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Nature Study at the River

Updated on January 28, 2016

Rocks, Erosion, Wildlife, and More

Rivers are a freshwater biome full of life and motion. And they make fantastic places for nature walks. Grab a bucket and a net, and let's go to the river to explore.

After a few visits to your local river, lake, or stream, you may want to learn more about what you're seeing. Use any questions you and your children have as a starting point for your study. Learn the vocabulary associated with a river or stream and use those words on your next nature walk.

Here is a great resource to start with:

River Observations

When you're at the river, have fun safely exploring the shallow places and the river banks.

And don't forget that the hike to and from the river is part of the experience too!

Taking along a bucket and some type of strainer can be very helpful in studying river or pond life. Scoop up some of the dirt or gravel at the bottom of the river's edge. Back on the shore, pour your dirt and water mixture through cheesecloth or nylon stocking. You may find interesting creatures or pretty rocks in the mix.

Another fun activity is to wade in the water wearing either sandals or boots and see what you can catch with a net. Take a bucket to keep your creatures alive for observation. (And be sure to return them to the water after you've studied them.) Here are directions for making your own dip net.

Chart the seasons of the river. When is the water highest and lowest? When do you first spot certain flowers blooming or tadpoles?

Look for riffles -- where the water is flowing over rocks

Look for runs--where the river runs without interference.

Diagram what you see in your nature journal.

Study the riparian zone -- the land area bordering a river. Rivers with steep banks may have a riparian zone only a few feet wide. What plants grow there?

The United States EPA shares some activity ideas and notetaking forms for your budding river scientists in this PDF.

Rocks and Erosion

For some free printables, try these links:

Forces That Shape the Earth: Wind, Water and Erosion Lesson Plan

Erosion crossword and wordsearch (DOC files)

Glencoe Earth Science Worksheetsabout Surface Water, Groundwater, Water Wars, and Ocean Shoreline.

Weathering and Erosion activity guide from Mammoth Cave National Park

Save your rocks for a collection. You can arrange them in a glass or wooden bowl to keep on display. We like to take particularly pretty ones and spray them with clear varnish for that wet look.

Rock Tumbler

Thumler's Tumbler Rock Polisher
Thumler's Tumbler Rock Polisher

Tumble your river rocks to a polished sheen. The process takes several weeks to achieve but is worth the wait.

Getting an inexpensive rock tumbler doesn't pay in the long run. Invest in a heavy duty one like this that will last.


Rivers & Lakes - a living book

Nature Hide and Seek: Rivers & Lakes
Nature Hide and Seek: Rivers & Lakes

A beautifully illustrated book showing the river and lake biome.


River Wildlife

Each river, stream, or pond has its own unique ecosystem, so you will have to find what animals exist where you play. But here are some common water animals to study. Create your own unique food chain diagram based on what you see.

Tadpoles, Polliwogs, Frogs & Toads

Frog Life Cycle Observation Record

Lesson Plans with some nice outline graphics

Read about the shrimp life cycle here.

Printables for River Study

Blogging About River Walks

Great Rivers of the World

Read about the four greatest rivers of the world:

  • The Nile River
  • The Amazon River
  • The Yangtze River
  • The Mississippi River


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