eeRESEARCH Feature: Water Inspires Wonder and More

This post is part of an eeRESEARCH Library Reader Engagement Series. In collaboration with NAAEE, Duke University is highlighting recent research on relevant topics to help EE practitioners learn from academic literature. This month, we’ve pulled together information from eeRESEARCH summaries about watershed education to celebrate the eeBLUE grant series. 

In a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Department of Education, NAAEE is working to bring watershed education to some of the 1.5 million students at 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program sites. A component of the eeBLUE collaboration, this project was born out of a shared understanding of water’s ability to not only connect us but inspire a sense of wonder and place in students across the globe. 

 Rivers, lakes, wetlands, and oceans have been the center of civilizations, the muse of artistic creativity, and a primary means of exploration for centuries. As an intersection of societies' learning, work, and play, they have memorably been the inspiration for countless childhood adventures and catalysts of endless laughter on a hot summer day. Water is a place where our imaginations can run wild for hours on end. Many, if not all of us, have a memory of water that has contributed to our sense of wonder with the earth and our passion to share it with others. 

But children today aren’t always exposed to water resources the way past generations have been. One study found that even children living in coastal areas were only exposed to “blue space” 3.6% of the time. This, combined with the fact that children in today’s technology-driven world learn differently, can make connecting students with water feel impossible. But environmental educators have risen to the challenge and are using technology to their advantage. By using new approaches such as Photovoice, educators can help students to identify watershed issues that matter to them and share these perspectives with their community. 

While water can be particularly captivating to school-aged children, water inspires wonder in people of all ages. In fact, when given the right tools, that wonder can turn into a passion to protect our local watersheds. The Pedal and Paddle Pollution Tour experience found that place-based and experiential watershed education inspired undergraduate students to become more civically engaged around sustainability issues in their communities. In this way and many others, water bodies provide an abundance of opportunities for learning and service. Regardless of age or location, watershed education can help learners become engaged with the environment, understand natural resource conservation, and participate in stewardship programs in their communities. Watersheds are givers of endless knowledge for all.

Students kayaking on river Water reaches us wherever we are. Coastal or inland, city or country, mountains or plains, it is and always will be an essential part of our lives, and we always find a way to connect to it. Even when we control water, it still pulls on our curiosity. A study in Sheffield, UK found that even when water wasn’t meant to be played in, children wasted no time making it the center of their interactions. But who wants to stop them anyway? We all have water memory that we hold close to our heart, whether it be splashing in the city park fountain or catching critters in the neighborhood creek. It inspired a sense of wonder in us then and continues to inspire a sense of wonder today. NAAEE’s hope is that through the 21st CCLC Watershed STEM Education Partnership Grants, more students will create these memories that we all hold dear and carry their sense of wonder with them into adulthood to become stewards of our water resources.

By Chelsea Greenhaw Sloggy, eeRESEARCH Library Associate, Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment