The way we use water, other than for personal consumption, can often be very wasteful, causing costs to rise and leading to huge environmental problems. Natural water stores are a finite resource making rainwater harvesting projects more important than ever. With a little effort rainwater can be collected and reused - to water plants, flush toilets, and wash cars - as a way of artificially restoring the depleting water table. There are many more ways in which rainwater can be harvested and by involving kids in these educational projects they can learn the value of responsible water consumption.
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On average, rainfall is highest in the winter and lowest in the summer, creating a seasonal disparity. Begin an investigation in which kids calculate how much rain falls over an entire year. Use a collection device to measure how the water level has changed each week, through evaporation or through rainfall. Demonstrate how rainfall in the winter is not naturally stored until the summer. Use the calculations to explore whether the collected water could be enough to meet water demands in the drier months.
It is important that kids are aware how much water is used in everyday activities such as flushing the toilet or using a hose. To demonstrate this, have them fill a barrel with water by using a hosepipe for one minute and measure how much water comes out. They can then use the water from the barrel to wash a car or water the garden to show how far the water goes. They can also measure the amount of water that is stored in the toilet cistern and then count how many times they flush the toilet in a day. Help them calculate how much water is used on average in one week.
Drainpipe water tank
A simple and effective way of harvesting water is by placing a bucket or a barrel beneath the end of a drainpipe. Kids can measure the amount of water collected after a number of days or weeks. They can calculate the average over a period of time to determine how this amount compares to the amount used in the household.
To explain to kids how some materials are more absorbent than others, demonstrate by using a sponge, a metal or plastic container, and a wooden barrel. Leave each one outside and over time and a period of rainfall have them measure the amount of water collected in each container. Help them calculate how much more water can be saved by using less absorbent materials.
Water harvesting refers to water storage for later use. This can also be applied to growing plants. Kids can get involved with simple and effective planting experiments to teach them how water enables plants to grow and thrive over time, and that different plants need different amounts of water. Explain that rainwater helps plants grow by flushing out harmful salts from the soil. Fill reused glass jars or pots with soil and have them plant seeds or beans - watercress seeds, for example, are quick growers for an effective demonstration - and make sure they are kept in a sunny spot and watered regularly. Cactus plants can be grown to compare.
Many countries around the world have little access to clean water and have set up educational projects to teach children the importance of rainwater harvesting. Work in conjunction with a school to create an exchange in which kids can compare knowledge and learn from each other. Many schools already have these programs in place.