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Seven Citizen Science Projects for Southern California Families

A small child looks up and reaches her hands up at a tall tree
It's time to get exploring! Even seemingly simple observations can make a big impact on large research projects.
Participating in community science shows your children that one small action can contribute to a larger impact, and by working together we can discover more about our shared community. And it can be as easy as going on a walk and taking pictures!
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Ever wanted to contribute to a groundbreaking scientific discovery? Your family can do just that by doing everyday activities like going walks around the neighborhood!

Children naturally want to make sense of their world, figure out how things work and discover the answers to even the smallest of questions. These are the building blocks for budding young scientists.

There are many ways we can nurture scientific interest for children. “Presenting children with an authentic, worthwhile and challenging problem can create an amazing opportunity for learning,” said early learning expert Katie Denton‑Walls in an article for the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Community science, sometimes called citizen science, allows families and scientists to work together to answer real-world questions and gather data with the easy snap of a picture from a simple camera or smartphone. Families explore their neighborhood, take pictures and submit that data they collected to scientists working on research projects. Organizations like NASA, the National Park Service and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) regularly enlist the help of volunteer families to contribute to discoveries.

Here are seven easy, family-friendly community science projects happening in Southern California your family can participate in.

Go Bird Watching!

Going on a neighborhood walk? Ever spot birds outside your window? Snap some pictures of them with your smartphone for the Celebrate Urban Birds project, and send the data to scientists at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

Track Rainfall

Looking out the window at a storm? You can become a volunteer for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, and gather data about rain, snow and hail to help gather data for weather forecasting and monitoring, severe weather alerts and climate studies.

Observe Wildlife Anywhere

Photograph plants, animals and other creatures during family walks, while looking out the window, or even while just being around the house! Use the iNaturalist app or iNaturalist.org to upload your observations and add them to a database of biodiversity that supports local and global research projects.

Embrace the Slimy

Snails and slugs, oh my! Snails and Slugs Living in Metropolitan Environments (SLIME) is a community science project from NHM that catalogs snails and slugs in Southern California. The museum recommends that you “look for snails and slugs in damp areas under bushes, among wood pieces in wood piles, between and under rocks or bricks, on tree bark, on plants, among leaves, and along wet sidewalks.” Then, take a focused picture of the snails and slugs you find and upload them to the SLIME iNaturalist page. Each snail or slug your family finds will be identified, cataloged and added to the museum’s permanent collection with your family listed as the collectors!

Be Part of the L.A. Nature Map Project

The L.A. Nature Map, hosted by NMH, is an interactive map that displays local plant and wildlife observations. Our Southern California region is a hotspot for urban biodiversity. With your help, we can show Angelenos and the world the diversity of nature all around us. You can contribute to this citizen science project by sending photos of plants and animals.

Get Squirrelly

See any squirrels in your neighborhood? The Southern California Squirrel Survey is a citizen-science project that looks for squirrels in the greater Southern California region. Participation is easy! All you need to do is look for squirrels in Southern California, take pictures of them and submit your photos to squirrelsurvey@nhm.org or by tagging #NatureinLA when posting your photos on social media.

Get Curious with “Elinor Wonders Why” on PBS KIDS

Cartoon from "Elinor Wonders Why" featuring three childlike animals (a bat, rabbit and elephant) in the forest. The rabbit and elephant are smelling flowers.
Elinor and her friends love exploring natural areas in their community. It also helps boost their science skills! | PBS KIDS

Help children make deeper connections to science with free games, episodes and preschool science activities from “Elinor Wonders Why,” a new series that aims to encourage children to follow their curiosity, ask questions when they don’t understand and find answers using science inquiry skills.

There are so many ways we can turn our everyday family activities into science!

Participating in community science shows your children that one small action can contribute to a larger impact, and by working together we can discover more about our shared community.

Resources

Experiencing Nature With Young Children: Awakening Delight, Curiosity, and a Sense of Stewardship, by A.S. Honig. Copyright © 2015 by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

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