Get Outside Without Leaving Home

Nature is all around us, but a funny thing is happening now that people have been largely confined to their homes for months because of COVID-19. They’re taking notice!

With vacations dashed and many destinations still shuttered, grand plans for fun and relaxation have shrunk to what can be done in the backyard, front stoop, balcony, and looking out the window. Turns out there’s plenty to do, and health experts advise dialing up your creativity to find new ways to enjoy the great outdoors from your own home.

Studies by the Centers for Disease Control show that time outdoors boosts our physical fitness, immune system, concentration and mental health, while reducing stress, fatigue, inflammation and mortality risk. Now, after being cooped up for weeks with no school or work in the traditional setting, kids and adults are embracing nature more and more as a comfort in this time of crisis.

Here are tips to help you enjoy nature without leaving home:

House finch © Brian Henry/VIREO

1. Become an eco-traveler without traveling.

You don’t have to go to the beach or the park to find nature. Simply walk out the door or open a window and you’ll find all kinds of flowers, trees, weeds, worms, beetles, spiders, ants, bees, butterflies, birds, mice, squirrels, stray cats — you get the idea — hiding in plain sight. Be quiet, patient, motionless and observant. For example, if a bird is your object of fascination, listen to its song and try to imitate it. Think about what the bird is doing; pulling a worm out of the dirt? Look at the beak; the shape and size give clues to what it eats. Sketch what you see. Watch for patterns; if a bird is building a nest it will fly back and forth carrying something over and over. Take notes and photos. If that seems like homework, then just enjoy the experience.

tent in yard

2. Camp out in your backyard.

Dig that tent out of storage or make one of your own with tarp and poles. Grab the groundcover, games, picnic foods, folding chairs, bug spray, sunscreen and flashlights for a sleepout. No matter how old you are, camping can be fun and adventurous! It’s also a great time to observe and listen for nature, to dig in the garden for worms, spot birds of prey on the wing, and bees buzzing the hot dogs. WikiHow offers easy step-by-step tips to setting up a backyard camp. Other online sites provide alternatives when you don’t have supplies; for instance, using a terracotta pot as a firepit and turning the lawn into a Twister board.

bat and kids
The Academy started its nature collection in 1812 and now has 18 million specimens.

3. Start a nature collection.

Exploring what animals leave behind can be just as rewarding as catching the creatures in action. Bring a tote bag and gloves, if you like, and scour your property for clues to recent visitors. Look for curly snail shells, brilliant feathers, shed snake skin, bones left from an animal feeding, footprints (maybe not for the tote). Add in sticks, seeds, pine cones, jagged leaves and brightly colored flower petals and you can fashion a table centerpiece, picture frame, jewelry or curiosity box. Or sketch them as a still life.

frog
Photo by Ned Gilmore

4. Use technology to help plan an outdoor adventure.

Are your kids (or you?) glued to their smartphone, YouTube? That could be useful. There are lots of wildlife and nature apps for children of all ages. In one the user walks along a virtual trail and identifies animal tracks; one has you photograph a leaf and submit it to be identified; another helps identify birds by their songs and beaks. Now take that interest out the back door and stop, look and listen. That many-legged bug you saw on iNaturalist may be wiggling in your dirt right now; that flash of green may be a frog carrying its eggs. Use your technology to take a picture of what you see and to keep a record. For added fun, compare your sightings week to week. There are apps to help you identify butterflies and native bees, and Audubon is a good source for bird IDs.

Birds clearly are attracted to this Rittenhouse Square home in Philly (volume on)

5. Attract wildlife to our yard.

There are many ways to attract wildlife to your yard. First think about which animals you enjoy seeing. If you like birds, hang a bird feeder (or a dozen like the homeowner in the video). If you like watching butterflies and bees, plant nectar-producing native perennials like milkweed, purple coneflower and bee balm. You can buy special feed for hedgehogs from garden suppliers, while badgers will eat unsalted nuts and seeds, fruit and root vegetables. Make sure you leave out water as well. If you have a space for wild lawn to mimic a meadow, this may entice shrews, voles and other mammals that feed on grass or insects. A pile of dead wood will encourage beetles and grubs, which will in turn draw larger foragers.

street with pink trees

6. Participate in the Academy Nature Project.

The Academy cares about our followers and is very interested to know how you are interacting with nature during these difficult times of quarantine, social distancing and travel restrictions. You can show us by sharing your current and past nature photos with us on any of our social media channels. We will post a new photo/video prompt each week with a different theme. When the museum reopens, we’ll showcase many of the photos alongside our Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit. For more information, visit ans.org/nature.


By Carolyn Belardo, Academy Director of Public Relations


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