Carolyn F. Stephenson
National parks: Two words the fifth grade student has read or heard about in social studies class but does not know or completely understand. Most children are familiar with their neighborhood park, the town green, or a special place where the family shares an evening or holiday outing. For many city children this is the only retreat from cement sidewalks, multi-family dwellings, clotheslines, and chain link fences they know. Many urban children are not familiar with forests, wilderness, fresh air, or waterfalls. These words may appear in the social studies text as vocabulary words to define on paper but how many students will have the opportunity to actually experience them?
A few students are fortunate to be able to belong to organizations such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts which give children their first taste of the outdoors. There is something special about being away from home for the first time and yet it is a little scary. The scratching of branches or the screech of an owl sends the imagination soaring in the dark of night. Most scouts learn that nature is a friend that once introduced becomes a life-long teacher. Many an adult leader is a former scout, who wants to instill a love and respect for the great outdoors to the next generation.
Love of the wilderness is not a new concept. The student may recognize the name of Daniel Boone, a frontiersman and learn that he expressed feelings of delight in the beauty of nature while exploring the wilds of a young America.
Where do students go to sleep out in tents, identify trees, observe wildlife, enjoy the scenery, smell the fresh air? To the woods or a park !! Yes, but what kind of park? That depends on where they live. All states have state or city parks within walking or driving distance. However, not all states are fortunate to have one of our national parks included within their boundaries. Yet, each geographic region of the United States can boast of several national parks within its borders.
What is a national park? What makes a national park so special? Where are they located? Who operates these parks? When did they begin? These are questions a typical fifth grade student asks. The answers to these questions are but one part of this unit which will integrate the National Park System with the study of the of the geographic regions in my 5th grade social studies curriculum. I wish to instill in the students the knowledge that the National Park Systems are learning centers for them to protect and enjoy.
The National Park System of the United States is in its second century, and covers over 80 million acres in 47 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. These areas are of such national significance as to justify special recognition and protection in accordance with various acts of Congress. According to The National Parks: Index 1989, which states “By Act of March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming “as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” and placed it under “under exclusive control of the of the Secretary of the Interior.” The founding of Yellowstone National Park began the worldwide national park movement. Today more than 100 nations contain some 1,200 national parks or equivalent preserves.
Our National Park System has grown such that Congress declared in the General Authorities Act of 1970 “that the National Park System, which began with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, has since grown to include superlative natural, historic, and recreation areas in every region . . . and that it is the purpose of this Act to include all such areas in the system . . . ”
The parks are so diversified that a variety of titles are given to them. These titles include national park, national preserve, national monument, national memorial, national historic site, national seashore, and national battlefield park. The following explanations which are paraphrased from
The National Parks: Index
will help to avoid confusion when specific sites are mentioned.
contain a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources. They are noted for their great scenic and scientific quality.
is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource. It is usually smaller than a national park and lacks its diversity of attractions.
is a category that is established to protect certain resources. Activities such as hunting, fishing or the extraction of minerals or fuels may be permitted if they do not jeopardize the natural values.
National lakeshores and national seashores
preserve shoreline areas and off-shore islands. They focus on the preservation of natural values while providing water-oriented recreation.
National rivers and wild and scenic riverways
preserve ribbons of land bordering on free-flowing streams which have not been dammed, channelized, or otherwise altered by man. These areas also provide opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing, and hunting.
National scenic trails
are generally long distance footpaths winding through areas of natural beauty.
National historic site
preserves places and commemorates persons, events and activities important in the Nation’s history. Historical areas are customarily preserved or restored to reflect their appearance during the period of their greatest historical significance.
National military park, national battlefield park, national
battlefield site and national battlefield
are titles that are associated with American military history. National monuments and national historical parks may include features associated with military history, while the national historic park may be greater in physical extent and complexity.
is most often used for areas that are primarily commemorative. They need not be sites or structures historically associated with their subjects.
National recreation areas
are units that may surround reservoirs impounded by dams built by other federal agencies and has grown to to include land and water used for recreation near major urban centers.
encompass ribbons of land flanking roadways and offer an opportunity for leisurely driving through areas of scenic interest.
Performing arts centers
have been set aside to be national park sites in order to preserve facilities dedicated to the performing arts.
are protected so that they will not be improved upon or changed by human habitation. There shall be no roads or commercial enterprise and no motorized equipment in any form. These areas are for hiking, camping, horseback riding.
Three types of related areas exist.
Affiliated Areas, the Wild
and Scenic Rivers System, and the National Trails System
. They are not units of the National Park System, yet they preserve important segments of the Nation’s heritage.
Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital, has a unique park system. Most of the public parks are administered by the Federal Government through the
National Capital Region of the National Park
The District of Columbia also operates parks, playgrounds, and recreational units.
Using the National Park System as a tool to educate children in the diversity of our country’s regions is one of interest and importance. The park can present a real sense of preservation and history once visited than that of words on the printed page. The student takes an active role in his education and becomes a preserver of his environment by seeing history and using it to support basic knowledge in the areas of geography, history, culture, recreation, and natural resources.
The 5th grade student studies the regions of the United States as part of the social studies curriculum. These regions as defined in the present text,
Living In Our Country
, are the Northeast, Southeast, North Central, Southwest, Rocky Mountain, and the West. These regions are rich in history that are preserved by the National Park System units. I will have the students incorporate the regional study of specific park units along with the geographic regions to enrich their background as to what areas are preserved and why such units are unique. I have chosen 2 regions to write about for this paper in a detailed fashion. The other regions will follow the same format but will use park units that are located within that specific region of the country.
Several weeks before the unit begins (usually late in September) I will show a video,
Touring America’s National Parks
, to my students. This video highlights 20 National Parks and gives the students a visual sample of these outstanding natural areas. Next, the students will write to the National Park Service Regional Offices and obtain maps, guides, and pamphlets on the units within that region. I will also obtain a National Park System Map and Guide for each student. As the materials arrive the students will file them within a geographical region. Later these materials will be arranged under topics such as natural areas, historic areas, recreational areas, and cultural areas. A separate file for state parks will also be kept.
The class will be introduced to each region by locating it on a map and determining its boundaries and location in relation to where our class is and in relation to the United States as a whole. We will start our study of the regions by looking at the Northeast and work our way south and west. Landforms, climate and natural resources are investigated in order to determine which national park unit would best exemplify this field. Making a living in each region is determined. Park units that are identified with this theme will be mentioned. Lastly, the way of life in each region would include history, culture, and recreation inherent to that area, National Park System areas that show greatness along these themes will be investigated. State parks that exhibit special qualities or that are of notable interest will be mentioned at the end of each regional study.
The rationale behind including state parks in this unit is as follows: all states have state parks, outdoor recreation and leisure activities are becoming more popular, and states are becoming more aware of preserving examples of their scenic, natural, and cultural heritage and are doing an excellent job managing these areas. Visiting these areas are educational and close to home for students and their families and all ow for class fieldtrips to further investigate our great parks.
The Northeast Region
The Northeast region as studied by 5th grade students who use the text
Living in Our Country,
is made up of the following states Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island which are also called the New England states. Also included in this region are New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania which are known as the Middle Atlantic states. The Northeast has almost one fourth of our nation’s population and makes up about one twentieth of the country’s land mass.
This region is rich in history and culture due to the early settlements, factories, and shipping industry. Land forms in the region helped dictate the way of life. The New England states are not known for their great farmland as the Middle Atlantic states are. Yet, the landforms and natural resources of this region have been the backbone of our country’s development.
These landforms such as mountains, hills, valleys, and plateaus contribute to the richness of the wilderness areas. Coastal and interior plains are low level lands along and away from the coasts respectively which lend themselves to the development of shipping and industry.
The glaciers shaped the New England land. They pushed the top layer south leaving deposits of earth and stone. New England lost most of its top soil as the glaciers shaped the coastline.
The natural resources of this region are and were important to growth and development of the region. The most widely known are forests, fish, shellfish, stone, oil, coal, and natural gas. The early settlers found the region thickly forested. They cleared the land for planting and used the lumber for building homes and ships. Fishing became more important once the basic family needs were met. The large amount of fish found off the New England coast lead to the exportation of the excess to other countries.
At that time no thought was given to the preservation of these resources. It served the needs of the people for food, shelter and business endeavors. Luckily the attraction of the west and the promise of better land allowed new forests to grow. National and state governments began to realize the value of setting aside lands for parks and forest areas.
The Middle Atlantic states have a variety of areas. Agricultural sections in Pennsylvania and New Jersey produce large crops. Sand dunes and marshes are found in southern New Jersey. The Appalachian Mountains are rounded due to years of water erosion and wind. Coal and oil deposits are found in the region of the Appalachians. Many people earn a living from mining and drilling these resources. Pennsylvania has enough tons of coal to supply our nation for several hundred years.
Movement of goods and people has been important to the Middle Atlantic states, since the early days of the Erie Canal to the major highways and railroads of today. Airports and seaports are important links in connecting our nation.
The large area that the Northeast covers, from Maine to Delaware, has grown such that there is not much open space between the cities and their suburbs. Wilderness and wild life areas were depleted. This was cause for concern by many people. However, some animals are learning to live among man and areas are being set aside as refuges for all living things.
The National Park System helps protect the best examples of nature, history, and culture in the Northeast region. The following are examples of park units I will use with my students.