Pond Life – Activities

FOCUS:  The varied environment of a pond provides homes for a rich array of plants and animals. All these pond dwellers face the challenges of life in the water – obtaining nutrients, avoiding predators, moving from here to there, getting air. The many organisms in a pond ecosystem are dependent upon each other and on the aquatic environment to meet their needs for survival.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about pond life.

Standing near a pond, take a minute to stop, listen, and look. Ask children what they notice and wonder about the pond.

Objective: To explore a pond, looking for evidence of its inhabitants and noticing the different habitats in which they live.

Pond Profile Poster
Ahead of time, make a large diagram on poster board showing a pond in profile. Point out different zones in a pond including the shoreline, surface of the water, open water, bottom, and the shallow water where rooted aquatic plants are found such as cattails (emergent), water lilies (floating-leaf), and pondweeds (submerged). Explain to the children that as they explore the pond, they will try to notice different plants and animals and where they live, and will add their pictures to the poster. Alternatively, have children work in small groups and have each group make its own poster.

Exploring A Pond
Fill a few white plastic dish basins with an inch or two of pond water and place them near the edge of the pond, spaced a few feet apart, preferably in the shade if it’s hot out. Provide the children with nets or sieves and show them how and where to scoop up pond creatures. It’s best to gently pick any insects or tadpoles out of the nets (with fingers or plastic spoons) and place them in the basins rather than dumping in the entire contents of the nets, in order to keep the water clear and the animals visible. Ask the children to sample from the surface, to sweep the net among plant stems or floating leaves, and to scoop from the bottom as well.

Afterwards, gather the children together to look closely at their finds. Use small white containers or jars for a close-up look. How many different kinds of animals were found? Notice how they move and whether they come up for air. Can the children see any carrying air bubbles when the critters dive? Older children may try to match the animals with pictures in the Pond and Stream Critter guide or look for differences in appearance and behavior using the Aquatic Insect Search card.

Pond Dweller Drawings
Pass out clipboards, paper or index cards, and drawing materials and have each child choose and draw one or two animals from the basins, or draw a pond plant. Children should cut out their drawings and tape them onto the Pond Profile poster, each in the zone where it lives. Be sure to include examples of the vegetation as well as the animals. Have older children try to identify their animals using the Pond and Stream Critter guide. Label these on the drawings.

Materials: markers, poster board(s), large cardboard to support poster(s), clothespins, white basins, plastic spoons, an assortment of small white containers or clear jars with lids; nets or sieves, one per child, magnifying lenses; Pond and Stream Critter guide, Aquatic Insect Search card; paper or index cards, clipboards, pencils, colored pencils or crayons, scissors, tape; optional: Quick Reference Guide to Aquatic Invertebrates, pond life field guides.

Objective: To learn a poem and carefully return animals to the pond.

Ask the children to bring their insect specimen in its jar to a gathering place by the edge of the pond and to repeat a goodbye poem with you before releasing their animals. Say each line of the poem below, and have the children repeat it after you:

Goodbye Poem 
I looked at you
You looked at me
I’m glad we met
And now you’re free.

Have children carefully return the animals to the pond.

Materials: pond critters in jars, copy of the Goodbye Poem laminated or in a plastic sleeve.

PUPPET SHOW: “Once Upon a Pond”
Objective:  To meet some residents of different habitats within a pond and learn how they meet challenges of life in the water.

Perform the puppet show, or have a group of children perform it for the class. Afterward, ask questions to review the key details and vocabulary in the story, including the different places in the pond where each character in the puppet show lived: pond surface (whirligig beetle), underwater on a plant stem (damselfly nymph), the pond bottom (dragonfly nymph) and the open water (tadpole). Which animal is a plant-eater (herbivore)? (Tadpole – eats algae.) Which are carnivores? (Damselfly nymph, dragonfly nymph.) Why are plants important to the animals that live in the pond? (Make oxygen that animals need to breathe; provide food and hiding places for some animals.) Why are the damselfly and dragonfly in this puppet show called “nymphs”? (It is the name for the young of some insects; later they will molt and change into adults with wings.)

Materials: puppets, props, script, stage.

Objective: To notice that the young of many pond animals look very different from the adults.

Ahead of time, photocopy pictures of adult water critters onto colored cardstock and pictures of the immature water critters onto a different colored cardstock. Cut cards apart and hand out one card to each child, without telling them which are adults and which are young. Now have children with the same color cards gather together in a group. Have them show their cards to their group members. Now ask which group thinks it has adult animals and which group thinks it has young. The tadpole is a good clue for the immature animals. Insects with wings like the dragonfly are a clue for the adults.

Each card has a small symbol in the upper right corner. Have the children look for their matches in the other group (adults look for their immature forms, and vice versa). Have partners stand together and form a large circle. Each pair introduces its animal and puts the cards side by side on the ground. After all are introduced, have everyone walk around the circle once to view all the pictures. What are some differences in the lives of adult and young pond creatures? (Different habitats, food, locomotion, predators, etc.)

Materials: Water Critter Match-up cards, laminated if possible.

FAIRY BOATS (Grades K-2)
Objective: To use natural materials found by the pond to construct small boats.

Ask the children to look around the pond for natural materials they think would float, such as a large leaf or a stick, and select one to use for a boat. Find a second, smaller natural item to be a passenger on their boat and then send them off with a gentle push. Cheer them on their way!

Materials: natural materials gathered by children at the pond.

UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE: Pond Haiku (Grades 5-6)
Objective: To portray images of life in a pond through poetry.

Explain the following simple rules for a traditional Japanese Haiku poem to the students:

  • A haiku uses specific and clear images to convey an experience or observation about nature.
  • It has three lines; the first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and the third has five. (We are writing in English instead of Japanese, so we can vary the syllable count, but try not to go more than two syllables over or under.)
  • It should contain a clue to the season.
  • It should stay in the present tense, talking about what’s happening right now, not something that already happened or might happen soon.
  • It should not rhyme.
  • It should not have metaphors (“the moon is a polka dot”) or similes (“the wind is like a freight train”)
  • It should show what you notice with an image rather than telling or explaining what you saw. So, for example, instead of saying, “I saw a bird,” try “bluebird on a post.”
  • It works well to start with a sentence fragment and then give an image as in these two examples:

Early green morning
Cattails all twist the same way
Following sunlight

Catching a frog
She tries to stay out of the mud
Oops! Slip —– splash!

Now have children find a place to sit quietly by themselves and compose a haiku of their own. Afterwards, have everyone read their haiku out loud. Shy writers may pass or ask someone else to read their poems, but leaders should set a good example at the beginning by reading their own poems out loud, slowly and loudly enough so all can hear. Could someone who heard all the poems get a good idea of what it is like at your pond?

Materials: journals or clipboards and paper, pencils; optional: colored pencils.

Objective: To share new discoveries about the pond and its inhabitants.

In their journals, have children write or illustrate a favorite pond discovery. Have them complete the sentence, “My favorite discovery at our pond was ________because__________.” In small groups, have children share their stories or drawings.

Materials: journals or clipboards and paper, pencils; optional: colored pencils.


Pond Critter Charades: Have children watch the different pond creatures swimming in the white basins, then have them take turns acting out the way a critter moves in the water.

Catch and Release: If it’s not possible to get to a pond with the children, collect some pond water and pond creatures in clean buckets and bring them to a place where children can observe them. Shortly afterward, carefully return the critters to the pond where they were collected.

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