Connecting Kids’ Minds and Hearts to State Parks…
–Poem by Linda S., Arkansas State Parks’ first official State Park Explorer, May 30, 2010
On May 30, 2010, ten year old Linda S. wrote this poem as one of the activities in her quest to become the first recipient of an Arkansas State Parks Explorer badge and certificate. To earn this honor, she completed nine park-related activities and took an official pledge, promising to love and respect State Parks and help spread the word that conservation is “cool.”
Starting this summer, Linda and other young people across Arkansas are exploring the Natural State in new ways, thanks to the launch of the State Park Explorer program. Our aim is to help kids connect with State Parks in ways they might not otherwise. The concept is simple: Kids receive an Explorer Field Guide at any State Park, complete a series of activities, take a pledge, and earn a certificate and badge.
What is the State Park Explorer program?
The Arkansas State Parks Explorer is our new youth conservation program. It replaces our former Junior Naturalist and Junior Explorer programs.
Our previous program required attendance at five interpretive programs and completion of a service project. The new program keeps the heart of those requirements, but also goes more in-depth, promoting deeper intellectual and emotional connections with State Parks. It should also foster a greater sense of accomplishment, without being too difficult or lengthy to complete in a short time. Most questions and activities are open ended, allow kids with a range of ages and life experiences to participate. Activities fall into four component areas, listed below. Kids will:
• Discover what State Parks are (activities related to understanding us and our mission)
These four activities help children begin to explore and understand the identity, mission, and resources of State Parks.
• Prepare to be safe (activities related to safety)
These activities help children understand the importance of being proactive about safety in State Parks. They also help promote an awareness of the quality and quantity of safety training our employees receive, in order to best protect resources and serve guests. Finally, they help children approach and interact with employees in a positive, friendly way.
• Connect your mind and heart to State Parks (attend interpretive programs)
This section is adapted from the previous “Junior Naturalist” program, requiring attendance at
park interpretive programs. However, it goes beyond asking kids what they learned at a program,
instead asking them to reflect on how they made connections with their minds and hearts.
• Share your experience (activities promote thinking beyond self, serving park and others)
These two sections prompt thoughts and actions outside of the self, asking kids to consider helping the resources and other visitors. These activities foster a sense of ownership of the parks, responsibility for actions, and service to others.
Who can become a State Park Explorer?
The program is suggested for kids ages 6-14 who care about nature, history, safety, and FUN!
What is the purpose?
For participants, the purpose is to have fun, gain a sense of accomplishment, get to know the parks’ resources, meet park staff, and make positive memories in State Parks.
For Arkansas State Parks, the goal is to connect young people to Arkansas’s State Park system through a variety of in-park, open-ended, self-initiated activities that are designed to introduce
them to the system and cultivate future generations of park stewards.
Where can Explorer be completed?
The program is designed to be completed at any Arkansas State Park, including historic parks and museums. Activities can be completed at several different locations, or all at one site.
When is the Explorer program available?
The program is available year round. It is designed to be simple enough to be completed in a single
weekend, but also could be stretched out across multiple visits throughout the year.
How much does it cost?
This program is free to all who wish to participate.
How does the Explorer program work? What do I do to get my child started?
• Interested children request and receive Field Guides from park staff.
• They complete all the activities, filling in the yellow circles in the upper right corner of each section as they go. Activities can be completed in any order.
• Upon completion, they present the Field Guide to a park official for review. Most of the questions/activities are open-ended, meaning the responses are not judged for “correctness” but simply for completion.
• Staff sign completed Field Guides and either 1) immediately invite children to take the Explorer pledge and then present them with official Explorer badges and certificates, or 2) schedule a time when they will receive awards as part of a special ceremony (e.g. with other kids at the start of that night’s evening program in the campground). We are able to be flexible depending on that child’s family or group schedule.
• Children fill in their names and addresses on the top (inside cover) portion of the Field Guide. Staff carefully cut that section off and keep it for our records, leaving the majority of the Field Guide for the children to keep as a memento. (Records are kept for the purposes of tracking overall program data and estimating materials numbers for future materials orders.)
Doing our part to walk the walk: Green Practices
Part of our purpose of forging connections between young people and State Parks is to build a more conservation-minded citizenship. Participants naturally progress through a continuum, beginning with curiosity and awareness and moving toward personal stewardship ethics. It is important, then, to let Explorers and their families know we try to practice what we teach. In developing new Explorer materials, we worked hard to reduce our environmental impact:
Badges: The plastic part of our Explorer badges are 100% recycled (90% post industrial and 10% post consumer). They are also made in the USA.
Field Guides & Certificates: The Explorer Field Guides are designed for two-sided printing, with two pieces per sheet using a maximum printing area on the largest paper that fits our press. This means our printing requires very little trimming and is extremely low-waste. The Field Guides are printed on cover stock that is Forest Stewardship Council certified to contain product from well-managed forests, controlled sources and recycled wood or fiber. It is also Green Seal™ certified, containing recycled post-consumer fiber. Our Explorer certificates are printed on the same cardstock as the Field Guides.
For further information:
Contact any Arkansas State Park office.