Five Must-Do’s When You’re Five (at Timucuan Preserve/Fort Caroline National Memorial)

Fort Caroline National Memorial, National Park Service (2017); Jacksonville, FL

Psalm 32:8: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Reaching age five is a big milestone for a child: you become a whole hand, many head off to Kindergarten full-time and others begin to read and write as their learning curves begin to peak.

Today we reached another big milestone for a five-year old: Landon became a Junior Ranger through the National Park Service (NPS)!


I spend a lot of researching major National Parks that I’d like our family to visit over the next decades. While I still have some major trekking goals, I was so impressed by one of the small and mighty NPS options that we have in our own backyard.

As we pulled into the beautiful Timucuan Preserve, located only about thirty minutes from our home in Nocatee, FL,  you could feel the rich history and the passion that the NPS employees put into this National Memorial.


I was worried that our active…crazily active… almost three-year old would be bored to tears at the Preserve. The total opposite happened! We were blessed with the best tour guide, Ranger Craig, who has over thirty years of service with NPS. He was AMAZING with the kids and he just let them lead as they explored through play.


Fort Caroline National Memorial has an amazing history {you can read all about it here!}, but today Landon walked away with some basic knowledge about settlers and the Timucua Indians.

And so, as promised, here are our Five Must-Do’s When You’re Five Fort Caroline National Memorial>:

1. Touch the Oyster Shells: one of the best parts of this National Memorial is that most items here are replicas, not the original artifact. I spent the first ten minutes apologizing as my kids touched everything only to find out that touching everything is encouraged! There is a really neat history behind why the Timucua Indians (or maybe the French settlers themselves) left oyster shells behind. Here is one interesting article I found: . Regardless, Landon thought they were fascinating to touch.


2. Climb the Cannons: Is this a little boy’s dream or what?! Kids are encouraged to climb on the cannons at Fort Caroline, which is a replica in what used to be a fort for protection back in the 1500’s. Landon was tickled!


3. Get to Know Your Tour Ranger: Landon was so comfortable with Ranger Craig that half way through the tour he was holding his hand for a group picture! These Rangers have some fascinating knowledge, so give your five-year old a chance to listen and talk with a Ranger on their own.


4. Just Explore: Learning is really fun, right? Sometimes the best form of learning for a five-year old is to just let them run around and explore. Landon ran around pretending like he was fighting in the fort and little did he realize that this was exactly why the fort existed to begin with.


5. Officially Become a Junior Ranger: As we headed back to the Visitors Center, Landon kept begging, “I want to get a badge! I want to get a badge!” And so, Landon was put to the test to share about some things he learned that day. What type of weapon would a Timucua Indian use? What types of animals live in salt marshes? He had so much fun filling out the answers and was so proud of himself for not needing much help.


If you have a child who is interested in becoming a Junior Ranger, use the following process to begin: While children of all ages can become junior rangers, the NPS suggests that you begin the process with your child at age five to gain the full benefit.

Trek Difficulty Level: (0): For those near Jacksonville, FL, this is easily accessible and easy to find

Trek Budget: $0; FREE! What momma doesn’t love free? If you can sneak away from the gift shop, this mini-trek will cost you nothin’.

3 Trek Must-Dos: 

  • Bring a badge for younger siblings: one thing I wish I thought to do was bring a special badge or prize for Griffin. While I’m sure I could have just asked for an additional one for him, I wanted for him to wait to earn one on his own when he was a little older (and he, of course, had a tantrum).
  • Find an off hour to visit: school tours come in and out of the Preserve frequently, so call ahead to see what type of crowds they’re expecting.
  • He may kill me :), but ask for Ranger Craig. He’s the real deal!

Landon’s Trek Tip: On the quiz, the Indians use the spear.

And if history mini-treks aren’t your thing, just think about the totally cool photo opportunities for siblings here (LOL!):


Ranger Craig and I were cracking up about this perfect photo opp!

XO, The James Family

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