Engaging Children Through Interactive Historic Trail Activities

Last weekend, I volunteered at Santa Fe’s annual Viva México festival. Viva México is held at El Rancho De Las Golodrinas, which is located in Santa Fe along the historic El Camino Real De Tierra Adentro Trail. My volunteer role was providing information on this historic trail to festival goers. I gave out brochures, Santa Fe and Albuquerque activity flyers, and Jr. Ranger activity sheets. Now, before I go any further, you may or may not be familiar with the term Jr. Ranger. In fact, you may be wondering what is or who is a Jr. Ranger? Well, the Jr. Ranger program, created by NPS, allows the youth to become an NPS ranger through a series of interactive activities. Participants range from the ages of 5 to 13; however, any one can participate. Since joining the NTIR staff, the Jr. Ranger program has been an ongoing topic of discussion. We love the program! I’ve even participated in ranger usability tests. However, while at the festival, I learned nothing can compare to administering the activity firsthand. The festival took place Saturday and Sunday. Each day, I stood eagerly at the event entrance, ranger activity in hand, speaking to families about why they should participate in the program. Now, I know what you’re thinking–do children or families want to participate in writing activity? Why, yes they will! You see, the activity does not simply require participants to stay stagnant and answer series of questions on paper. Those completing the activity must explore the park site, or festival in this case, in order to complete the activity. They must think critically about what the festivities mean. Many parents were eager for their children to participate in the program. One family I talked to, with a daughter no more than the age 3, was pleased to know she could also engage in the festival. I can imagine the difficulty parents experience trying to keep a young child interested in activities that may not specifically cater to their interests. Thus, the ranger  activity proved to be a rewarding experience for their entire family. juniorranger2

A quick snapshot with a parent and one the youngest rangers at the festival

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A family of Junior Rangers

Another unexpected but great opportunity was telling children about the purpose and benefits of the Jr. Ranger activity. One boy asked, “I know you want me to do this, but isn’t school over already?” Tickled, I told him, “Yes, but this is fun I promise. Just give it a try.” As I mentioned before, this activity engages players both mentally and physically, Otherwise, people may not be as interested in participating. Not to mention once players complete their activities they are rewarded official Jr. Ranger certificates that are sealed with an official trail sticker. The certificate verifies a participant is officially a Jr. Ranger meaning he or she is a part of the NPS family. The Jr. Ranger title is not just a name; it is an honor that can open doors to opportunity for a young girl or boy. Overall, my time at Viva México was time well spent . I talked to dozens of families and even participated in traditional Mexican festivities. I also gained a few takeaways from this event: Outreach After speaking to many families from around the country, I realized audience engagement requires outreach. In less than a minute, I convinced families to try the activity and to check out additional information about the Camino. Talking about history, versus handing someone a paper to read, seemed more captivating. Directly Addressing Desired Audience Members   Specifically targeting desired audience members spurred participation. For example, when a mother and daughter walked in the festival, I greeted the mother first then leaned towards ground to speak to her daughter. I addressed the child separately because I wanted her to know the activity was made for people like her. When I tried this communication strategy with other children, many willingly responded with positive feedback. Maintaining Enthusiasm No Matter What Despite standing in the blazing sun, or not receiving correspondence to the activity at times, I always maintained a smile. If a family turned down the activity offer, I moved on and enthusiastically spoke to the next family. I did so to maintain professionalism, the trail and NPS image, and to show families I was passionate about what I was doing. lenaandi

Lena and I taking time to take photos in festival booth

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