Visiting Naturalist in the Schools

collage of visiting naturalist in the schools field trip photos - kids outside looking at trees, writing in journals, drawing pictures of trees, looking through microscopes

The Visiting Naturalist in the Schools Program connects professional naturalists with fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms in western Montana. The program includes:

  • Monthly class visits in September, November, December, January, February, March, and April
  • Full-day field trips at a local natural area in October and May
  • Journals for each student in the program to record observations, practice science journaling, and develop reading and writing skills
  • Ongoing science inquiry and encouragement of the students’ natural curiosity about the natural world
  • 19 hours of direct instruction by a professional MNHC staff Naturalist
  • Curriculum aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards that also contributes to curriculum goals in literacy, critical thinking, and communication: see an overview here.

Instruction
Naturalist instructors include Montana Natural History Center staff members and seasonal teaching staff.  All naturalist instructors have completed undergraduate study in a related topic, and many of them have completed graduate degrees as well. Instructors begin the program with prior teaching experience and a wealth of natural history knowledge and training.

Program Cost
Foundations, grants, and donations support 90% of the program cost. Schools pay the remaining cost of $250 per classroom.

VNS Evaluation Report
In 2018 we had Cedar Lake Research Group LLC perform a formal evaluation of the VNS program.

front cover of the 2018 Visiting Naturalist in the Schools evaluation report, with pictures of children outside on field trips

Click here for the full report (122 pages) and here for the summary (10 pages).

2019-2020 Program
Naturalists are currently teaching in 68 classrooms in the region, working with 1700 students. VNS is in every public school in Missoula, as well as schools in the Mission, Blackfoot, and Bitterroot valleys:

 

Read what students and teachers are saying about VNS!

“Thank you for letting us be real naturalists.”

“I loved looking at things in the binoculars!” ~VNS 4th grader

“Thank you, Montana Natural History Center, for giving me a huge interest in birds!”

“Thank you sooo much for teaching us this year! I had a blast!  I liked, wait, not liked, loved yesterday’s field trip!” ~VNS 4th grader

“I’m planning on being a naturalist when I’m your age . . . I was wondering, what did it take to be a naturalist? Did someone inspire you? I know that you, my dad and mom, and nature did for me!” ~4th grader, Franklin Elementary

“Many thanks for your great presentations. The kids are still talking about all the things they learned and saw. ” ~Teacher, Lowell Elementary

 

Meet our staff naturalists:

Jenah Mead

Jenah Mead

Teaching Naturalist

Jenah’s favorite things in nature are birds, lichens, and the VNS students she gets to explore with every year. She is constantly inspired by their observations and infinite curiosity. When she grows up, she wants to be just like them.

Ser Anderson

Ser Anderson

Teaching Naturalist

Ser delights in ambling through nature and observing its stunning details. Helping young people learn observation skills and discover knowledge about their home places deepens those experiences even further.

Bailey Zook

Bailey Zook

Teaching Naturalist

Bailey loves to study and explore the natural world and especially enjoys doing so with VNS students! Their excitement is a constant source of inspiration and encouragement to further investigate the world around us. 

Christine Wren

Christine Wren

Teaching Naturalist

Exploring outdoors in search of whatever natural treasure is there to find–flowers in bloom, bird songs, butterflies, caterpillars, bright orange lichens—these are Christine’s favorite times. And to share them with children enriches those experiences even more!

Christine Morris

Christine Morris

Community Programs Coordinator

Christine is passionate about igniting curiosity and care of the outdoors through teaching. She loves the perceptive questions and observations VNS students make in the classroom and the field. Sharing in their joy and discoveries as they turn over rocks or investigate bird beaks is a truly special opportunity.

Drew Lefebvre

Drew Lefebvre

Museum Programs Coordinator & Volunteer Coordinator

Drew is constantly amazed and humbled by the natural world, and enjoys sharing her explorations with others. She loves helping to create meaningful educational experiences with the students in VNS.

Rod Snyder

Rod Snyder

Retired Science Teacher & Volunteer Naturalist

Stephanie Laporte Potts

Stephanie Laporte Potts

Youth Programs Coordinator

Stephanie loves exploring all the amazing things that Montana’s animals, plants, and fungi can do, how they work together, and where they live. She’s constantly inspired by the things that her VNS students notice when they are outdoors, and she treasures her time learning about nature with them!

Montana Natural History Center trips are permitted on the Lolo National Forest (Clause VII.B).

Montana Natural History Center is an equal opportunity service provider.