Level 2: Rivers, Lakes + Ponds Unit

As we get closer to spring, there is so much to discover about in small bodies of water! This week, we’ll explore rivers, lakes, and ponds and the many animals and organisms that live in them. If you have a river, lake, or pond near your home, take time this week to explore it in person to bring all our lessons to life. Click here to download our printable skills tracker to make notes about what you learn. 🦆🐸🐢

Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can also be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional reading:

  • The Treasure Hunter’s Handbook by Liza Gardner Walsh – If your family spends a lot of time outdoors exploring streams and ponds, this is an excellent resource you will use for years. For this lesson, pages 24-34 will be most helpful. (You can also find it on OpenLibrary here!)

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

To introduce our unit, begin by discussing what is a habitat and what is an ecosystem. A habitat is what we call an animal’s home. An animal’s habitat provides them food, water and shelter. What is an ecosystem? Watch this video to find out.

This week we will focus on three different water ecosystems: ponds, rivers, and lakes. Let’s learn about the plants and animals that live in these ecosystems. Take a look at these pictures of different freshwater habitats to show your child the variety. What is the difference between the three water ecosystems? Although there is no official scientific measurement to separate lakes from ponds, lakes are generally larger and deeper. Lagoons connect to the ocean, and lakes do not. Rivers and streams flow and move constantly, and lakes hardly move at all. (source)

Activity 1: Let’s review some common habitats with this land and water form memory game. (Scroll down to Step 2 for the free printable.)

Activity 2: Let’s closer look at ponds with the book Over and Under the Pond. Next, bring some of this fascinating ecostystem to life with this food web activity.

Activity 3: Let’s explore surface tension with this “water bug” experiment.

Activity 4: Finally, let’s learn about a popular herbivore on the pond—the duck! Click here to watch a video about a fascinating way some duck species care for their young, and then make this magnetic duck pond craft to bring it to life.

Lesson 2:

One of our favorite pond residents is the frog. Let’s learn more about frogs today with a few fun activities. Hop to it!

Activity 1: Let’s start by reviewing the frog’s life cycle. If your child has never seen it before, watch this beautiful video that shows you each stage of the metamorphosis. Next, solidify the lesson with this thumbprint craft.

Activity 2: Frog hop number puzzle.

Activity 3: Let’s take a leap…and end today’s activities with a gross motor movement and measurement activity.

Lesson 3:

We’ll start our week by looking closer at rivers. What is a river? A river is a natural stream of water that moves over the land. (source) Let’s learn more in the book What is a River?

Activity 1: Which way does a river flow? The simple answer is “downhill,” but don’t give it away to your child yet! Let’s find out in a hands-on way with this activity.

Activity 2: When you have a river running over rocks with different rates of erosion, eventually you create a new watercourse: a waterfall! This page shares more about how a waterfall forms, but here are the main points to share with your child:

  • A waterfall forms when a river or stream flows over hard rock (where erosion is slow) and also flows over soft rock (where erosion is more rapid).
  • As the waterfall gets steeper, it accelerates the erosion as gravity increases the water’s speed.
  • Eventually, the watercourse steepens until it’s either nearly vertical or completely vertical. At this point, you have a bon-a-fide waterfall!

This page lists the types of waterfalls and has a helpful graphic that illustrates the formation process. Now, let’s play with the forces of energy that create a waterfall with this simple kinetic energy experiment.

Activity 3: Let’s create our own waterfall art with this craft.

Lesson 4:

Today, we’ll learn about some more animals that are found around rivers and lakes in the book Rivers & Lakes: Nature Hide and Seek.

Activity 1: Now that we’ve learned about the river eco system, let’s make our own! Start with this playdough river model activity.

Activity 2: One animal that has a major impact on a river is the beaver! Watch this video to learn more about them, and then add a beaver dam to your river model.

Activity 3: As semiaquatic animals, beavers need to be able to get around quickly in the water. How do that do that? Let’s explore how their foot works with this activity.

First, fill the sink or a large bowl with water. Ask your child to spread their fingers wide and drag them through the water. Ask them to comment on how much water they are able to move with their hand. Discuss what you could do to move more water.

Next, dry their hand and have them put their hand in a sandwich-size plastics bag. Repeat the water drag with the bag on their hand. Does the bag make a difference? Why? (There is more surface area to create friction on the water.) Explain that this is how beaver’s webbed feet help them to move through the water quicker and navigate more easily.

Activity 4: Make these no-bake “beaver dam” cookies.

Lesson 5:

For our final day of this unit, we’ll look at larger bodies of water—lakes! Start by reading through this blog post to learn or review some of the basics about lakes.

Activity 1: An animal that often lives near a lake is the bald eagle. But they don’t look like the bald eagles you might recognize right away. Let’s learn about the eagle’s life cycle with this spinner. Simply print the page on cardstock, cut out the circles and the viewer wedge, and then attach both pieces with a brad to spin and review each life cycle stage.

Next, watch this video about the bald eagle life cycle (the informational part of the video starts at 1:10), encouraging your child to turn their spinner as they learn about each stage. Next, check these live nest cams of a bald eagle nest in Big Bear Valley in California to see if you can spot a real eagle!

Activity 2: A plant commonly found in lakes and ponds is the water lily—and they happened to be a favorite subject of a very famous artis from France. His name was Claude Monet, and he especially loved to paint the way light hit the water. He painted many water scenes, but his most popular was a series of paintings called “Water Lilies.” Some of the paintings were as big as a whole wall! Click here to see one of them. While looking at the painting, ask your child:

  • Can you see the shapes of the flat leaves and pale flowers on the shimmering water? 
  • Can you see how Monet has tried to capture light and reflection on the surface of the water by using dabs of white paint?
  • How does the painting change when you look at it up close versus from a few feet away?

Click this post to see a different “Water Lilies” painting. Compare and contrast the two different pictures. Ask your child which one they like more and why. Watch the video to learn more about Monet and the style he was famous for called impressionism. Then, create your own masterpiece inspired by Monet with this craft.

Activity 3: Nature has inspired artists in a variety of media, including music! Today, let’s learn about a famous composer who wrote a classical waltz about a river in Austria. Click here to learn a bit more about Johann Strauss, Jr. Next, you can listen to this short podcast to learn more about the waltz and Johann Strauss, Jr.’s impact on this style of music. Finally, click here to listen to “The Blue Danube,” one of his most famous waltzes. If your child has difficulty sitting and listening to the music, encourage them to dance, draw, or paint the music as they listen.

Activity 4: Want to learn to waltz? This video breaks down the steps for kids.

***Click here for more tips on how to turn a song into a lesson.

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Published by learnandliveletter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-11.

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