The recent and rapid cancellation of events and school closures have left many of us with spinning heads — and some time on our hands. The reality of many days at home will soon settle in, and for those of us with children at home, we will quickly be frustrated by the need to occupy them with activities that stimulate their brains and engage them in a positive way.
When Arizona teachers went on strike in 2018, I struggled to work from home while fighting the uphill battle against YouTube and video games that continually beckoned to my elementary-school-age boys.
Citizen science programs offer myriad options for something to do that is both meaningful and educational. This might be especially welcome for parents home with schoolchildren for the coming days or even weeks.
On SciStarter’s website, you can search and explore over 3,000 different project by location, topic, and age level. Many projects include activities you can do from the comfort of your own home, and range from classifying galaxies to transcribing 19th-century ship’s logs of the weather, providing important data that support scientists’ abilities to model weather and forecast the next storm.
Want to get outside? Now is an ideal time to start looking closely at the plants and animals in your yard. You can track seasonal changes such as budburst and flowering through a program my organization runs called Nature’s Notebook, track birds using eBird, and log of all of the species you can find in your yard using iNaturalist.
The especially early arrival of spring plant and animal activity across much of the U.S. provides a great opportunity to document the unique features of this year.
All of these programs are excellent ways to get your kids away from the draw of video game consoles — at least for a bit — and have the added benefit that the observations that you contribute are used to support scientific discovery.
Many projects are well-suited for K-12-aged children. Giving my boys something constructive to do helped us all out during this challenging period. During the teacher’s strike of 2018, I got my boys involved in making observations on a few trees in our backyard using the Nature’s Notebook app on my phone.
We — well, OK, I — have kept at it since, and by comparing the observations I’ve made over this period, I can see clearly that the scarlet globemallow plants are flowering much earlier this spring than they have in the past few years. Now that my boys are going to be spending more time at home in the coming weeks, I’m going to get them back in the habit of making these observations with me. And hopefully we can even start a conversation about why the globemallows might be flowering so much earlier this year.
I don’t know what to expect for the coming weeks. But I do anticipate that at some point, I’ll need to have some constructive and brain-stimulating options for luring my kids away from screens. I’ll be looking to SciStarter to help me find some good ideas. These activities will be good things for us to do in the short term, and who knows, might lead to something that we adopt more permanently.
Theresa Crimmins is director of the USA National Phenology Network and a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. She is a longtime citizen science enthusiast.
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