Visiting Naturalist in the Schools - Missoula, MT

by Montana Natural History Center
Activity Type: Stewardship
Region: Intermountain

VNS provides naturalist instruction- specifically meeting Montana state science standards - to 1,700 4th graders in western Montana.

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Please describe your project in more detail.

The Visiting Naturalist in the Schools program provides 19 hours of instruction over the course of the full school year through monthly classroom visits into 4th and 5th grade classrooms and includes two full-day field trips. The program reaches 1,700 fourth grade students in 73 classrooms the region including: Missoula, the Bitterroot Valley, Alberton, Seeley-Lake, Polson, Pablo, St. Ignatius, Charlo, Bonner and the Potomac Valley. 

Students meet with professional naturalists once a month during the school year to learn about form and function in nature—specifically meeting critical Montana state science standards. Each visit is one hour in length and focuses on the scientific method, native plants and animals, and adaptations for survival. In May, students participate in their final program field trip where they are expected to demonstrate their learning in the field.  

Students are taken to local public lands where they spend the day rotating through three stations: wildlife hike, insect investigation, naturalist solo hike.  Stations are nearly 1.5 hours in length to allow for plenty of discovery time and opportunities for longer hikes. Each classroom is split into three small groups with a student to instructor ratio of one to seven. Students use high-quality naturalist tools, including binoculars/spotting scopes and field guides, to study wildlife and insect nets/guides to observe and classify insects. During the field trip, students are introduced to nearby public lands in an effort to facilitate future recreation on public lands.

After the field trip, students are asked to complete an assignment summarizing their experiences in the program and encouraging them to continue their naturalist skills on public lands. Students are expected to report on what they learned during the field trip, but are also expected to identify, using maps, the location of the public lands they visited.

Nearly 40% of our classrooms receive scholarships for program participation. In many cases, we are also supporting the transportation costs for schools who cannot afford the cost of renting a bus to take the children on their field trip. Fundraising efforts will cover scholarship costs for schools to take students on field trips and the instructor’s transportation.

How many kids (grades K-8) will be directly engaged in this project?


What is the name or school district associated with the project?

Missoula County Public Schools 

Ravalli County Public Schools

Lake County

Mineral County

Including schools in: Alberton, Missoula, Seeley Lake, Bonner,  Florence, Victor, Lolo, Hamilton, Potomac, and Stevensville. As well as Pablo, St. Ignatius, Charlo, and Arlee which are on the Flathead Indian Reservation.