Every Kid in a Park Brings History to Life

9/6/2016

School librarian Erin Fitzpatrick-Bjorn has visited over 40 national parks so far. Her trips inspired her to bring the history and beauty of these national treasures into the classroom through Every Kid in a Park. 

The initiative, started by the White House, offers fourth graders, their families and educators free passes to explore public lands and waters -- including national parks -- nationwide.

Four students in a field display rectangular park passes as a park ranger stands in the background.
Four students proudly display their Every Kid in a Park passes as a National Park Service ranger stands in the background. Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior. 

Over the course of the school year, Erin incorporated learning about public lands into activities in her three elementary classes. Erin works at Vestal School in Portland, Oregon, where the students are from traditionally underserved populations and collectively speak 20 languages. 

Students learned basic internet skills -- such as the differences between .gov and .com domains -- by researching national parks. They also used print materials like park brochures to learn about the various types of parks, like national monuments, memorials and more.

Erin challenged students to think critically to identify why certain areas became parks and the problems parks face. She also printed photos of national parks to help students understand copyright. 

“They were so excited to see what parks across the country looked like in places they had never seen. It was a really easy way to do a lot of learning while engaging students in a fun way,” Erin says. 

Afterwards, students picked a park they wanted to visit and planned a three-day itinerary, including where to camp, ways to explore the park and calculating costs like fuel. 

A vertical school project poster board that says "Mount Rainier - Let Nature Be Your Teacher."
A display board of a school project on Mt. Rainier National Park. Photo courtesy of Erin Fitzpatrick-Bjorn. 

“I really wanted to expose my students to the idea of how great parks are and give them a chance to visit virtually, as well as give them the experience of visiting a national park in person for the first time,” says Erin. “I knew I could teach students library and research skills while getting them interested in parks.” 

To finish the project, students used school computers to complete an educational activity and print their Every Kid in a Park passes. Once at the park, students traded in their paper passes for durable plastic passes, which they can use to visit parks with their families throughout the school year and summer. 

As the culmination of everything they learned, students visited a national park in their backyard -- Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. Even the two-hour bus ride to the park was an adventure. Many students had never seen the ocean before, and the class stopped to run on the beach. 

When students arrived at Fort Clatsop -- where the Lewis and Clark expedition stayed during the winter of 1805 to 1806 -- park rangers dressed as pioneers brought what students had read in their history books to life. Students attended demonstrations to learn how pioneers survived and walked in the forest to identify plants. 

A person dressed in frontier clothes give a presentation to a group of sitting children.
Students learn about the pioneer era from a historical reenactor at Fort Clatsop. Photo courtesy of Erin Fitzpatrick-Bjorn.

“An immersive experience is way more real to students than movies and books,” Erin says. “They told me it was the best field trip they had ever been on.”

For more information about the Every Kid in a Park program and to download a free pass for the 2016 school year, visit www.everykidinapark.gov

Interested in incorporating Every Kid in a Park curriculum in your class?  Visit www.nps.gov/teachers for lesson plans on more than 125 subjects, ranging from archeology to biology to Constitutional law.