The summer heat likely has your kids begging to go to the pool or play with a sprinkler. Water is undoubtedly the best way to cool down while still taking the chance to play outdoors. It’s also the perfect opportunity to understand how everything around us—the plants, the bugs, the animals—loves water too!
From the birds splashing in your backyard birdbath to the plants you water each day in your garden, water is all around us and serves an important purpose. Teaching the water cycle is easy to do any day during the summer.
What is Water? (Without the chemistry!)
As with any outdoor lesson—get them thinking. Talk about all of the senses. What color is water? Does it smell? What does it feel like?
Then ask where we see water—oceans, ponds, puddles, rivers—do those bodies of water differ in size or color? Do we ever see water come from the sky?
Rain and Teaching the Water Cycle
Have them look up at the clouds and explain that those big fluffy white things contain tiny droplets of water—when the water gets too heavy, they release as rain. As that rain falls, it waters our plants and refills all of our lakes and oceans. Rain is a great place to start teaching the water cycle.
How do Clouds Get Water?
And here’s the neat part—our lakes, oceans, and rivers all send water back to the clouds! On a sunny day, the heat from the sun causes water to evaporate—a process where water turns into a vapor and rises up into the air.
As our water rises high up into the air towards the sky, it starts to cool down and turn back into water. This is called condensation. We can see condensation back on land when we put really cold water into a glass, and the outside of the glass starts to drip!
If the water gets too cold, ice forms.
Completing the Water Cycle
So up in the sky, as the droplets turn back to the water, or sometimes tiny ice particles, they start to stick together to form a cloud. When enough water gathers, it rains, and the process starts over!
On the next rainy summer day, ask your kids if they remember what is happening up in the sky.
Teaching the Water Cycle- How it Affects the Planet
Now we know our planet recycles water- but why? It’s time to explore why water is such a valuable resource for Earth.
We know that we get thirsty, especially when it’s really hot outside, and so do many animals! That’s because our bodies are made up of a lot of water that needs to be replenished. If we get too warm outside, we start to sweat and lose water, so staying hydrated is important.
When it’s really hot, we might start to sweat. This is the body’s way of keeping us from getting overheated. Playing in water (pool or sprinkler) will also help us cool down and is perfect for a warm summer day.
Water as a Habitat
Water is vital for the survival of many of Earth’s species, but not just because they are thirsty. Many animals actually need water to breathe.
Have your children list off animals that live underwater—fish are the big ones. Fish can’t breathe on land like we do; they need the water to breathe. Not only that, water is where they live full time. Ponds and lakes all serve as important habitats for many fish, amphibians (frogs, salamanders), and invertebrates (all those animals without bones- like insects!).
But the best way to really get a handle on aquatic life is to visit them at their homes…
Outdoor Exploration to Teach the Water Cycle
The easiest way to teach the water cycle is by letting children explore it in a variety of ways.
If you have a pond, lake, or even puddle nearby—pay it a visit with your kids! (But don’t forget bug spray because those pesky—but essential—mosquitoes we learned about last month LOVE water!)
*When dealing with water, it is important to practice outdoor safety rules. Water is slippery and can be particularly dangerous for anyone that doesn’t yet know how to swim. Always keep a close eye on your little ones if playing near bodies of water.
Just a few minutes near a body of water surrounded by trees will show you what an active ecosystem it is. There is so much for kids to see and hear, and they will likely find an endless number of exciting things to discover.
Explore Water Together
As with any outdoor exploration, remind your kids to respect nature by not being too loud or destructive- watch where they walk and the things they touch.
Play “I Spy” if you’re not ready to get too close to the water. If you want your kids to have the full sensory experience, plan on them getting wet by bringing the right shoes and clothing. With a ponding net (similar to an insect net), a bucket, and a magnifying glass, your kids will have the opportunity to see exactly what is living beneath the murky surface.
Teaching the water cycle doesn’t need to be complicated at all, especially in the summer! Our lives revolve around water in so many ways making it very easy to appreciate its importance. Summer is also a great time to discuss the many states of water—watch an ice cube turn to water and evaporate into the air. Or freeze water into ice (works well with a popsicle!).
And as your kids start to appreciate water in all its forms and habitats, remember to take the safety pledge to protect our Earth!