School Outreach

Highlands Nature Center provides more than 50 different day programs for public, private, or homeschool groups in grades K-12. Classes are designed to meet the curriculum requirements of the North Carolina science Essential Standards for each grade level, and supplement existing lessons by bringing additional resources to the classroom.

Programs can take place in natural outdoor settings as well as in the classroom, and are designed to provide hands-on learning experiences through activities, games, observations, and field studies. Most classes can be modified and presented either at your school or facility, as well as the Nature Center. Each program lasts approximately 60 minutes, unless specific circumstances require adjustments to the schedule.

Tours of the Nature Center & Botanical Garden are free of charge, but contributions are greatly appreciated. The requested donation for all other programs is usually only 50¢ per student, but may be waived upon request.

Special Programs for adult groups are also available such as lectures on various animal and plant topics, workshops, or guided tours of the Botanical Garden.

Link to printable brochure

In addition to its in-person offerings, HBS can also provide a wide variety of live, virtual programming via Zoom or Google Meet.  Click here for more information.

Current Programs

Nature Center & Botanical Garden Tour (All Ages)

Students will have the opportunity to see examples of native plant and animal species. The Nature Center’s exhibits include live reptiles and amphibians, a 439 year-old hemlock tree, geology and archaeology specimens, and mounts of birds and mammals. Interactive exhibits include the birding station, microscopes, and our Touch & Learn table. A guided walk through the Botanical Garden features labeled plant species, and numerous trails to various habitats including hemlock forests, streams, a mountain bog, and Lindenwood Lake.

Discovery Hikes (Grades 3-12)

Interpretive hikes take place along any trail of your choosing (such as Siler Bald, Whiteside Mountain-Devil’s Courthouse, etc.).  Students will explore mountain habitats and learn about regional plants and animals, ecology, and geological features.  Hikes may take several hours; please bring a sack lunch, water, rain gear, and wear appropriate shoes.   *Students should be in good physical condition.

Birds & Flight (All Grades)

This class focuses on shape and color of specific birds, marks used for identification in the field, bird songs, habitat and diets, and bird anatomy.  Additionally, it will cover the concepts of flight including lift, force, and aerodynamics.  Weather permitting, students will also learn techniques to attract birds for better viewing in the field.

Botany (Grades 1-8)

Activity topics will include groups of plants, types of leaves, parts of trees, tree growth, transpiration, and photosynthesis.  We may also discuss pollination including the parts of flowers, seeds, and fruit.  Students will also be given an opportunity to locate and identify various tree species.

Compass & Orienteering (Grades 3-12)

Students are introduced to the use of a compass.  They will learn such concepts as direction and bearing, degrees in a circle and angles, and how to use a compass and interpret maps to find their way.  This class is a good supplement to lessons in geography and math.

Experimental Design & the Scientific Method (Grades 9-12 & Adult Groups)

This is a workshop specifically designed for students developing independent field research projects.  Participants will review the steps of the scientific method, and will work together to plan the protocols for a hypothetical research project involving stream salamanders.  Time will be spent in the field collecting data, followed by a detailed discussion of the pitfalls and potential sources of error when designing similar field experiments.

Forestry Methods (Grades 6-12)

Students will develop math skills measuring such things as diameter, height, and basal area of trees to determine the importance of different species to the forest community, and will use these values to evaluate the quality of the habitat for wildlife.  Alternate versions give students opportunities to survey levels of infestation by the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid, or quantify lichen growth on trees as indicators of air quality.

Forest Study (Grades K-8)

This class provides students with an opportunity to explore the various layers of a forest (soil layer, shrub layer, and canopy) and the living things found in each.  Students will participate in a variety of activities as they are led on an interpretive forest walk.  Topics include plant and animal species diversity, adaptations and niche, forest microhabitats, soils, decomposition and nutrient cycling, forest succession, and conservation.

Group Dynamics (Grades 4-12)

This class features a series of fun team challenges that illustrate the importance of using effective social skills in small group interactions.  Concepts include communication and active listening, goal setting, teamwork, leadership, cooperation, and group decision making and problem solving.  Can be repeated with additional activities and new discussion topics that build upon previous lessons.

Insects (Grades K-8)

This class focuses on differences between insects and other invertebrate groups, types of insects, anatomy, and life cycles.  Students will be given the opportunity to collect examples of live insects from several habitats using various field techniques.

Keys & Classification (Grades 5-12)

Students will be introduced to the biological classification system, and to the use of dichotomous keys in separating biological groups and identifying specimens based upon their characteristics.  Activities may include creating a key to classmates or insects, an introduction to leaf types, or a reptile and amphibian “hide & seek” using keys to navigate the Station’s trails.

Mammals (Grades K-12)

Students will learn what makes something a mammal, examples of different types of mammal groups, and examples of mammal tracks.  Students will have the opportunity to see and touch skins and skulls of various mammal species.  Concepts also include predator and prey adaptations and diet.  Shorter programs on individual mammal groups are also available.

Nature Games (Grades Pre-K–2)

Students will play a variety of fun games that illustrate various ecological concepts such as food chains, predators and prey, habitat, biodiversity, and animal behavior.  Can be repeated with different games and topics.

Nature Observation (Grades K-8)

This class encourages creativity, discovery, and appreciation for nature as students learn how to observe plants and animals in different ways.  While exploring nature, they may sketch images of things they find, describe behaviors of animals, make leaf and bark rubbings, and make a “sound map.”  Older students may learn ways of collecting data, or be encouraged to write short stories or poems.  This class is a good supplement to art and language arts as well as science.

Pond Life (All Grades)

Students will discover the diverse aquatic fauna of Lindenwood Lake.  We will examine samples of pond mud for various live insects and other creatures, discuss adaptations for aquatic life, and see how the composition of the pond community can indicate water quality.  Older students may also perform chemical analyses of the water such as pH and dissolved oxygen to confirm results.

Population Genetics (Grades 7-12)

Students will do activities designed to simulate the effects of natural selection and mutation as agents of genetic change in populations over time.  Additional concepts include alleles, genotypes, phenotypes, and evolution.

Predators & Prey (Grades K-8)

This class features activities that teach such concepts as diet, food chains, predator, prey, and camouflage.  Students will examine skulls of carnivores and herbivores, discuss morphological and behavioral adaptations, and learn how predators and prey use these adaptations in different ways.

Reptiles & Amphibians (All Ages)

This class focuses on differences between reptiles and amphibians, life histories, habitat, and anatomy.  Students will have the opportunity to see and touch examples of live animals to gain a greater understanding of these creatures and their needs, and to dispel common misconceptions.  Shorter programs on individual groups (snakes, turtles, salamanders, frogs) are also available.

Storybook Science (Grades Pre-K–4)

Students will be given a brief nature lesson, based around a children’s storybook, using items from the Nature Center to illustrate concepts.  Can be offered repeatedly with different topics and stories.  Examples include beavers, bears, frogs, trees, turtles, insects, opossums, snakes, squirrels, owls, bats, camouflage, snails, salamanders, etc. Mini-lessons without story also available for older grades. Click here for a list of programs.

Streamside Salamander Communities (Grades 4-12)

Southern Appalachian streams contain a great diversity of salamanders.  Students will learn to identify species, capture and measure salamanders, and collect and graph data to examine how species use the stream habitat in different ways.  Topics include adaptations, habitat, communities, niche, competition, and predation.   Bring shoes appropriate for wading.

Watersheds (Grades 3-12)

Students will learn what a watershed is and how its’ condition affects the water downstream.  Activities demonstrate topics such as watershed delineation and function, the components of the water cycle, and different sources of water pollution including both point and non-point.

Wildlife Habitat (Grades 4-8)

Students will learn how animal populations are influenced by the availability of habitat resources.  Activities teach concepts such as habitat components and wildlife needs, types of population growth, the role of predators, interdependency and connectedness, carrying capacity, limiting factors, conservation, and endangered species.  Results are graphed so that lessons are learned by observing what happens in various situations.

NC Wildlife Course Programs (Grades 9-12)

A variety of presentations and field-based workshops are available for students participating in the NC Wildlife Course.  Examples include programs about salamanders, small mammals, birds, and forest habitat assessment. Click here for a full list of NC Wildlife Course offerings.

Link to printable brochure

To contact Outreach call 828-526-4123 or email us at