I was lucky as a kid to grow up in the rolling hills and forests of East Texas. I spent much of my time climbing trees, rambling the back roads on my bike, picking blackberries and, yes, indulging in ponds. In fact, there was a large pond directly in my front yard. I spent hours kayaking, inspecting the shores for frogs and tadpoles, fishing and swimming. Those were the days! It was with this nostalgic past in mind that I decided to start a business building water features. Little did I know at the time, these structures would play a major role in the lives of my clients and my own children. Ponds inspire us. After all, Henry David Thoreau wrote an entire book about one. Ponds offer a creative space to garden, a tranquil place to meditate and a low-maintenance hobby for the waterscape connoisseur.
Best of all, ponds are an excellent space for family time. Ponds provide multisensory learning opportunities, such as lessons about ecology, calming techniques, biology, entomology, herpetology and hydrology.
They love swimming in the deeper pools. They wade across the shallow waters, inquisitive and awestruck by the nature they find there. Koi ponds are a favorite, as the fish are interactive, offering dazzling views of “swimming jewels” and teaching the responsibility of caring for a pet. Kids love to hear the Japanese myth of the Golden Dragon, a story about a persevering koi’s victory and reward.
When my boys were toddlers, they were already wading in shallow ponds, examining every bit of life they could reach out and grab. These hands-on experiences provided a foundation for learning even away from the water, because it gave my wife and me a way to highly engage them with their interests. In short, pond stuff!
Pre-kindergarten standards include learning about life cycles. What better way to teach than to talk about eggs, tadpoles, froglets and adult frogs? They can observe it happening in real life before going inside and making a life-cycle wheel on a paper plate.
You can get them started with reading by building a word wall of things you see at your pond. Add a little personal flair to your pond garden by helping your kids write their names on decorative rocks. Learn about everything plants need to grow as you plant your pond’s garden. The possibilities are endless!
Older kids can enjoy learning from the pond as well. They can study Claude Monet’s “Bridge Over a Pond of Lilies,” a water landscape he built himself and painted many times. Set up a painting station near your own aquatic scene and try your hand at impressionism. Ponds also offer a quiet place for homework or enjoying personal space. How thrilled would you have been as a kid to hide away from your parents and annoying siblings at the pond? (I know I was.)
Back in my hometown, there’s a place called Camp Tyler, where kids go year round to participate in outdoor learning activities. One of the awesome lessons they offer is a full-day pond excursion for third and fourth graders. Kids pop on rubber boots and wade into the water, scooping out nets full of bugs, tadpoles and fish. Kids get to analyze the pH and other chemical compositions of the pond water to determine if the habitat is healtA pond is a perfect place to help our young ones learn to cope with daily stressors. Teach your kids to take a moment each day to sit by the pond, listen to the sounds of the water and life, breathe and relax. Building this daily habit will last a lifetime and give your kids the tools they need for the future ahead.hy. They look through microscopes at macro-invertebrates and micro-organisms. They observe and classify the rich pond life while discussing how every creature plays a role in the ecology of not just the pond, but also the whole forest ecosystem.
All this — from a pond! The cost to do this is about $50 a student. That little pond is not only a wealth of information, but also a wealth of actual money, which goes straight back into the preserved land there. Imagine being able to offer this lesson to your kids every day — tracking the variables in the environment, talking about harmless frogs as predators in a daily observable food chain, learning about chemistry and water quality… it’s worth every penny.
A hot topic these days is mindfulness, with an extra emphasis on teaching our kids to take brain breaks to decompress from a stimulation-rich world. A 2020 study in Frontiers in Psychology found that as little as 10 minutes spent in natural settings may provide well-being benefits.
An article in Nuance (“There’s a Scientific Reason Why Water is So Calming”) lists a number of research-based reasons water helps destress the human brain, suggesting that even simply stopping by a river for a few minutes a day can have huge mental benefits. A study out of Stanford University shows that after eight weeks of mindfulness training, fourth, fifth and sixth graders had documented decreases in anxiety and improvements in attention. They were less emotionally reactive and more capable of handling daily challenges and choosing their behavior.
A pond is a perfect place to help our young ones learn to cope with daily stressors. Teach your kids to take a moment each day to sit by the pond, listen to the sounds of the water and life, breathe and relax. Building this daily habit will last a lifetime and give your kids the tools they need for the future ahead. Of course, the same applies to us grown-ups. Who couldn’t use a little mindfulness and quietude? Happy parent, happy kid, as I say!
Sometimes, clients are concerned that ponds can be a safety issue for younger kids. I see ponds as an opportunity to teach kids about water safety. The benefits of the pond far outweigh the very low risk they may pose under the wrong conditions. When building a water structure, family members should be taken into consideration, and any needed safety measures can be installed at the time of construction.
In order to keep kids safe around ponds, discuss with them how to be safe around the pond. Build a barrier using plants or stones as a “no-go zone.” Invest in swimming safety lessons if need be. Try to access and use the pond often with your children, so they are comfortable and know how to behave in and around it.
Ponds offer so much for families. They create a culture that offers opportunities to learn, tell stories, stay active, destress and so much more. What better way to integrate the gift of nature and the outdoors into our daily lives, mere steps away from our back door!