National Estuaries Day: Student Activities & Courses

National Estuaries Day is the last Saturday of September. As such, we will celebrate on the 24th this year. Established in 1988 as part of Coast Weeks, the purpose of the annual event is to promote the importance of estuaries and the need to protect them.

With the many threats to the world’s ecosystems, it is critical to prepare our children to be tomorrow’s environmental stewards. Estuaries are an ideal vehicle with which to introduce students to marine ecology. Whether through recreational experiences, scenic views, or making a living on the water, many are familiar with estuaries. estuariesday

All throughout the country, local organizations including National Estuarine Research Reserves and National Estuary Programs organize special events, like beach clean-ups, hikes, canoe and kayak trips, workshops and more to recognize the special role these places play in our everyday lives. It is a terrific opportunity to learn more about estuaries.

Why are estuaries important?

Estuaries are partially enclosed bodies of water usually found where rivers or streams flow into it and with a free connection to the sea. The mixture of fresh water draining from the land and the salty seawater influxes of the tides create habitats where many unique plant and animal communities have adapted to life in the brackish water.

As a result, estuaries are among of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Many animals rely on estuaries for food, places to breed, and resting areas during long migrations. Human communities also rely on estuaries for food, recreation, jobs, and coastal protection.

How can I get involved?

Celebrate National Estuaries Day by learning about the National Estuarine Research Reserves and many local Friends Groups who organize a variety of activities benefiting the local estuary and reserve.

You’ll find numerous ways to connect with your coastal environments whether you are seeking a kayak adventure, want to forage for fungi, explore a class in seaweed art, or take in a history walk – there is bound to be something that appeals to you

nationalestuariesdayWhy teach about estuaries?

Estuaries offer a wonderfully rich context for science education and cross disciplinary learning. As a result of the dynamic ecosystem, estuaries provide an opportunity for learners to integrate many science fields such as ecology, biology, chemistry, geography, geology, and marine science.

Students of all ages can gather data and develop their math skills through detailed measurements of salinity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen. Students also develop language skills as they do further research and begin to communicate their discoveries with other students and scientists. Since estuaries have also played a significant role in human settlement, exploration and development, students gain new eyes on human history, geography, and culture.

Estuaries Curriculum 

I have put together two curriculum units to introduce middle school students to estuary ecology. Each unit is comprised of hands-on inquiry based lessons. A variety of enrichment projects and living books are also suggested to augment the teaching material provided. In honor of National Estuary Week, for the month of September, each of these units is available for 40% off the regular price. 

ecology

Ecology Explorations provides a great introduction to ecology concepts, introducing students to key vocabulary and field collection techniques. It is one of my favorite units because it provides several opportunities to explore your local ecosystems. This 10-week unit includes 20+ activities and lesson plans fully outlined for you. Sale price is $19.90  $11.90.

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Estuary Ecology

Estuary Ecology is a fourteen lesson unit study that focuses upon estuaries and salt water marshes.  It incorporates a month-long moon observation project as well as a field trip to an estuary or salt marsh. The lessons can be adapted to mangroves or tropical regions.  Sale price is $14.90  $8.90.

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South Slough Estuary

While staying with family recently, we visited South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve whose mission is to promote research and education about estuaries on the outer coast of Washington, Oregon, and northern California.  When I was teaching full time, I brought students to South Slough each year for extensive outdoor school experiences.

It was my goal this past month to provide my kiddos with a similar experience and allow them a chance to discover the Secret of the Medallion for themselves, an estuary field trip or study program offered through the South Slough. We were delighted to share our estuary field trip experience with my mom and her friend.  South Slough NERR

South Slough is the south western arm of the larger Coos estuary.  An estuary is a very rich natural environment where fresh water meets and mixes with salt water.  A “slough” is a quiet arm of an estuary.  The source of the estuary’s salt water is the sea; the sources of its fresh water are the rivers and streams of the watershed.

Explore the Habitats

The excursion began at the Hidden Creek Trail Head, just below the interpretive center parking area.  As we proceeded along the trail, we passed through several distinct habitats – upland forests, wetlands,  flood plain, tide flats (mudflats), open water, and eventually these lead us to the sea; all interconnected via the watershed and the animals that depend upon the vegetation that grows there.  We enjoyed stopping along the trail periodically when plants and critters caught our attention.  Interpretive signage also provided additional insight into the ecology of the area.

Through our visit to the reserve, our discussions, and the activities in which we took part at home (see my earlier post, Secret of the Tides), the kids developed a greater understanding of what an estuary is, why an estuary is important, and knowledge that estuaries change because of natural processes and human use.

Integrated Unit Studies

If you would like to explore related lessons and inquiry activities, check out Estuary Ecology, a fourteen lesson hands-on life science curriculum unit study that focuses upon estuaries and salt water marshes.

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival at Handbook of Nature Study.

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Estuarine Ecology Unit Study

Upon returning home from our recent trip to the coast, I was inspired to organize the lessons I have taught in the past into a unit study for homeschoolers and classroom teachers.  I am now ecstatic to announce that I have completed it!

Estuarine Ecology

The Estuarine Ecology Unit Study is available as a part of the comprehensive Science Logic Curriculum that I have been developing the past couple of years.  This unit compliments the popular Life Logic: Ecology Explorations and provides lesson plans integrating science, history, math, language arts, technology, and fine arts.

Estuary Ecology

Here is an overview:

  • 14 Lesson Plans with extensive ‘Background Information’
  • 12 custom notebook pages to complement those lessons
  • Key vocabulary list
  • A detailed list of how the activities are correlated to the themes
  • Resource list
  • Clickable links

In total, this new Estuarine Ecology Unit Study ebook is 58 pages long. You will have a complete plan at your fingertips for your science curriculum.  I have aimed to keep these lessons as simple as possible with very few additional resources needed.

Price $14.97

The Estuarine Ecology Unit Study is an inquiry based, hands-on life science curriculum for middle school students.  It is created to provide teachers with the tools and inspiration to engage their students in meaningful science and service learning experiences through tangible curriculum, shared resources, and real-world contexts.  This secular curriculum was field tested in the public school classroom and modified for the homeschool or co-op setting.