Turn Off the Video Games and Turn Your Kids into Nature Reporters

Boy using binoculars as a nature reporterWhat to do with the kids during the summer? Consider turning them into nature reporters! Image: North Cascades National Park/Flickr

When your kids whine, “I’m borrrrrred” during school breaks, sign into plant and animal tracking websites and teach them about nature.

If you’re looking for something constructive for kids to do during school breaks and get them to help you with yardwork and gardening, turn them into junior environmental reporters by logging onto websites that track the comings and goings of plants and animals.

These tracking sites depend on participants to report when they see a particular bud blooming or hummingbird humming as a way to determine how environmental factors — temperature, rain, whatever — are changing established growing and migration patterns.

Your kids will learn how to identify creatures large and small, understand the growing stages of plants, and appreciate the inextricable link between man and nature. At the very least, you’ll recruit a grunt worker (think weeding!) and unglue them from their video games.

Here are some reporting sites to check out.

Project BudBurst: BudBurst is a national network of people who monitor plants as the seasons change and collect important ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting — called “phenophases.” Scientists use the data to learn how individual plant species are responding to climate change. You can make single reports or keep a running log of what you see.


Hummingbirds.net: Hummingbirds are Nature’s sideshow — humming, darting, dive-bombing miniatures that are a riot to watch and feed. Your kid can help track of the Ruby-throated hummingbird’s migration by contributing to the site’s map, which indicates when the little darlings show up throughout the U.S. Hummingbirds.net also tracks hummingbird festivals around the U.S., a novel family vacation destination. More: Great projects for kids that attract birds to your backyard.


Journey North: This site — and mobile app — turns your child into a field biologist who can report sighting everything from monarch butterflies to singing frogs. Your child also can view maps that document other sightings. What better way to learn by doing?

Journey North

Project FeederWatch: Thousands of FeederWatchers count the birds that arrive at their feeders from November through April, and report the information to the tracking project, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Participants receive the project’s annual summary publication, Winter Bird Highlights. Sign ups for the 2012-2013 season are underway now. A $12 to $15 donation is required to receive the data entry kit.


What home and garden projects have you enlisted your kids to do? How do you keep them busy during school vacations?