10 Featured Citizen Scientist Projects for Families

Citizen Scientists are Studying All Over the World

From ladybugs to sunflowers to birds to babies… there are a number of ways average families can participate as citizen scientists and time of year!

You’ve got to love technology! Never before in the history of time have people from all over the world been so easily able to learn about and participate in true science.

Citizen Scientist projects are research based investigations that involve regular people in actual research experiments. By engaging the general public, professional scientists are able to amass a huge amount of data. The observers and data collectors get to learn more about the scientific process and whatever the scientists are studying.

Often in this column I focus on events that are coming up in Western MA; however, the thought of having a list with all of my favorite citizen science projects in one place proved irresistible.

So, here is a sample list of family friendly, year round, citizen science projects that involve the natural world, and sound intriguing:

Spring into Summer:

The Great Sun Flower Project seeks to understand the pollinators that visit plants, especially sunflowers. You get to plant flowers, count how many bees stop by, and report it to the national database. You can read more at www.greatsunflower.org.

National Moth Week will get you outside at night. Citizen Scientists will get to contribute scientific data about moths. National Moth Week participants can help map moth distribution and provide needed information to the scientific community. There will be an event in New Salem on July 21. E-mail Sue Cloutier at cloutier@tiac.net for more information. Or visit this site: www.nationalmothweek.org.

Firefly Watch is sponsored by the Boston Museum of Science, Tufts University and the State College at Fitchburg. You can register today and be in the field, tonight! The researchers are seeking to track the fate of these amazing insects. With your help, they hope to learn about the geographic distribution of fireflies and their activity during the summer season. Fireflies also may be affected by human-made light and pesticides in lawns, so they hope to learn more about these effects. Read more at legacy.mos.org.


With The Great World Wide Star Count, you can explore the stars! During the month of October, join Citizen Scientists worldwide as they try to observe constellations after sunset. The study gauges the impact of light pollution on your ability to see the stars and constellations at night. Depending upon your location, you are assigned a specific constellation and a time to observe it. You check it out, note the brightness of the stars, and report it online. You can read more at www.windows2universe.org.


Do you want to see how global warming is actually affecting your life? Join Rink Watch. Geographers at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario created Rink Watch to share information about their local rinks and frozen ponds. Pin the location of your rink on the researchers’ map, and then each winter record every day that you are able to skate on it. The researchers will gather up all the information from all the backyard rinks and use it to track the changes in climate. Register at www.rinkwatch.org.

The 17th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count is sponsored by the Audobon Society. It takes place from Friday, February 14, through Monday, February 17, 2014. During the study, participants are asked to observe for at least 15 minutes, though they are welcome to observe for as long as they want. Learn more at birds.audubon.org.

Any Time of the Year

The Baby Laughter Project, from the University of London’s Birkbeck Babylab will study how babies learn about the world by studying early laughter in detail. If you are a parent with a child under two, you can take the survey. It takes about 15-20 minutes to complete. They are also interested in particular incidents that made your baby laugh. Who was present? What was so funny? If you have a particular instance of baby laughter, they welcome your “field reports.” More information is available at: babylaughter.net.

What kid doesn’t love a rock? The Rock Around the World Project is an attempt to understand the geological composition of the world by collecting rock samples from everywhere. When you send them a rock, they will tell you exactly what is in it, and enter the data on the world rock map. (http://ratw.asu.edu/)

Students’ Cloud Observations Online (S’COOL) is a NASA project to help understand how clouds affect our atmosphere and how they respond to satellites that pass overhead.
Citizen scientists participating in S’COOL 1) obtain satellite overpass schedules, 2) observe and report clouds within +/-15 minutes of the satellite’s passage. Participants receive a detailed flight plan of satellite passages. scool.larc.nasa.gov.

If you want to look up other Citizen Scientists opportunities, check out these sites:

Citizen Scientists: You get to help a cause, learn, and be outside all at the same time. What a deal!


Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family.  She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology.  Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Dan Zen]

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