A healthy world ocean is critical to our survival, but you don’t have to live near a teaming ocean to show how important all water is for every living thing. Help your children get their feet wet on a local level with a pond study.
When children use a hand lens or magnifying glass to get an up-close look at water samples, they’ll see the nearby pond in a whole new light. For starters, you’ll need a small net. The kind you can get at the pet store for transferring fish from one home to another is perfect. You’ll also need a white plastic bucket or another type of large container in solid white color, an eye dropper or a turkey baster (hands work too), and ice cube trays.
Prior to heading to the pond, talk with your children about where you will be going and any safety procedures they will need to follow. Dress for the experience: be sure the children have on old clothes that can get muddy. Be sure to have extra adults with you for your adventure.
Ponds are magnets for many kinds of animals. As you head out to the pond, you may be fortunate enough to glimpse some wildlife: perhaps a goose, muskrat or turtle. Encourage the students to observe the animal quietly. Ask them questions to help them observe the creature’s color, camouflage, movement, etc. How does this animal use the pond? At the pond site, ask questions about what they see, hear, and what kinds of critters they think might live in the water. How did the water get here and where might it go?
Before turning your children loose, demonstrate how they should get their nets down into the mucky leaf matter and detritus at the edge of a pond and scoop some of it into their nets. As they start collecting, they can dump the contents of their nets into the container, which should be filled with water from the pond. Let everything settle for a minute and then watch what happens.
You should see lots of young insects, tadpoles, and other macroinvertebrates moving around — including dragonfly, stonefly, and mayfly nymphs, plus crane fly and mosquito larvae, and predacious diving beetles. Have the children use an eye dropper, turkey baster, or even their hands to catch each critter and transfer them into their own section of the ice cube tray (also filled with water) so everyone can get a better look. When you’re done, make sure to release the creatures gently back into the water.
Pond Life (Golden Guide) is a great resource for identifying pond critters. You can also find a printable guide to most pond creatures here: pond critter identification. Explore the book search here on KinderNature for more pond resources.
If there is not a pond close enough to your school or learning site – be creative! Find a nearby pond and ask the owner / managing agency if a couple buckets of water and pond muck can be collected for a water study? Collecting the water samples the morning of your planned pond study would be best.
Do you need help locating a pond or pond study equipment? Your local naturalist is a great resource. Find your local county naturalist at mycountyparks.com. The county staff could also direct you to other environmental educators near you!
This activity was developed as a more local version of Growing Up WILD’s “The Deep Blue Sea.” The accompanying Healthy Me, Helping Hands, Art, and Music projects could be easily changed to fit in with Iowa’s freshwater ponds.