Featured image: Sign at the entrance to Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui, Hawaii (photo by Cheryl Landes)
Get a close-up look at a volcano crater. Walk trails through white sand dunes and lush forests. Marvel at the beauty of colorful arched rocks and deep canyons. Gaze at geysers shooting water or springs boiling in the mud. Watch wildlife in their natural habitats, from grazing buffalo to bald eagles soaring over a river, lake, or sea. Explore historic sites, such as the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Frederick Douglass house in Washington DC.
Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington State (photo by Cheryl Landes)
Families and youth groups can experience these adventures and more at America’s national parks and other federal lands for free, thanks to a program launched by the Obama administration on September 1, 2015. The Every Kid in a Park initiative provides all fourth-grade students and their families free admission to more than 2,000 federally managed sites for a full year.
The passes admit the fourth graders, any other children accompanying them, and up to three adults. At drive-in locations charging per car, the students and anyone in the car with them are admitted for free.
The Obama administration selected the fourth graders for the Every Kid in a Park program, because “research shows that children ages 9 to 11 are at a unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in more concrete ways,” according to the press release announcing this initiative. “At this stage, they are receptive to new ideas and most likely to hold positive attitudes toward nature and the environment.”
Developing these perspectives is even more critical today, because “more than 80 percent of American families live in urban areas, and many lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces,” states the press release. “At the same time, kids are spending more hours than ever before in front of screens instead of outside. The Every Kid in a Park initiative encourages valuable opportunities to explore, learn, and play in the spectacular places that belong to us all and aims to inspire stewardship of these places for future generations.”
White Sands National Monument in New Mexico (photo by Cheryl Landes)
To receive the free passes, the fourth graders visit the Every Kid in a Park website and write a story about the parks they want to visit and what they want to do there. When they’re done, they can read their stories and print their passes. They can use the paper passes for admission to fee-based areas, or they can exchange the paper pass for a card at one of the locations.
This program is also open to fourth-grade teachers and other adults who educate students through youth organizations, such as camp directors, home-school leaders, after-school leaders, and religious group leaders. Educators can download passes for all of their fourth-grade students, along with suggested activities, from the Every Kid in a Park website.
These passes are good from September 1 through August 31. For more information, visit the Every Kid in a Park website.
Miners Rock at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising, Michigan (photo by Cheryl Landes)