100 Years of the National Park Service Lesson Plan

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In 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) turns 100 years old. To celebrate the importance of American national parks, we have created a series of activities specifically designed for each grade.



Time Required: 1-2 classes
Grade Level: Pre K- 12th grade
Topics: Art, History, Government


Cave Art 
Grade Level: Pre-K to 1st Grade and Families at Home

Many national parks have caves that display art created more than 5000 years ago. This type of art is called cave art. Ancient artists painted animals, human, and other designs.

  • Show your classroom actual prints or images from caves in the U.S. to introduce them to genuine American cave art.
  • Discuss the colors used, various images, symbols, possible meanings and why they were drawn
  • Introduce the different tools and techniques that artists used to mark history on the walls of the caves.

Tools and materials: The tools can be made by the students themselves (brushes), paint (in red, black, yellow, umber, and brown), charcoal. Tools depend on the project, and how freely the imagination of your students runs.  

Techniques:  Stenciled / Impression / Finger Tracings / Hand Prints

  • Cover the walls with brown wallpaper.
  • When the class is ready, give them instructions on how to use the different basic techniques to draw.  
  • Have them draw on the brown paper to simulate a cave.  
  • Use this cave scientist booklet (PDF) to inspire older students.

Extension Activity: Students can also create totems like the ones that visitors see at Sitka National Historical Park.


Terrariums Inspired by the National Parks
Grade Level: 1st to 5th Grade and Families at Home

Have your class research and share pictures of various national parks, including Instagram. Use them to inspire their own models or terrariums.


  • Jar, vase or small fish tank
  • Potting soil
  • Small rocks
  • Charcoal
  • Moss
  • Cactus or other succulent plant
  • Small branches or twigs
  • Small figures (animals, hikers, rocks for decoration)

Divide the class in groups. Each group can reproduce a different kind of landscape.

Then have them make a list of the materials needed to recreate their own national park in a jar. Do your best to recreate the environment. Use sand for prairies, rocks for canyons, rice for snow or what you believe works best. Be creative.


Learn About the National Park Service
Grade Level: 3rd to 6th Grade

Session 1: Introduction 

Ask your students to visit the National Park Service's About Us page. Have them answer these questions:

  • What does the National Park Service do? What’s their mission?
  • What is a national park? What are their aims and purposes?
  • What was the first national park to be established? When?
  • How are new national parks created?
  • Who owns them?
  • Who takes care of our national parks?
  • What is the origin of the National Park Service arrowhead?

Show the video where Shelton Johnson, Park Ranger, describes his experience in Yellowstone National, part of the “National Parks: America's Best Idea” series. “A single moment in a place as wild as Yellowstone, most of the national parks, can last for ever.” Discuss its meaning with the class:

  • What was Mr. Shelton trying to convey? What kind of experiences can people have in a national park next to the wildlife and nature?
  • What ways can we use to preserve or make moments last forever? Can images preserve moments? And videos?
  • Review old postcards from various national parks and try to identify what are they trying to capture, what’s their “single moment”?

Session Two: Mapping National Parks

  • Invite your students to ask other adults in the family, school or community to share images, stories, and thoughts on nearby or favorite national parks.
  • Create a map with the locations, pictures and why they chose to mark that one on their map. Ask them to share anecdotes, stories, quotes and pictures as to why that park is special.
  • Have students document and turn in their research.
    • Where is the park?
    • When did it open?
    • How many annual visitors?
    • What makes it special? (monuments, mountains, glaciers, etc.) Find an image.
    • Why did you choose that park? (For example: my grandparents met there, my cousin works there, etc.)
    • Have you visited or do you plan to visit?

Extension Activity: Have students write an opinion about one of the national parks or monuments that they would like to visit in the future. Invite them to plan their trip and find pictures and videos.


Creative Writing Project 
Grade Level: Junior and High School

Imagine you have a friend or relative who’s never visited a national park.

  • Where should he or she go first? Recommend one and convince them to visit.
    • Why that particular park? What does it have to offer?
    • Is it fun? What can we do? Why do you love it?

Write a short persuasive essay and convince them to go to the park with you. Use facts, figures and personal experiences to support your park.


Page last updated: May 19th, 2017