Take Part in Citizen Science, Part Two: 8 Year-Round Outdoor Observation Projects for Kids

Outdoor observation, learning and fun needn’t stop when the weather turns a little chilly. There are terrific projects for year-round learners of all ages who are curious about nature, animals and science. Many of these fall under the heading of Citizen Science, projects from schools, labs, museums, nonprofits, and other organizations that ordinary people can take part in to help with observation and research. Many of these projects are perfect for beginners and don’t require large time commitments. Perhaps there’s one for you and your family to enjoy this fall or winter.

Here are 8 citizen science projects that are seeking volunteers.

  1. The Great Backyard Bird Count and
  2. Project FeederWatch
    Many people enjoy observing birds. These two projects help scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology gather information about birds that migrate in February (the Great Backyard Bird Count) and from November through early April (Project FeederWatch). Participants count birds at home feeders and in yards, in nature centers and in public parks and lands.These popular programs are a great way to learn about birds as you observe and care for them and help track their migration, distribution and abundance. The associated web sites offer wonderful identification tools and other information as well. There is a small fee to participate in Project FeederWatch, which covers a home research kit.
  3. Ice Watch USA
    Ice Watch collects observations of ice, snow, and winter wildlife to gain information about climate change and the effects of changes in ice cover on bird, fish and mammal migration, and breeding and feeding patterns. You don’t have to live in an icy or snowy place to contribute.
  4. Dad with son in RedwoodsBugs in Our Backyard
    Help survey the diversity of insects and plants across urban and rural landscapes. A good project for individuals and classrooms of many different age levels, this project from Colby College and the National Science Foundation touches on biodiversity, invasive species, genetics, evolution, urban ecology and statistical analysis.
  5. The River Otter Ecology Project
    Be an Otter Spotter and take part in the first-known study of the status and ecology of Bay Area river otters, which can be observed in streams, rivers, and parks. River otters play an extremely important role in sustaining healthy wetlands, and the partners on this project include Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco State University, California State Parks, and the Marine Mammal Center. This page explains the River Otter Project for kids. There’s good news from early studies, too: Local populations of river otters are expanding.
  6. Project BudBurst
    Are you interested in plants and seasonal change? Project BudBurst participants map multiple plants around the country throughout the year, observing the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting, which provides scientists with information about climate change.
  7. Project Squirrel
    Urban and suburban scientists can join Project Squirrel, which observes squirrel populations to learn about their habitat, including the effect of people on squirrels. A free Project Squirrel app helps people get involved and share photos on the site.
  8. NASA Meteor Count
    “Every day, on average, more than 40 tons of meteoroids strike our planet,” according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Much of this comet dust disintegrates high up in Earth’s atmosphere, but some is visible in the form of meteors, or shooting stars, which are always wondrous to see. Learn more about the free Meteor Counter app, which uploads observations made from fields and backyards directly to NASA.

Want to get involved in a citizen science project through a local museum or other organization? Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland is offering a Coastal Redwood Ecosystem Project. California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco offers multiple citizen science opportunities that explore biodiversity.

Still looking for more fun citizen science projects? Check out SciStarter, UC Davis’ California Naturalist or Cornell’s Citizen Science Central.

Read Citizen Science, Part 1 – Summer Learning.

Susan Sachs Lipman (Suz) is the author of Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ activities for family fun and grew out of her blog, Slow Family Online. Slow Parenting and the book were named a 2012 Top 10 Parenting Trend by TIME Magazine. Suz has written for the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, the Christian Science Monitor’s Modern Parenthood blog, and many others.