Teaching children about water in the city and water in the forest: a lesson in permeability.

Recently I was invited by a dear friend who runs an outdoor education program for toddlers⏤Muddy Boot Prints⏤to come to Strathcona Community Garden to talk to her students about water in the city. Yesterday I fulfilled this invitation and had the most amazing experience teaching two of her classes, aged 2.5 to 5 years, how urbanization affects the water cycle. I used props like a big yellow sponge, moss and a sandbox to explain permeability. I collaborated with my partner to built a model 'road' with 'catch basins' and 'stormwater pipes' to show where the water goes when it rains in the city. We talked about the differences between the forest floor and city surfaces. It took a while to tease it out of them but eventually we came to an understanding that forests don’t have roads or sidewalks or buildings – things that are impermeable. While they did have difficulty saying the word impermeable, I do think they actually understood its meaning!

We had a lively discussion about the types of things you would find on the road that rain could wash into stormwater pipes and eventually into the ocean - dirt, garbage, cigarette butts, gasoline and oil from cars. When I asked who lives in the ocean – I was given a plethora of excited responses - whales, sharks, jellyfish, otters and other sea creatures even seahorses! The kids understood immediately that the dirt, garbage, and oil from the road would end up in the ocean and be very unhealthy for those creatures.

According to Belva Stone who runs Muddy Boot Prints “[at the end of the class] we found puddles that had oil in them. We began spotting cigarette butts everywhere on our walk back from Strathcona Gardens and looked for catch basins. Our view of the world began to shift a bit as we stared at the ground.” She goes on: “In the afternoon as we were returning we walked past the Fire Station … and we saw a lot of soapy bubbles on the ground going into a drain. All of the children immediately began talking about the fact that the soap will go into the ocean and how that's not great for the whales. Two fire fighters were close by and overheard us talking. [My colleague] Miss Pat was closest so she explained that we had been learning about where water goes and that it goes into the ocean. The fire-fighters then explained that the soap was okay … it was like doing a year's worth of dishes …  and then they got a little sheepish as the realization struck.”

I was so happy to hear this. One of my hopes for teaching children was that they would share these concepts with their parents. I was not expecting the children to inadvertently shame a group of fire-fighters so it tickled me to no end. As Belva put it “big lessons with little people.”

Overall it was a very successful day and I hope to teach wee ones again. I believe that they really understood what I was talking about plus it was a lot of fun. I leave you with this short video that shows our model road in action.

My Family's Oral History and Vancouver's Lost Streams

Sharing this story in honour of my dad who would have celebrated his 80th birthday this week. We lost him just over a year ago.

Over the years my Dad often spoke of a creek he fished at in South Vancouver when he was a boy. As a child I didn't believe him - I found it difficult to imagine that the city had any creeks at all. Fast forward several decades and I discovered an Old Creeks Map created by the Vancouver Aquarium in collaboration with UBC. Sure enough the map showed that there was a creek in the exact spot my dad had claimed. This, in part, has fuelled my passion for creek daylighting - a process that you may have guessed involves uncovering creeks buried to accommodate urban infrastructure.

Creek bed, South Vancouver circa 1948. Image: Terry Pollard

Creek bed, South Vancouver circa 1948. Image: Terry Pollard

Annotated map showing the creek  in relation to my dad’s childhood home.

Annotated map showing the creek in relation to my dad’s childhood home.

Awhile after I discovered Vancouver’s Old Creeks Map, my Dad produced a photo taken around 1948 of his childhood friend standing in the creek bed, showing that even in the more recent past, parts of Vancouver’s creek system were still visible. According to my dad, the wooden bridge visible in the background of the photograph was where East 62nd Avenue crossed the creek. The map is a part of the larger Old Streams map my Dad annotated to show the creek location in relation to my his childhood home. My dad’s brother adds: “Access to this creek started about 52nd and Main. We used to walk along it and through the many tunnels on our way home from school. At 63rd Avenue it was quite a stream, my friends lived on either side of it on the south side of 63rd. The cut was quite deep there, at least 20 feet down and in heavy rainstorms it could be quite dangerous. We would catch little fish, mainly sticklebacks. Two streams ran under our house and the lot next door. These were true underground streams but the joined together across the street and came to the surface. Originally the park was all bush but the stream formed a pond that we used to swing over on a rope hanging from a big tree The first stream we could follow all the way to Marine Drive. The second disappeared where the park now ends.” My uncle also added that he think the bridge in the background of the photo is where 63rd Avenue crossed the creek.

You can learn more about creek daylighing and its many benefits in my upcoming workshop at Trout Lake Community Centre the first Sunday in February. Registration has begun and is through the City of Vancouver’s Parks and Recreation online registration service. https://bit.ly/2TOXy0p