Girl in a garden in the mud

Tap into the Power of Rain

As the nation's largest celebration of environmental education, NEEF’s National Environmental Education Week brings together partnerships with educators, students, government agencies, businesses, communities, and nonprofit organizations.

EE Week aims to inspire environmental learning and encourage stewardship of our essential resources: land, air, and water. Why not focus on water and tap into the power of spring rain with a fun EE Week activity?

For starters, talk with your students about the importance of water in nature and how it sustains not just plant growth, but animal development, too. Next, take advantage of your school’s natural elements by taking in-class lessons outside.

If you’ve got the space and the budget, you might consider installing a rain garden on your school grounds.

Another idea? Have students design and build a rainwater collection system, such as a rain barrel, for a hands-on engineering science project. While you can’t drink the collected water, you can use it to water the landscape (recycling!). Plus, this project can teach students about the water cycle and the importance of water conservation.

Rain barrels come in a variety of sizes, but most run about 55 gallons. Typically, they’re designed to catch rain that runs off the roof of a building, thus reducing storm runoff that often ends up in the sewers.

In addition to helping the environment by collecting and recycling rainwater, rain barrels can also reduce water bills. Students can research the average rainfall in the area, then chart how much water they can harvest in one, three, and six months. They can also figure out how much money a rain barrel can save on the water bill of their school or their home.

You can find several rain barrel project plans suitable for young students, including this one from the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia. Another great resource, which includes more than a dozen natural stormwater management techniques, is Catching the Rain by American Rivers. And check out Science Buddies for great background info on harvesting rainwater.

Key points to keep in mind:

  • Before you start your project, check with your state's water laws. Some US states have water-rights limitations regarding rainfall collection.
  • Will you be collecting rainfall from a roof? If so, you’ll need to place the barrel near a downspout. If not, choose a wide-mouth container to capture falling rain.
  • Keep water clean and safe by using screen mesh to keep out unwanted debris and mosquitoes.
  • Consider installing a spigot near the barrel’s bottom so you can attach a hose for easy water use.

For additional water activities, read STEM: “Wet” Students' Appetite with Water Activities. And for more outdoor activities, grab a copy of Audubon at School: A Schoolyard Habitat Curriculum Guide.

Like what you see here? Make sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter and visit our Greening STEM Hub for more ideas on how to incorporate STEM into your classroom.

Author: Lisa Beach