Postcards From the Past

What You Need

  • Blank card stock or index card "postcards"

What to Do

  1. For many families, a visit to a national park is a rite of passage and cherished memory. Invite students to interview a parent, family member, or neighbor about a visit to a national park to prepare for writing a postcard.
  2. Before sending students home to interview, take a few minutes to discuss what makes an interview interesting and what kinds of questions will yield the best results. As a group, compare a vague story about a visit to Yellowstone with a version that has more details. Which was more interesting to read? Encourage students to ask for details and descriptions of how the person they interview felt when he or she was in the park.
  3. Once students have completed their interviews, have them create a postcard that the person they interviewed would have written to a friend telling about the trip. Students can use online images or copies of photos from their person's trip to create the front side of the postcard.

Scenic Sketches

What You Need

  • Sketch paper
  • Colored pencils, pastels, or charcoal
  • Scenic images depicting a variety of national park vistas
  • A collection of leaves, sticks, grasses, pine cones, flowers, or other natural materials

What to Do

Before digital cameras, video, and the Internet, it was naturalists' careful sketches that brought the beauty of America's natural wonders to many city dwellers. These valuable images inspired citizens and politicians to protect our wilderness as national parks that could be enjoyed by all.Through the power of imagination, turn your students into naturalists of the 1800s setting out to chronicle America's vast wilderness.

  1. Display pictures of famous national park vistas (such as the Delicate Arch at Arches National Park, the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde,and the rugged coastline of Acadia) and allow each student to select a scene to sketch. Ask students to work carefully to record each detail of the scene.
  2. Display a variety of items from nature, such as leaves, flowers, or stalks of grass, and ask each student to select one item as the subject for a close-up detailed sketch. If weather and time permit, take your students outside to enhance the experience.
  3. Once the drawings are complete, create a gallery of national park sketches to inspire your class community.

School Rangers

What You Need

  • Images of park ranger uniforms and badges
  • Paper
  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Safety pins

What to Do

National park rangers are an American icon with their flat brimmed hats and ready answers to any question a visitor may have. Explore the role of park rangers as your students train to become school rangers.

  1. Talk about the job of a park ranger and show students pictures of a ranger's badge. Ask students to consider the different elements of the design and how they symbolize the national parks and the duties of a ranger. Working in small groups, have students design a badge a school ranger would wear, then vote on a class favorite. Make a copy of the winning design for each student.
  2. To earn their badge, each student must research a place in the school. Create a list of interesting locations around your school and ask students to select a location to research.
  3. Using the school website, teachers, staff, and parents as resources, have each student write a paragraph about the unique features of the place they selected. For example, if a student chooses the school lunch room, she might write about how many students eat lunch there every day, the names of the staffers who work in the kitchen, and how many loads of dishes have to be done when lunch is over.
  4. When the school rangers have become experts on their locations, it's time to pin on their badges and invite their classmates to go on a discovery walk through the school. At each station, the appropriate school ranger will present about the space and answer questions from the "visitors."

Planning for Adventure

What You Need

  • Local road map
  • Visitor maps of a nearby national park (available at the National Park Service website)
  • local wildlife guides

What to Do

  1. With so many things to see and do at a national park, the foundation of any successful trip is a well thought-out plan. Invite your students to imagine a class trip to a nearby national park for an overnight adventure. How would they get there? What would they need to bring? What activities would they do and where would they stay?
  2. Divide the class into five small groups to work out the logistics of the trip. The transportation and lodging group will determine the mode of transportation, map out the route to take, calculate the cost of fuel for the trip, and then locate a campground in the park. The camping gear group will create a list of supplies, from the number of tents required to the types of clothing each student would need to bring. The food and water group will draft a menu for the trip and estimate how much of each food item would be needed to feed the whole class. The activities group will study park maps and guides to select hiking trails, outdoor activities, and information centers to visit. The wildlife group will research animals the class would likely see in the park.
  3. Once the groups have completed their research, gather for a briefing from each group. Complete the simulated trip by watching a video about the park, looking at photos, and then reading a story about camping while sitting around a pretend campfire (a pile of crinkled red, yellow, and orange tissue paper plus flashlights works well).

Parks Pictionary

What You Need

  • Chalkboard
  • Pictures of famous national park landmarks

What to Do

  1. The National Park Service protects some of the most recognizable symbols of America, such as Mount Rushmore, Old Faithful, the Lincoln Memorial, the Grand Canyon, and the towering redwoods of Muir Woods. Make a deck of photo flashcards equal to the number of students in your class featuring some of these iconic national park images on one side and facts about the park on the other side. Over a period of a week or two, introduce students to the locations in the deck. The cards can also be used as a center activity where students can work independently and quiz one another.
  2. When all the cards have been covered, gather the class for a game of "Parks Pictionary" at the chalkboard. Each student draws a card from the photo flashcard deck and must draw the iconic location on the board for the other students to guess. The game continues until each student has had a chance to draw at the board.

National Park Online Resources
Bolster your study of national parks at the National Park Service website.