Becoming a citizen scientist
My favorite citizen science project is Project FeederWatch
Citizen science projects have proliferated over the last few years, harnessing the power of laypeople to be the eyes and ears of scientists.
We like being part of these citizen science projects.
First, it's a concrete way for us to help conservation efforts.
Second, it has sharpened our observational skills, prompting us to notice habitat happenings that we might never have noticed otherwise. It has greatly contributed to our enjoyment of our yard.
Although there are quite a few citizen science projects that could take us out and about, we like to participate in the ones we can do right in our own yard, some even from the comfort of our family room or in front of our computer.
Here's a list of citizen science projects I've found. No one could participate in all of them, but there's sure to be at least one that would appeal to anyone. (This is the same list linked to in the sidebar.)
For most citizen science projects, we've found that we've had to make a little extra effort up front. Sometimes, it even takes us more than one season to get our act together. Usually, we end up with a data entry sheet we've personalized for our own situation. (I'm providing some of these data sheets on the appropriate pages, so you can modify them for your own yard.) Once we're in the groove, though, it usually involves just a little time each week for data collection.
Usually, it's necessary describe certain aspects of our observation area, but that's just once a year. (There's a handy tool to determine the latitude and longitude in the sidebar.) Generally, this initial data gathering is interesting since it helps us be more observant about our yard.
Children and citizen science
How I wish we knew about these projects when our children were growing up! It's a powerful way for children to learn about real science. Doing science is much more meaningful than reading about science in a textbook. In fact, many of these projects have materials specifically developed for children. But even more important, being citizen scientists helps develop a sense of stewardship of the natural world —a trait that will be even more important in the future in which our children and their children will live.