Our state and national parks not only preserve the beauty of nature for all of us to enjoy, they help us learn more about the world around us.
South Dakota’s Game, Fish and Parks is a great one-stop shop for most of your outdoor needs. They provide educational materials for your family to review at home, including lesson plans, handouts, wand activities. Areas they cover include aquatics and angling, environmental, historical and cultural, hunting, and general outdoor education. They also provide hunters safety courses for families looking to get their kids started in hunting.
Outdoor Campus West is an outreach program of Game, Fish and Parks in Rapid City. It provides a place for families and youth to get hands-on experience in hunting, fishing, and outdoor skills in a safe environment. The campus has 1.5 miles of trails, plus indoor exhibits and a large aquarium to help families learn about our region. They also have monthly classes with everything from family knot tying and ice fishing to fly tying and advanced archery.
For families with kids who enjoy self-guided learning and exploring, check out the Junior Naturalist Program. The program helps kids ages 7 to 18 years of age explore our state parks by learning about the rich natural and cultural history of South Dakota. There are three levels in the program, each with their own completion requirements. By completing the third level, kids earn their choice of snowshoes, a fishing pole and tackle box, a disc golf set, or binoculars.
When your family is ready to get out and explore, the learning doesn’t have to stop! The Black Hills are home to several national parks that also host educational opportunities for families. Many of their programs focus on preservation of natural resources and historical sites in a manner that is engaging for younger audiences. Parks also have ranger led tours and talks that dive into the history of their specific park.
Similar to the Junior Naturalist Program, the National Park Service has created the Junior Ranger Program. They gear the program towards kids ages 5 to 13, but some parks have activities for older and younger kids as well. Activity booklets are available for free at park visitor centers, and kids can turn in their finished work for badges or certificates. This is a nation-wide program that is also available online, so the opportunities to learn are practically limitless.