Explore the outdoors with lake and river activities like pond dipping.
Explore the outdoors with lake and river activities like pond dipping.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

Kids love to explore their world and these lake and river activities for kids let them explore the largest part of the world -- after all, planet Earth is 70% water. Entire ecosystems thrive inside bodies of water. Whether you live near an ocean, lake, pond, stream, or river, where there's water, there's life.

The activities listed here are engaging ways for kids to explore what kinds of animals, vegetables, and minerals populate the lakes and rivers in their area.

What's In There?

Kids may not see the life forms at first, but a closer look will reveal the multitude of creatures living in nearby waterways.

Things Pan Out

Kids can pan for gold (and other treasures) like prospectors did in the days of the Gold Rush.

River Rock Mystery

If your child has ever wondered how hard rocks become smooth and rounded, they'll get a lot out of this activity.

Pond Dipping

Help your kids use a net to scoop up watery life forms, and then encourage them to examine their specimens.

Discover the life teeming within ordinary waterways in the article on the next page.

For more outdoor activities for kids:

What's In There?

What's in there? helps kids think objectively about the plants and animals that live in local streams and lakes. This lake and river activity is a fun way to awaken kids to these miniature ecosystems, and for kids to find out what life forms live in them.

What You'll Need:

  • Sand shovel and pail
  • Mesh or cheesecloth
  • Rubber flip-flop shoes

The next time you and your child head for the wilderness, bring the supplies listed above and adventurous minds. Wearing rubber flip-flops for safety (just in case something sharp is in the murky water), wade a few inches into the water with your child.

Dig just an inch or so into the dirt or gravel at the bottom of the water and fill the bucket halfway, including a little lake or river water in the mix. Now wade back to the edge.

Help your kids scoop about a cupful of the dirt and water onto their piece of mesh or cheesecloth, allowing the water to sift through. Ask your kids what they see. Maybe they won't see anything right away -- but maybe a tiny watery world they never knew existed will slowly appear. They'll have to dig in to find out.

Kids can explore their prospects and see if they pan out with the activity on the next page.

For more outdoor activities for kids:

Things Pan Out

See which things pan out in this lake and river activity.
See which things pan out in this lake and river activity.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

When curious kids examine a riverbed, they'll be fascinated to see how things pan out. This lake and river activity for kids will get young explorers panning for treasure, just like hundreds of thousands of Americans did during the gold rushes of the 19th Century.

­Hundreds of thousands of gold miners searched for their fortunes during the 1800s. Some of them went deep into caves to search for riches. Some panned for the gold they found. Your child can try their hand at gold panning too, using these easy tips.

What You'll Need:

  • Old pie pan
  • Cheesecloth
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Riverside

Gather an old pie or cake pan, a piece of fine cheesecloth, and a metal mesh strainer and head for the riverside.

First, show your little gold digger how to gather a scoop of riverbed dirt in a metal strainer. Then, help them rinse the finer dirt from the scoop using river water with the cake pan just beneath the strainer. The cake pan catches the finer dirt and metal that sifts through the strainer.

Help your child strain that finer material through cheesecloth, again using river water. Do they see any golden flakes? They might have struck gold, and even fool's gold is something special.

Untangle a watery mystery with the lake and river activity on the next page -- keep reading to get the scoop.

For more outdoor activities for kids:

River Rock Mystery

The river rock mystery shows young archaeologists how the smooth, well-rounded stones in riverbeds ended up where they are. Kids only need to find a few specimens and turn on their imaginations to reveal the story.

What You'll Need:

  • Bucket
  • Stream or riverbed

Encourage your child to examine a few of the stones they pick up in a bucket near the river. Then encourage them to imagine the journeys these stones have made downstream, and figure out why they're more rounded than their mountainside friends. Once they've found some smooth rocks, help your child follow their trail to find out how the stones got to the river and where they came from. Go with them up the gravel paths, to the high ridges and mountain sides. It's always interesting to imagine how a stone got where it is and how it came to look the way it does.

On the next page, discover how kids can use a net to learn more about the contents of a river or lake.

For more outdoor activities for kids:

Pond Dipping

Learn what's going on underwater -- go pond dipping!
Learn what's going on underwater -- go pond dipping!
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

When kids go pond dipping, they'll discover the complex world of pond life. One way kids can do this is to make a dip net and catch living organisms for observation.

Make­ a day of your pond dipping activity. Gather your supplies, pack a lunch, and spend a day learning about the ecosystem of a body of water nearby.

What You'll Need:

  • Stiff wire coat hanger
  • Broomstick
  • Heavy wood staples (the kind that are hammered in)
  • Tape measure
  • Waterproof tape
  • Safe scissors
  • Cheesecloth or wide-mesh nylon net
  • Needle and thread
  • Tall rubber boots
  • Large metal pan (such as an aluminum roasting pan)
  • Bucket

To make a dip net, help kids bend a stiff wire coat-hanger in the shape of a D, leaving the hook in the middle of the straight part of the D.

Straighten the hook and use heavy wood staples to fasten the straightened hook to the end of a broomstick. Fold the wire back over the last staple. Wrap the end in waterproof tape.

Help kids measure the distance around the wire frame. Cut some cheesecloth that width and 18 inches long. Sew the ends together into a tube. Stitch one end of the tube shut. Sew the open end of the tube to the frame by turning the edge over the frame then stitching the fabric to itself.

To use the dip net, put rubber boots on you and your kids and wade with them into a pond. Be careful not to wade in water deeper than your boots. Show kids how to hold the net in the water with the handle upright and the netting resting on the pond bottom. Have kids hold a bucket with a little water in it in their other hand.

Show kids how to move slowly through the water while gently moving the net up and down. Stop now and then and dump the contents of their nets into the bucket. After they've done several nettings, come ashore and dump the bucket into a wide pan. Add a little water so their animals can swim.

When kids are done examining their specimens, return the animals to the pond. Some pond animals (like our native turtles) are endangered because of over-collection.

For more outdoor activities for kids:

ABOUT THE ACTIVITY DESIGNERS: