Time spent outdoors in nature can have many health benefits, including reducing stress and increasing cardiovascular health.
Here are some 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.
iNaturalist is a great way to learn about and engage with the natural world. Make nature observations via iNaturalist (website or free app) any time and help scientists!
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.
City Nature Challenge
Join in the City Nature Challenge in April when people from around the world record their snapshots of the diversity of natural life in urban areas by taking pictures and uploading observations to iNaturalist.
Observations in the 13-county metro area of Minneapolis-St. Paul are automatically added to the project. This event provides helpful information for scientists.
Observe with eBird
Whether you're a die-hard birdwatcher with a life list, or you just appreciate the feathery visitors to your own backyard, recording your observations can make a big impact. Observe birds (feeders, nests, or just make casual observations) for eBird.
Extension has several citizen science projects focused on invasive species detection, reporting and management, and you can help!
Find and report
Report invasive species of concern to inform researchers and policy makers of species density and distribution. Details vary by species. Check the Find and Report project page for details.
Red mulberry is a native tree that should be thriving in Minnesota's changing climate but is disappearing. The greatest threat to the species may be hybridization with the non-native white mulberry. Help researchers map Minnesota's rarest tree and study the impacts of white mulberry's introduction.
With Zooniverse you can help scientists without leaving your couch! There are dozens of projects looking for help with some people-powered research, but we think you'll especially like Eyes on Wildlife, in which you'll help identify the animals in camera trap photos from Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve near East Bethel, Minn.
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.
You can also help document climate change by reporting signs of seasonal change where you are with the Minnesota Phenology Network.
Adopt your local storm drain
Volunteer 15 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.
- Take an online course. University of Minnesota Extension offers several online courses. Check out our courses and events pages to see what's currently being offered.
- You can also find tons of interesting classes at FutureLearn Nature & Environment Courses.
- 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.
- Visit the Bell. The Bell Museum offers a free audio tour that’s available in English, Spanish, Hmong, and Somali. You can use your smartphone, tablet or desktop to access the tour by either visiting the Bell audio guide or downloading the museum’s app to your device.
- Take a virtual field trip. Read about a Master Naturalist's trip to the quaking bog at Theodore Wirth Park.
- Explore, Teach, Conserve. Listen to stories of new discoveries, problem-solving, science and stewardship of Minnesota’s natural resources from University of Minnesota Extension. Search for it and subscribe on your favorite podcast app.
- Camp8. Voices in forestry, from the UMN Cloquet Forestry Center. Available on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.
- Smart Gardens. Experts from University of Minnesota Extension answer listeners' questions on gardening and outdoor living. Listen on WCCO's playlist or subscribe on Apple Podcasts.
Reviewed in 2023