Does the spring weather have you itching to explore beyond the backyard? Twin Cities-area nature centers and outdoor education centers are wonderful places to seek out signs of the seasons and play in the natural world. Most of them offer programming specially designed for preschoolers, free family events, and indoor exhibits to stimulate little explorers.
TWIN CITIES NATURE & OUTDOOR EDUCATION CENTERS
Carl Kroening Interpretive Center, 4900 N Mississippi Dr, Minneapolis
For kids: Big River, Small Fry: Nature for Curious Kids, 2nd Thurs/month, 9am-noon • ages 0-6 w/ caregiver • $5/pp • Details: Drop in for an hour or stay for all three. Participate together in sensory activities, hikes along the Mississippi and science activities. The interpretive center is full of hands-on exhibits for kids including a farmer’s market, brick factory, a dress-up trunk and lots more.
Dodge Nature Center & Farm, 1701 Charlton St, West St. Paul
For kids: Nature Playdates meets select spring Fridays & Saturdays, 10-11:15am • recommended for ages 3-5 w/ caregiver • $6/child • Details: Through outdoor adventures, stories, artifacts, live animals and creative play, naturalists will provide new experiences each month.
For families: Wander the trails through the working farm and observe the animals. Dodge’s annual family festival, Rock the Barn, takes place 5/21/16, 3-7pm.
Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden & Bird Sanctuary, 1 Theodore Wirth Pkwy, Minneapolis
For kids: Nature Tots, 1st & 3rd Mon/month, 10:30-11:45am • ages 2.5-5 yrs w/ caregiver • $7/child, adults free • Details: Explore nature throughout the Wildflower Garden with activities, hikes, crafts and stories. Pre-registration required, limited to 10 children with caregivers.
For families: Borrow a Family Adventure Backpack at the visitor shelter to take along as you explore the garden. Free Family Garden Rambles take place Saturdays, 11-11:30am & Sundays, 1-1:30pm.
ExploraTots preschool nature program @ Phalen Lakeside Activities Center, 1530 Phalen Dr, St Paul For kids: ExploraTots meets the 2nd & 4th Wed/month through 5/25/16, 10-11:30am • aimed at ages 2-5 but siblings are welcome and parents must attend • FREE • Details: Dress for the weather and partake in hikes, hands-on activities, stories and more.
Harriet Alexander Nature Center, 2520 Dale St N, Roseville
For kids: Sprouts nature program, 1st consecutive Thurs & Fri/month, 10-11:30am • $14 per child/adult pair, $7/additional child per session or $36 per pair for three-month series, $18/additional child. Details: Seasonal sessions include hands-on activities, snack, make it/take-it projects and games.
For families: Celebrate Earth Day with a FREE celebration at the event (4/23/16, 10am-2pm).
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Bloomington Education & Visitor Center, 3815 American Blvd. E, Bloomington
For kids: Mine enjoyed checking out “Let’s Go Outside” backpacks for a nature hike, spying on birds at the outdoor observatory, going on an indoor nature scavenger hunt, and completing activity booklets to become Jr. Refuge Managers. FREE.
Richardson Nature Center, 8737 E Bush Lake Rd, Bloomington
For kids: Preschool Drop-off: Kits & Cubs – Spring Mornings & Afternoons, ongoing spring Tuesdays, 9:30-11:30am or 1-3pm • $10/child. Details: Explore seasonal changes and make a craft. Bring a snack from home, and note that morning sessions introduce the Spanish language. Stay to explore the colorful and highly interactive nature center!
For families: Free Family Fun Days, ongoing spring Sundays in April & May, 3-4pm. FREE. Richardson also hosts numerous seasonal family programs that charge a small fee to attend.
Wood Lake Nature Center, 6710 Lake Shore Dr, Richfield
For kids: Nature Adventurers, 1st & 3rd Wed & Tues/month in April & May, 10-11:30am • ages 3-5 only w/ caregiver • $8/child, adults free • Details: Investigate a different natural topic each visit through stories, crafts, hands-on activities and outdoor time. Snack included. Pre-registration required. Indoor exhibits at Wood Lake are interactive and highly kid-friendly.
For families: Wood Lake hosts many weekend family programs for a small fee. Observe Earth Day at their FREE family Earth Day Celebration, 4/24/16 from 1-4pm.
Eastman Nature Center, 13351 Elm Creek Rd, Dayton
For kids: Preschool Drop-off: Kits & Cubs – Spring Monday Mornings, ongoing Mondays through May 9, 10am-noon • ages 4-5 only • $10.50/child • Details: Drop off the kids to explore nature through stories, art, songs, games, and hikes. Snack included. Reservations required; call 763.559.6700. This program is also offered Mon afternoons & Thursday am/pm, however April is currently full. • My Preschooler and Me: Puppet Escapades is offered 4/26 & 5/11, 10-11am for kids 2 & up to enjoy a puppet show, hike, craft and other activities together with a caregiver • $4/pp.
For families: Eastman is always busy hosting events for families. Get an listing of the programs here.
Springbrook Nature Center, 100 85th Ave NW, Fridley
For kids & families: Springbrook reopened in 2016 with many new additions. Watch for a new nature play area in summer of 2017.
Tamarack Nature Center, 5287 Otter Lake Rd. White Bear Township
For kids: Frogs & Polliwogs preschool spring series is presented the following Fridays – 3/25, 4/8, 4/22, 5/6 from 9:15-10:30am • ages 2-5 w/ caregiver • $39 adult and child; $26 additional child; $13 additional adult – registration is by series only. • Tamarack Tykes is offered Saturdays 4/9 & 5/14, 9:30-11am • ages 2-5 w/ caregiver • $9.75/class for adult and child; $6.50 additional child; $3.75 additional adult. Details: Check website for themes. • Finally, the Discovery Hollow Nature Play Area is amazing (and FREE!).
For families: Drop-in Discoveries is hosted the 1st Sat/month through May 2016, 10am-noon • FREE • all ages • Details: Drop between scheduled hours for hands-on learning, animal encounters and more.
Wargo Nature Center, 7701 Main Street, Lino Lakes
For kids: Nature Play is presented the 1st Thurs/month, 10-11:15am • ages 2-5 w/ caregiver • $6/child-adult pair, $3/additional children • Details: Dress for the weather and plan to spend time playing outside! • Young Explorers Club also meet the 1st Thurs/month from 1-2:30pm • $4/child only.
For families: Borrow an Activity Backpack from the Nature Center, explore the Maple Hollow Nature Play Area or join in the FREE Family Earth Day Celebration.
Warner Nature Center, 15375 Norell Ave N, Marine on St Croix
For kids: Acorn Adventures meets 4/19 & 5/17, 9:30-11am • ages 1-5 w/ caregiver • $15/class • Details: Art projects, simple stories and exploring the great outdoors. Call 651.433.2427 to register.
For families: Check the public programs calendar for seasonal events.
Carpenter St. Croix Nature Center, 12805 St Croix Trail S, Hastings
For kids: Preschool Storytime is offered 4/22 (Earth Day Celebration) and 5/6 (Flowers) from 10-11am • ages 2-5 w/ caregiver • $5/child, adults free • Details: Activities include a nature story, an art or craft project, exploring the outdoors, and observing live animals. Call 651-437-4359 to pre-register.
Maplewood Nature Center, 2659 E 7th Street, Maplewood
For kids: The nature center occasionally offers programs for kids. Additionally, there are engaging indoor exhibits, a nature play area, and easy hikes for children.
For families: The Outdoor Family Expo will be held 4/16 from 10am-2pm • FREE • Details: Come soak up spring by meeting with live animals, exploring outdoor equipment, and participating in activity stations. Other April family programs can be found here.
Oakdale Discovery Center, 4444 Hadley Ave N, St Paul
For kids: Curious Critters Club meets 4/8, 4/22, 5/20, 9:30-11am • ages 3-6 w/ caregiver • $6/child • An exhibit room is stocked with touchables, including owl pellets to dissect,
Lebanon Hills Regional Park Visitor Center, Knee-High Naturalists, select Thursdays & Saturdays in April & May, 10-11:30am • ages 3-6 w/ caregiver • $8/child • Details: Hands-on activities, outdoor exploration, art projects, storytime and more.
For families: Forever Wild Family Friday, 1st Friday/month, 7-8:30pm • FREE entertainment and activities for families.
Eden Prairie Outdoor Center, 13765 Staring Lake Pkwy, Eden Prairie
For families: Nature Rocks! Outdoor Center Open Houses hosted the 1st Sat/month, 9am-noon • FREE • Details: Family activities such as hiking, hands-on interaction with live animals and crafts.
Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, 3675 Arboretum Drive, Chaska
For kids & families: PlantMaker’s Studio Weekend Activities, noon-4pm • all ages • included with Arboretum admission at $12/adults, children free • Green Play Yard for infants through preschoolers makes for great outdoor nature play.
Lowry Nature Center, 7025 Victoria Dr, Victoria
For kids: Preschool Drop-off: Kits & Cubs, ongoing spring Mondays 1-3pm • ages 4-5 • $10/child. • Details: Drop off preschoolers to explore the natural world through hands-on learning, stories, art, songs, live animals and hikes. Reservations required. • My Preschooler & Me: Lowry Little Ones – Spring, ongoing 2nd Mon/month • ages 2+ • $4/pp • Details: Indoor activity stations, songs, stories, crafts and outdoor exploration. Plus, stay to enjoy outdoor play at 2 nature playgrounds.
For families: Numerous opportunities for nature play as a family. See the event calendar here.
Westwood Hills Nature Center, 8300 W Franklin Ave, St Louis Park
For kids: Westwood offers Nature For the Very Young, Puppet Storytimes, and Tuesday Turtles preschool classes throughout spring 2016. See the Preschool Programs page for details on registering.
For families: Westwood Spring Sampler, hosted 5/21/16, 1-4pm gives families a chance to paddle a canoe, hike with binoculars, take scavenger hunt, enjoy refreshments and more.