Kids can be scientists, too!
Exploring the roots of an uprooted tree
Kids are natural scientists. They're curious, and they like to learn new skills. They're also open to exploring the natural world.
Fortunately, a number of organizations have created a wealth of quality materials teachers and parents can use. Some are specifically intended for learning science and doing science. Some are an extension of citizen science projects, and the resulting data are submitted just as other citizen scientists' data would be submitted.
Even a 3-year-old can check out woodpecker holes
And, of course, families can participate with their children in any citizen science project whether it's specifically designed for kids or not. (Adults should monitor, though, to ensure valid data is submitted.)
Besides citizen science projects, a wealth of materials and projects are available for school and home gardens as well as just exploring nature. I've listed some of these resources here.
Science and citizen science resources for kids
With digital cameras and mobile devices, kids can take great photos as they participate in citizen science
Here are some resources to help educators, informal educators, and homeschoolers, and parents plan science experiences for their students and children.
CAUTION: Unfortunately some industries provide free educational resources on science and other topics, but their motives may be less educational than just propagandizing for their point of view, often disseminating incorrect information.
I'd stick with the non-profits funded by National Science Foundation, National Geographic, or universities. As far as I've been able to detect, none of the projects I've listed are being funded by industry interest groups. Look for the About section to see where the money is coming from, though it's sometimes well-disguised with legitimate-sounding project names. For this reason, I've noted the sponsoring organizations for each project.
- Journey North (Annenberg Learner/Annenberg Foundation) - A free, Internet-based program that explores the interrelated aspects of seasonal change. Through interrelated investigations, students discover that sunlight drives all living systems and they learn about the dynamic ecosystem that surrounds and connects them. Journey North for Kids is a subset of the larger site with a sampling of stories, pictures, etc. just for kids.
- BirdSleuth K-12 (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) - BirdSleuth is an inquiry-based science curriculum that engages kids in scientific study and real data collection through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s exciting citizen science projects. BirdSleuth provides educators with kits and free resources, workshops and webinars.
- Citizen Science: 15 Lessons that Bring Biology to Life (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) - The goal of our new book is simple: to inspire you to engage your students through citizen science, thereby connecting students with relevant, meaningful, and real science experiences. Citizen science can support independent inquiry as well as learning both content and process skills. This new book illustrates the power of citizen science through case studies of middle school classes and also provide 15 lessons so educators can build data collection and analysis into their science teaching.
- Project BudBurst (National Science Foundation; National Geographic etc.) - Project BudBurst is a network of people across the United States who monitor plants as the seasons change and submit ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants. Many resources for grades K-4, 5-8, 9-12, college-level as well as for informal educational settings
- Nature's Notebook (USA National Phenology Network) - Observing phenology using Nature’s Notebook offers place-based, hands-on learning opportunities, provides a collaborative platform for site-based educators, promotes cross-subject engagement while addressing standards of learning, and can be used to identify and answer local scientific research questions addressed by many natural resource, volunteer and gardening groups.
- Project Noah (National Geographic; New York Univ.) - Project Noah was created to provide people of all ages with a simple, easy-to-use way to share their experiences with wildlife. By encouraging your students to share their observations and contribute to Project Noah missions, you not only help students to reconnect with nature, you provide them with real opportunities to make a difference.
- Wild Lab Gr. 5-12 (MacArthur Foundation) - The future of science education is mobile and participatory. With the WildLab, learners see their world in a whole new way. The WildLab leverages mobile technology to engage learners in citizen science activities that promote STEM learning and encourage local environmental stewardship. We envision a classroom framed by the sky, the earth, and everything in between. Has both a formal curriculum and informal curricula.
- Monarchs in the Classroom (Univ. of Minnesota) - Monarchs in the Classroom aims to promote and facilitate inquiry-based education through original curricula and research opportunities. We use monarchs and other insects as focal organisms in inquiry-based teacher workshops and conduct an annual Insect Fair to spotlight student research. The monarch butterfly serves as an excellent tool to get students excited about science and to teach inquiry in the classroom.
- Lost Ladybug Project (Cornell Univ., National Science Foundation, 4H) - The Lost Ladybug Project has developed a wide variety of educational materials to share. You will find basic biology and identification information, lesson plans with original and unique games, printable pdfs for distribution and outreach, our own coloring book, and even a Lost Ladybug song! This is very much a work in progress.
- Great Lakes Worm Watch (Univ. of Minnesota) - Offers games and activities such as making a worm observatory or playing a forest ecosystem game
- Celebrate Urban Birds (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) - for youth and adults in urban settings
- Audubon Adventures (National Audubon Society) - a variety of projects and activities
Kid-friendly though not specifically for kids
Ladybugs are fascinating to kids
Some citizen science projects that are appropriate for kids (depending on their age) even if they weren't designed specifically for kids.
- Firefly Watch (Boston Museum of Science) - No specifically kid-focused resources, but interesting info on a fascinating insects. Most kids would love to collect observations on summer evenings and explore the results people have submitted.
- eBird (Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Audubon) - can observe birds according to simple protocols, submit data, and explore the data in many ways.
- Great Sunflower Project (San Francisco State Univ.) - Both honey bee and native bee populations are in trouble. What we don't know is how this is affecting pollination of our gardens, crops, and wild lands. This project gathers information about our urban, suburban and rural bee populations and gives you the tools to learn about what is happening with the pollinators in your yard.
- FrogWatch USA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) - Not as suitable for schools since observations are made at night, but great for families.
- Great Backyard Bird Count (Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Audubon) - The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are. Lots of data to explore.
- Christmas Bird Count (National Audubon Society) - From December 14 through January 5 tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission - often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season.