Teaching kids about stormwater: A worthwhile pursuit

I live on a corner lot in a fairly large suburban neighborhood. Owing to the location as much as to our two boys, our yard has become over the years a gathering spot for neighborhood kids – and their bikes, scooters, basketballs, and baseball bats.

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I live on a corner lot in a fairly large suburban neighborhood. Owing to the location as much as to our two boys, our yard has become over the years a gathering spot for neighborhood kids – and their bikes, scooters, basketballs, and baseball bats. I love to watch – and listen – from the window as they invent ever more creative ways to entertain themselves.

One day, however, not too long ago, it struck me that the yard was ominously quiet. I went to the window, expecting perhaps to find that an intense game of hide-and-seek had gotten the kids’ tongues. Alas, I spied a group of about eight neighborhood kids gathered around the nearby sewer grate, taking turns throwing rocks, sticks and other debris into the water below.

“We like the splash!” said one of the children enthusiastically when I asked what they were doing. With rolling eyes and little interest in my ensuing diatribe of what happens to water that goes down the storm drains, the kids dispersed and resumed some other presumably more environmentally-friendly activity.

It got me thinking, though, that although the average elementary school curriculum most likely covers the basics of the water cycle, very few delve into the particulars of what happens to stormwater – where it goes, how it’s treated (or not treated) and how it impacts the environment. Too much information for grade school kids, you say? Maybe. Maybe not.

The city of Los Angeles’ Stormwater Public Education Program recognized that the best way to communicate its stormwater message to elementary school students was to reach out to them at school. The city partnered with the Malibu Foundation for Environmental Education, a community based non-profit organization, to implement a free, 45-minute school assembly program. One of the messages of the program is to explain the link between the storm drain system and water pollution.

As part of grant awarded to Project Jump & Splash, the Francis Wakeland Elementary School of International Studies in Manatee County, Florida, will use an on-site pond to teach K-5 students about how water quality affects them. Each grade plans to tackle a different project, such as how humans affect water quality (those lucky first graders!).

There are lots of fun, inventive and informative programs – both formal and informal – happening in many communities around the country to educate kids about effects of stormwater pollution on water quality. But we have a long way to go before these programs become the rule, not the exception. Perhaps programs like these will encourage other communities to follow suit – instilling in our children an awareness of their place in the water cycle, and perhaps inspiring some future wetland engineers in the process.

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Angela Godwin
Editor, Urban Water Management

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