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

Life on earth exists thanks to the interconnected nature of living and non-living things. Students will explore food chains, food webs and discuss biotic and abiotic factors of living systems. Outdoor exploration of habitats and ecosystems will help them see the connections among all living things. Games may be used to reinforce concepts depending on the length of the program.

Program Locations: DeGraaf Nature Center, Outdoor Discovery Center, natural 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

While taking a hike with one of our naturalists, students will learn about the parts of a plant, how they function with the plant, and learn more about specific plant species. Depending on the season, groups may use a journal sheet to record their observations.

This program can take place , at your school or in a natural area near your school. Teachers are welcome to focus this investigation on trees and have students collect leaves during the program.

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

To gain an appreciation for nature, young children need to be exposed to the wonderful world around them using all of their senses. In these programs we will show and talk about many of the live animals that can be found in Michigan. There will time both for indoor exploration of the nature center and time with live animals in the classroom.

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

On Target! Program

On Target! Program

This archery program is designed for physical education, social science, and science classes and intended to instruct target archery to 4th through 12th grades. It is suggested that the program take place over 3 days so students have multiple interactions with the instructor and multiple opportunities to practice their newly acquired skills.

The bow used for this program is a Genesis (compound) bow which allows students of various ages, abilities and strengths to be successful. To see if this program will work for you and your students, contact Tom Funk at 616.393.9453.

Program Locations: Outdoor Discovery Center, school gymnasiums

A major adaptation of many plants is their ability to produce seeds. The next challenge is how to disperse them! Students will learn a number of methods of plant seed dispersal through demonstrations, hands-on activities, and by seeing real-life examples during a guided hike.

Program Locations: Outdoor Discovery Center, Rabbit River Preserve and Van Raalte Farm

The focus of this program is how trees grow in springtime thanks to the sap that they store in their roots and send up to their branches. Students will visit the maple sugar bush and see the process of sugaring from sap collection to boiling in a evaporator. They will also learn about the parts of a tree, wildflowers, spring changes in animal communities and other signs of a change in season. Maple candies will be available for purchase and can be pre-ordered. (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

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

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing

Explore a natural area in winter on Ojibwa-style snowshoes. The group will experience an ancient technology while investigating winter ecosystems. They will learn basic winter ecology and how plants and animals survive winter. Concepts such as habitat preferences, adaptations, predator and prey relationships and weather may be included.

Our snowshoes are designed to best fit students that are 2nd grade and up. Younger students may have a hard time both walking in and keeping the snowshoes on their feet.

Note: A 4 inch minimum snow depth is required in order to use snowshoes. In the absence of snow, the group will still be able to cover the core concepts of the program while hiking.

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

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

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

Cultural History Programs

For this program we discuss the daily life of a French voyageur during the 1700’s. Using a set of clothes and tools, we will select one student from a group to become a voyageur as we discuss typical items that a man carried during his travels. Students will also learn about animal hides and their value including the target animal for the voyageurs, North American beaver. As time allows, the group will participate in a throwing hawk demonstration and simulated voyageur paddle. 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 Indigenous Peoples 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