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On Your Mark, Get Set, Explore!

Parks Canada's Xplorers Program shows that learning is exciting! As part of its Centennial celebrations Parks Canada has a new national program which offers a variety of recreational activities for young people at select national parks and national historic sites across the country. Do you want to be an "Xplorer"? If you are looking to discover our amazing national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas Parks Canada has a fun new way of engaging with these special places.

Since 2010, Parks Canada has launched several exciting initiatives to help visitors, including young and urban Canadians, become better connected with their national parks and national historic sites.

Launched July 1st 2011, the Xplorers Program is aimed at engaging youth between the ages of 6-11. The program is primarily designed with activities to appeal to the distinct interests of these young people but is open to all who want to participate regardless of age.Discovering the world of snakes, Parks Canada / Découvrir la vie des serpents, Parcs Canada The new program encourages discovery and dialogue through age-appropriate fun including games, questions and activities, and is currently being offered across the country at 43 select Parks Canada locations and will be launched system-wide in 2012.

Parks Canada, which has always been a great draw for young families, is now implementing special Xplorer activities that continue to engage people and promote learning at Parks Canada's unique natural and cultural heritage sites. The program helps to convey the importance and meaning of each place and strengthens the sense of connection for Canadian youth to Parks Canada.

This flexible, site-specific program encourages participants to discover, engage and connect with the particular place they are visiting through a variety of activity options. It aims to pique the curiosity of young visitors, encouraging them to ask questions and ultimately increase the participant's enjoyment of the place creating the desire to return and visit other Parks Canada sites. "Visitors were keen to participate and the smiles and looks of the children spoke volumes!" explained one interpreter.

On arrival at a participating national historic site, national park, or national marine conservation area visitors wanting to take part receive a free Xplorer activity Example of the Xplorers book for l'Anse aux Meadows, Parks Canada / Example d'un livre des Xplorateurs produit pour l'Anse aux Meadows, Parcs Canadabooklet. Tailored to each location, the booklet describes learning activities and guides the children throughout their visit. For example, learning activities at the St. Lawrence Islands National Park vary from a scavenger hunt to searching for symbols on rocks, to trail hikes, species identification and even guided reptile encounters. The interpretation activities offered at the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park's Marine Environment Discovery Centre asks attention-grabbing questions such as Sharks: Plankton-feeders or Man-eaters?

"Booklets have been used up more quickly than expected," explained one Parks staff, "and parents have commented that they would have loved to take part in a program like this when they themselves were small."

Each location offers different activities that reflect its unique significance and situation, some with interpreters, which allows interaction between members of the public and Parks Canada staff.  At L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site children are able to interact with a Viking as he builds a small boat by choosing a tool and helping him out. They can also help a blacksmith or learn to write using runic script. Learning from a Viking, Parks Canada / Une leçon d'un viking, Parcs Canada

Many of the sites offer engaging activities including exhibits on exploration, or walking trails, all designed to appeal to different learning styles. These motivate and provide opportunities for children to foster new skills, or simply to become more aware of those skills they already possess. Asking children to use their senses to discover new and unique sights, sounds and textures has opened up a new world for them at Parks Canada-adminstered sites and parks.

Each task is designed to be completed within the time frame of a normal family visit. Those taking part do not have to finish all of the booklet activities to complete the program.

At Banff National Park the Xplorer Club for Kids program invites children to become sleuths and learn by hiking, biking, completing quizzes and crossword puzzles, or using a GPS to find a mystery location. After completing at least 6 of the 16 activities in the booklet, they are eligible to participate in a ceremony where they receive a souvenir and a certificate recognizing them as official Xplorer Club for Kids members. Souvenirs appropriate to each site/park are given out as rewards including cool dogtags which are offered at participating Parks Canada locations.

The Xplorer Motto used at Waterton Lakes National Park states: As an intrepid Parks Canada Xplorer I promise to protect, respect and care for all of the members of our National Parks family. I will continue to learn about these xtraordinary places, and share what I learn with my family and friends. I will help to preserve these places for future generations, and never stop Xploring!  This 'repeat after me' promise was created by one of the interpreters at Waterton Lakes National Park for new explorers who have completed their booklet tasks. Making a new friend, Parks Canada / Un nouveau ami, Parcs Canada

The Xplorers Program is offered when participating parks or sites are open. Right now, kids can become Xplorers at such sites as Terra Nova National Park (NL), Forillon National Park (QC), Halifax Citadel National Historic Site (NS), Green Gables Heritage Site (PEI), Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site (MB), Banff National Park (AB), Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site (NS), Batoche NHS (SK), and Fisgarde Lighthouse National Historic Site (BC).

The Xplorers program has been warmly received by kids and parents alike. "It really is a joy to see how excited these kids are and to present them with certificates and souvenirs," one interpreter at Waterton expressed. "The Xplorers Program is awesome!" exclaimed a participant.

Energetic? Can't keep still? If you know of any children who are curious, active and interested in their natural and cultural environment - perhaps budding explorers, artists, photographers, journalists - and they're ready to have fun, then the Xplorer's program is an ideal way to encourage learning. Do you have what it takes to be a Parks Canada Xplorer?  Become a Xplorer family today!