The Desert of Maine: A Journey Through the Sands of Time

Course Details

For kids aged 9-14

We meet Tuesdays (1pm-3pm) and Thursdays (1pm-2pm) for 10 weeks starting September 8th

Tuesday classes will be held on-site at the Desert of Maine in our safe, spacious outdoor environment. Masks will be required and students will be broken into small groups as further safety measures. Thursday classes will be held online


  • $400

  • 25% off for additional children


  • History - Pamela Heestand, PhD

  • Geology - Joshua Smith, PhD 

  • Ecology - Deborah Perkins, M.S.

Course Overview

A ten-week homeschool course at the Desert of Maine will take students ages 9-14 on an in-depth, integrated journey through the history, geology, and ecology of this special place.

For the first half of this course, we will literally get our hands dirty digging into the history of the Desert of Maine. We begin with the obvious question: why is there a large expanse of open sand in the middle of a New England forest? We will seek the answer to this question using real-world observations as we explore how aspects of geology, biology and agriculture came together in just the right way to create what is essentially a small dust bowl. We will learn about the Tuttles who farmed here in the 1800s and how they and other people of European descent were living on land that once belonged to the Wabanaki people, who had been here for millennia. We will study the cultural assumptions held by the Wabanaki and the settlers and how those assumptions resulted in different approaches to land use. Both groups modified their environments but with drastically contrasting outcomes in plant diversity and soil heath. Using this comparative approach, we will develop a deeper understanding about how certain farming methods ultimately devastated this piece of land. From here we will dive deep into time, looking at the geological processes that have changed Maine’s coast over the last 30,000 years. This exploration of ice, ocean, and wind will provide the framework for understanding how the Desert formed and what makes this landscape so unique.


Once we have gained an understanding of what happened here, the class will turn its eyes to the future, developing hypotheses about what lies ahead for the Desert of Maine. We will conduct “forensic” analyses in the surrounding forest to think about how certain ecosystems have changed over the last hundred years; and we will look closely at the reforestation taking place on the boundaries of the dune field, paying particular attention to the tug-of-war between the forest and the sand. Of course, we humans play an active role in the future of the land that sustains us; so with that in mind, we will discuss a range of diverse cultural and philosophical ideas about the relationship between the people and the natural environment. Given this focus, we hope to have a Wabanaki speaker share their perspective. 


The final half of the course will be project-based, with students synthesizing and presenting what they have learned about the Desert of Maine. Alternatively, they can use that information as the foundation for exploring specific topics in greater detail, or as the springboard to more open-ended questions. Some questions that might be interesting: what meaning can we draw from the story of this landscape? How do different ways of knowing (e.g., scientific observation; deep listening; storytelling; map making; drawing) form your understanding of the Desert of Maine? How can we best care for the land that supports us? Do environmental restoration and cultural healing go hand in hand? How will you help others understand the importance and fragility of Maine’s coastal landscapes?

We are currently closed to visitors while we work on a wide range of renovations.
We will be open for weekends (9am - 6pm) starting May 1st and 7 days a week starting in June!