During a family vacation last year, Sarah and Greg Newman took their kids to a butterfly garden in Wisconsin, where they learned about monarch butterflies, a vital but rapidly disappearing pollinator. They also learned about the garden’s monarch rearing program—known as the caterpillar lab—in which volunteers help caterpillars to grow, pupate, and emerge as butterflies.
The monarch rearing program is one example of a rapidly growing effort around the world to encourage everyday volunteers to contribute to the scientific process, which is collectively known as citizen science (or, sometimes, community science). And because it requires no scientific background, the activity is a perfect way for kids to explore the world around them and contribute to efforts that can help protect the planet and make other discoveries.
“Our kids, who are five and two, love all things nature,” says Sarah Newman, a research associate at Colorado State University and community engagement strategist at CitSci.org, a group that supports scientists who run these projects. “Apps like iNaturalist—or Seek, its kid-friendly offshoot—allow them to participate in the observation process.”