Monitoring for the MLMP with kids can be fun and exciting. Many volunteers monitor with their kids, neices/nephews, students or neighbors. This scenario outlines two different situations for monitoring with children. If after reading this, you have any questions about how you can include your own children or group of children in MLMP monitoring, please feel free to contact us.
In addition to the tips below, a curriculum developed by the Univeristy of Minnesota Extension in partnership with MLMP, called Driven to Discover, provides additional structure and guidance to monitoring for MLMP with youth. This program is geard to youth aged 10-14 in informal learning settings, such as at nature centers, museums, summer/after school programs, community ed, or clubs (scouts, 4H). Check the curriculum out at the University of Minnesota Extension website.
Monitoring with young family members, neighbors, or other children:
In this situation, you likely know the children very well and the group you are working with is typically pretty small. No matter the age, you should have them practice each of the skills that they will need for monitoring with you. Depending on many factors (site size, surroundings, age of children, level of understanding, or ability to record data independently), it’s up to you to decide to monitor side by side, or to divide and conquer. Use your best judgement based on the group that you are working with.
Teach them how to identify milkweed and monarch eggs and larvae, and how to check the milkweed plant without squishing or knocking off monarchs. If they have a hard time identifying instars or milkweed species, work with them as you monitor throughout the summer. You should always be the final judge on identification until you are confident they can do it without help. Kids pick things up fast, especially if they’re interested, so keep things fun.
Teach them how to record data on the MLMP activity datasheets. You can determine whether or not this is something your group can handle, or if it should be introduced later when they have more experience. If you will be the one recording the data, make sure that you are letting the children know what you are doing and why it is important to keep detailed notes. The MLMP training resources page has some documents that might be helpful for you.
Decide if you will be monitoring together or if you will need to divide and conquer. If you need to split up, see steps 2 and 3 in the next section. If dividing, you will need to give clear instructions for the territory each team is supposed to cover and how they should record data.
Monitor! Use your judgement for whether or not you think the child(ren) could record their own data with accuracy. You may start the season recording the data yourself, but by the end, they may have the confidence and competency to do it too. If you’re not sure, start by letting them record data on their own while you are recording separately and compare them at the end. Always encourage them to take detailed notes, and ask questions when they don’t know!
Enter your data. This can be complicated for young children, so will likely be up to you, unless you feel the children you monitor with are able to help with online data entry through the MLMP website.
Monitoring with students or young volunteers:
In this situation, you may be seeing these children on a regular basis, such as in school, during an after school program, summer camp, or a youth program through a local organization like a nature center or church. You may work with a few children, or many. If just a few, follow the guidelines listed in the previous section. If you have many children, follow the steps and guidelines below.
Teach them how to identify milkweed and monarch eggs and larvae, and how to check the milkweed plant without squishing or knocking off monarchs. We’ve had volunteers develop and use a “certification” system, with a simple test or assessment that certifies them as an “expert identifier” of milkweed and monarchs. We’ve also had volunteers use a mentorship model, where older or more experienced children are paired with younger, less experienced children for the monitoring season. They learn and monitor together.
Teach them how to record data on your preferred MLMP-provided data sheet. We’ve found that young children find using Datasheet 1A easiest (larger handwriting, less detailed observations). If you are working with older children, they may enjoy using Datasheet 1C, which collects similar information but is more detailed. The MLMP training resources page has some useful documents. You can also use the same certification system or buddy system mentioned in the previous step.
Divide your site. This is especially important if you have many children who are monitoring with you because there will need to be clear section boundaries and instructions to avoid groups monitoring the same plants. If you are monitoring all milkweeds on your site, or monitoring your whole site systematically (counting every nth plant), section off parts of it and assign the parts to an individual or group of children. If you are running random transects, you can have the children or groups of children take turns on each transect. You will have to test a few different approaches to find what works best with your group
Using the buddy system, establish small groups (2 or 3) and make sure that each person has a defined job: recording, identifying, etc. You should have only one recorder per group, but multiple group members could be providing the recorder with observations to note on the datasheet. Encourage all group members to double check each other’s identifications!
Enter your data. Depending on the number and age of the children you are working with, you may need to be the one responsible for entering your site data on the MLMP website. Encourage students to follow along with this process and stress the importance of sharing your findings with the broader science community.