We have been in the midst of an exciting new native demonstration garden project since June 2018, which involves major construction around the Bunker Interpretive Center. Unfortunately it is necessary to suspend spring programs this year due to scheduling and staffing issues attributable to the project. We miss working with our schools, but look forward to having a beautiful new educational space to explore with your students in the future.

Bring your curious students to the Calvin Ecosystem Preserve & Native Gardens 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.

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-and-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.

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 first through third grades, and accompanying background information and handouts. Lesson plans include:

Program logistics


School programs are generally scheduled Monday through Friday from 9–10:30 a.m., 10 a.m.–12:15 p.m., or 12:45–2:15 p.m. Homeschool programs are typically scheduled from 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 preferred maximum group size is 30 students per program. (The minimum number of students is eight.) 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 one adult chaperone. We believe that smaller groups make for more effective programs; pre-K and kindergarten groups are provided one leader for every 8–10 students, and all other grade levels are provided one leader for every 10–12 students.


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 Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve (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.

Make a day of it at Calvin!

With the 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!


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 emailed before your visit. Please distribute the information to all participating teachers, and inform us of any changes.

Bus funds

Don't let the cost of busing prevent your students from experiencing the Preserve. These grants are easy to apply for, do not require matching funds, and offer significant financial aid. Visit the Wheels to Woods and Michigan Nature Association websites for more information.

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.



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Educators, please visit our Pinterest page for helpful natural science resources.