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Montana Natural History Center schools out camps foster young naturalists

Montana Natural History Center Camp
Posted at 2:58 PM, Jan 16, 2023

MISSOULA - A lifelong passion for protecting nature starts at a young age, that's why the Montana Natural History Center is hosting youth camps focusing on educating kids about the outdoors.

The center's "Schools Out Camps" are hosted on days when kids are off from school. For MLK Jr. Day on Monday, the center held an Animals in Winter camp where they taught kids about winter animal survival instincts.

Teaching naturalists from the center took kids to Greenough Park on a scavenger hunt. The young students looked for signs of animal behavior in the snow, including chewed pinecones and tracks.

The Montana Natural History Center aims to promote appreciation for nature through education. They have camps and classes for all ages, but they know that reaching young kids is very important for the future of the outdoors.

“Connecting kids to nature is what we like to do here," camps coordinator, Alyssa Giffin said. "I think it fosters a big sense of stewardship, and all of that starts with childhood."

The schools out camps provide an outdoor classroom for kids. It is a safe space that isn't school related yet is still educational. This encourages kids to have fun in nature and start to build a desire to protect it.

“If you don’t love nature, if you don’t have a relationship to nature, why would you protect it? Why would you care about it? Why would you make choices and decisions that are going to impact it in a positive way?" teaching naturalist, Jenah Mead, says.

The employees from the Montana Natural History Center who are involved with these camps have a love for the outdoors and for children. Seeing the kids' excitement often fuels their own appreciation for nature.

“They get so excited when they get to see something new that they’ve never seen before, or they’re looking at it through a different lens. It really just instills a new excitement in me and my job," Giffin says.

Hands-on learning is beneficial for children. The scavenger hunt on Monday fostered curiosity and observation during a fun hike through the Rattlesnake.

“It’s good for their little brains to be connected to nature and exercise in nature and explore and engage," marketing and events coordinator Kellen Beck said.

The camps focus on local nature and connect the kids with the Missoula community. Each camp will have a different theme but always includes hands-on learning and projects.

Day camps typically run 9:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. with an opportunity for before and after care at no additional cost. Each camp has space for 13 kids who will be supervised by at least two trained teaching naturalists.

Their next camp will run on President's Day and is called "Spring into Nature." The center also hosts a weeklong camp during Spring Break, as well as camps throughout the summer.

The costs for the day camps are $60 for members and $65 for non-members. The spring break camp is $230 for members and $250 for non-members. The money from the camps goes back to the Montana Natural History Center and its future educational programs.

More information on Schools Out Camps can be found here.

Another way the center teaches kids about the outdoors is through their Visiting Naturalists in the Schools Program where teaching naturalists visit fourth-grade classrooms. They take the kids on field trips, encourage them to keep a nature journal and observe the natural world of Missoula.

A few programs at the natural history center that aim to educate adults include master naturalist certification and evening lectures.