Do you have a child who loves science and nature? How do you encourage that interest? Chances are you may have looked for a local nature or science center or museum, hoping they’d have classes that your child would be interested in and would fit into everyone’s schedule. You may have signed up your child for a science-based summer camp.
However, have you considered doing science with your kids? No, I don’t mean buying one of those off-the-shelf science kits that allow your child to explore rudimentary chemistry or physics. I’m talking about real science, where you hand the results of your research to real scientists, who combine your information with that of other citizen scientists.
Citizen Scientists: What Do They Do?
A citizen scientist is just what it sounds like; a regular person who is doing science. What you do is find a project that you can join, and meet the requirements of the task that is described. Many citizen science projects are outdoor nature-based, such as birdwatching.
Why get the average kid or adult involved in citizen science? One scientist can only gather data from one place; she needs more people to take part in order to get more data.
More data means the research becomes more valid because it is more expansive. By engaging the help of citizen scientists, the researcher gets that data.
Participate in a Citizen Science Project with Your Kids
Many kids are keen observers of nature and citizen science projects often involve basic skills such as observation and counting. With young elementary school age kids, you will likely have to guide your child more than you would with a junior or senior high school student. In some cases, kids do need to call on specific skills, such as identifying the birds that come to their backyard feeder, noticing when certain types of trees open their buds, or recognizing local frog calls.
For kids who love science, this becomes a fun challenge. Think of how your child memorizes library books on dinosaurs, snakes, insects, and African mammals and willingly spouts facts to anyone who listens. By doing citizen science, you help your kids learn more about local nature as well.
Science Projects Year Around: Points to Consider
Start by checking out a website focused on citizen science projects. Notice that some projects involve a few consecutive days while others run year-long. Don’t discount year-long studies without first checking if you can take part for just a few days. Many projects are seasonal, so if you need to work on your local bird identification skills, plan, and not just the week before.
Consider how much time is involved. In most cases, a project will tell you what you need to do. Do you need to put in 30 minutes a day all summer? Are you recording general nature observations each day throughout the year? Are you counting firefly flashes during a few weeks or birds on a single, specific day?
Remember, you want to give accurate information, so make certain that you understand what you need to do before you agree to anything.
Citizen Science: Commit, Contribute, Connect
Although your kids may be enthusiastic, keep a “new puppy” perspective; as in, your kids may say, “yes,” but you’ll be doing a lot of the work, including prompting the kids to do their part. However, your kids will gain a sense of accomplishment, while learning about the scientific method, and develop a deeper appreciation of the natural world by becoming citizen scientists.
Catlin-Groves, C.L. The Citizen Science Landscape: From Volunteers to Citizen Sensors and Beyond. (2012). International Journal of Zoology. Accessed September 5, 2013.
National Audubon Society and Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. About eBird. eBird. Accessed September 5, 2013.
The Great Backyard Bird Count. Welcome to GBBC. Accessed September 5, 2013.
Bonney, R., C. Cooper, J. Dickinson, S. Kelling, T. Phillips, K. Rosenberg, and J. Shirk. Citizen Science: A Developing Tool for Expanding Science Knowledge and Scientific Literacy. (2009). Bio Science 59:977-984. American Institute of Biological Sciences. Accessed September 5, 2013.
Audubon Magazine. Get Involved in the Christmas Bird Count – Find a Count Near You. (2013). Accessed September 5, 2013.© Copyright 2013 Susan McCarthy, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting