By Michael Howell
Students from the fourth and fifth grades at Daly Elementary School spent the day last week honing their naturalist skills at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. It was an end-of-the-year-celebration field trip, the culmination of a year-long Visiting Naturalist in the Schools program sponsored by the Montana Natural History Center (MNHC).
A Visiting Naturalist makes a once a month visit to participating schools, usually as part of the science curriculum, and offers specialized training in naturalist skills. According to MNHC Education Director Lisa Bickell, the program reaches into 67 classrooms in the Western Montana region every month. In the Bitterroot Valley they take the program into Stevensville, Victor, Lone Rock, Hamilton and Lolo elementary schools. Besides working with the kids, the program works with teachers to help them blend naturalist experience into their curriculum.
Staff Naturalist Alyssa McLean said that the students learn the basics of observation techniques including how to use binoculars and spotting scopes. They learn how to collect insect specimens with nets, and how to transfer them into clear containers for examination and classification. They even learn to use a microscope to examine some of the smallest organisms. They learn the value of being quiet, holding still, just listening and looking when observing creatures in the wild. Most of all, they learn the joy of being out in nature and learning from it.
“It’s a challenge to find a spot for large groups of kids where they can experience a diversity of habit including a river,” said Bickell. She said the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge fit the bill perfectly and that she was grateful to the Friends of the Refuge organization for its help.