A Popular Canadian Water Festival Celebrates a Decade of Effective Public Education

A children’s water festival in Ontario has helped turn students’ focus toward the value of water and has led some into water-related careers

A Popular Canadian Water Festival Celebrates a Decade of Effective Public Education

Kids at the Chatham-Kent & Lambton (Ontario) Children’s Water Festival take part in hands-on activities to learn about the value of water.

An annual event that lasts a decade has to be doing something right.

This year, the Chatham-Kent & Lambton (Ontario) Children’s Water Festival is celebrating its 10th year of educating children on water and the environment. Over the years, about 14,000 children and 2,400 teachers and parent chaperones have attended, and some 3,000 high school students have volunteered their time to help.

Chatham-Kent and Lambton are surrounded by Lake Erie, Lake Huron and other waterways, making water and the environment a central focus in the region. The festival was created to deliver water education to fourth and fifth graders in all area schools and home-schooled children. This year’s event will run Oct. 2-5.

Hands-on activities

During the three-day festival, 1,800 youngsters, with teachers and chaperones, will descend on the grounds and take part in some 40 water-themed activities. Before the event, most teachers review the activities and pick 12 to 15 that pertain to what the kids are studying.

All activities are linked to the Ontario school curricula for science and technology, social studies, the environment, mathematics and physical education. The festival focuses on water science, water technology, water conservation, water protection and water attitude.

The event is held on a 6-acre site next to a 2-acre pond at the C.M. Wilson Conservation Area just south of Chatham-Kent. Children arrive on buses by 9:30 a.m. Activities include:

  • A demonstration of conventional and low-flow showerheads. The kids put on raincoats and enter shower stalls with buckets to catch the water from each head. They observe the different amounts each bucket collects.
  • A simulated stream table water display with sand and mud. The students see and learn how water flows through the artificial landscape.
  • A Pioneer Way of Life exhibit that shows how people long ago retrieved water from wells before they had indoor plumbing. It also shows how pioneers used scrub boards with buckets of water to do laundry.

Another popular event, Where It Goes When I Go, includes a model of a wastewater treatment plant. Students start out sitting on a mock toilet seat, then go down a slide, past various stations and move through the plant. The youngsters observe the five processes in the cleaning of the water. Volunteers at each station describe the processes.

The students break for a short lunch and then move on to more activities. At 1:30 p.m., the kids board the buses for the trip home.

Don Hector, festival coordinator, observes, “After the children come back from the event, they take what they learned home and apply it. Down the road, maybe they’ll become municipal or provincial leaders of influence and take the water message forward.”

Power in numbers

A festival of this size takes a lot of helping hands to execute. Besides the 600 students who attend each day, more than 150 parents, retired teachers and service group members help as volunteers. Many college and high school students who attended the festival during grade school come back to help with the activities.

To celebrate the festival’s 10-year milestone, the organizing committee is adding a fourth day, Saturday, Oct. 5, that will be open to the public. “We hope it will open up some new minds on what we’re doing,” Hector says.

Festival feedback

Students, teachers and volunteers laud the festival’s impact. Hector notes that one fourth-grade attendee went on to become valedictorian of her eighth grade class. In her graduation address, she talked about the fun she had at the festival, the connections she made and how it influenced her.

Another attendee returned as a volunteer when he got to high school and then got involved in a water program at his municipality. He was later influential in procuring funding for the festival. Hector has heard other feedback from children who changed their focus on what they wanted to study in college after attending the Children’s Water Festival (www.ckwaterfest.com).


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