The Next Generation of Citizen Scientists

One of our Forest Preschool classes working with their teacher to log their weekly phenology observations.

One of our Forest Preschool classes working with their teacher to log their weekly phenology observations.

Friends of Rye Nature Center provides opportunities for the general public to join citizen science programs. These citizen scientists collect data on various topics including tracking box turtles, monitoring American glass eels in the Blind Brook, counting birds for Project FeederWatch, and forest phenology. The data is compiled by our conservation team and sent to professional scientists for review and analysis. Traditionally, these programs have piqued the interest of senior citizens, college science majors, and high school volunteers; however, there is a new group of young citizen scientists, and they come in the form of Forest Preschoolers.

For years, one of our long-time volunteers has led groups to various trees on the Nature Center property. At each tree they would record cyclical and seasonal changes, including the approximate number seeds, leaves, and buds, as well as changing leaf colors and the dropping of seeds. Although our Forest Preschool students do not track each of the trees, we have picked one very special American beech tree that is our phenology focus.

Our preschool teachers created a chart that has only visuals since most of the children cannot read. The chart helps the children track leaf color, and the number of seeds, buds, and leaves, by simply circling the image that best matches the tree for each category. Once they complete their chart, they draw a picture of what the tree looks like and we add it to their phenology book. We visit our tree weekly, but we only complete our chart and drawing once a month. We will continue to monitor our beech tree for the remainder of the school year, and in June each child will get to take home their own book filled with data tracking the changes they witnessed our beech tree go through over nine months.

By doing activities like this with our preschoolers, we hope to encourage them not only to be life-long learners, but also future citizen scientists and nature lovers. In addition to developing basic observation and data collection skills, they are getting to know and appreciate a piece of nature that they can call their own.

-Alli Rogers, Education Director