Bugle Call

Keep Kids Learning in the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area This Summer

June 21, 2021

State Parks National Park Service

Keep Kids Learning in the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area This Summer

Title image courtesy of Charissa Hipp

School’s out for the summer, but that doesn’t mean learning has to stop for young minds. There are many ways to keep kids learning this summer throughout the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area. Even adults learn while visiting local sites and participating in activities with the kids.


As a child, I can remember hitting the road early in the mornings and traveling to historic sites in the DMV on my mom’s days off. I wasn’t always a willing or enthusiastic participant, but there were things my parents did to make it enjoyable for me. I had a set of auto bingo boards we used during longer drives, there were plenty of Mad Libs to keep us all entertained, and we had the infamous blue Passport to Your National Parks booklet I enjoyed stamping when we arrived at National Park sites. The passport booklet has expanded since those days and in addition to the annual stamp set, there’s a Junior Ranger edition geared specifically towards youth.


The internet is a wonderful tool for trip planning and often has the most up-to-date information about site hours, programming, closures, rules and regulations. Let the kids get involved in planning out itineraries, whether it’s for an afternoon trip or a multi-day trip. Allowing them to help choose a place for lunch or an ice cream stop can help sweeten the deal and give them things to look forward to if visiting a historic site doesn’t immediately excite them. There’s also a new National Park Service app that puts park information at your fingertips. It is free and available for both iOS and Android devices. Parks are in various stages of re-opening due to COVID-19 and some facilities remain closed, so it’s good to know before you go.


Perusing websites in advance can often give you an idea of what to expect when you arrive. There may be a special exhibit that a family member would be particularly interested in or something specifically geared to children. Many National Park Service sites, for example, have Junior Ranger programs. Some of them have booklets that can be downloaded ahead of time, which is a great way to get kids excited about their visit AND let them know some of the general themes they’ll be exploring during their visit. Park bookstores are a fun place to buy souvenirs and profits go to support the parks. They often have fun items that kids often enjoy collecting, like patches, pins, postcards and more!

Kids in Park Track Trail adventures are similar to Junior Ranger programs but are completely self-guided, family-friendly adventures for the outdoors. By setting up a free account online and tracking adventures, kids can win free prizes like nature journals, bandanas, patches, stickers and backpacks that are sent through the mail. Most adventures are nature-based but some are specific to the history of a site. They can involve different recreational activities from hiking to biking, paddling and more. You’ll find Track Trail adventures at Antietam Battlefield, Catoctin Mountain Park, C&O Canal and Monocacy Battlefield, just to name a few sites.


When you take a closer look at nature along the trails, it’s common for questions to arise about specific plants, trees, fungus, animals and other discoveries. Guidebooks are helpful with nature identification and many park bookstores have them for sale, but apps can also help with identification. Top recommended free apps for this purpose include iNaturalist, a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. This app allows you to record your observations through photographs and audio, see possible suggestions for identification, share with other naturalists and discuss your findings. Seek, by iNaturalist, is another nature identification app especially fun for children. It enables users to earn badges through nature identifications and participation in challenges. Both apps are available free of charge for iOS and Android devices.


The Maryland Park Service offers a series of self-guided, family-friendly adventures each year called Park Quest. This popular program required registration in previous years but is open to all participants this year. Now in its 14th season, the 2021 Park Quest is bird-themed to expand knowledge about the more than 450 different species of birds throughout Maryland. State parks in the heritage area with 2021 Park Quest activities include Fort Frederick, Gambrill and Gathland, as well as a Bonus Quest at Fort Frederick. Park Quest is the perfect way to engage families in outdoor recreation while learning about Maryland’s natural and cultural history.


Finally, be sure to check out the heritage area’s updated Geotrail. Geocaching is another family-friendly form of outdoor recreation. It’s a real-world, outdoor treasure-hunting game using GPS-enabled devices like cellphones. Participants then navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache container hidden at that location. The heritage area’s newly updated Geotrail has two additional geocaches and an Adventure Lab, with plenty to learn about history as you seek geocaches. Participants can win a prize upon completion of the geotrail.


There are many different ways to get your family out learning about history and nature in the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area this summer! Whether you choose one or all of these ideas, there’s sure to be something that will spark some interest and enthusiasm from your kids while creating some memorable family moments.

(Title image courtesy of Charissa Hipp, taken 2019 at Antietam National Battlefield)

Charissa Hipp

Contributing Author: Charissa Hipp

Charissa Hipp has a passion for connecting people to places through tourism marketing, storytelling, writing and hiking. A wife and mother of three, she is the Maryland Ambassador for Girls Who Hike and encourages people to connect with nature to experience its physical, mental and spiritual... Read More