Children are naturally attracted to water. For them, the magical lure of water is not accompanied by a fear of getting wet, muddy, sick, or hurt. As adults however, we often temper our attraction to water with a healthy dose of respect. With a few simple tips and suggestions, a trip to the wet, wonderful world of a stream, pond, river, or sea shore can be safe, memorable, educational, and, fun!

Top Tips for Prepared Parents

1. Be Ready

If you are planning a trip to someplace wet, don't just think about what you need when you get there; think about what you'll need before you leave.

  • Whether you are going for an hour or for the day, having towels on hand is highly recommended. Towels are for drying off wet kiddos and objects as well as protecting car seats on the ride home.
  • If there is a possibility that someone will get really wet, take extra clothes and shoes and a plastic bag for wet or dirty clothes and shoes.
  • Water boots or galoshes are great for wading.
  • You should always take a small first aid kit with you on an outing. Small reasonably priced kits are available from a variety of stores and can serve as the 'official' first aid kit for family outings. A kit can simply be kept in your car so it can always be available.

But what about the fun part of the day? Easily obtained supplies for exploring water include:

  • Improvised scoopers made from old slotted spoons in your kitchen.
  • Plastic fruit baskets like those that strawberries come in.
  • Netting that held fruit from the grocery store.
  • Old plastic butter tubs or cottage cheese containers are great bins to temporarily hold prizes.
  • An inexpensive plastic magnifying glass is a good idea for getting up close and personal with tiny objects or creatures.

It is always nice to record those special moments too, so take along a camera. If you are worried about getting an expensive camera wet, you can always buy an inexpensive disposable camera. Most importantly, don't forget your sense of adventure! Take it on every outing, wet or not!

2. Be Kind to Mother Nature          

Always remind your children that bodies of water like ponds, rivers, and streams are someone else's home! We are there to peek, explore, and leave the spot as we found it - taking away memories and leaving only footprints.

Looking for wildlife and little critters is an exciting part of water exploration. At a spot where you can see into the water, reach down, pick up a rock and look underneath. What can you find? When finished, return the rock gently to the same spot. In spring you might find eggs (frog, toad, fish, salamander)that sometimes look like apple jelly with tiny dots. Be careful, as egg masses are slimy and touching them can kill the developing amphibians. Other creepy-crawlers, like worms, insect larvae, swimming critters, fish, tadpoles, and flatworms, all live in the water and are less sensitive to disturbance.

Remember to clean up before you leave. Take a plastic grocery bag as a trash bag to hold any snack or drink containers you've taken on your outing. If you find trash that other visitors left, be a good model for your children by recycling or disposing of it, too. 

3. Be Safe, Be Secure, Be Sensible

  • Rocks - If they are covered with algae or moss they will be very slippery. Watch out!
  • Silt - If stream bottoms contain silt, walking upstream (against the current of the moving water) will stir up that silt. When this happens the water gets cloudy and you will be unable to see the bottom. This isn't fun when you are exploring. If the water gets cloudy you will have to wait until the silt settles in order to see the bottom. A better idea is to go downstream by walking along the bank, then entering the water and heading upstream by walking back to your starting place.
  • Mud - Muddy areas surrounding water might be deep enough to pull boots or shoes from your feet! Test for a firm bottom to the mud field before allowing your little ones to gallop across those muddy areas.

 4. Places to Visit for Water Fun      

National, state, and city parks often have bodies of water available for exploring. Seek out ponds, creeks, boat launching sites, docks, and lakes.

  • Wading in water on private property is not appropriate unless you have permission. Stopping the car on the side of the road to look at water under a bridge may not only be dangerous, but in some areas that body of water could be someone's private property.
  • If planning a water trip to a public park, find out the policies regarding life jackets, permits, and entrance fees.

 5. What To Do Once You're There

  • Identification - It is okay if you do not know how to identify everything  your child finds. A children's pocket sized field or nature guide is great to bring with you. A sketchpad and pencil or nature journal might be a handy for recording what you and your kids find. To identify critters you can always take a trip to the library or use the Internet before, during, or after your adventure.
  • Games - Make a game of measuring how fast the water is flowing by dropping a twig into the water and clock the time it takes to cover a pre-determined distance. Does the water flow at the same speed consistently in every part of the creek?
  • Collecting - Gently collect critters and place them in your plastic container. Use a magnifying glass to really get up close and personal. Remember to gently release them back into the stream when you are ready to leave the area.
  • Returning - Going back to the same spot several times during different seasons of the year is a wonderful way to see change happening in the natural world and become aware of the cycles of nature. Take pictures and document each visit. How does the area's appearance change with time? Are there any seasonal differences? Are there changes in water depth? Does the water temperature change? Do you always find the same critters in the same spots?

Before you take that wild, wet field trip think about safety issues that might arise and be ready to have fun as you learn about the world under the water. With the appropriate planning and packing, the fear that we have about our children and water exploration can be avoided.

So, get ready, get packed, and GET WET!