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Nature Study at the River
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:
- This Habitat Assessment PDF has lots of photographs, vocabulary words, and diagrams related to streams and rivers.
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:
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.
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
A beautifully illustrated book showing the river and lake biome.
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
Read about the shrimp life cycle here.
Printables for River Study
- River Coloring Pages
Use these as a starter for nature journal pages to record what you saw at the river.
- Rivers Minibooks and Notebooking Pages from Practical Pages
Nadene shares here wonderful printable templates for free. Activities included are: Describe a river from source to mouth - an accordion minibook River Vocabulary - an 8-flap minibook Label the major rivers on each continent - world map Label your c
Blogging About River Walks
- Exploring the North and South Forks of the River
Barb shares a nature walk to a river in this post with beautiful photographs.
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