inaturalist citizen science for kids

iNaturalist – easy Citizen Science for Kids

Imagine you are out and about on a family adventure.  Suddenly one of the kids finds a crazy cool bug.  Never seen one like that before!  What is it?  Do they usually live around here?  Wow, I sure wish there was a website where I could record that I saw this amazing insect and maybe learn more about it….

What’s the project about?

Well your dreams have come true!  (Because I know we’ve all had this situation right?)  iNaturalist is our family favorite citizen science project.  The idea is to monitor biodiversity (the variety of living things in a certain place) from individual observations and help people learn about nature.  So you can say I saw this thing, at this time, in this place, and help identify what it it.

It is extra easy and portable because you can use the website or they have an app for iOS or Android.

How do I help?

Here is all you need to do to use it with your kids:

  1. Hand you kids a camera.
  2. Head outside to take pictures of anything living or is a sign of something living.  That includes: animals, plants, bugs, lichen,  mushrooms, bird calls, animal tracks, scat (that is poop in scientist speak).
  3. Upload your photos to the app or website.  Just record the time and place when you saw it.
  4. Identify the observation yourself or let the community help you.  Even if you can only identify it at a general level (example: it’s a butterfly or moth) it is a beginning step to let others identify it.
  5. Help identify other community observations.
girl taking pictures

Pretty easy right?  You are just documenting what you see when you are out and about.  You don’t even have to know what it is!

And you don’t need to discover a new species or anything crazy.  Even taking pictures of weeds and common things you see all the time will help in the biodiversity count.


Instead of contributing you can also use the site just as a user.  That might look something like this.

  1. Head outside with the kids.
  2. Forget your camera but find something interesting.  Wonder what that might be?
  3. Look on the iNaturalist website for Guides from your area or similar observations.

There are plenty of extra amazing things you can do with the sight even when you are not submitting observations.


Who is actually using this data?

I love to see how data from citizen science projects are ACTUALLY BEING USED!  Luckily, this is easier with iNaturalist than with other projects.

Everyone can access this data since is a citizen project.  You can see a summary of 2017 stats here.  Scientists and researchers can easily export data as well or grab it from a collaborative biodiversity database.  iNaturalist’s research-grade observations (that means they are good ones!) have been cited in over 76 peer reviewed research papers.

So… yeah.  This data is actually being used not just sitting around gathering dust.

They even have a very handy Teacher’s Guide to help implement iNaturalists in classrooms.   The guide as an impressive list of teachers and classes that have successfully done this.  If you search the internet, you can find a lot of examples of using iNaturalist for education – it is just perfect for that!

Many large organizations are using iNaturalist as well.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has a project organized to collect observations from the Wildlife Refuge System.

Overall we love it!

We give this project a big 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ for ease of use for families and actually making a difference in the world.  If you want to dip you toes into the world of citizen science, this is the perfect place to start.

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