Thank you for your interest in our school! For over 30 years, our student-centered philosophy and experiential learning have been inspiring wonder, nurturing growth, and developing the best in our community’s children. We are a fully licensed child care center and follow the state of Montana childcare regulations.

Join us for our Annual Open House in January, 2020!

Place-Based Education


Place-based education is the practice of using the local community and natural environment to optimize a student’s learning experience and engagement. It utilizes hands-on experiences that are largely student-centered and self-directed. It also strives to develop community members who believe their actions can and do make a difference.

Ways of teaching

  • Utilize our home to inform our life experiences and our ways of looking at the world.

  • Explore relationships with both the human environment and the natural world.

  • Develop a heightened awareness of detail.

  • Explore with purpose and intention.

  • Promote an investigative approach to life.

  • Expand the classroom to include the school yard, community and watershed.

  • Learn to approach the world with curiosity and compassion.

  • Enhance appreciation for the natural world.

  • Encourage a commitment for serving as contributing citizens.

  • Help students feel that they are a part of the natural world, not apart from it.


Clark Fork School’s low student-teacher ratio allows our teachers to have the time to work with each student to develop the skill of careful observation. They explore, document, and discuss detailed changes in their classroom projects, the school yard, and the Rattlesnake Creek ecosystem. These ways of observing and understanding, however, do not simply apply to their development as scientists. The same skills help them to quickly identify and understand each other’s emotions and develop the discerning eye of an artist or photographer.

As children progress through Clark Fork School, they are offered increasingly greater and more detailed exposure to the world around them. The preschool starts by introducing exploration skills primarily in the neighborhood around our school and nearby parks and trails and the kindergarten moves up and into the hills of Missoula.

At Clark Fork School, children work to make purposeful products. For example, after a fall of exploring apples, bear safety and community service, our preschool students picked apples and made apple sauce. This apple sauce was sold as a fundraiser for the Missoula Food Bank. After thoroughly investigating, researching, and exploring the role of pollinators in our ecosystem, the kindergarten Explorers created a pollinator garden in our Garden Learning Center.

Further resources on place-based education: 

  • Promise of Place

  • Sobel, David. Place-Based Education: Connecting Communities with Classroom

Family Involvement

Clark Fork School is a parent co-op, which means family plays a very important role in our community and in the success of our school. The Executive Board consists of dedicated parents/guardians who are committed to organizational and educational excellence. All families are required to perform some hours of service each month.

There are many ways families can get involved, including volunteering in the classrooms, maintaining the school building and playground, working in the office, helping on field trips, coordinating fundraising projects and much more. Each family plays a special role at Clark Fork School. Every individual is a valuable asset to our school community.

“Because of incredible teachers and staff and amazing parents like you, Clark Fork School is a unique and special place. Being a 'parent cooperative' gives us ownership of our facilities, grounds, and other tangible resources. It also, thankfully, requires our ownership of things not so material, such as exemplifying charity, stewardship, and a sense of duty concerning all of our children’s educational experience. Diversity, professionalism, creativity, patience, drive, organizational skills, silliness, fun, affection, these are all attributes needed to make our school run. Ideally, your talents, skills, and time will be utilized to the maximum so that you find joy and a sense of pride in performing your parent job and volunteering for projects.” - Betsy Sannella, Former Executive Board Member