When I was a kid, I took every opportunity I could to play with the flow of water. Living on the coast, as I did when I was young, we’d build berms to protect an area of sand from high tide (we were so noble). And when we failed, we’d catch the high tide waters behind the walls we’d built. We’d build damns and redirect water that had run-off from watered lawns or washed cars. We’d also build damns in creeks, like the busy little beavers we were. Little did I know that I was learning by feel, and developing a passion for, an area that I would continue to study more formally and work with more pragmatically throughout my adult life. My latest foray into playing with water and soil was preparing the berm and swale graywater system that now irrigates our front yard.

Our Graywater Swale and Berm System When it was First Completed

So, my tip for the day is go play with water, sand, sticks, rocks and mud with your kid. If you live near a place where water is flowing build a damn or little side pool. If you don’t, trickle water from a house in your yard (or driveway if your yard is all lawn and you’re not quite ready to get rid of that monocropped ecological nightmare) and dig little swales (i.e., canals) and build little berms (i.e., long mounds) to redirect where the waters flows. Make up specific challenges like “get the water to flow to that wildflower,” or “get the water to pool up over there.” And do some digging yourself. Set up situations and ask your kids to predict what is going to happen when you turn the water on (or off). While you’re at it, ask your child what’s happening to the water at different times. For example, trickle the water slowly enough that it is soaked up by the soil and ask your child where the water goes. Then turn the water up and ask them to describe what happens. Spread a little water out in pan towards the beginning of your play and check back in to describe what happened to that water. 

Here’s the story. There are basically only four things that can happen when water hits the ground: (1) it can pool up, (2) it can run-off, (3) it can infiltrate, and (4) it can evaporate. Don’t be afraid to teach your kids these big words. They often love the sound of them. I use the phrase, “can you say?” to introduce big words, as in “can you say infiltration?” While it’s no problem using big words with younger kids, just remember that being able to say a word and understanding what it means are not the same! Understanding evaporation is probably beyond the grasp of most kids until they hit or are at least close to their teen years (I don’t start teaching the molecular kinetic explanation of state transitions until my upper elementary nature-science classes).

So that’s it. Have fun and be careful out there!

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