Lesson 6: A River Ran Wild


Activity 1: Native Americans

Materials: clay, construction paper, dried cranberries, long stick, nuts, pencil, plastic sandwich bags, string or yarn
Explain to your child that Native Americans lived in North America for many centuries before explorers came from Europe. Native Americans are sometimes referred to as Indians. The Indians did not change the land in the same way we do today. They used natural resources for their homes and tools and grew and hunted their own food. They did not use running water or electricity.

Your child will now pretend to be a Native American who lived many years ago. If you have time, research the dress of Native Americans and let your child dress up. Let her participate in each activity described below:

If it is a nice day, let your child go outside and gather rocks and twigs for a fire simulation. If you are doing the simulation inside, substitute materials for rocks and sticks, such as blocks for rocks and Tinker Toys for sticks. Explain to your child that the Indians needed fire to cook their food and keep them warm. There were no heaters or ovens, so fire was the only way they could make heat. Ask her to rub two sticks together to simulate starting the fire.

Now give her a piece of clay to mold into a bowl. Explain that Indians had to make all their own bowls and utensils because there was no store from which to buy them. Hide some nuts and berries in small plastic baggies around the yard or house. Put fish in the stream, which can be a designated part of the yard or a blanket on the floor. Tell your child that Indians had to gather their food since there were no grocery stores. Encourage her to look for nuts and berries for her meal. When she returns, give her a long stick so that she can fish for the rest of her meal. Help her tie a pencil to the end of the stick with string or yarn to spear fish in the stream. Now she is ready to eat her meal. Ask her how this was different than the way people today live and cook meals.
Reading and Questions
Materials: A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry
Let your child read the book, A River Ran Wild, by Lynne Cherry out loud. Then read the story aloud to your child as she listens. Ask her the following discussion questions about the story.
  1. Why do you think the native people would want to settle near a river?
    Answers will vary.

    Take the opportunity to discuss with your child the tendency for people to settle near rivers. Even more ancient civilizations like those of Mesopotamia and Egypt sprang up around rivers. Explain to your child that rivers provide many necessary resources to people like water for drinking and bathing, transportation, and food from the surrounding vegetation and the animals that come to drink from the river.
  2. What do people use water for?
    People use water for drinking, bathing, and transportation.
  3. Compare the first two picture in the book to the third and fourth. How did the natives change the environment of the woodland river habitat?
    Answers will vary but might include that they changed it very little, making only small clearings to have better access to the river and fitting their houses amongst the trees without cutting them down.
  4. What did the pale-skinned man bring with him? What did he trade with the native people?
    He brought and traded metal knives, colored beads, kettles, mirrors, and brightly colored fabric.
  5. How did the new settlers change the environment of the land?
    The new settlers cut down many trees and over-hunted some of the animal populations for their skins. They built many houses and fences.
  6. What did the settlers do to the Native Americans?
    The new settlers said the natives did not have any rights to the land. They built fences around their land and took away the Native Americans' fishing rights.
  7. What was dumped into the Nashua River during the Industrial Revolution?
    Trash, dyes, and chemicals from the paper mills.
  8. What happened to the wildlife in the river?
    The river was poisoned, killing all the wildlife.
  9. How was the Nashua's water cleaned?
    The people made a commitment to keep the water clean. They protested the way paper mills polluted the water and sent letters to the government, which enacted new laws to protect the water. Eventually, given time, the water was cleaned.

Activity 2: Water Pollution

Materials: 3 small identical plants, 3 water bottles, laundry detergent, permanent marker, rubbing alcohol, ruler
Discuss that factories can pollute nearby water if they do not safely dispose of their waste. Explain that we can even pollute the water at our homes. When rainwater flows over yard and streets, it carries pollutants into the storm drains. These pollutants can include motor oil, pesticides, paints, grass clippings, and pet waste. In most places, whatever goes down a storm drain flows directly into local creeks, streams, and rivers, and eventually to the ocean. This can change the quality of the water for humans and wildlife.

Discuss what can be done to keep pollution from entering rivers, oceans, and lakes. People can use non-toxic pesticides on their lawns, can try not to over-water their yards, and can leave grass clippings on the lawn when mowing.

Now your child will conduct an experiment that looks at the effects of polluted water. Explain that some pollutants can be seen in the water, while other pollution is invisible. Give your child three small, identical plants. Label the plant containers A, B, and C. Water plant A every two or three days with cool tap water. Water plant B with "polluted" water that looks dirty (a mixture of water and laundry detergent). Water plant C with polluted water that looks clean (water mixed with rubbing alcohol). You will want to keep the water mixtures stored in separate water bottles and label them A, B, and C.
Let your child monitor the health and growth of each plant. Every two days, ask your child to measure the height of each plant and record the measurements on the "Water Pollution" page. After 12 days, she will graph the results of the experiment. Compare the sick and dying plants to the fish and plants of the Nashua River. The fish were sick and dying from living in the polluted water of the river. There came a point where the water was so dirty that the fish could no longer live in it. When the fish left, life along the river changed. The birds left because their food supply in and around the river had perished. The culture of the Native Americans also changed dramatically because they too had to change their way of life. The water could no longer supply their needs.
Student Activity Page