by Bailey Zook, Teaching Naturalist

On the first Monday of April, MNHC’s amazing volunteer Claudia joined me to facilitate the final Middle School Homeschool Naturalists class for the 2019-20 school year. These students are bright, curious, kind, thoughtful, engaged, and wonderful to spend time with in person. As we ended our class series with a virtual meeting rather than the planned field trip, these traits held true as they added patience and flexibility to their list of attributes.

We shared the naturalist observations we’d all made in the last month, and then discussed the benefits of sharing these observations with each other. These benefits include an understanding of the changes happening (or not happening) at our various locations and elevations in the Missoula area. Communicating our observations allowed us to put together a picture of a larger region and multiple ecosystems. Some of us had been experiencing snow and rain, others noted the appearance of leaf buds, the lack of leaf buds, a creek with no water, and getting to be outside with family, and then dashing back in again as the weather shifted.

Each of us came to our virtual meeting with found natural objects that had been collected prior to class. We tried a few different styles of communicating through games that helped us to guess the mystery objects collected by others. After all the students had a chance to share a natural object, we returned to our discussion about communication. Which styles were helpful to us? What additional information had we needed to properly guess or draw another person’s mystery object? In what other areas of life do we need to know how to communicate clearly, and how could we use these naturalist skills to improve other communication? There was some really great discussion around this, and I’d like to challenge you to think about these questions with us.

To end our meeting, the middle schoolers came up with a scavenger hunt of sorts, a list of things to do to help each other to connect with nature. We’d like to share it with you, so you can join us as we all seek to stay grounded, connected, inspired and curious this spring.

  • Go for a walk, and find 5 different kinds of birds (can you name them all?).
  • Smell the air. Can you smell rain coming?
  • Think about what is different from being inside and looking at things through a window, and being outside and breathing fresh air, smelling, and seeing everything.
  • Find a bird nest.
  • Can you see evidence of seasonal change?
  • Find things to make art: sticks, rocks, leaves, and other natural objects.

Needless to say, this group is made of extremely thoughtful and lovely students, and I’m so grateful to have been their Teaching Naturalist again this year!