Starting Them Young: Water Festival Sparks Kids' Interest in Careers

The Niagara Children’s Water Festival has helped boost students’ knowledge of water resources and even helped steer some toward water-related careers.

Starting Them Young: Water Festival Sparks Kids' Interest in Careers

Erin Shisler, right, process specialist for Niagara Region, along with a high school volunteer, show what happens to stormwater and explains the Yellow Fish Road program, which has students paint yellow fish on storm drains.

Staff members for the Niagara Children’s Water Festival have seen a change in the third- and fourth-grade participants over the years: They know more about water.

“Teachers and staff see a difference in what the students know coming in, compared to the early days,” says Janet Rose, an engagement and education coordinator for the Niagara Region in Ontario, a sponsoring organization. “Kids seem more environmentally aware and have more knowledge. Staff people are amazed at what the kids come in already knowing.”

If there has been a cultural change in attitudes and knowledge about water, perhaps the water festival should take some credit. After 14 years of putting on an event that reaches thousands of elementary school students, people in the region may not take good drinking water for granted as much as they once did. The 2018 festival is scheduled for May.

Outreach opportunity

The Niagara Region, in southern Ontario between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, serves a population of 450,000. The water festival was started in 2003 by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority; the city of St. Catharines; Ontario Power Generation; and Niagara Region, the regional government that, among its many roles, operates six water treatment plants and 11 wastewater facilities.

“We saw the need for general outreach, and we decided to partner to educate children about how we use water and how to treat wastewater and drinking water,” Rose says. Staff members from the organizations and volunteers from community groups created activity centers around five water-related themes: science, water technology, conservation, protection and attitude.

There are 40 to 50 activity centers for each festival. “Some of the activities have been maintained over the years because they are really popular,” Rose says. “We get feedback from the teachers, and the activities are refreshed. New ones are created every year.”

One popular activity is Flush the Kids, a set of pipes large enough for children to crawl through. “It’s like a play structure, but it’s a model of a septic system,” Rose says. Another enduring activity is Rolling to the River: Students put on a vest and roll on the ground. “The vest picks up whatever is on the ground, and that demonstrates how water picks up pollutants on its way to the river.”

At another station, The Great Niagara Taste Test, students compare bottled water against tap water produced by Niagara Region at the Welland Water Treatment Plant, which draws from Lake Erie. “Usually tap water wins,” Rose says.

Encouraging conservation

Some activities help demonstrate what conditions are like where clean water isn’t so easy to obtain. In the Global Water Race, students fill buckets of water, carry them and empty them into another container. It helps deliver the message that there are places where water is scarce, and it also helps to emphasize the work involved in delivering water — whether by people carrying buckets or with pipes, pumps and electrical power.

At the World Water Monitoring station, students test pond water for pH, turbidity, temperature and dissolved oxygen. “We actually show the kids how to do some testing and show them what the test means,” Rose says.

Another popular activity is Water Recycle, a model environment with a wastewater treatment plant, plus houses, schools, and commercial buildings. Wastewater goes into troughs that flow to the treatment plant. “We let the kids squirt dirty water into the model,” Rose says. “They can also spray water onto a hill to show how the water picks up whatever contamination is on the hill as it flows into the trough.”

Eager volunteers

Community groups assist the supporting organizations by designing activities for the festival. They include the Town of Lincoln Fire Department, Niagara Chapter Trout Unlimited, Land Care Niagara, Niagara Restoration Council, Outdoors Oriented, Walker Industries, Mad Science of Niagara, and Scientists in School.

The festival requires hundreds of volunteers from community organizations, businesses, conservation groups, government agencies and schools. More than 100 high school students help set up the festival, run activities, and provide other support. Retired teachers and other community members also volunteer.

The Niagara Children’s Water Festival typically draws about 4,700 students over four days. It is targeted for third- and fourth-graders, but some second- and fifth-graders are usually in the mix. More than 200 teachers and more than 400 parents also attend. Students are at the festival site from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a 40-minute break for lunch. The Niagara Region sends its Water Wagon, so the students can have water with their lunches.

Funding partners

The festival is held at the Ball’s Falls Conservation Area in Jordan. Each day more than 30 school buses deliver the students; transportation is a major expense. Most festival funding comes from the Niagara Region, but the RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) Foundation, Walker Industries, the city of St. Catharines and Ontario Power Generation also contribute.

Among many ways to measure the festival’s impact, sponsors have seen students from earlier festivals return as lead volunteers. According to the festival’s 2016 annual report, some of those students-turned-leaders are on educational paths toward water-related careers.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.