Visiting Naturalist in the Schools
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.
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.
Foundations, grants, and donations support 90% of the program cost. Schools pay the remaining cost.
Interested in participating in the program? Fill out the online registration form here.
VNS Evaluation Report
In 2018 we had Cedar Lake Research Group LLC perform a formal evaluation of the VNS program.
Naturalists are currently teaching in 61 classrooms in the region, working with 1448 students. VNS is in most of the schools in Missoula, as well as schools in the Mission, Blackfoot, and Bitterroot valleys:
Watch this video to learn more about our VNS program and see it in action!
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:
Ser Anderson (they/them)
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.
Jenah Mead (she/her)
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.
Stephanie Murphy (she/her)
Stephanie is driven by a love of learning. She is fascinated by relationships in nature – from tiny insects to plants and animals. She enjoys exploring with the bright, silly minds of our young naturalist students.
Andrea Panagakis (she/her)
School Programs Manager
Andrea’s life has always revolved around science and nature. She is excited to share her commitment to connecting people with nature by cultivating new generations of environmental stewards through experiential, place-based education.
Emma Swartz (she/her)
Montana Natural History Center trips are permitted on the Lolo National Forest (Clause VII.B).