Kids & Nature Connections: Go with the flow

Submitted on Thu, 06/16/2016 - 13:33

This article originally ran in The Wenatchee World in June 2016.

It’s starting to get hot outside, which means families are flocking to rivers & lakes to beat the heat. When temperatures rise into the 80s, all my hikes end in places to swim! Spending time at the lake or river with your kids can be fun – and it can also help them improve their understanding of how the world works. So next time your kids look like they’re searching for something to do, try some of these activities to help them learn more about rivers, lakes, and our drinking water.

How do rivers work?

Kids naturally are drawn to affecting the flow of small streams of water. How many times did you build tiny dams and dig out channels in the sand when you were a kid? This is a great way to introduce children to some of the major ideas of how water moves and affects the world.

For example, with your guidance, kids can learn many things, including: 1) that water flows downhill (a fact that a surprising number of adults don’t comprehend), 2) water can pick up and move objects, and the faster the water the bigger the object, 3) that moving water erodes the earth around it, and 4) that when water moves the earth around it, those changes in turn affect the movement of the water. All of these are important concepts they will need later in life.

Just make sure you pick a spot that won’t be impacted – a sandy spot is best - and do your best to restore the land to its original condition after they’re done playing!

Explore the riparian zone

There’s an amazing amount of life in our rivers and ponds that we don’t notice right away. One way that we can find out what’s going on under the surface is by exploring the riparian zone – the land right next to the river or stream. The riparian zone usually has lusher vegetation than areas farther away from the stream, and provides habitat for all kinds of wildlife.

See how many types of plants your kids can find next to the shore or bank, and compare that to twenty or thirty feet away. Are the plants they’re finding different? How so?

Lift up rocks and search for signs of life underneath them, or use a small net to find and catch aquatic insects. How many different kinds can they find? Did you know also that healthier, cleaner waters can support more types of aquatic insects – scientists even use the types of insects they find to determine pollution levels. Always be sure to return the rocks to where you found them and release the aquatic insects back into the water after a few minutes.

Sit and listen. How many different sounds can they hear? Often, the riparian zone attracts an abundance of birds and other wildlife that can be a sight to see.

There are hundreds of other activities that can help connect your children to nature next to rivers and lakes. I hope these help you get started making the most of the hot season!