Opportunities to Explore: Montana Learning Center

Montana Learning Center aims to get kids interested in – and excited about – science was to provide them with outdoors, hands-on, experiential learning opportunities. www.montanalearning.org

By Antoinette Rahn, Managing Editor

Did you attend summer camp as a child? If so, do you recall the various emotions you felt leading up to the start of camp, while at camp, and the years following your camp experience(s)?

During this time of self-isolation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s challenging to consider planning ahead, but do you recall what it felt like as a child to have something that promised to be exciting and adventurous waiting for you in the future?

Experiential Learning

That’s the kind of positive anticipation the Montana Learning Center (MLC) has created for the past 35 or so years and continues to create today. The Montana Learning Center, with its timeless and well-developed practice of providing youth, teachers (and now non-academic adults — more about ‘One Rockin’ Weekend’ later in this article) with outdoors, hands-on, experiential learning opportunities, is a ‘something to look forward to’ when it is once again safe for society to engage.


The idea for the Montana Learning Center was that of Gil and Marilyn Alexander, founders of the precursor to the Center. In the mid-1980s, the couple sought to create and operate a summer camp program for children, which focused primarily on earth science and geology. It was a professional passion of Gil’s, who held a Ph.D. in earth science, and a personal passion of the couple to inspire children to become interested and excited about science. The Alexanders’ believed the best way to achieve this was to provide outdoors, hands-on, experiential learning opportunities, either at their facility at Canyon Ferry Lake, outside Helena, Montana, or elsewhere in the area, explained Montana Learning Center’s Executive Director Ryan Hannahoe.

“While the science camps offered by the Montana Learning Center aren’t limited to earth science and geology and now include astronomy, paleontology, robotics, aeronautics, and other sciences, all of the Montana Learning Center’s offerings are based on and expand upon the Alexanders’ guiding principle of encouraging students’ interest in the sciences through outdoor, hands-on, experiential learning,” Hannahoe said.

Instilling A Love For Learning

The Alexander family also saw the larger picture of the lasting impact these programs and camps provide, and in turn, developed a training program for science teachers, to broaden the impact and benefits received by students in the communities served by these teachers.

In the 35 or so years, since its inception, tens of thousands of children and teachers have participated in events at MLC. The programs have also benefitted many more people because those who attended were able to bring back to their local schools’, information, ideas, and equipment acquired during their time at MLC, Hannahoe explained. The staff-to-student ratio during the camp sessions is 1:8 or better; to ensure every child receives personal attention and their camp experience is positive, empowering, and memorable.

In today’s world, and more evident than ever right now, technology and science impact virtually everything, said Hannahoe. With that, helping youth develop and evolve their skills of critical and analytical thinking and to become more scientifically minded is essential in helping them make evidence-based decisions now, and for the rest of their lives, he added.

Rockhounding Camp For Adults

While it likely comes as no surprise to rockhounds, geology is at the center of another evolution in the MLC story, with the addition of a program for adults. “One Rockin’ Weekend” is a result of frequent requests from parents of youth campers for the Center to develop a program for adults.

“If the ‘One Rockin’ Weekend’ geology camp is successful, the Learning Center will add more adult-oriented camps focusing on other scientific fields,” Hannahoe said.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go — One Rockin’ Weekend – Adult Weekend Camp — explore the Canyon Ferry Lake area and rockhounding.

The ‘One Rockin’ Weekend’ also marks an extension of a long-time collaboration between the MLC and the Helena Mineral Society, the club that assists with many of the Center’s geology activities. It’s a partnership wherein campers discover and are inspired to develop an appreciation for geology as an area of study and a source for life-long adventure.

With a smaller staff-to-student ratio, maximum enrollment
for various camps may be met earlier than others. As of this writing, the schedule of camps is still set for 2020, with the first camps slated to begin in mid-to-end of June. The cost of the camp ranges from $350 to $1,000, depending on the focus and activities. Scholarships are available. Below is a list of the camps and brief descriptions of each.

Adult Summer Camp: One Rockin’ Weekend

Are you 18 or older and want to experience the fun you remember having as a kid at summer camp? Maybe you never went to summer camp as a child, but still want memories like that. The Montana Learning Center is offering you a chance to be a kid again this summer, while you explore the Canyon Ferry Lake area and learn about rockhounding.

All proceeds from this event go toward supporting the MLC summer learning camps for kids.

Look What I Found! You Can Too — Dinosaur Camp, open to students entering grades 7-10, fossil digs and study working with the Carter County Museum.

To learn more and register, visit http://montanalearning.org/adult-camp/.

Summer Camp Spotlight: Dinosaur Camp

The Montana Learning Center is partnering with Carter County Museum in Ekalaka, Montana for a unique camping experience for students entering grades 7– 10. Dinosaur Camp includes three days of field expeditions to participate in active dig sites in the Hell Creek Formation in Eastern Montana.

To learn more and register, visit http://montanalearning.org/dinosaur-camp/.


Summer Camp Spotlight: Camp Innovations – Montana Treasures

Finding Hidden Treasures — Camp Innovations — Montana Treasures — open to students entering grades 7-9 learn, dig, and work with members of the Helena Mineral Society.

During the five-day Camp Innovations – Montana Treasures, students entering grades 7 – 9 will learn basic rock and mineral classification and will have the opportunity to apply what they learn out in the field, digging for agates and quartz crystals, and panning for garnets and sapphires, with the guidance and supervision of rockhounds from the Helena Mineral Society.

To learn more and register, visit http://montanalearning.org/camp-innovations/.

Summer Camp Spotlight: Camp Young Naturalist Adventures – Discover Earth’s Treasures

The Montana Learning Center’s five-day Camp Young Naturalist Adventures – Discover Earth’s Treasures teaches students entering grades 4-6 about the Earth from the inside out. Campers will explore the Montana Learning Center’s massive rock and mineral collection, collect gemstones, crack open geodes, and uncover new treasures during a fossil dig.

Treasures in the Dirt, Camp Innovations — Montana Treasures. Open to students entering grades 7-9 to learn basic rock and mineral classification, and to apply the lessons during digs.

To learn more and register, visit http://montanalearning.org/camp-young-naturalist/.

If you or the younger humans in your life could use a little ‘something to look forward to’, perhaps an adventure, courtesy of the Montana Learning Center, would fit the bill.




For more information, visit www.montanalearning.org, email montanalearningcenter@gmail.com, or call 406-475-3638.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here