Youth Water Education

A variety of resources and opportunities are available from Penn State Extension to help you provide youth with water education experiences.
Youth Water Education - Articles

Updated: October 18, 2017

Youth Water Education

Why is Youth Water Education Important?

Water is an essential resource. While most everyone knows that we need water to survive, we often overlook all of the other important roles water plays in our lives. It's not hard to think of all of the direct water uses we encounter day to day, like drinking, bathing, cooking, cleaning, and watering our gardens. We use a lot more water indirectly everyday. Water is used for generating electricity, growing fruits and vegetable crops, raising livestock, manufacturing of nearly everything including electronics and construction materials, and transportation of products around the world.

In many parts of the world, water supplies are scarce or becoming scarce. Droughts and increased water use are both contributing to these issues. Even where there are abundant water supplies, many have become impaired by pollutants running off the land where large amounts of urban development and agriculture are taking place.

Youth play an important role in becoming informed citizens and future decision makers. Engaging them in educational opportunities about water, science, and technology now will help to create a future generation of water stewards and innovators. A variety of award-winning resources for teaching youth about water are available from Penn State Extension. Those resources include:

  • Rain to Drain - Slow the Flow

    Rain to Drain - Slow the Flow is a hands-on stormwater education curriculum available from Penn State Extension and Pennsylvania 4-H. This experiment style series of activities leads youth and adults to a better understanding of the movement of stormwater in natural and developed communities. It's also a great introduction to green infrastructure and stormwater best management practices.

  • Watershed Decisions Activity

    A hands-on, inquiry based activity that helps older youth and adults learn about water quality issues surrounding small watersheds and the decision making processes that go into improving those water quality issues.

  • Dive Deeper - Youth Water Educators Summit

    The Dive Deeper Summit is a gathering of youth water educators in the Mid-Atlantic Region where knowledge and resource sharing is paired with outstanding networking opportunities.

  • Drinking Water Fact Sheet for Youth

    Help youth to better understand why drinking water is important to them, where it comes from, and how we make sure it's safe to drink with this engaging fact sheet. Written for youth in grades 6-12, the fact sheet covers important points about public and private water systems and includes an activity on how to read a water quality test report.

  • 4-H Stream Teams Program

    4-H Stream Teams is an opportunity for youth in Pennsylvania that are interested in water, environmental awareness, science, and their local community. Youth participate in hands-on learning experiences and take part in implementing a water based community service project in their own neighborhoods.

  • 4-H Water Projects

    A series of water-based project books, written in Pennsylvania, are available through 4-H, Penn State Extension's Youth Development Program. The books include hands-on and thought provoking activities related to water conservation, water science, water quality, riparian buffers, and more. Helper's Guides and introductory video presentations are also available.

  • The Role of Water in Shale Gas Drilling (Youth-Oriented)

    Video presentations about water and the environmental impacts of shale gas drilling and production in the Mid-Atlantic region. These videos were designed for use by educators in both formal and informal educational settings. Although geared towards youth, the presentations are appropriate for adults in the general public who may want to learn more about this topic as well.

The Rain to Drain - Slow the Flow curriculum is available as a PDF download

Rain to Drain - Slow the Flow is a hands-on stormwater education curriculum available from Penn State Extension and Pennsylvania 4-H.

This experiment style series of activities leads youth and adults to a better understanding of the movement of stormwater in natural and developed communities. It's also a great introduction to green infrastructure and stormwater best management practices.

An innovative, fun, and hands-on stormwater education curriculum

  • It is designed to be used by middle-school aged youth; it is also easily adaptable to older and younger youth and also for adults.
  • It is easy to use in classrooms, 4-H clubs, afterschool programs, nature centers, scout meetings and even independently.
  • The materials needed to complete the activities are easy to find around the house or in most grocery and craft stores. They are also minimal and affordable.

Download the Rain to Drain - Slow the Flow Curriculum

Order printed copies of the Rain to Drain - Slow the Flow Curriculum

Additional Resources Referenced in the Curriculum

The following is a list of current Pennsylvania Academic Standards addressed within the Rain to Drain - Slow the Flow curriculum. This list is only comprehensive of 3-5 and 6-8 grades in the subjects of Science and Environment & Ecology.

3.2: Physical Sciences: Chemistry and Physics

  • 3.2.4.B1 - Explain how an object's change in motion can be observed and measured
  • 3.2.6.B1 - Explain how changes in motion require a force

3.3: Earth and Space Sciences

  • 3.3.4.A1 - Describe basic landforms, Recognize that the surface of the earth changes due to slow processes and rapid processes
  • 3.3.4.A4 - Recognize Earth's different water resources, including both fresh and saltwater
  • 3.3.5.A4 - Explain the basic components of the water cycle
  • 3.3.6.A1 - Recognize and interpret various mapping representations of Earth's common features
  • 3.3.6.A2 - Examine how soil fertility, composition, resistance to erosion, and texture are affected by many factors
  • 3.3.6.A4 - Describe how water on earth cycles in different forms and in different locations, including underground and in the atmosphere
  • 3.3.6.A6 - MODELS/SCALES - Create models of Earth's common physical features
  • 3.3.7.A4 - Differentiate among Earth's water systems.

3.4: Technology and Engineering Education

  • 3.4.6.B2 - Describe how technologies can be used to repair damage caused by natural disasters and to break down waste from the use of various products and systems
  • 3.4.7.B2 - Explain how decisions to develop and use technologies may be influenced by environmental and economic concerns
  • 3.4.8.B2 - Compare and contrast decisions to develop and use technologies as related to environmental and economic concerns
  • 3.4.6.D1 - Apply a design process to solve problems beyond the laboratory classroom
  • 3.4.8.D1 - Test and evaluate the solutions for a design problem
  • 3.4.7.E7 - Examine subsystems found in the construction of a building
  • 3.4.8.E7 - Analyze factors that determine structural design (e.g., building laws and codes, style, convenience, cost, climate, and function)

4.1: Ecology

  • 4.1.3.E - Identify changes in the environment over time
  • 4.1.4.E - Explain that ecosystems change over time due to natural and/ or human influences
  • 4.1.5.B - Explain the basic components of the water cycle
  • 4.1.7.E - Identify factors that contribute to change in natural and human-made systems

4.2: Watersheds and Wetlands

  • 4.2.4.A - Describe the physical characteristics of a watershed
  • 4.2.5.A - Explain the water cycle
  • 4.2.5.C - Identify physical, chemical, and biological factors that affect water quality
  • 4.2.6.C - Identify natural and human-made factors that affect water quality
  • 4.2.7.A - Explain how water enters, moves through, and leaves a watershed
  • 4.2.8.A - Describe factors that affect the quality of ground and surface waters

4.3: Natural Resources

  • 4.3.7.B - Explain the distribution and management of natural resources

4.5: Humans and the Environment

  • 4.5.4.C - Describe how human activities affect the environment
  • 4.5.6.A - Examine how historical events have shaped the sustainable use of natural resources
  • 4.5.7.A - Describe how the development of civilization affects the use of natural resources
  • 4.5.7.C - Explain how human actions affect the health of the environment
  • 4.5.8.A - Explain how Best Management Practices (BMP) can be used to mitigate environmental problems

Rain to Drain-Slow the Flow is easily adapted to a demonstration activity at community events, fairs, and other fast-paced environments

Tips for using the Rain to Drain - Slow the Flow Curriculum at fairs and community events when time is limited.

Rain to Drain-Slow the Flow can be adapted from a full educational curriculum into a fast-paced demonstration activity. This adaptation is appropriate for events where you only have a few moments to reach your audience (like community fairs, etc.) The demonstration will provide a visual and interactive way to explain how stormwater moves in natural and developed communities and how green infrastructure allows for a more natural flow.

Materials Needed:

  • 3 Community Models (muffin tin, 6 cups, 5 sponge cutouts, roll of tape) as prepared in the curriculum
  • Three trays to work on (if concerned about table top getting wet)
  • At least 1 rain bottle
  • Pitcher of water
  • 1 set of laminated development cards, plus one extra rooftop card (from curriculum)
  • 1 set of laminated green infrastructure cards, green felt, plastic canvas and rocks to represent green infrastructure on the model
  • 1 set of green infrastructure photo pages (from curriculum)


You will set-up three communities, side-by-side, for quick transitions. Just like in the full curriculum, the muffin tin will represent a model community. You will set up one muffin tin as a natural community (5 sponges only), one as a developed community (5 development cards over sponges), and one as a green community (5 green infrastructure simulations). You could call these three models your community in the past (natural), present (developed), and future (green).

The Activity:

First Model (Natural Community)

1. Explain to those doing the activity how the sponges represent the Earth's surface before people developed it.

Q. What do you think our community looked like before people lived here?

A. Trees, forests, meadows, Penn's Woods, etc.--Make sure they conclude that there were a lot more plants.

2. Explain that this model represents our community over 500 years ago, when it was in its natural state. Each well of the muffin tin is a property in your neighborhood.

Q. What do you think the blue muffin well represents?

A. Water (could be a local river, lake, stream, etc. that your community is familiar with or that you are trying to protect)

Q. What do cups under each property represent?

A. Underground

3. Have a volunteer make it rain on this model. Hand them the rain bottle and pour a cup of water in while they move the bottle over the tray.

Q. Where did most of the rain water go when it rained in our community 500 years ago?

A. Underground and soaked up by the soils in the forest

4. Have the audience observe how there was very little runoff into the water body.

Second Model (Developed Community)

1. Transition the audience's attention from the natural community to the developed community model.

Q. What do you see when you look around your community today, is it all forest?

A. No. We have roads, houses, sidewalks, etc.

2. Point out the development cards on the model and explain what each represents.

Q. Where do you think the rainwater will go now that the natural community is covered in developed surfaces?

A. It will roll downhill instead of infiltrating into the ground

3. Ask for a volunteer to make it rain on the developed community model.

Q. Where did most of the stormwater go in this community?

A. Into the blue water body cup

Q. If the blue cup is overflowing - what do we call it when a body of water overflows?

A. Flooding

Q. Is there enough groundwater in this community to support plant life and wells for drinking water or farming?

A. No, the water wasn't able to infiltrate and recharge the groundwater

Q. What else might be carried over the surface of roads and concrete in the stormwater that will end up in the water body?

A. Pollutants like fertilizers, leaky car oil, pet waste, and other dirt

Q. Do we need houses, roads, and these other developed surfaces?

A. Yes, we need these for our way of life.

Third Model (Green Community)

1. Explain to those doing the activity that we need to find a way to compromise. Ask them if they know what "Going Green" is (recycling and saving electricity). We can go green with our buildings as well.

Q. What can we do to get stormwater to infiltrate like it did in the natural community, but still be able to build the surfaces we need?

A. Use green infrastructure.

2. Show the audience the types of green infrastructure on the cards (from the curriculum) and show the modifications on the model that are associated with each. Explain how these types of development reduce stormwater runoff while providing the surfaces we need in our community.

3. Ask for a volunteer to make it rain on the green community model.

Q. Where did the stormwater end up in the green community?

A. Less runoff into the body of water, more infiltration into the ground

Q. Did the body of water flood this time

A. No

Q. Is there groundwater available for use by plants and people?

A. Yes

4. Ask the audience to consider where each of these and other green practices could be used in your community.


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