School Programs

All ODC Network programs

  • Are customized to fit the class’s grade level and teacher’s subject preference
  • Can be correlated to Michigan Department of Education’s teaching standards
  • Can accommodate students with special needs

Program Sites

DeGraaf Nature Center

  • Site is ideal for pre-school through lower elementary students
  • Programs usually include both inside and outside component
  • No groups over 50 students
  • Typical program length is 2 hours

Outdoor Discovery Center

  • Site is ideal for middle elementary through high school students
  • Site is ideal for more in depth investigations of habitats and ecosystems
  • Programs can include both an inside and outside component
  • Groups may chose to stay through lunch and use an indoor space or picnic pavilion for a lunch break
  • Typical program length ranges from 2-4 hours

Rabbit River Preserve

  • Site is ideal for middle elementary through high school students
  • Site is ideal for more in depth investigations of habitats and ecosystems
  • NO UTILITIES and only bathroom is a well-maintained outhouse
  • Typical program length ranges from 2-4 hours

Van Raalte Farm

  • Site is ideal for elementary through high school students
  • Site is ideal for more in depth investigations of habitats and ecosystems
  • NO UTILITIES and only bathrooms are well-maintained outhouses
  • Typical program length ranges from 2-4 hours

Scheduling a Program

When you contact us to schedule a program, we may suggest one of our program sites based upon the age of your group and the length of your requested program experience. Please do not hesitate to make suggestions to help ensure your program experience meets your needs. We are always open to consider alternative options. Please contact us to make your program reservation: 616.393.9453 or odc@outdoordiscovery.org.

When scheduling a program, please have these details on-hand to assist in the registration process:

  • Contact information
  • Estimated number of participants
  • Theme or concept that you would like covered during the program
  • Preferred season, week, date for a program

If you are forwarded to a voice mail system, please leave a detailed message. A staff person will return your call as soon as possible.

The programs described below are examples of our most popular program themes, however educators are encouraged to work with staff to customize their program including activities, demonstrations, and key concepts which pertain to the Michigan Department of Education’s teaching standards.

Natural History Programs

Students will learn about the water cycle, soil permeability, watersheds, and how pollution can affect river ecosystems and people. For the outdoor portion of their program they will explore the floodplain and river in search of macroinvertebrates using sampling equipment.

Program Location: Van Raalte Farm

One of the largest groups of fresh-water dunes in the world can be found along Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline. On this guided hike students will learn about the geology, natural history, and forces of nature that have created this unique environment. They will also learn about special adaptations that animals and plants have that allow them to live in this sometimes harsh environment.

Program Locations: local parks with public dune access

Wetland Study

Wetland Study

Exploring both plant and animal life and the living versus non-living elements of a place facilitates the student’s understanding of each habitat or ecosystem that is visited. Tools such as magnifying lenses, microscopes, and sampling nets may be used to take a closer look at what makes a place special. When scheduling a program, educators will have the option to choose the program theme of habitats (typically Pre-K to 3rd grade) or ecosystems (typically 4th grade and up).

Pre-K to first grade students often have a hard time catching organisms in a wetland or pond. Our staff supplement the experience by having organisms already caught placed in shallow pools with aquatic organisms for closer investigation.

Program Locations: DeGraaf Nature Center, Outdoor Discovery Center, Van Raalte Farm, natural area of your choice

Using the Center’s live raptors, students will learn about the role of organisms in the natural world including predator and prey interactions, trophic levels, bird biology and the characteristics of birds versus other animal groups. Depending on the length of time for the program, between one and five live birds may be used for the program. Artifacts such as wings, talons, feathers and skulls are often incorporated into bird of prey programs to provide a hands-on element.

If conducted at the Outdoor Discovery Center, a visit to the DeWitt Birds of Prey Center may be included.

Program Locations: DeGraaf Nature Center, Outdoor Discovery Center, schools and classrooms

Plant Study

Plant Study

Plants and their sees need to grow. Sees spread using a variety of methods so they do not compete with their parent plant. Students will discover the many different ways sees travel through demonstrations, hands-on activities, and a hike.

Program Locations:Outdoor Discovery Center, Van Raalte Farm, Rabbit River Preserve, natural area of your choice

Explore our natural areas in any season with a naturalist. Students will look for signs of animal life as they explore many different habitats. We will discuss the elements that make a habitat or ecosystem, predator-prey relationships, carrying capacity, food webs, and other subjects related. If scheduled during the winter and there is at least 4 inches of snow, students grades 3 and up can snowshoe during their time outside.

Program Locations

Outdoor Discovery Center, VanRaalte Farm (Grades 3 and up)

DeGraaf Nature Center (Grades 1-2 without snowshoeing)

Other locations upon request

Animals use their sense in their everyday lives to survive. Using live animal examples we will illustrate various animals’ special sensory abilities. The students will also experience the natural world by using their own sense on our trails.

Program Locations: DeGraaf Nature Center, Outdoor Discovery Center, natural area of your choice

Students will learn about the early signs of spring such as bird migrations and wildflowers. The will also learn about the parts of a tree and how trees make sap. Students may tap a tree or help gather sap to take to the evaporator. They will also see the evaporator in action and taste the final product! (Maple sugaring season can start as early as the last week of February and go as late as the last week of March.)

Program Location: Van Raalte Farm

Kids holding snake

Kids holding snake

Using our collection of live reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds, this program gives students the opportunity to learn about various habitat requirements, adaptations and the life history information for a number of animals. Hands-on time is a necessity for this program since it helps students gain a better understanding of the animals. A part of this program may be spent inside in order to make the sharing of live animals easier for the group and presenter. Depending on the length of the program, between three and eight live animals may be used for this program. Shells, furs, bones, skulls and other artifacts are often used to help with the hands-on learning process.

Program Locations: DeGraaf Nature Center, Outdoor Discovery Center, schools and classrooms

Aquatic system are teaming with life. Vertebrates such as reptiles, amphibians, and mammals and invertebrate such as dragonflies, giant water bugs and whirligig beetles can be found with simple observations and collection. A key element to investigations will include observing life cycles, food chains and food webs. While exploring a pond or wetland, a variety of tools may be used by students including magnifying glasses, sampling nets, and microscopes.

Program Locations: Outdoor Discovery Center, area parks.

Students will learn about photosynthesis, the parts of a plant, plant life cycles and parts of a flower as they investigate spring wildflowers. Seasonal cycles of plants will also be discussed as they take a hike in search of spring wildflowers.

Program Locations: DeGraaf Nature Center, Rabbit River Preserve

Enviroscape Model Program

Enviroscape Model Program

Using a watershed model called an Enviroscape or a Stormwater Floodplain Simulation model, this program includes learning about the water cycle, run-off, soil permeability, and human impacts on the environment. Use of either model is best suited for one class at a time. The outdoor portion of this program includes investigating aquatic habitats and has students learning about how water moves over land. Additional concepts may include a soil analysis and observations of erosion.

This program can easily take place at your school in a classroom, multipurpose room or gymnasium and is best suited for early elementary-aged students.

Program Locations: DeGraaf Nature Center, Outdoor Discovery Center, schools and classrooms

Cultural History Programs

Learn about the Great Lakes fur trade and French Voyageurs using replica clothing, tools and an interactive presentation. This program can be paired with the Native American Lifeways program.

Program Locations: Outdoor Discovery Center, schools and classrooms

Students will learn how some early settlers prepared for the Christmas holiday. They will also visit a log cabin to learn about daily pioneer life and experience artifacts including games and toys. Take-home crafts made by students during this program include a hand-dipped candle and cedar-scented pouch. (Program offered beginning the week after Thanksgiving up until the Christmas holiday break)

Program Location: DeGraaf Nature Center

Using artifacts, language, traditional houses, games, hunting tools, and common life skills, our educators will share some of the basic life activities of Michigan’s Native American people (People of the Three Fires) before and after contact with Europeans. Programs on-site at the Outdoor Discovery Center will include a tour in the recreated Neshnabe summer village while programs at your facility may include an authentic traditional house and activities using an assortment of artifacts. Winter programs may include the use of Ojibwa-style snowshoes. Depending on the time allowed for a program, activities during the visit may include: plant resources walk, atlatl throwing, hand-drill fire making, three-sisters gardening, playing double-ball, and an exploration of animal skins.

This program can be paired with the French Voyageurs of the Great Lakes Region program.

Program Locations: Outdoor Discovery Center, schools and classrooms

Learn how the pioneers fed, clothed, and sheltered themselves with a visit to the Pioneer Cabin at DeGraaf Nature Center. Students will participate in pioneer chores such as carding wool, sawing wood, grinding corn, and cooking over a fire. There is also an exploratory component to the program where students handle artifacts and discuss daily life.

Program Locations: DeGraaf Nature Center