We all want our children to be connected to nature but are we doing enough to make it happen? Only this year our family has started to enjoy pond dipping. Pond dipping is more than a fun family activity, it's an activity that allows children to experience first-hand their local ecosystems and gives them skills and knowledge that books and screens cannot.
Pond dipping can be enjoyed by the whole family, toddlers to adults. For children who don't enjoy free play outside it can work well as it gives them a purpose, something to do. It's fun too as the children are excited to see what they can catch.
“No one will protect what they don't care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced” - David Attenborough.
Some of the educational benefits of pond dipping include:
- Observe full lifecycles in person - they can look very different in person and hands-on learning is preferred.
- Learn how to identify common pond organisms.
- Develop basic pond dipping skills.
- Learn how to use identification guides.
- Learn how to monitor the life and health of local ecosystems.
- Prepares the child for future fieldwork.
- Develop skills such as sketching and documenting field work.
- Develops the child's eye for locating small and camouflaged pond organisms.
- Develops a greater understanding of how local ecosystems work.
- Greater appreciation for biodiversity.
- Fantastic language work for developing scientific/naturalist/environmentalist vocabulary.
- Allows the child to connect with their local environment in a real way, not through books or screens.
- Learn about local topography.
- Greater knowledge of local pond organisms, their habitats, life cycles, diets, and, behaviours.
- Potential to connect with like-minded individuals and groups within the local community.
- Hands-on learning, allows children to use their hands to touch and feel real organisms and environments, not invitations to play, not little world play not lifecycle models.
- Greater knowledge of food chains and predatory organisms. Make connections between living things.
- Learn about the anatomy of pond organisms, many of which we don't study at any other time.
- Can begin to categorise organisms such as herbivore/carnivore/omnivore/detritivore or invertebrate/vertebrate.
- Sunshine, fresh air, lots of full body movements and strength building, balancing and developing coordination.
We have been pond dipping before and found very little, but later we realised we were looking in the wrong places and also we didn't give the organisms time to come out of their hiding places. Places to look include:
- Around roots of trees and around reeds.
- Under rocks in streams.
- Sifting through pond mud.
It's really simple, all we use is:
- A net.
- Tray or bucket, white provides the best background for finding camouflaged organisms, a tray works well for us as it gives us room to sift through the debris, leaves and, sticks that the organisms hide in.
- Identification guide - I've found this essential as I want the children to identify what they have found not depend on me to identify it for them. We use The Freshwater Name Trail (Chart) by the FSC, it's simple, easy to use and contains most of the organisms that we see locally. We also made our own checklist so we can check off the organisms that we find each time. A clipboard and pencil are also useful.
- Wellies or waterproof boots.
We don't take a magnifying glass but a pond viewer is on my wishlist! Remember to be safe around water and to wash your nets and trays before visiting a different pond.
Once the children scoop their nets they place the contents into the tray and we sit and wait. Then we see the wriggling. Cased caddis fly larvae look like sticks until they start moving. Dragonfly nymphs are dark brown and are very well camouflaged. Baby shrimp are almost microscopic. We've caught (and released) a water scorpion and baby trout and the adult blue damselfly is one of the most beautiful animals we've seen.
The pond is alive and it's magical! As parents and educators, we can give our children the skills and experience to enjoy it.
As pictured our family was fortunate to go pond dipping with a local ranger. If your children enjoy pond dipping or exploring their local ecosystems I recommend getting in contact with local wildlife groups or local government to see if they run similar children's educational experiences.