Water Cycle Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about the water cycle. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Water Cycle. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

The water cycle describes the movement of water on, above, and below the surface of the Earth. This movie explains the major points of the cycle, including evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. Children will learn how water from precipitation contributes to groundwater and creates runoff into our streams, lakes, and oceans. Children will also learn the importance of conserving water, a crucial natural resource needed by all living things. We highly recommend reviewing the Changing States of Matter movie, which teaches about evaporation and condensation, concepts children should be familiar with to understand the water cycle. You can also extend the topic by screening the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, movie.

Remind children that the water cycle shows how water moves on, above, and below land. The entire cycle is powered by the Sun. Energy from the Sun heats up water in our rivers, streams, lakes, oceans, and other bodies of water. The water evaporates, or changes from a liquid to a gas. This evaporated water, called water vapor, is made up of tiny droplets that can float in the air. Help children understand that even though we cannot always see water vapor, it is all around us. Water vapor rises into our atmosphere, or the air surrounding our planet. The atmosphere high above land is cooler, and as the water vapor rises, it cools. The water vapor can condense, or turn from a gas to a liquid. Tiny droplets in the water vapor can condense and collect to form larger droplets. The larger droplets can collect to form clouds. Help children understand that water vapor in our atmosphere can move to other places. Have they ever seen a cloud move across the sky? That cloud is part of the water cycle.

When air can no longer hold more condensed water, it falls to the ground as precipitation. Remind children that precipitation is water that falls to the earth from the sky. Snow, rain, sleet, and hail are all forms of precipitation. Several things can happen to water that falls to the earth. Water can fall into streams, rivers, lakes, oceans, and other bodies. Land can also soak up water and it can become groundwater. Explain to children that groundwater is found underground in spaces between soil, sand, or rocks and is important to plants, animals, and people. Have they ever seen a well? Have they ever dug a hole and found the soil deep down to be damp? Groundwater is important because we use it for drinking water, in addition to many other uses. Some water from precipitation can flow down and reach streams, rivers, and oceans. This is called runoff.

About 75% of Earth is covered by water. Most of it is saltwater in our oceans. Less than 1% of it is freshwater found on Earth’s surface. Remind children that all people and animals need freshwater in order to live. You may want to explore the Freshwater Habitatsmovie for extension. Water is an important natural resource that all living things need in some way or another. Pollution can affect water and, in turn, affect everyone. Pollution may leach into our soil and reach our groundwater. Together with children, brainstorm ways to cut down on water pollution. This can be as simple as throwing garbage in a wastebasket and not on the ground where it can be washed away into our sewers. Then explain the importance of conserving, or saving, water. If everyone in the United States saved one gallon of water a day, we could save over 85 billion gallons of water per year! This could fill a substantial lake! Think of ways to save water, such as turning off the faucet when it is not being used, taking shorter showers, running dishwashers and washing machines only when they are full, and only using water that we need. For every glass of water we drink, it takes two glasses of water to wash it! Children can save water simply by reusing their water glass.

Help children understand that their actions impact the environment. Encourage them to be ecologically conscious and find ways they can change their daily habits. Even small changes can add up to a big difference.