Nature Discovery & Service Learning Programs for Youth

The mission of the Junior and Teen Indiana Master Naturalist (IMN) program is to bring together natural resource specialists with young people, ages 9 to 17 years, to foster an understanding of Indiana’s plants, water, soils and wildlife, and promote volunteer service in local communities.

Merry Lea hosts two Junior & Teen IMN program series in collaboration with Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site.

These programs feature various nature topics for local youth to discover Indiana’s outdoor world through hands-on activities, outdoor investigations, volunteering, and learning from local experts across different career paths, interests and organizations.

Junior & Teen IMN Programs

1. Junior & Teen Indiana Master Naturalist Series

During the academic school year, Merry Lea and Gene Stratton-Porter host a monthly 8-session series, with each session focusing on a different nature topic. Topics often include geology, zoology, botany, nature photography, interpretation, wetlands and more.

When: Sept – May | Third Thursday each month

Scroll down for the current sessions for the 2022-23 school year. 

2. Junior & Teen Indiana Master Naturalist Summer Day Camp

This weeklong summer day camp includes activities like canoeing glacial lakes, exploring Merry Lea Sustainable Farm, fishing, learning about current research projects, removing invasive species and more.

When: July 2023

More details coming soon.

Junior & Teen IMN 2022-23 Series

1. Prairie Insects of Northern Indiana

Put on your hiking boots, and get ready to go sweep netting for bugs (specifically insects and spiders)! Prairie ecosystems exhibit extremely high biodiversity rates (comparable to rainforests and coral reefs), but are threatened throughout North America. The prairies of Merry Lea host a rich assortment of micro-predators, pollinators, and plant-feeding insects. Students will collect living insects and spiders (arthropods) from a tallgrass prairie, practice observing and handling them, and learn to use a field guide to identify them!

Session Experts: Andy Ammons, Goshen College Professor of Biology
 September 15
Location: Merry Lea – Farmstead | 2152 S 425 W Albion, IN 46701

2. Life Underground

Dive into a world that exists just below your feet! Explore the topic of soil health by examining the flora, fauna and fungi that call this farm ecosystem home.

Session Expert: John Mischler, Professor of Sustainability and Environmental Education & Director of Agroecology
 October 20
Location: Merry Lea Farmstead | 2152 S 425 W, Albion, IN 46701

3. Merry Lea After Dark

Details TBA

Session Experts: TBA
November 17 | 5 – 8 p.m. for all ages
Location: Merry Lea – Farmstead | 2152 S 425 W, Albion, IN 46701

4. Marvelous World of Trees

The marvelous world of trees is diverse in function, characteristics and uses. Students explore tree anatomy and physiology, life cycles, identifications and roles within different ecosystems. Participate in trail-based activities and even make a tree cookie ornament just in time for the holidays!

Session Expert: Kaitlyn Sproles, Environmental Education Outreach Coordinator
 December 15
Location: Merry Lea – Learning Center | 2388 S 500 W, Albion, IN 46701

5. Art & Nature

Details TBA

Session Expert: TBA
 January 19
Location: Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site | 1205 Pleasant Point, Rome City, IN 46784

6. Urban Wildlife

Details TBA

Session Experts: Jessica Merkling, Urban Wildlife Biologist, Indiana Department of Natural Resources
 February 16
Location: Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site | 1205 Pleasant Point, Rome City, IN 46784

7. An Incredible Journey

Rivers and wetlands and lakes oh my! Water is vital to all life on Earth, but our actions here on dry land can pollute our water supply. Join us as we explore the incredible journey of a water droplet as it travels though the atmosphere, the Earth’s water ways, different states of matter, and the threats along the way!

Session Experts: Carly Cornhill, Interpretive Naturalist, Indiana State Parks- Chain O’Lakes 
 March 16
Location: Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site | 1205 Pleasant Point, Rome City, IN 46784

8. Ecology of Invasive Species

When plants and insects from other parts of the world are introduced to a new area, they impact local ecology. Students will discuss what makes a species invasive and learn to identify some invasive plants. We will absorb the information with a hands-on activity during a ‘Garlic Mustard Pull,’ so bring your boots and dress for the weather!

Session Experts: Ann Kline, County Extension Director,  Purdue Extension-Noble County
 April 20
Location: Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site | 1205 Pleasant Point, Rome City, IN 46784

Program Details for 2022-23 Series

Ages & Times

Junior IMN: ages 9 – 12 | 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.*
Teen IMN:
ages 13 – 17 | 1 – 4 p.m.*

*Please note the November session is in the evening from 5 – 8 p.m.

Junior and Teen IMN age limits are determined by the student’s age as of April 20, 2023. If there are different ages in the same family, the parents can decide which session they’d like their students to attend (together or separate).


Cost: $100/child for all 8 sessions
This covers books, snacks, patches for completion awards, administrative fees and various program supplies. Fee is due in full upon registration and is non-refundable.

Sign-ups: Students must register for the entire series (all 8 sessions), not individual programs.

Student Expectations to Receive Certification

  • Participate in at least 6 out of 8 course sessions
  • Complete volunteer service with a local or state natural resources organization
    • Junior IMN: 6 hours
    • Teen IMN: 12 hours
  • Complete a pre- and post-survey during the first and last course sessions

Expectations for Participation & Conduct 

We expect all students to demonstrate respect for fellow students and teachers at Merry Lea.

Outdoor education involves exposure to some natural hazards like trips and falls, insect bites and stings and irritating plants. Merry Lea educators try to minimize these risks. It is imperative that students listen to directions in order to maintain safety out on the trails and inside the facilities.

Masking is optional indoors and outdoors according to individual choice and health needs. Please be kind and respectful in all settings, and honor everyone’s choices about masking.

Register Now

All offerings are aligned to Indiana Academic Standards, and are designed to support your student’s academic and outdoor learning. Please review our Scheduling Policies page with any questions about scheduling a program, cancellation policies, program logistics and registration.