Course Description

The MMNP course is a yearlong, in-depth exploration of natural history. Following graduation, Maine Master Naturalists are ready to introduce others to Maine’s natural world.

Time Frame

The course runs from January through October. Typically, classes occur twice a month: one weekday evening and one full day Saturday of class and field work.

Location

The Maine Master Naturalist course moves to a new location each year. Courses have been offered in Augusta, Belfast, Blue Hill, Bridgton, Calais, Ellsworth, Falmouth, Holden, Lewiston, MDI, South Paris, Waterville, Wells, and Wiscasset. The 2023 course will be in Auburn.  Please click on the Auburn course page for more specifics. Anyone in reasonable driving distance of a course should seize the opportunity to apply.

Planning, Instruction, and Support

MMNP is an all-volunteer organization.

  • Board members plan the courses, establish the curriculum, and oversee all of the course operations.
  • Course coordinators handle all the details of the course including meeting the requirements of the course location, arranging for instructors, supporting mentors and students, and reporting to the board.
  • Instructors give their time generously to teach the students and to support the mission of the organization.  Some instructors are members of the MMNP community while others are outside experts.
  • Mentors assist students during the course. All are Maine Master Naturalists who have previously completed the course.

Topics

The MMNP core curriculum covers the following topics, with a strong emphasis on Maine species and habitats.

  • Amphibians and reptiles: taxonomy, ecology, habitat, identification
  • Birds: physiology, evolution, behavior, species identification
  • Ferns: life cycle, collections, identification
  • Fungi: overview, structure, life cycle, identification
  • Insects: taxonomy, observation, collections
  • Lichens: overview, structure, life cycle, identification
  • Mammals: tracking, skull and scat identification
  • Trees: leaves, buds, bark, collections, identification
  • Wildflowers and shrubs: families, fruiting structures, winter botany, identification
  • Ecological Principles: understanding ecosystems, relationships among species, and flow of energy
  • Geology: basic principles, geologic history of Maine
  • Natural communities: landscape-level patterns and relationships among species
  • Nature journaling: sketching and recording observations and reflections
  • Pedagogy: teaching others
  • Phenology: keeping track of seasonal changes during the course
  • Vernal Pools: ecological function, indicator species, regulations

Fee

The fee is set each year based on the costs of facilities and student supplies. Typical tuition is $650. Instructors, coordinators, mentors, and board members are not paid, and the fee is set to cover program expenses.

Time Commitment

Total time in class is about 100 hours. Students generally spend a minimum of 150 hours outside of class completing homework assignments. Because each session covers a new topic, students must be able to attend every class.

Materials

Students receive a hand lens, field guides, identification keys, and numerous handouts. Students also print out materials themselves from course links.

Requirements

Homework: Students submit homework related to the various areas of study. Assignments include collecting specimens, practicing with identification keys, drawing, and responding to readings. (Note: sketching is assigned solely to develop skills in observation, with artistic merit as an occasional fortunate byproduct.) Because new topics are introduced monthly, students are expected to complete homework on time. Homework is critical to student success: if homework shows insufficient effort or if students fall too far behind, students may be asked to withdraw from the course.

Quizzes: Students take a short quiz at the beginning of each class. Quiz questions flow directly from a study guide provided for each topic.

Delimited site: Students select a “delimited site,” a specific spot to visit at least once a month throughout the course to make observations and witness changes in nature.

Nature Journal: Students keep a nature journal in which they record observations and make sketches for each of the curriculum topics at their delimited sites. 

Phenology observations: Students record seasonal natural phenomena, particularly changes in animal and plant life. 

Public walks: To gain experience as teaching naturalists, students are required to observe and then serve as assistant leaders in public nature walks outside the course.

Volunteering plan: Students set up commitments for volunteering after graduation.

Attendance and Make-Up

Because each class covers a new topic, students must arrange their schedules to attend every session of the course and must reserve the make-up dates set in case of snow days. Before applying, applicants should check the schedule carefully. The course application requires that students affirm that they do not have conflicts with class and makeup dates. If a student must miss a class due to an unanticipated emergency, the student’s graduation may be deferred until the student can make up the class in the following year’s course.

Volunteer Teaching Requirement

In keeping with MMNP’s mission, in the year following graduation, Master Naturalists are required to volunteer 20 hours teaching others and report their time back to MMNP through the graduates’ website. After that, Master Naturalists are expected to volunteer at least 10 hours per year. The credential of “Master Naturalist” opens the door for graduates to share their knowledge with a wide variety of people in many settings. Students will have chances throughout the course to engage in experiential learning and practice teaching so that they have the confidence to engage with others following graduation

Program Fit

The Maine Master Naturalist Program exists to train amateur naturalist volunteers to teach the general public about Maine’s natural world. This program is not a good fit for everyone.

  • If you are looking for skills for employment as a naturalist, you need a college degree.
  • If you know you will never be comfortable volunteering as an instructor or leader, this course is not for you.
  • If you already have extensive natural history knowledge, training, and skills, you may find some of the material too elementary and are probably already qualified to volunteer to share your knowledge with others.
  • If you are too busy to do homework assignments and to spend time in the field practicing naturalist skills, the course will not benefit you because the classes are only the introduction. The deep learning happens on your own time.

Frequently Asked Questions

No. The program’s mission is to train volunteers who then go on to teach others. It’s wonderful when anyone wants to learn more about nature, however MMNP doesn’t have enough teachers or time to offer the course solely for a student’s self-enrichment.

No. There are typically more applicants than the course can accommodate.

No. Space is limited and demand is high. MMNP accepts only individuals who can make a full commitment to the course and volunteering afterwards.

MMNP operates in compliance with the directives of the Maine Center for Disease Control. MMNP also requires all students and staff in the course to be fully vaccinated including all boosters.

Please note: The pandemic situation is fluid. There is always the possibility that circumstances will prevent the course from starting or will force the course to shut down temporarily or to go online at some point during the year. Course personnel will do all they can to adjust to evolving conditions and to keep the course running safely. MMNP counts on everyone to be flexible and understanding!

MMNP does offer CEUs for the course. Students who attend all the classes will receive 40 contact hours, or four CEUs.

No. The central feature of the MMNP course is in person, hands-on learning examining specimens and gaining field experience. Other organizations offer online nature education, for example Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Eagle Hill Institute.

Course locations are limited by how far the volunteer instructors, mentors, and coordinators can reasonably travel to the course. MMNP tries to select course locations in somewhat centralized population centers that have suitable facilities available for a reasonable cost. If you can conceivably get to a course location, you should apply. MMNP may not be able to offer a course closer to you.

Absolutely. Technology plays an important part in the MMNP program. Students receive many course materials electronically and communicate frequently via email. Students print many of their own course materials for each class. Access to a computer, the internet and a printer is essential for every MMNP student.

Yes. Students are required to collect and preserve specimens from trees, ferns, wildflowers, and insects (found-dead insects are acceptable). These collections aid the students’ understanding of the subject matter and are useful when teaching others.

If a student withdraws before the first class, the refund is the tuition amount less $20.00. If a student withdraws prior to the third class, the refund is 20% of tuition. After the third class, there will be no refund for any reason, including illness.

MMNP requires payment in full upon enrollment, but in exceptional circumstances MMNP can offer a limited payment plan.

MMNP can offer tuition assistance in some courses.  In addition, accepted students occasionally find organizations to sponsor them. A good example is a land trust that the student already volunteers with that will benefit from a Master Naturalist’s teaching.

If an organization or individual is interested in sponsoring a scholarship, MMNP would be delighted to set one up. Please get in touch through the Contact Us page.

Yes! MMNP gratefully accepts contributions, which are tax deductible. Please get in touch through the Contact Us page.

No. MMNP is an independent 501c3 nonprofit.