Explore nature in your backyard and beyond
Time spent outdoors in nature can have many health benefits, including reducing stress and increasing cardiovascular health.
We've gathered a list of Extension sponsored activities as well as opportunities from recommended sources to give you and your family ideas for fun and educational things to do at home, nearby, inside or outside.
If you are not familiar with forest bathing, now is a great time to try it. It’s a mixture of meditation, yoga and hiking, paying close attention to your surroundings while enjoying a slow and mindful hike.
Want to avoid benches or other places where people may join you? Take a small blanket or stadium chair and create your own small sanctuary.
Get the kids outside and go on an "I Wonder" walk in your own neighborhood.
As you walk, talk aloud: "I wonder what kind of bird built that nest. I wonder if squirrels live in trees. I wonder when we will see our first earthworm this spring."
We have a free guide that can help kids funnel that "I Wonder" curiosity into a real, easy-to-follow science investigation.
The science of seasonal changes in nature is called "phenology."
Observing and recording seasonal changes in places you frequently visit can not only be rewarding in its own right, but can help to build a dataset that helps researchers better understand relationships between climate and how plants grow, birds migrate, and other organisms live.
The Minnesota Phenology Network has great information about how to get started.
Contribute to citizen science
Scientists need your help in documenting and understanding nature. All you need is a smart device (computer, tablet or smartphone) and keen observation skills.
Just snap a photo of the target species, upload it to iNaturalist—even if you can’t identify what species you’ve seen. The iNaturalist network can often identify it based on your photo, so be sure to include clear images from multiple angles with each entry.
By recording and sharing your observations, you’ll create research quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature.
Help scientists learn more about the plants bees use to build their nests by sharing photos of leaf cuts. You can also participate in the Backyard Bumble Bee Count by taking pictures of bumble bees, July 24-August 2, 2020.
City Nature Challenge
Join in the City Nature Challenge:
During the weekend of April 24-27, 2020 you can join users from across the world to record a snapshot of the diversity of natural life in urban areas by taking pictures and uploading your observations to iNaturalist.
Observations in the 11-county metro area of Minneapolis-St. Paul are automatically added to the project.
Observations from outside the state will serve as a bioblitz for the state. This event provides helpful information for scientists while still maintaining social distancing.
Report invasive species to EDDMapS or the Great Lakes Early Detection Network smartphone app (GLEDN). Details vary by species, check the individual project for details.
Help us understand if the squill, a small non-native spring ephemeral flower, is becoming invasive.
Do you have invasive jumping worms? Are you trying to manage them? If so please tell us what you’re doing and if it’s working.
Gender bending trees
Help us learn if Amur corktree is gender bending. This species has male and female individuals; to prevent invasiveness mostly males are believed to have been planted, however some are producing fruit and offspring!
Project details coming late spring 2020.
Naturalized Norway maple
Norway maple, a commonly planted boulevard tree, is now on the MN Noxious Weed list. Help us better understand its naturalized distribution and density.
Project details coming early summer 2020.
With Zooniverse you can help scientists without leaving your couch!
- Eyes on Wildlife: Identify the animals in camera trap photos from Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve near East Bethel, MN.
- Mapping change: Convert historical natural resource records in the Bell Museum’s collection from photos of hand-written notes to digital entries.
- Offal Wildlife watching: Help UM researchers identify what is visiting your deer gut piles.
Help the Minnesota State Climatology Office monitor climate change, verify high rain totals after big events, monitor drought and flooding, make precipitation maps more accurate by participating in CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network.
Grab a copy of our bingo board (PDF) and pick some activities to do while you #NatureInPlace! Enter your completed bingo board for a chance to win some Minnesota Master Naturalist swag.
Adopt your local storm drain
Volunteer fifteen minutes, twice a month, for cleaner waterways and healthier communities through the Adopt-a-Drain program.
Smithsonian Digital Volunteers
The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, but even they could use a little help sometimes. Help make their collections more accessible by volunteering to transcribe historical documents or edit Wikipedia articles related to their artifacts and research.
Exploring nature online
If you don't have access to outdoor spaces, try these indoor activities online.
- University of Minnesota Extension offers several online courses. Check out our webpage to see what's currently being offered.
- Learn a bird song.
- The Cornell Lab offers an array of resources to help you learn all about birds, including this great guide to learning bird songs and calls.
- FutureLearn Nature & Environment Courses
- Get a live view of Lake Superior.
- Check out some live webcams of different areas along the North Shore. How is the weather different from where you are?
- Visit the Bell.
- Take a virtual field trip.
- Read about a Master Naturalist's trip to the quaking bog at Theodore Wirth Park.
Reviewed in 2020