firework birthday candles they want…
DSC_0759_006ed Emma chose yellow this year.  We’ve learned not to light it on the counter under the cabinets.  ;)DSC_0765_012ed This year her birthday was on the weekend so we had her party bright and early so dad and Jake could get back and open their stand.DSC_0770_017ed

She’s 9, and in that odd stage between toys and grown up stuff.  Thank goodness she’s easily pleased!  We just got her a bunch of junk treasures that she loved. lol  :D

DSC_0810_057edJake was his usual charming self at the fireworks stand – we joke that when he’s not busy picking up the older ladies at disaster relief sites, he’s busy doing the same at the firework stand.  No really.
Vaughn thought it was hilarious, but this nice older (well, early 50s?) lady came to the stand and Jake helped her.  When she had purchased some fireworks for her family,she remarked that they would be back, and asked him when he would be working again.  Vaughn told her when they would be open, but she specifically wanted to know when Jake would be working. lol. (the poor kid, he doesn’t even know what he’s doing for all the attention)  She came back twice more, and wouldn’t let anyone else assist her.  She even brought us a dozen farm fresh eggs.  :)

The other day I bought Jake a new Under Armor shirt (it was 80% off ;) ).  I made him promise he’d wear it before I showed it to him…  :D
DSC_0036_001edAfter selling fireworks, inventorying the unsold ones, and cleaning up the stands, we had another break of just a few days before we moved the rv down to my sisters for a rollicking 4th of July party (which is never on the 4th), and some fabulously fun cousin time!  I’ll share some pics next time!  :)

Quiet on the RV-front; getting ready for fireworks!

It’s been pretty quiet on the RV-front over here, but not for long!   Got fireworks?  ;)
DSC_0769_697 The tribe does!  Two 40-foot long trailers full!DSC_0772_700 This is our NINTH year peddling gunpowder, and we love it!  It’s a lot of work, but this tribe can throw those stands together without much oversight…DSC_0774_702 The stands will keep us busy through the 5th, and we are praying that they are very busy this year!  The stands provide a large part of our traveling money for the winter.DSC_0777_705The kids help tons, from sweeping to wiping off counters, to stocking and selling fireworks, to making change and bagging up the fireworks.
Their favorite job tho, is trying out the new fireworks so we can let people know if they are great, or a dud.  :)
DSC_0781_709Things will probably continue to be quiet on here for the next week – I’ve maxed out my wifi for the month, and since we are tied down to the firework stands, finding free wifi to post isn’t really on the schedule.  :)

It’s been so nice having Vaughn and Jake back from Alaska.  They had an incredible experience there – if you’d to learn a little bit more about Operation Heal our Patriots, check out this article on the SP website; there are others that you can find there too…

Volunteers Contribute to Military Marriage Ministry

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Have a great week! :)

Great travel games and activities, and how to take them along (part 1)…

Kids antsy in the car?  These are some of our go-to’s for road-trip friendly travel games for kids; all enthusiastically approved by my tribe, who travel over 20,000 miles a year. ;)
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*Art supplies – for the younger crowd, self-contained sets of art supplies are great – I found this cute travel portfolio, which zips closed, at Target.  The older ones prefer Sketchbooks and Prismacolor Colored Pencils - if you’ve never used Prismacolor, you may be a wee bit shell-shocked at the price, but they are SO worth it.  (shhh, but I always get mine with my rewards from turning in empty ink cartridges at Staples; I’d be buying the ink anyway, so free, quality, colored pencils are a bonus!).  Sketchbooks come in several designs; we always get spiral bound so there aren’t loose papers floating around the van.

*Pipe Cleaners – I know.  But the kids adore them!  Hand them a 97 cent pack of brightly colored pipe cleaners, show the littles how to twist them around themselves to hook together, and let the imaginations run wild!

*Silly Putty!  Did you know that they STILL make Silly Putty?  I had forgotten about that goofy stuff for years!  It’s a tried and true fav at our house in our van – mom loves it because it’s cheap, doesn’t stain or stick, and is great for independent (meaning quiet) play.  You can find it in the office supply section at Walmart, in with the kids’ art supplies. (and I’m not linking to this one on Amazon because their prices are not competitive  - Wallyworld is $1.97/2pk).
DSC_0401_024e *Writing Materials – pad of paper pencils/pens, game pads, sticky pads…  The kids can use them for keeping score, drawing what they see, playing paper games, journaling (including chronicling how exhaustifiedly bored they were driving across Nevada).  Mad Libs totally belong in here…

*Role Playing figures like action figures, little dolls (American Girl mini dolls, little sister Barbie…), and our favs – Playmobil!  The kids take a few figures, with a limited number of accessories, in the van; they can just pick figures out of sets, or you can purchase special Playmobil Carrying Case sets, which include a case and pieces, which are perfect for in the car (like this Western Playset, or this Princess Playset.  (not necessarily great for in motion, but check out the cool RVs that they have: Camper Playset and the Family Motorhome.  These are our fav toys ever- house, car, or RV!)

*Games!  Both independent and group!  Some of our favorites that lend themselves well to traveling are: Story Cubes (come in 3 different themes (Complete Set) roll the dice back into the box, and then tell a story prompted by the images on the cubes), Uno (we love Uno games!  One of our favs is the traditional card game, but with a National Parks twist!), and what traveler doesn’t love the Cracker Barrel Peg Game!  You might also check out Spot It! on the Road.

All these are great on-the-go activities!  I don’t know about you, but the thought of them floating around loose in my van is enough to give me high blood pressure.  We’ve found the very best way to keep everything in check, and taking up as little room as possible, is to use (wait for it…) Binder Pouches!  Also known as pencil pouches, these zippered bags have see-through fronts that allow the kids to see what is inside.  They don’t get smashed like boxes, and they don’t take up more room than what is inside of them.  Add a small bin (ours slides under a bench seat in our van) to toss them into, and it’s easy peasy to keep things neat and tidy.  No more excuses!

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Our extensive van time while traveling inspired us to find a way to take the Legos along too!

DSC_0471_094w If you missed it the first time, you can find my quick and easy Lego Case tutorial here.DSC_0477_100wThere are tons of toys, games, and activities that are wonderful for keeping little minds and fingers occupied during long drive times!  I’ve only covered a few here, but will be highlighting more in the next few weeks.  :)

Summer for us…

After we pulled out of Baxter Springs, Kansas, we drove through the lovely green of spring in the southeastern part of the state, DSC_0136_001e and drove northwest.DSC_0140_005eWe stopped up on the northern border of Kansas, and took a tour at Peterson Industries; they build Excel Fifth Wheels.  Their Wild Cargo toy hauler is the RV that we would like to get next!
DSC_0212_076e Then it was on through Nebraska.  We do not prefer to travel fast, and we were lamenting our quick trip back to Montana as we were driving past places that we would have liked to stop at tour.  Like The Nebraska Prairie Museum; that is so us!!!!  :/DSC_0251_115e We drove into and through Wyoming, past the Fort Cody tourist trap  ;)DSC_0257_121e through beautiful valleys,

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and getting nearer and nearer the mountains.  We miss the mountains when we travel.  Those things they call ‘mountains’ in the east, as beautiful as they are with all their deciduous trees, just don’t do anything for us Montana folk.  We miss rugged.DSC_0277_019eAnd we finally arrived at Gramma and Grampa’s house in se Montana.  We had some fun visiting a little cousin, playing with the chicks, and feeding the pony.  Southwestern Montana is windy.DSC_0314_024eSome of us picked ‘flowers’, which is summer for us because they don’t let you pick flowers in many campgrounds!DSC_0349_031eWe adore traveling, and have no plans to stop, but these familiar sceneries were sure a sight for sore eyes!
DSC_0357_039e getting closer!DSC_0366_048e And 4 days (?) after leaving Baxter Springs, we pulled in to our ‘spot’.
Vaughn and the kids got some organizing done, and he made me a ‘clothesline’ that hangs off the RV ladder and is portable… I’ve had lots of help putting it to work!DSCN3120_018e Then, just a couple of days after we pulled in, Vaughn and Jake flew out to spend a month in Alaska building a bunkhouse for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Heal Our Patriots‘ staff.

And since I’m a wee bit behind on catching up (do you know how hard it is to blog about traveling when you aren’t traveling?), at this point, they have been in Alaska for 4 weeks.  And 8 kids and I are parked.  Like really parked.  Because I don’t pull this beast.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE where we stay for the summer – with one of our sets of adoptive grandparents – they have about 40 acres for the kids to run, they don’t park their vehicles on their garage pad all summer so the kids can ride scooters there, they set up a pool just for our kids, we have our own private yard and run of the place…  but going from moving to a whole new town/area every 2 weeks or less, to knowing that we can’t go ANYWHERE because I don’t pull this big rig, is a bit of a shocker, and Hitch Itch has already set in.  As in I went and looked at RVs today!  Travel trailers to be exact – 24 to 26′ bunkhouses that *I* could easily pull behind the van!  :)  The kids and I are thinking that we need to do some weekday trips this summer to explore more of Montana that we have not before, and be home on the weekends when Vaughn and the big boys don’t have to work (or they can come see us! rofl!).

But for now, stationary means we are catching up on dr. and dentist visits, learners permits and driver’s licenses, new glasses.  It means changing out outgrown clothing and reading books in storage, and kids that are selling their wares at the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market.  It means getting to watch Eli prepare for his missions trip to Ethiopia next month (he is raising money to purchase Bibles to distribute there – if you would like to contribute, contact me here or fb; they are $5/bible made out to World Missions Alliance!).  :)  DSCN3157_029e(it means the kids teaching Eli how to play Worms Armageddon 2 on the Kindle HD. lol)
For now, until Vaughn gets back, it means getting a weekly visit from P-Pods, who come out and pump out our tanks (we have huge tanks; even though there are (just) 9 of us right now, we can go for a week between dumping them).  Vaughn usually hauls us out every weekend and visits the free dump station 2 miles down the road.
DSCN3129_001e Being back in Montana means joining in on things that we don’t get to do on the road – like airsoft games with guys that get into it as much as we do (they’re out for blood. lol.).

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Catching up with gramma, big kids, grandbaby, and friends.  Going to craft nights at a local eater, with BFFs.   Costco groceries taking a minimum of 2 hours because you always run into at least 2 people that you know… :)
There are plusses to travel, and there are plusses to stationary community.
I think that we have the best of both worlds.  <3

Last of our Baxter Springs, KS photos…

Baxter Springs is a cute little town on route 66, and we really enjoyed our time there!
The town has the remnants of a fort.  This is Fort Blair.  :)  Fort Blair was a garrison for housing soldiers who were guarding the military road that ran through here.

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There is a lovely park here,

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and it is within walking distance of the Baxter Springs Museum.
DSC_0022_022e There is a Phillips 66 visitor’s center, where you can find info about the area, and route 66…DSC_0023_023 And while we were in Baxter Springs, we celebrated Daniel’s 13th birthday!  I can’t believe he’s 13 either!!!   It’s exciting – do you know what turning 13 means (no, it doesn’t mean he’s a teenager – we don’t do teenagers in this house! lol) – it means that in a year, from May 6th, he will be 14.  That’s super exciting because at 14, he will be able to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse!  DSC_0319_051e We took the volunteer’s pics by our favorite DR (disaster relief) unit pic ever…DSC_0026_026eThey tell me they are friendlier to the homeowners  ;)
DSC_0027_027e and all I wanted was one nice, everyone smiling pic. Just one.  And after we took a dozen ‘nice’ ones, I humored the kids and took a few fun ones.
Naturally the fun ones turned out better than the ‘nice’ ones.  Not sure what that says about my tribe…  ;)  DSC_0035_035eAnyway, after our week of volunteering was over, Vaughn took off for a few days and drove one of the SP trucks, pulling a shower unit, back to the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters.  They flew him back to Joplin, which is just 12 miles from Baxter Springs, then we loaded up the next day and hit the road for Montana.  We took 3 days to get back to MT, then just a couple of days later, Vaughn and Jake flew out to Alaska, where they are helping Samaritan’s Purse to build a staff bunkhouse at Operation Heal Our Patriots.  Vaughn has been putting photos up on our TicknorTribe facebook page if you want to check them out!  It’s always some sort of adventure around here.  :)

Free guide to the 12 Laura Ingalls Wilder historic sites…

I’m not going to turn this into a travel freebies site, but I hate it when I find out I missed out on some fabulous travel deal. lol.  So, I wanted to share this in case anyone else was interested…roadschooling stuff can be difficult to find.  The Notgrass Company is offering their Laura’s Little Houses: A guide to the Laura Ingalls Wilder historic sites for free if you sign up for their twice-monthly newsletter.  Notgrass is a family owned, biblically-based company, who has fabulous(!) curriculums (you can read my review of one of their curriculums here: America the Beautiful).  Click on this link if you would like to sign up for the free guide!  (mine took a couple of minutes to show up in my email after entering my address).

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…this is not any sort of affiliate link…

Night on the range…

While the tribe was volunteering with tornado cleanup in Baxter Springs, on the last night of the deployment, the entire Samaritan Purse team was invited out to…
DSC_0036_036eShow Me Birds is the largest pheasant hunting resort in the United States, and is located just a couple of miles outside of little Baxter Springs, Kansas, on gorgeous acreage.DSC_0128_128eCaleb fell asleep on the drive out there, so he looked like this most of the evening…DSC_0068_068eBut the rest of us looked like this…DSC_0031_031eand this…DSC_0037_037e and this…DSC_0072_072e(Ok, the one in the purple isn’t ours, but she and Beth had a ball volunteering together all week – everyone called them the ‘grin twins’ :) ).
The church that had hosted Samaritan’s Purse brought out burgers and hot dogs for on the grill, and we all had a fun cookout.DSC_0070_070eDuring our time being hosted at Show Me Birds, the crew was treated to skeet shooting.DSC_0043_043e We don’t shoot nearly as much as we used to, with ammo prices having skyrocketed, and being on the road and all, but Jake didn’t do too bad.
The thrower ( just pushes a button ;) ) sent a bird/clay pigeon out, and Jake shot it.  He missed the second, and then hit the 3rd again.  The shooters were getting 3 birds at a turn to keep the line going,

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but the thrower said that Jake couldn’t end on a hit, so he sent out a fourth.  Jake hit it, and since he couldn’t end on a hit, he had to keep going.  After his seventh consecutive hit, Jake smiled, handed the gun back, and said he’d better let someone else have a turn while there was still ammo left.  ;)
DSC_0055_055edThe boys all shot (Multiple times!), and even the big girl…DSC_0100_100edIt was a fun time for everyone!DSC_0078_078eThose who weren’t into shooting either sat around the gorgeous pavillion chatting, walked the beautiful grounds, or went fishing.DSC_0082_082e…and the fishing was good.  The boys had a ball catching these little pumpkin seeds…DSC_0088_088eOver our years of traveling, and the kids having to pose here and there and here again, they have learned to have fun with the camera.  Except Caleb.  This is what he looks like when mom wants to take any posed shots of him…  rofl.DSC_0112_112e There is a lot of camaraderie on these relief jobs.  And everyone is so sweet!  Here ‘Uncle Kenny’ (the boss man for this project) grabbed the girls while I was taking a few pics of the boys shooting, and took them fishing!DSC_0115_115e and wouldn’t give them back.  I think he was missing his kiddos back home.  <3DSC_0130_130eIt was a fabulously fun four hours of being hosted by the largest pheasant hunting preserve in North America as a thank you for helping out their little hometown.
**While I don’t think that Show Me Birds has RV sites, there is a cute little campground just a few miles away.  If you are traveling through SE Kansas in the spring or fall, and enjoy pheasant hunting, you might want to check out their website.  :)
DSC_0079_079eIt was the perfect wrap-up to a great week of disaster relief work.
DSC_0108_108eAnd since we did not get a chance to thank the owner personally (he was a popular guy! lol), we’d like to say a great big Thank You to Show Me Birds for their incredible hospitality that blessed our whole family; Thank you for opening your home and property for God’s glory!
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Jr Ranger program 101…

During the 5 years that we have been on the road, one of the activities that we have consistently tried to do is to visit our country’s National Parks no matter where we are at.  We want to introduce our children to the wonders of God’s creation, and we love that National Parks make that so easy!  So far, we have spent time in over 90 locations in the National Park system.  Each is so unique, and has it’s own special attributes; things that we would like to share with our children.  And each (or nearly each!) has its own Jr Ranger program…

Jr Ranger badges | TicknorTribe.com

A few of the Jr Ranger badges that one of our boys has earned

NPS’s Jr. Ranger program is a great resource for getting the most out of your national park visit!  Jr. Rangers complete a booklet or worksheets at the park you are visiting, and they earn a plastic badge, and sometimes an embroidered patch.  The program is typically geared for students ages 5 to 13, but anyone, of any age, can participate!  When we were at the Grand Canyon, doing one of our first JR booklets, a group of retired ladies traveling together saw the kids working, and asked the ranger if they could do it too!  We also have kids older than 13 that consistently do the program.

So, since the Jr. Ranger program is so near and dear to us, we thought we’d do our best to introduce other families to it also!  Here is the low-down…

Most National Park System locations offer the Jr. Ranger program (these are national parks, national historic sites, national recreation areas, national battlefields…).  If you are planning on visiting a national park, and would like to find out if they have a JR program, you can visit nps.gov – find the park, and on the lefthand side of the park’s page, if there is a ‘for kids’ button, click there (if there isn’t, call the park and ask – we have found some where the website isn’t up to date).  Depending on the park page, that link may lead you to a page that tells about their JR program, or there may be another link within that page.  For some parks, it will explain what their program is like, and for other parks, you have the option to download the booklet and print it off at home.  We usually wait and get our booklets at the national park (they are nicer than home printed ones, and I don’t have to buy ink as often), but there are a few times we have printed off the booklets in our RV.  Usually only if we know we will be very pressed for time at the park, or if it is a park that we know will be intriguing and we will want to spend as much of our time sightseeing as possible, then we will get a head start on the activities by printing off the books and letting the kids start them at home or on the drive to the park.
*Because we are JR groupies we keep a few things in our van just for doing the program, namely sharp pencils, colored pencils (don’t melt in the car like crayons), and clipboards…

supplies we take | TicknorTribe.com

These are the (optional) supplies that we take along when it’s time to work on the Jr Ranger programs

*we keep a few items in the van just for Jr. Ranger days – sharpened pencils, colored pencils (don’t melt like crayons do), and clipboards!

Booklets vary greatly from park to park.  We have experienced everything from a single easy worksheet, to others that have pushed 20 pages and been very intensive.  A few parks offer multiple programs, for example, Harper’s Ferry offers 3 different levels of programs – Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master; because we only had one day to visit this park, our oldest boys spent the entire day immersed in the work of earning all 3.  They did it, but I wouldn’t recommend it! lol.  We just visited the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, and found when we got there that they offered 3 different programs: their own Chickasaw NRA booklet, a wildfire fighter worksheet, and a new Oklahoma National Parks booklet that covered the 3 parks in OK.  There are others that offer multiple booklets, but most do not specify on their webpage.

Old Bent's Fort, CO | TicknorTribe.com

heading to Old Bent’s Fort in CO to do their Jr Ranger program


When we get to a national park, the first thing we do is make a bee-line to the visitor’s center.  Here we find a ranger and ask if we can do the Jr. Ranger program.  The booklets are free at the majority of parks, but there are a few high use parks like Zion and Jamestown that charge a nominal fee for each booklet (usually $1, but we’ve seen up to $2.50).

an educational touch table | TicknorTribe.com

Molly checking out the touch table at Big Hole Battlefield in MT while doing their Jr Ranger program

When you get your booklet, the ranger will usually go over what you need to do to qualify for the badge.  If they don’t, look inside the cover for instructions.  Sometimes there are separate books for different ages, sometimes it’s the same book but each age group has different pages they need to do.  If it is the same book, usually each age group is signified by a different picture – if the picture for that child’s age bracket is printed in the corner of the page, then they need to do that page (or a certain number of those pages).
(I have found that the rangers aren’t exacting on age range – I want my child to be challenged, but I don’t want to be there all day or have them reduced to tears.  I have one that I consistently bump up, and another that sometimes gets held back depending on the level of writing work.  I look through the booklet(s) first and determine who gets which work.)

We immediately walk the littles through their books so we both have an idea of what they need to do – it can be frustrating to find out that you missed doing something at the museum/visitor’s center after you have already left to go tour the park, or realize that you didn’t get a specific piece of information off a plaque you already drove by…

After we have paged through the booklet, then it’s time to get busy.  Usually, we do the museum part of the booklet first.  If the v.c. isn’t busy, the kids make themselves at home, spread out, and get to work…DSC_0307_021W

*getting to work at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in OK

Usually the booklets are pretty interactive.  The kids will have some activities that they can do anywhere, like word finds, mazes, or matching activities.  There will be other activities tho that they have to dig to find the answers for; fill in the blanks, questions about what you would have done, and lots of ‘observe nature’ writing. Sometimes it means watching a film, reading displays, or searching for a certain exhibit.  Activities are usually educational, and are park specific, meaning that they will be learning about the particular person, place, or historical event that the park is about.BHB-009-199x300

*Listening to a exhibit to learn the info she needs to complete her booklet at the Big Hole National Memorial in Montana

It almost always means exploring the outdoors side of the park.  Sometimes there will be the requirement to visit a certain part of the park like a spring or a historic place and to find information displayed there.

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*Reading about Providence Spring at the Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia

Lots of times there is the requirement to pick up a few pieces of trash (which, believe it or not, can actually be difficult in some of the higher use parks!), sometimes you have to attend a ranger-led program, occasionally you have to watch the park film (nearly all parks have one or more), and some parks have trails you need to explore.

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*walking a trail at De Soto National Memorial in Florida

While it sounds like a lot of work, there is usually a list of these activities to choose from, and you only need to complete a certain amount of them; you can choose which activities best suit your interests and time constraints.  We have found that the Junior Ranger program, on average, takes about 2 hours to complete (of course this varies by park, and by child!)

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*Waiting on Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Once your child has completed their work (I personally require that my children do as much as they can, not just meet the minimums), then it’s time to find a ranger again!  The ranger will look through the child’s work individually, often asking them questions about what they observed and learned in their visit to the national park.

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*Getting their Jr. Ranger booklets checked by the rangers at the Oklahoma City National Memorial in Oklahoma.

After checking that the child has completed what they needed to do, the ranger will fill out and sign a certificate stating that your child is a Jr. Ranger for that park (often these are printed on the last page of the JR booklet)…

okc7-093-199x300*The rangers fill out a certificate for the kids once they’ve completed their JR work

Then the last order of business is the Jr. Ranger pledge.  It often varies slightly from park to park, but is basically a pledge to keep the parks clean, learn more about them and share that knowledge with friends, and to take care of the wildlife (or some version of that).  My favorite is when the ranger also makes the kids promise to keep their rooms clean for the following 36 hours  ;)ar-post-088-300x199

*Getting sworn in at the Arkansas Post National Memorial (AR)

The ranger then hands out the plastic badges the kids have earned, and on occasion the park has embroidered ones also (sometimes they get both, sometimes they have to chose between the two).amistad+073*In the Amistad National Recreation Area (TX), the kids earned both badges and patches!

The ranger usually shakes their hand or congratulates them, and off we go!  Another badge/park down.  only about 300 more to go! lol.BISCKeys-019-300x199

*Ranger handing out their badges at Biscayne National Park in Florida

There have been a few times that we have just not been able to complete the program while we were physically at the park.  In those few instances, we have been able to mail the booklets back to the parks, and they have mailed the kids their badges.  Not ideal, but it works in a bind.

The national park system currently has just over 400 sites, and most of them have Jr. Ranger programs!  That’s a lot of badges!  We have only been to just over 90 parks, but the kids have earned over 100 badges or patches.  When we initially began our journey, we purchased special JR vests.  I don’t regret that decision, but if you are also planning on purchasing JR vests, I do have a few suggestions.  If you buy a vest, buy the plain ones, not the ones with all the pockets; the pockets take up a lot of room, and quickly fill up. Also, buy the vests too big; if you will be collecting over time, and especially if you are going to sew on patches, buy a couple of years ahead – ripping off patches and having to resew on a bigger vest is no fun. Trust me.  jr.r+patches+012*yep, had to rip these off and resew onto a bigger vest  :/

The Jr Ranger program is really incredible!  We (mom and dad too) have learned so much more at the parks that we would have by just visiting!  The program gets the kids involved and interested in learning about the site/history, and they are more vested in the visit.  We count it as part of our roadschooling!  ;)

Not everyone has the ability/opportunity to travel to the extent that we do.  But in addition to visiting the national parks near your home, there are even more Jr. Ranger programs that you can access from the comfort of your couch!
Web Rangers is a special online extension of the program.  Kids of all ages can create an account and do tons of varied online activities, they earn online badges, and after they earn a certain number of badges, they can earn a real, exclusive-to-the-program patch which is mailed to them (mine have theirs sewn on their vests).  My kids LOVED this program (and ask to do it again) – the kids learn about wildlife, history, and nature through enjoyable yet educational and engaging games and activities.  You can find the intro to the program at WebRangers – the NPS’s online Jr Ranger program.  The program is easy to log into and navigate, and it’s a lot of fun!

The National Park Service also has a few Jr. Ranger programs that you can print off at home, complete, and mail in for your badge (they will mail it back to you at no cost).  You can find a Lewis & Clark set of worksheets here (click on the underlined Jr. Ranger activities on that page), and there are a few more on this page at nps.gov (this page also has a little intro to the JR program).  Be sure to look through the downloads before you print them off – I couldn’t find an address to mail the cool ‘exploring wilderness’ one off to (so won’t be printing that one off).  On this page is also a link to most park Jr. Ranger pages so you can learn a little more about each park’s program.

DSC_0295_009ed*The Tribe before earning their badges at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in OK

The National Park Service’s Jr. Range program can be an incredible educational tool, especially if you are able to visit any of our country’s national parks!  Check it out and see if it is a good fit for your family!

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