River Rangers! A book-based science adventure

Explore, read, play, invent, build and learn — all about water and the rivers and streams in your community.

Imagine building a model of a watershed to explore where water goes when it rains and snows, weaving a dipping net to become a water detective, learning and putting into use 10 simple ways to conserve water, writing a cinquain — a non-rhyming five-line poem — about your favorite river or wetlands, and visiting a local river or body or water to test out the small craft you built from wood and string.

River Rangers gives kids a chance to learn about the life and science above, under, and around rivers including topics around pollution, water conservation, and plant and animal life.

River Rangers combines hands-on activities with great fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and picture book biographies — books such as One Well: The Story of Water on Earth and Letting Swift River Go — inspiring kids to learn all about the complex world of rivers.

A free, 5-day toolkit for educators, summer program leaders, and parents, River Rangers includes dozens of carefully chosen fiction and nonfiction books, hands-on activities, writing ideas, and apps and websites to deepen a child's learning plus tips on reading aloud and building fluency skills. There are activities tailored to the Washington, DC area as well as those that can be adapted to any city or town.

Join us ... to explore, create, read, write, and learn — all about water and rivers.

Here's what kids will learn about, day by day

  • Day 1: How rivers are formed
  • Day 2: River habitats: who lives here?
  • Day 3: People on the river
  • Day 4: The water in my cup
  • Day 5: Protecting our water

A 5-day program that fits your schedule

River Rangers is adaptable! Use the materials each day for five days in a row, or once a week for five weeks (or any other way you like) to add hands-on learning to your summer programming. The materials are designed for elementary-aged children, but can be adapted for older or younger kids.

Get your free River Rangers toolkit

The toolkit includes 5 topics for exploration through fiction and nonfiction books, hands-on activities, new vocabulary, and fun writing prompts. Each topic also includes recommendations for kid-friendly — websites, apps, and video. Water basics (the water cycle and more), facts about water and rivers, complete book and vocabulary lists, as well as printable name tags, journal covers, certificates, and Growing Readers tip sheets are included in the Appendix.

National Version

This version of River Rangers includes all of the topics, book recommendations, hands-on activities, vocabulary, writing ideas, links to kid-friendly websites and apps, and appendix materials — water cycle basics, printable templates, and Growing Readers tip sheets. It does NOT include resources specific to the DC Metro area.

DC Metro Version

This version of River Rangers includes all of the topics, book recommendations, hands-on activities, vocabulary, writing ideas, links to kid-friendly websites and apps, and appendix materials. It also includes bonus material — DC Metro connections, where you'll find Potomac River and Anacostia River history, news, and other local resources. We've also shared ideas for outings in the DC area, related to the topics you'll be exploring.

If you want to choose individual sections of the DC Metro toolkit, just select any of the links below to download and print a PDF.

Note: Be sure to view and print from Adobe Reader (or an alternative PDF reader), not your web browser.

Books about rivers

children's books about birds and birding

Looking for great kids’ books about water, rivers, and streams? Our “River Rangers” toolkit includes dozens of recommended fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books. You can also browse our complete library of children's books about Oceans, Rivers, and Ponds.

Getting ready: tips for using the River Rangers toolkit

  • You’ll find an introduction to the concepts covered and recommended books for each day, as well as a list of questions to guide explorations and experiments, and a list of "water words" that kids might not be familiar with.
  • Start by gathering books from the list provided from your library.
  • Choose fiction and nonfiction books from the list provided.
  • Read them through before you read them to the kids so you know what happens, and can spot any unfamiliar words or concepts you’ll need to explain. Also, look for places to ask questions while you're reading to engage listeners.
  • Think about which other parts of the program you’d like to do after reading the book(s).
  • An activity is always a good idea, but you may also want to include writing, exploring related websites and apps, and going on a field trip, too.

Learning with the kids

  • Introduce the theme for the day and ask kids what they know about it. (See "Activating background knowledge" below)
  • Read one or more of the books aloud and ask questions. Listen carefully to the kids’ answers. By reading to them and asking questions, you’ll get them thinking about the topic, and what they want to learn. You’ll also increase their understanding and excitement. Read another book and repeat.
  • Choose a hands-on activity to let kids explore theme. By doing an activity, the kids get to use the concepts and new words they have learned.
  • Look for a local connection. How can you connect the ideas in the books or the activities with the kids’ personal experience? Think about the closest river, stream, or creek.
  • Keep asking questions throughout and listening carefully to your kids’ answers.
  • Encourage kids to write about what they are learning or curious about by using one of the writing prompts in the toolkit.
  • Provide access to books about the topic for kids to look at on their own.
  • Show kids websites and apps that they can use to learn more about the topic and give kids time to try them out.
  • Take a field trip to one of the recommended locations to further explore your topic for the day or theme for the week.

You can choose any of the components, all of them, or just one or two, but we recommend that you always Start With a Book.

River Rangers toolkit authors

Tina Chovanec
Tina is the director of Reading Rockets, an award-winning national literacy initiative from WETA, Washington, DC's flagship public broadcasting station. She also created and manages Start with a Book, a summer reading and learning project.

Eileen Hanning
Eileen has more than 20 years of experience designing and implementing reading and hands-on-learning programs for children and training adults to help kids learn. She currently applies her curriculum design and children's book knowledge as an independent consultant. Eileen holds a master's degree of education in curriculum and instruction from Trinity University in Washington, DC. Visit Eileen at Read Learn Reach.

Rachael Walker
Rachael has more than 20 years of experience developing partnerships with nonprofit organizations, corporations, and public agencies to benefit at-risk children and families. She has launched national campaigns, coordinated special events, and developed original content for the National Education Association, Reading Is Fundamental, HarperCollins Children’s Books, PBS, Reach Out and Read, and WETA’s Learning Media initiatives (Reading Rockets, Colorín Colorado, and AdLit.org). Rachael is currently the Director of Programs for Everybody Wins DC.

The development of the River Rangers toolkit was made possible by a generous grant from the Park Foundation.