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The U.S. Department of the Interior has a bold mission: Get every kid into a national park. For free.
The program behind that goal is called Every Kid in a Park. It was launched in 2015 by President Barack Obama to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Every Kid in a Park grants free access to all of the national parks to every fourth grader across the nation.
If you've got a fourth grader who longs to see a bison with his or her own eyes, or simply has a love for the great outdoors, Every Kid in a Park is a dream come true. Here are five things every parent should know about the program.
1. It really is free
The one catch is your kids must be in the fourth grade, nine to 11 years old. Beyond that, the program really is free.
All you have to do is head to the Every Kid in a Park website, download and print your pass and start planning your trip. The passes are good from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31 of the following year.
» Learn more: Make your national park trip an adventure in savings
If you're visiting a park that charges by vehicle, the pass works for the kid and any passengers in a non-commercial car. For parks that charge per person, the pass works for the kid and up to three accompanying adults. Plan on visiting via bikes? The pass works for the kid and three adults.
2. Fourth graders were chosen for a good reason
Every Kid in a Park targets fourth graders because the people behind the program are hoping to maximize its impact.
According to Every Kid in a Park, studies have found that kids ages nine to 11 are at a unique learning stage that includes developing a more solid understanding of the world around them. Fourth graders are also more likely to think positively about nature and the environment.
It is Every Kid in a Park's goal to reach these developing young minds at just the right time so that the experience has a long-lasting, beneficial impact.
3. A budget-conscious option
If you're the type of parent who loves to use travel rewards to fund a vacation, Every Kid in a Park presents a great opportunity. With the entrance fee waived, all you have to do is find a way to use credit card points to cover airfare, car rentals or lodging.
Given that an annual pass to many national parks costs $80, and some parks charge $10 or more per person, the Every Kid in a Park pass will save you a bundle. Especially if you plan to visit more than one park during your trip.
4. Planning made easy
The Every Kid in a Park has made planning your trip a breeze. Simply head to the site's main page and navigate to the “Plan Your Trip” section. From there you can focus on which parks you want to visit. If your kid is into animals, check the National Wildlife Refuge System's array of parks. If your fourth grader prefers bounding down winding trails with a canopy of trees above, head to Discover The Forest.
» Learn more: The best national parks for families to visit this fall
There are 2,000 national parks to choose from. You will have no issue finding something that excites both you and your kids.
5. Educators get access too
If you qualify as an educator — meaning you’re a fourth-grade teacher or someone who works with fourth graders in a youth group capacity — you should take advantage of the Every Kid in a Park program. You can download and print passes for all of the kids in your class or group.
Can't decide on the next field trip? Feel free to use the pre-planned activities created by the program’s staffers.
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Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: 5 great RV trip routes in the United States 8 pro tips for smart and cheap family travel 5 family vacation planning tips I learned on the fly