#FranklinOutside Scavenger Hunt

Flowering Trees at Sunset
Head outside and observe the world around you! Join TFI’s Environmental Scientist Rachel “Dr. Don” Valletta in a nature scavenger hunt beginning Monday, April 6.


Rachel D. Valletta, Ph.D.

You’re not alone—alongside the uncertainty and worry of the past few weeks, the stress of confinement can feel overwhelming. Spending our days inside distanced from friends and loved ones can take a heavy toll on our personal well-being.

It’s during uncertain times like these that I look to nature for a relaxing escape. While the natural environment certainly can’t solve all of our ailments, plenty of scientific evidence documents the positive effect spending time in nature has on both our mental and physical health.

Researchers find that contact with the natural environment (as opposed to the “built” environment, like a city) lowers our pulses, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and improves the overall functioning of our immune system. Brief walks in nature boost what psychologists refer to as our hedonic well-being, essentially the “feeling good” component of well-being. A similar, though lesser, boost is found by just looking at nature scenes, and MRI scans show that this activity lights up the part of our brain that’s associated with empathy and love.

If there were ever a time for less stress and more empathy and love, it is now. Sometimes it feels hard to spot nature in a city like Philadelphia, but you don’t need to be an expert to look down and notice where sidewalk cracks give way to creeping weeds, pushing ever-upward on a strained path to the primal amenities of light, air, and water; or to look upwards, and capture the seasonal return of migrant birds traveling here, home.

As ever, as everywhere, nature persists—we just have to look for it!

This month, join me in getting curious about the nature right in our backyards and front stoops. On Monday, April 6 we’ll begin releasing a daily nature scavenger hunt and tips to search safely on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels.  Dr. Don will also host a Facebook live event Wednesdays at 3pm to point out special moments and experiences you may find on your hunt.  Snap a photo or take a video of your discoveries, tag us and use #FranklinOutside and #FranklinatHome to join in!

Want to learn more about the science of nature & well-being? Check out the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s report The Healing Power of Nature.

Rachel Valletta

About the author

Rachel D. Valletta, Ph.D.

As Environmental Scientist, Rachel is dedicated to expanding the breadth and depth of earth and environmental science education within The Franklin Institute and bringing it into the Philadelphia community.

Rachel serves as the Director of the Climate and Urban Systems Partnership (CUSP), a four-city educational initiative seeking to engage urban residents more efficiently and effectively in climate change and resiliency education.