The water cycle is an amazing thing. Water is what makes life on this planet possible, and the water cycle makes the water needed to sustain life and be a major part of our eco-system. The water cycle has several stages. There are many lesson plans and teaching materials, as well as experiments, to learn about this fascinating and essential process.
Water is also important as a teaching tool. Water is everywhere in education, from science to literature. Understanding the water cycle can also help with learning to cook or swim, and a basic knowledge of where bodies of water are is important. Finally, since water is so accessible, and since many experiments don’t require any dangerous materials and can be done with minimal supervision, the water cycle is a great way to give kids hands-on experience with science!
To learn more, go to the Rainforest Conservation Fund: Rainforest role in the water cycle.
Evaporation is the process water goes through to change from a liquid to a gas. Evaporation occurs naturally, the US Geological Survey notes that 90 percent of the moisture in our atmosphere comes from evaporation, and happens when water is heated. Evaporation is important because it makes the atmosphere suitable for people to breathe and live in, it keeps bodies of water replenished in the water cycle, and it even makes things like salt! Salt can be mined, but it can also come from setting seawater in the sun for several days. With the right tools and some patience, evaporation can help you create salt on a small scale!
- US Geological Survey: The water cycle
- The National Weather Service: The water cycle
- Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum: Evaporation
Condensation is the part of the water cycle in which a vapor becomes liquid. Think of a cold glass on a hot day, that’s condensation. This piece of the water cycle is crucial because condensation allows water to return from a vapor to a liquid, and it deeply impacts our weather. Condensation is also important because, without condensation, the water that is in the air would have fewer places to go, making the air more humid and uncomfortable to breathe. Even though humidity can be uncomfortable, we definitely need moisture in our air!
- National Geographic: Condensation
- University of Illinois: Condensation: the conversion of water from a gas to a liquid
- Purdue University: Condensation and evaporation
Precipitation is a part of the water cycle everyone is familiar with, whether it’s rain, snow, sleet, or hail, precipitation is visible and common, and occurs everywhere in some form. Precipitation is water that falls from the sky, and we need certain amounts to keep ecosystems healthy. A place that is usually dry, for example, is in danger when there is too much rain, while a place that is usually wet can face serious consequences if it is too dry.
Precipitation is also a crucial part of the water cycle because it moves water from the sky to the land, making the next step, and the continuation of the water cycle, possible. Plus, rainy days and snow days are fun!
After precipitation, what happens to the water? Splashing in puddles or building snowmen comes out of the last step in the water cycle, collection. Water collects before it evaporates, starting the process over. Too much water collecting too quickly can cause flooding, but this is an important step, as it provides the water that is then evaporated.
The collection starts the process of the water cycle over again. Water is collected and then it evaporates, making sure that the process continues and our ecosystem stays balanced and healthy.
To learn more, go to NASA: The water cycle.
Review Materials and Lesson Plans for Teachers
Teaching about the water cycle is important for several reasons. Water is our planet’s most abundant and important natural resource. Teaching about the water cycle can help teach lessons in conservation in earth sciences, biology, chemistry, and physics, and even in literature and the humanities!
The water cycle could also relate to literature through reading books about water or even studying about famous scientists who worked with water, weather, and climate. Environmental historians use the water cycle often in their work, and children could learn about the importance of conservation through a deeper understanding of the water cycle and its impact on our lives.
Here are several resources, tools, and lesson plans for teachers and educators to use when teaching children about water cycles:
- National Science Teachers Association: Water cycle collection
- PBS: Climate change affects the water cycle
- University of Washington: Water cycles teacher’s page
- E-learning for Kids: The water cycle
- Project Wet: Discover water
- CK12.org: The water cycle
- Minnesota Science Teachers Education Project: Water cycle: Investing condensation
- Learn NC: Weathering the water cycle
- Hanford Mills Museum: The water cycle experiment
- Brockton Public Schools: Water cycle activities
- Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum: Water cycle
Experiments for Kids
Teaching the water cycle is important, but since water is a part of everyday life, experiments with water can be easy, accessible, and fun! Younger kids should be supervised around water and any kind of heating device, but older kids should be able to perform many of these experiments on their own.
Here are several hands-on experiments and activities to help kids learn about the water cycle, many of which require very few materials, very little supervision, and limited science knowledge:
- The Water Project: Make a mini water cycle!
- University of Missouri: Water cycles hands-on experiments
- United States National Parks Services: The beginning: the water cycle
- The Science Spot: Experiment
- Fairfax County Library: Introducing the water cycle by making a rain cloud
- Science Buddies: Keep your candy cool with the power of evaporation!
- The United States Environmental Protection Agency: Thirstin’s water cycle activity