Each day provides an opportunity for kids of all ages to use their senses to explore the world around them. Children learn through playing, weighing outcomes, and problem-solving to better understand cause and effect. As natural-born scientists, children are often the first to ask, “What’s that?” to add to their ever-growing repository of knowledge.
As adults we sometimes blur the sense of wonder and curiosity with matter-of-fact answers without explaining other possibilities. As a parent, I’m trying my best to give my children their own agency in contributing to learning about the world around them and living in St. Augustine offers an abundance of diverse ecosystems to study. There are a number of national organizations that offer ideas and projects for children to contribute to directly. From taking pictures of insects or planting a garden, we can help foster a lifelong love of learning.
Here are a few of my family’s favorite projects that embrace little citizen scientists.
The Lost Ladybug Project
The Lost Ladybug Project was founded in 2000 when researchers collaborated with local gardeners to help survey the number and type of ladybugs being spotted around New York. A few years later, elementary-aged children in NY were soon given surveys to begin documenting/taking pictures of any ladybug they found. This would better allow researchers to track and document ladybug patterns and better understand current populations. Now, the project is national and encourages children to participate by sharing information and an image of any ladybug they encounter.
“To help children become confident and competent participants in science, identifying personally with science, so that we develop a generation of adults who are engaged in scientific discussions, policy, and thinking.”
–The Lost Ladybug Project Mission Statement
We love this project because ladybugs are easily recognizable for young children and often stand out when on a leaf or window due to their beautiful coloring. The organization is working on adding interactive data mapping for kids to follow along to see what other discoveries have been found close by.
PBS Kids SciGirl Nature Nurture Journal
PBS Kids SciGirl Nature Nurture Journal is a downloadable PDF that offers a number of activities for children to complete throughout the year. From documenting leaves through the seasons or making instruments to mimic toad croaks, this journal provides simple instructions that allow children to make their own discoveries wherever they are in nature.
My son loves this journal because he is fascinated with a young Maple tree in our backyard. From admiring new buds on the stems in the spring to feeling a bit of sadness when the leaves shed in the fall, he enjoys tracking the changes as each month goes on.
The Great Sunflower Project
The Great Sunflower Project is another citizen science organization that collects data on pollinator populations across the country. Participants are encouraged to plant Lemon Queen Sunflower seeds and report back regular data on the variety of pollinators that visit. If you cannot add a sunflower to your backyard, there are also opportunities to provide observations when visiting parks or on a hike. Pollinators (like bees) are critically important because we need them to help ensure the cultivation of crops for humans to eat.
We love this project because children can be involved from the initial planting stages to the continual documentation of observations. These types of activities encourage kids to sit quietly while observing the world around them, which can be such an escape from the rigorous daily routines we follow.
Hopefully, these projects will encourage the little scientists in your life to think critically about the world they live in. If your family contributes to any similar-minded projects, feel free to comment and share!