Log in
Summer 2024

Worried about the summer slide? UF/IFAS experts share options to fuel young minds


 A well-deserved vacation from instruction and exams doesn’t have to come with the summer slide -- that time when summer learning loss can occur, according to the U.S. Department of Education

There are plenty of ways to engage kids at any age during these lazy summer days, say University of Florida experts. Here are a few ideas to keep your youth engaged while fueling their minds.

Activate the citizen scientist young minds anywhere. 

Mobile devices can bring out the scientists at any age. The next time you encounter an unusual bird, plant, tree or reptile -- whether you are on a family vacation or just taking a walk in the park -- encourage the kids to use their mobile devices to check them out on iNaturalist and Ask IFAS.

“You are making important contributions to scientific data researchers need to promote wildlife conservation and much more,” said Corey Callaghan, an assistant professor at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center who leads a research team of global ecologists. “It merges the best of all worlds when you can combine scientific discovery, an app, family time and a little light reading that tells you all about the insects, plants, birds and reptiles they are observing and reporting with Ask IFAS as a resource,” he said. 

In their latest Ask IFAS Extension publications, “Magnificent moths: A guide to begin “mothing” and contributing your observations to iNaturalist” and “Herping adventures: A guide to exploring and documenting reptiles and amphibians with iNaturalist” Callaghan and team provide insights on how you can be a part of the conservation work as they call on current and aspiring nature and science fans, people of all ages and education backgrounds and community scientists to observe and submit pictures of wild plants, animals and fungi using the free mobile app iNaturalist

“By documenting and identifying moths, we gain valuable insights into the biodiversity and health of ecosystems. Individual observations of moths help scientists track moth population trends, identify species at risk and study the impacts of environmental changes on their populations,” he said. 

Meanwhile, reptiles are often misunderstood and feared, likely due to their secretive nature and the perceived danger of venomous snakes and poisonous frogs, added Brittany Mason, data management analyst for the research group.

“Learning how to observe and document reptiles and amphibians, also known as herps, will open a new-found appreciation for this group of diverse animals and contribute to our understanding of their biodiversity and spatial distribution. This knowledge is critical to developing effective management and conservation practices for this often-overlooked group,” Mason said. 

The opportunity is a valuable experience for kids in increasing their observation skills while helping their local and not-so-local scientists.

Check out Florida 4-H in your county.

There are plenty of activities to keep youth ages 5 to 18 busy with Florida 4-H. As the nation’s largest youth development organization of Florida Cooperative Extension -- a part of UF/IFAS -- it reaches both boys and girls through 4-H clubs, special-interest groups and short-term projects. 

New to the 4-H options is CLOVER, provided by the National 4-H Council. Filled with interactive activities and content in collaboration with universities throughout the United States, parents and guardians can choose from more than 190 activities that explore STEM, healthy living, citizenship, leadership and agriculture. 

“Clover is an amazing free resource for parents and kids that is accessible anywhere through the mobile app and website. It removes barriers to 4-H learning opportunities and hopefully sparks youth interest in science, healthy living, and citizenship,” said Melinda Souers, a 4-H agent at UF/IFAS Extension Orange County who supports STEM, workforce readiness, school enrichment programs and more. 

To access CLOVER, families create a free account that gives them access to this resource supported by partnerships with one hundred top-tier universities.

Check out your local UF/IFAS Extension.

With offices in all 67 Florida counties, UF/IFAS Extension is never far away. You can locate your Extension with this link and check out what’s on tap on their websites. Each UF/IFAS Extension is buzzing with activities and programs throughout the year for everyone to enjoy.

Take St. Lucie County for example. The UF/IFAS Extension office there has partnered with the St. Lucie County Audubon Society and the St. Lucie County Library System for a unique waterfront project. Join the Downtown Fort Pierce Waterfront Birding Bioblitz.   

This bioblitz will be conducted continuously throughout 2024. Visitors and residents in the downtown area can take photos of the amazing bird diversity in the Indian River Lagoon, breakwater islands and shoreline and upload their sightings to the birding bioblitz project on iNaturalist.  Photos taken with phones and uploaded to this iNaturalist project will need to have location settings turned on so photos will include geomatic metadata. As part of this project, patrons of the St. Lucie County library system can visit the Kilmer Branch Library and check out a birding backpack to aid in their observations.

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries and all Florida residents. 

For more information, go to ifas.ufl.edu.

4-H is the youth development program of the land-grant university system and Cooperative Extension System. The program provides hands-on educational programs and experiences for youth ages 5 to 18 with the objective of developing youth as individuals and as responsible and productive citizens. In Florida, 4-H is administered by the University of Florida/IFAS Extension and Florida A&M University.

For more information, go to florida4h.org.

Florida 4H Club, UF/IFAS, University of Florida, Summer, Citizen Scientist, Young Minds, How can I get my child involved in UF/IFAS or the 4H Club?


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here