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Education Programs: Elementary School Group

Bring your curious students to the Ecosystem Preserve for a valuable experience with science in the great outdoors. Our leaders encourage students to use all their senses, to experience nature in way that will give them a better understanding of the concepts presented in your classroom. We offer enthusiastic leaders, low leader-student ratios, and reasonable fees. Our programs are aligned with the Michigan Science Grade Level Content Expectations, and are led by environmental educators and Calvin College Student Program Leaders.

Program Topics

Below are our most popular school programs. Click on the link to download our Program Information Sheets with the description of the program, state education standards correlations, and suggested pre & post activities to complement your visit.

Additional Topics - Depending on the size of the group, grade level, season, and the availability of our staff, we can also teach programs on the following topics: Birds in the Winter, Birds in the Spring, Gyotaku Art Class (fish printing), Life in a Pond (aquatic macroinvertebrates), Michigan's Frogs and Reptiles, Naked Trees & Winter Twigs, Nature Journaling and Sketching, Seeds, Wild Turkeys, White-tailed Deer, and Winter Weather (weather permitting). Contact Jeanette Henderson to discuss the details.

7th-12th Grade Students - We can also lead general natural history walks through the preserve discussing more about the plants and animals that live here and the research projects conducted at the preserve. Building tours showcasing our composting toilets, gray water treatment system, and other green building features are also available. Contact Jeanette Henderson to discuss the details.

Program Logistics - Planning Your Visit

Scheduling - School programs are generally scheduled Monday through Friday during the following times: 9-10:30 a.m.│10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.│12:45-2:15 p.m. Homeschool programs are typically scheduled at 10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Depending on staff availability, we may be able to accommodate other periods of time and program lengths.

  • Fall Season is from late September to mid November. Registration for the Fall Season opens at the beginning of September.
  • Winter Season is during the month of February. Registration for the Winter Season opens at the beginning of January.
  • Spring Season is from mid April to mid May. Registration for the Spring Season opens at the beginning of March.

Fee and Payment - The fee is $3 per student for a 90 minute program. Additional fees may apply for longer programs and art classes. School staff members are free. For every 10 students, one teacher/adult chaperone is admitted free of charge. Additional adults and siblings are $3 per individual. Fees are due on the day of your program, and can be paid by cash or check (made out to Calvin College). If you are in need of financial aid, please contact Jeanette Henderson to discuss further options. (Currently, National Heritage Academy Schools are eligible to attend our programs free of charge, thanks to a funding grant.)

Group Size - Group size is limited to 50-60 students per program. During the winter, the prefered maxium group size is 30 students per a program. (The minimum number of students is 8.) If you have more students, please plan on scheduling additional programs in other time slots. We also ask that for every 10 students, you provide 1 adult chaperone. We believe that smaller groups make for more effective programs; Pre-K and K groups are provided 1 leader for every 8-10 students, and all other grade levels are provided 1 leader for every 10-12 students.

Weather - The majority of our programs take place outside. Please have students dress appropriately for the weather and walking the trails (layers of clothing, sturdy foot wear, jackets/raincoats, mittens/hats/scarf). In extreme weather, programs may be modified or substituted with an indoor lesson plan. All programs are held regardless of weather, unless your group decides to cancel. Due to limited openings, most programs may not be able to be rescheduled.

A note about our Student Program Leaders - We view our programming here at the CCEP as a two way road. Your students have the unique opportunity to become teachers themselves as they interact with our program leaders. The majority of our programs are taught by college students under the direction of Jeanette Henderson, CCEP Program Manager. These students specifically seek out the opportunity to practice their teaching and leadership skills in a real world setting. Working with your students is an important step in their professional development.  Student program leaders go through training on environmental educational and interpretation methods and the natural history of the preserve.  Please remember that teaching is a practiced skill, and that it takes time for student program leaders to become experts in leading these programs. Thus, we ask for your understanding as your students and our students engage in a mutually educational experience.


To schedule a program, please contact Julie Wilbourn. Please have the following information available:

  • School/Organization name and names of teachers
  • Contact information (phone number and email)
  • Desired program topic
  • Preferred dates/times and alternates
  • Grade level and number of students and adults
  • Any special needs/requests

Reservations are taken on a first come-first serve basis. Confirmations will be e-mailed before your visit. Please distribute the information to all participating teachers, and inform us of any changes.

looking at grasses

Beech Maple Forest Unit Plan

This unit plan was created for teachers in the Great Lakes region to use in their classrooms to learn more about Beech Maple Forests and to complement our Beech Maple Forest Exploration Program. The unit includes five lesson plans correlated to Michigan’s GLCE standards for 1st to 3rd grades, and accompanying background information and handouts. Lesson plans include:

Unit Overview
Lesson # 1 Forest Overview Lesson # 2: Michigan Trees
-Tree Leaf Key Handout
Lesson # 3: Decomposers -Creepy Crawly Info Cards
Lesson # 4: Terrarium Observations
Lesson # 5: Forest Web
-Forest Web Handout
Additional Classroom Activities

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Make a Day of It at Calvin!

With the recent opening of the Bruce Dice Mineralogical Museum on Calvin's campus, teachers are taking advantage of having two wonderful educational resources in one location. If you are planning a unit on geology, rocks, or soil for your class, consider visiting the Dice Museum in conjunction with the Ecosystem Preserve!

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Educators Newsletters

Did you know your students don't need to be in a forest or field to experience nature? Local schoolyards work just as well! Check out our educators newsletters - a great resource for inspiring teaching ideas that you can use in your classroom each season.

Wheels to Woods! Bus Fund

Don't let the cost of busing prevent your students from experiencing the preserve. A Wheels to Woods! grant is easy to apply for, does not require matching funds, and reimburses up to $350 per bus after your visit.