Most who think of Michigan picture the beautiful Great Lakes, with endless opportunities to explore the water and its shores. Michigan is rich in culture and history, with landmarks like the Underground Railroad and the original home of Motown Records. Take your students to visit “Pure Michigan” not only to enjoy nature, but the history that has helped mold the U.S. today.
Meet Nature and its Inhabitants
Marquette, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, offers many outdoor activities. Black Rocks gets your adrenaline pumping with cliff jumping into the waters of Lake Superior. Take a boat tour off Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and view natural archways, caves and waterfalls. Mineral deposits give the sandstone an array of colors. Moosewood Nature Center has a guided bog walk tour that provides outdoor learning without a strenuous hike.
Dahlem Center, a natural history education center in Jackson, has an excellent outdoor nature trail with over five miles of hiking through forests, fields, marshes and ponds. Dahlem is especially known for its bluebird trail, one of the largest in the country, and celebrates these songbirds with the annual Birds, Blooms and Butterflies Festival.
The Detroit Zoo was the first to open a Penguinarium, an exhibit exclusively built for penguins, and has the largest polar bear exhibit in the country, the Arctic Ring of Life. The zoo offers great rates for student groups, making a field trip both economical and fun.
Society Shaping History
Motown Museum, also known as Hitsville USA, is one of the most significant musical monuments of the 20th century. The original Motown Records, located in Detroit from 1959-1972, recorded tracks from icons such as Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, The Supremes and Marvin Gaye. Musically inclined students will love learning how Motown got started and its singers rose to fame, along with seeing various studios and the flat where founder Berry Gordy, Jr. lived.
The Cross Calhoun County Underground Railroad passes through Battle Creek, a key stop for slaves escaping to Canada. Experience how slaves felt as fugitives on the run and learn historic facts along the way. Calhoun Visitors Bureau has the Geocache Challenge, a game that gives a clue with each cache, which you then use to solve word puzzles in order to receive a prize.
Lansing, home of the State Capitol Building, contains all the history and need-to-knows about Michigan’s government. It took six years to build and contains over nine acres of hand-painted surfaces. The Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center is designed to help visitors understand the judicial branch of state government.
Find Foreign Cultures within Michigan’s Borders
Known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria, Frankenmuth provides cultural and historical insight into German culture. Octoberfest and the Bavarian Festival are two main events that celebrate Frankenmuth’s German heritage, with music, dancing and authentic German cuisine. Frankenmuth is home of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store. Don’t forget to try the famous chicken dinners—it’s all-you-can-eat at Zehnder’s.
Dutch culture seeps out of the pores of the city of Holland, founded by Dutch immigrants in 1846. The Holland Museum displays Dutch artifacts and art that tell the settlers’ story. May’s Tulip Time Festival, named “Best Small Town Festival in America,” celebrates the city’s Dutch heritage. It features over six million blooming tulips, parades, concerts, Klompen dancing, and arts and crafts.
Outside of downtown Detroit, you will discover enclaves of different cultures—kind of like towns within one town. Mexicantown has authentic Mexican food that would put Taco Bell to shame, or admire the beautiful architecture of Sainte Anne’s, a church built in 1886. Hamtramck displays the Polish heritage. With enough pierogies, paczki and kraut for a lifetime, the Polish Village Cafe is the most popular spot. The streets of Greektown give the vibe of the Old World Greece, with crowded streets and cuisine options within walking distance of downtown. Corktown brings to life Irish heritage, with local Irish music that will make you feel like you’re in “The Emerald Isle.”
Let Students Take the Stage
Frankenmuth not only offers culture, but also provides opportunity for performers. Friday Night Fun (every Friday from Memorial Day weekend to the end of September) allows school groups the opportunity to perform at various locations, including the indoor performing arts theater or outdoor in downtown Frankenmuth.
Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, held every other year in Kalamazoo, is the largest gathering of keyboard artists in North America. Known as “The Ultimate Piano Fest,” it features two weeks of concerts, recitals and entrance to jazz clubs. Exceptional pianists may enter to perform, or musically inclined students can purchase group tickets to witness the magic. It will be held next in 2016.
Shepler’s Ferry, a third-generation family business, provides an excellent educational adventure to Mackinac Island, a land of its own where no cars are allowed. The ferry offers custom packages for school groups including curricular packets for teachers, a complete itinerary and priority boarding. The Mighty Mac Departure features a trip under the Mackinac Bridge, over which four million vehicles cross every year. Explore the eight-mile-long island and see the Grand Hotel, Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac Island Butterfly House. Buy some Mackinac Island fudge for the ride back.
There are many reasons to love Detroit: the list is ever-growing. The DIA, short for Detroit Institute of Arts, showcases art of all different descents and mediums, from sculptures to paintings. Henry Ford Museum, named after the man who invented the assembly line, presents the history of countless American innovations such as the steam engine and spotlights the country’s car culture in its Driving America exhibit. From the museum, start the Ford Rouge Factory Tour and observe a real-life factory floor where Ford vehicles are made. Greenfield Village, next to the museum, has landmarks of American invention like the Wright Brothers cycle shop and Thomas Edison’s original light bulb lab.
This is just the beginning of fun activities to do in Michigan. Do you have any favorite activities ideal for students? Tell us about them below!