When my boys were little, we did a lot of exploring of their environment, both through free-play and wandering, and with activities that helped us dig a little deeper. I think you’ll enjoy exploring water with your child.
By following a local waterway we discovered what lived there, what the critters said about water quality, and where our water comes from. This was one of our favorite activities.
Pull out your nature detective hat and your magnifying glass and get ready to follow a babbling brook or a coursing creek.
In Your Pack
- Nature journal and pencil
- Small containers with clear lids
- Magnifying glass
- Macroinvertebrate identification chart: this one and this one are good.
- Binoculars (optional)
Find a small creek, stream, or other waterway. Anything from a raging river to municipal water supply running through a city will work. Walk along the creek—or in it, if it is safe—and take note of what surrounds the creek.
Are there big trees or willows dipping their roots in the water? Is your creek surrounded by concrete or rip rap? Record this in your nature journal.
Do you see or hear any animals? Perhaps birds, squirrels, deer or dogs? Squat down and check the grass or shrubs for insects. Even if you don’t see any animals you may see signs of animals. Look for tracks, browsed branches, fur or scat. Record this in your nature journal.
Now look in the creek. You may see water boatman skimming the surface, leaves floating downstream, fish close to the bank or a dipper bobbing on a rock.
Take your net and dip it in the creek. Put anything you catch in one of the containers. The containers should already have creek water in them. Hold the net downstream of a rock, one edge touching the creek bed. Gently lift the rock and see what floats into the net. Take samples from several different places in the stream. Compare what you’ve found to macroinvertebrate cards or an identification book, if you have one.
When you are done examining the critters and making notes in your journal, put them back in the stream as close as possible to where you found them.
Walk down (or up) the stream, taking samples and making observations as you go.
Taking it farther
Using a map, figure out where your creek starts (called the headwaters) and where it ends. If possible, visit both places. Note the differences in how the creek looks at its headwaters versus where it joins another body of water.
If your creek is in an urban or suburban area, call your municipality and find out where your water comes from. Visit the headwaters and if possible, find out where the water goes after leaving your house. Municipalities will have a list of drains and their entrances and exits. You may be able to take a tour of your local water works.
A macroinvertebrate is a critter that is large enough to see with the naked eye (macro) and does not have an internal skeleton (invertebrate). This includes arthropods (insects, mites, scuds, stoneflies, mayflies, and crayfish), molluscs (snails, limpets, mussels and clams), annelids (segmented worms), nematodes (roundworms), and platyhelminthes (flatworms).
Learn more about macroinvertebrates and why we should care about them from Utah State University Extension.
More creek investigation activities from Kids in the Creek.
What macroinvertebrates tell us about water quality from About Education.