I just love when I can teach my kids in a fun way without making it feel like learning! Check out this cool way of learning about the ecosystem, weather, and catch and release through play!
Growing up in Massachusetts, we had a pond in our backyard. One of our favorite pastimes was exploring the water, catching different creatures (always releasing them back, of course),
watching how the water levels changed throughout the year, what effects the weather had on it, and learning about the ecosystem in a hands-on way. We moved to Pennsylvania and suddenly lost our favorite things to do, but after adjusting to the new area, we found something similar; a small creek right down the street.
Fast forward about 14 years. We live 4 houses down from a creek (actually the same creek just a different part of it), and it has become our kids’ favorite thing to do. We all go down, buckets in hand, to put our feet in the water, turn over rocks to look for creatures, and learn about the ecosystem and how weather can change the water flow.
We have caught all different colored and sized crayfish and have even seen one molting its shell. They love watching salamanders slither around and lifting rocks close by the edge of the creek to find them. We have caught tadpoles and frogs. The kids have learned about the transformation process of how the tadpole grows into a frog. I am hoping that this year, we can see a polliwog so they can see the middle step up close. We have also caught minnows, small fish, dragonfly larvae, and lots of bugs (EWW! But they are so fascinated by them). All of our children are so interested in just watching the creatures swim around – learning about them, where they live, and how they grow. Their FAVORITE part is after we are all done, they get to release everything in the bucket back into the stream. They put them back into their homes, count them as they are swimming away, then wave and yell bye at each one. This is also my favorite part because I want this catch and release respect for nature to carry over to when they are older.
Recently, the children have learned that when we have different kinds of weather, the amount of water in the creek changes. After a very long, hot week with little to no rain, when we went to the creek there were only a few small pools of water. Of course, the kids were all very worried about the fish and other critters that live in the water. We were able to show them how most of the creatures had moved down to the small pools that were left. They could see that now these little pools were teeming with all the creatures that are normally scattered around the whole area. We were also able to teach them that some of the creatures have the ability to survive in the mud without water for short periods of time. This fact came in very handy when a few hot days later, all of the water had dried up, leaving small spots of mud behind.
Then it happened… We had a HUGE storm. Instead of just filling the little creek the kids were used to, it created a roaring river that came very close to flooding up over the banks. Without us having to explain it, the children picked up on it right away that since we had so much rain, it the creek had filled right back up so much that there was now too much water. For three days, the water flow was far too fast for us to go down like we normally do. Instead, we picked up small sticks, stood on one side of the bridge, threw the sticks into the water, and went to the other side to watch how fast the water was moving. We also used this as an opportunity to teach the kids a little about water safety and how when the water is moving that fast, even if it looks shallow, to stay far away.
After a few days, the creek finally calmed back down to its normal flow, and we were able to resume our usual activities. When we got back down to the bank, the kids made a whole new discovery; the torrents of water had changed the way the area we were so used to looked. The deeper spots were a bit deeper. The small patch of reeds in the middle had been flattened and washed partially away. The banks had little rocks and sticks scattered all over. There were now sandy, soft spots with less rocks. The kids were amazed how the water could change the creek so much. Now every time there is a storm, the kids get very excited to get to explore the creek all over again to see how eveything has changed. I can only hope this wonder and love of exploring new things grows with them.