Andy and Kris live full-time in their RV, exploring the United States with their two boys and a brand new baby. Andy works a remote job in software while Kris roadschools the kids. The Murphy family loves taking pictures and writing about their adventures as they go.
Roadschooling: Educating Through National Parks
ANDY & KRISTEN MURPHY
Roadschooling is a great way to extend your child’s education while traveling in an RV. When it comes to finding informative, hands-on experiences, the options are endless—the world really is your classroom. Like many RVers, we love to visit national parks. But you might be wondering how you can make the most out of your park visit and turn it into something useful for your roadschooling? Here are some recommendations for turning your next national park visit into a fun, educational experience.
How to Make National Parks an Educational Experience
Planning is a large part of any successful trip, and this is true for using national parks in your roadschoolinging. Before your visit, spend a few days focusing on individual topics that are relevant to the specific park. Start by gathering materials that support the park. This can include unit studies, field guides, scavenger hunts, flash cards, even visual learning tools such as YouTube videos and CuriosityStream documentaries. Integrating these materials into your weekly lesson plans gives kids a good frame of reference when visiting, and it keeps everything in full context. Some national parks even offer educational materials on their website. These are great resources for you to better understand what each park offers and how to apply your learning goals during your visit
Each national park is unique and will offer a different experience to explore and learn from. Here are a few examples of park-specific topics to help you get started:
Yellowstone National Park: volcanos; geysers; wildlife (bison, wolves, elk, grizzly bears)
Mesa Verde National Park: culture of cliff dwellers; archaeology and artifacts; ancient architecture
Arches National Park: land formations (arches, fins, windows); the rock cycle and different types of rocks; fossils and dinosaurs; constellations
Acadia National Park: tide pools; sea life; waves and tides; lumberjacks and logging; lobstering
Once you’ve finalized the subjects and topics, spend some time researching them in more detail. Learn about the park through the National Park Service website, watch documentaries about the park, and explore the topic(s) using your unit studies or educational guides. Allow time and space for your kids to ask questions and go down some rabbit holes as they continue to learn about these topics. Make this part of the process fun and exciting so that your kids have something to look forward to when they visit the park.
Now it’s time to prepare for your visit! Have your kids help pack an adventure bag. Be sure to include things like your national park passport or something to collect park stamps (they’re free!), pencils, a small clipboard, a journal for taking notes, a compass, binoculars, a hat, and your Junior Ranger vest (if you have one). Consider your family’s individual needs when deciding what to bring for a successful visit. Appropriate clothing, snacks, water, bug spray, sunscreen, and a first aid kit are all good items to bring as well.
In addition to the adventure bags, it’s important to set healthy expectations with your kids. As a family, discuss what trails you plan to hike, which ranger talks you want to attend, and how long you plan to spend at the park. Be sure to check for any reservations and purchase any entry passes ahead of time. Being prepared will make for a more enjoyable visit, and will allow you to focus on creating a more fun and engaging learning experience.
Pro Tip: If you have a 4th grade student, sign up for the Every Kid Outdoors pass and get free park admission for the whole family.
Once you arrive at the park, your first stop should be the visitor’s center. Here you can pick up a map (one for each child to help encourage map reading and navigation skills), a park newsletter (great for the most up-to-date information on trails, park guidelines, weather, road closures, etc.) and a Junior Ranger book. Be sure to also stamp your national park passport, sign up for any tours, find out when the next ranger talk is taking place, and explore the park’s museum if they have one.
There are many ways to explore the actual park grounds, whether on a driving tour or through some family-friendly hikes and walking trails. Scavenger hunts and Junior Ranger books are great ways to keep kids engaged while exploring the different sights.
Pro Tip: If you’re headed to a big park, consider splitting it up over a couple of days. This will allow you to explore different parts of the park at your own pace. If you’re short on time, ask a ranger for the best way to explore the park with the limited time you have.
Once you complete your park visit, have some fun reflecting on the experience. Talk about what you learned or simply recap the highlights. Bringing it full circle will help your kids practice comprehension and recall skills. If you want to take it a step further, your kids can recap their visit through illustrations or they can write it down in a travel journal. And if you’re feeling extra creative, turn your park visit into a vlog or use any photos taken to create a photo journal.
Pro Tip: If you didn’t have time to complete the Junior Ranger book during your visit, ask the ranger if you can get the badge ahead of time. This way, you can give the badge to your kids once they’ve completed the book. You can also mail the completed book to the park’s headquarters, and they will mail it back with a ranger signature, a badge and some park stamps.
No matter which national park you visit, there are plenty of learning opportunities waiting for you. Taking the time to plan, learn and prepare helps ensure that your kids will get the most out of their time there. And recapping the experience is a great way to solidify what they learned and what they enjoyed most. When you’re on the road, learning can happen anytime and anywhere, including a nearby national park.
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