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Young Sprouts: Hydropower

Activities and Play

4/19/2022 | Emily Jaeger

It’s never too early to learn about hydropower. According to the EPA, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is from burning fossil fuels--for electricity, heat, and transportation. Our young ones will be inheriting our world in its current state of environmental crisis. They will also be the ones developing potential solutions. 

Whether they’ve fully articulated it or not, young children have already noticed how water makes things move: they might have seen how downpour from a bathtub spout can whisk toys across the tub. Exploring how water works and how it can be a source of renewable energy fosters awareness of each person’s daily impact on the environment. And most importantly, it empowers young learners to change their world for the better. 

How Does Hydropower Work?

Try out some fun and easy experiments to demonstrate how hydropower works. Rather than generate electricity by burning fossil fuels to power steam turbines, we can harness hydropower with a water turbine (inside a dam). While learners may have seen the rain washing away sediment, learning how water makes things move and how to manipulate this movement are the first steps of using water as a source of renewable energy. 

Water Tables. Consider adding a water table either to your classroom or shared STEAM-room so learners can explore the properties of water. Water tables, such as these, do triple duty as sand and sensory tables as well. For a low-tech, low-cost variation use plastic tubs (or other containers) filled with water. 

Water Makes Things Move. Discover how moving water (a.k.a the force of water) can make things move. This basic activity is appropriate for any age in early childcare.  Place a variety of floating objects (sticks, leaves, bottle caps, lids, plastic balls etc.) in your water table, plastic tub, or even a baking pan. Learners can use their hands or kitchen utensils (spoons, whisks) to make ripples and move the objects. You can also poke holes in the bottom of a couple of solo cups and use these sprinklers to move objects in the water from above. 

Some great questions to ask with this activity: How can you make water move? What does it look like? How can you create big ripples in the water? How can you make small ripples? What happens to the objects in the water when it’s moving?

Water Roller Coaster. Not only can water make things move, but we can manipulate where and how fast the water goes. For 2+, try out this water sensory station with pipes or marble run pieces. Just let learners explore putting the pipe pieces together and how the water flows through them. 

For 3+, learners can make water mazes out of legos. Build barriers with lego pieces along a flat lego base (either flat on the table or outside at a slant). You can even build a lego turbine with a propeller brick. How can you direct the water around the maze (or block it)?

For a more permanent water play set up either indoors or on the playground, consider a magnetic wall where learners can design a water roller coaster with this collection of magnetic pipes, funnels, and tubes. 

Boats on a “Stream”. Use the force of water to sail boats down a foil stream in this simple outdoor activity. Lay out a long piece of tinfoil on the ground--extra points if it’s on a slant. Fold up the edges of the tinfoil to make a lip on either side of your “stream.” Use a pitcher of water or garden hose to create a fast moving stream down the tinfoil. Learners can try zooming plastic toy boats or boats they make from paper or foil down the stream.  

Pipette Paintings. Painting with watercolors and pipettes allows learners to experiment with gravity, the force of water, and color theory…all while practicing those fine-motor skills. For this activity you will need pipettes, liquid paint (of your choice) diluted with water, and thick paper. Learners can make beautiful abstract designs by dripping and spraying watercolors onto their paintings. In this version, learners use some basic easels for even more fun with gravity and drippy paint. 

Next Steps

Hydropower is not the only type of renewable energy for younger learners to discover. Don’t forget solar power and wind turbines! Check out the Young Sprouts series for great ideas on how to explore wind and solar power

Emily Jaeger is a professional writer with a background in education (she's taught every age group from preschool to retirement). Her writing has been featured on Parents Magazine, Kveller, Motherfigure and more. You can connect with Emily via her website emilyjaeger.com or on instagram @soulinparaphrase.

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