Fostering Children’s Dreams of Becoming a Paleontologist 100,000 Times

By Vincent L. Santucci, Paleontologist, NPS Geologic Resources Division
Rangers with Junior Rangers standing near fossils
Ranger Chuck (or Phytosaur Chuck), Paleontologist Adam, Jacob, Izzy, and Charli. Jacob, of Mesa AZ, received the 100,000th Jr Paleontologist book at "Dinosaur Day" in Petrified Forest National Park.

NPS Photo

Children, young and old, ventured to Petrified Forest National Park on June 6th to celebrate "Dinosaur Day." Among the many fossil-focused activities, a “TOP SECRET” surprise was being guarded closely under the “Smokey Bear” hats worn by the park rangers and paleontologists at the park. The 100,000th Junior Paleontologist booklet would be handed to one of the young participants. After being sworn in and presented with their Junior Paleontologist badge, they would begin their work as a fossil steward for the National Park Service.

The Junior Paleontologist booklets build on the natural attraction and interest that draw children to fossils, especially dinosaurs, and connect them to amazing fossils and national parks across the country. A small team of paleontologists, rangers and teachers working for the National Park Service crafted the booklet to help Junior Paleontologists EXPLORE the ways that paleontologists work, LEARN about Earth’s history and change over time, and PROTECT national parks, including fossils and the rocks in which they are found.

Since the first printing in 2010, tens of thousands of Junior Paleontologist booklets and badges, have been distributed to parks, museums, fossil sites, classrooms, libraries, scout troops, homes, and even fossil-themed birthday parties. Books have been sent to every state and the District of Columbia, and internationally to Argentina, Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

According to National Park Service Geologist Jason Kenworthy, who coordinates the distribution of the booklets and badges, “Sending out and receiving the Junior Paleontologist booklets is one of the joys of my job because I have interacted with so many amazing Junior Rangers, park rangers, teachers, educators, parents, and paleontologists. It’s inspiring to see the insight and wonder in their responses and to see so many say that they want to be a park ranger or paleontologist when they grow up. What’s great about the program is that Junior Paleontologists don’t have to wait until they grow up—they can explore, learn about, and protect national parks and fossils right now!”
Ranger hat, Junior Paleontologist badge and booklet, and a replica of a fossil skull
Kids of all ages can earn a Junior Paleontologist badge by completing a fun booklet!

Photo courtesy of Bianca Santucci

During Dinosaur Day at Petrified Forest National Park, rangers and paleontologists were able to reveal their secret and handed off the 100,000th copy of the Junior Paleontologist activity booklet to a young visitor. Twelve year old Jacob Kline from Mesa, Arizona, was the proud recipient of this symbolic booklet, badge and a few other prizes from the staff at Petrified Forest National Park. It was fitting and appropriate that the 100,000th Junior Paleontologist took the oath at the first National Park Service area which was established specifically based upon the world-renowned paleontological resources.

The Junior Paleontologist Program is part of the NPS Junior Ranger program. The development of the Junior Paleontologist booklets was initially supported by the Junior Ranger Ambassador Program in 2009. Science teacher Krista Jankowski was recruited as an intern to coordinate the design and content of the booklets. Krista networked with artists who created original artwork that is incorporated into the booklets.

Dave Steensen, Chief of the National Park Service Geologic Resources Division, shared his thoughts about the announcement from Petrified Forest National Park: “It is extremely gratifying to see that 100,000 Junior Paleontologist booklets now have been distributed to the next generation of park visitors, stewards, advocates, and paleontologists. The modest investment we have made provides a fun and exciting way for visitors to gain a scientific appreciation of these awesome resources and an awareness that they are non-renewable and irreplaceable. Congratulations to Jacob Kline and his family on receiving the 100,000th copy of the booklet!”
Three children wearing Junior Paleontologist booklets
Izzy, Jacob, and Charli, of Mesa AZ, displaying their Jr. Paleontologist badges.

NPS Photo

The Geologic Resources Division, parks, and partners work together to support the Junior Paleontologist Program and help to inspire the next generation paleontologists and rangers that will lead the National Park Service during its second century, including Jacob Kline (JP#100,000).

The NPS Junior Ranger program is an activity-based program conducted in almost all parks, and some Junior Ranger programs are national. Many national parks offer young visitors the opportunity to join the National Park Service "family" as Junior Rangers. Interested youth complete a series of activities during a park visit, share their answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger patch and Junior Ranger certificate. Junior Rangers are typically between the ages of 5 to 13, although people of all ages can and do participate.

Learn more information about National Park Service. fossils.

Find more information about the Junior Paleontologist Program.