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On Thursday March 21st, 29 students and 6 staff from Sussex School in Missoula visited MPG Ranch. The group consisted of two 1st and 2nd grade classrooms, their teaches, and parent volunteers.

It was a typical Montana spring day with a mix of beautiful, warm sunshine and cold, blustery squalls. On the drive in, the children were amazed to see elk, wild horses, and hunting raptors as we made our way to the Northern Floodplain. Their teachers stopped the buses so the children could take in the wildlife and ask questions. As we watched a Northern Harrier hunt over the fields, one particularly impressive 2nd grader was able to tell me why a male raptor is more brightly colored and female raptor has more drab coloration. They were an inquisitive and delightful group.

We headed onto the floodplain in search of whatever we might find. Sussex’s plan for the day impressed me. They wanted the experience to be purely organic, and any teachable moments to grow from the natural curiosity of the children as they explored their environment. There were no canned lessons that we had to get to. The day would be more about experience, exploration, and connection to the natural world than about meeting learning targets. The staff did a terrific job to encourage curiosity, though the students didn’t actually need the help.

The landscape was full of treasures waiting to be discovered. The students found bones, evidence of the recent burn, and driftwood piled into prefab forts. They identified tracks and plants and marched merrily along, sheltering from the sudden appearance of blustery snow.

The children painted their faces with ash and explored wildlife corridors on their way to the river.

Once there, they marveled at the resident beavers’ handiwork and skipped stones into the river.

Several children made a game of bouncing on a cantilevered log.

The river’s edge made for a perfect lunch spot. The snow had passed, and the sun shone down. The children made up games and took in the landscape.

Eventually, we headed back across the floodplain to the buses, but the day wasn’t finished yet.

Winter made another encore appearance as we shuttled over to the Orchard House for a bonfire and hot chocolate to finish out the day.

About the Author

Joshua Lisbon

Joshua graduated from the University of Montana, Missoula, in 2009 with an M.A. in Intercultural Youth and Family Development. Joshua has designed and implemented wilderness and experiential-based education programs for various agencies since 2001. He has worked in Missoula since 2005 predominately with disadvantaged populations providing challenging and empowering programming for youth and adults alike.At MPG, Joshua works to coordinate with local agencies and school districts as well as the university to connect students and members of the community to MPG’s work. He also recruits and mobilizes volunteers to accomplish various projects for the ranch. In his free time, Joshua enjoys exploring Montana’s wild places. As an avid outdoorsman, he enjoys any pursuit that keeps him connected to the natural world.