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Rivers are the veins of the earth, and its creeks are the capillaries. Rivers collect water from tributaries or smaller rivers that flow downstream. Rivers collect and carry fresh water from a high point like a hill or a mountain. The beginning point of a creek or stream is called its headwater. Headwaters are the start of a river and can be an underground spring, or several small streams. Rivers move downstream from the headwater (highest point) to the mouth (or lowest point). Upstream means against the current or flow back up the river to the headwater. Downstream means flow towards the mouth or end destination of the river. Rivers form basins or channels depending upon the speed, volume, and duration of their flow. Rivers provide fresh water for many living things along their riverbanks Plants, trees, birds, insects, animals as well as people live along rivers.

Most Americans live within a mile of a river or stream, and all of our drinking water comes directly or indirectly from rivers and streams. Freshwater species are going extinct four to six times faster than land and marine species.

Activity 1 – interact with a river

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It is likely that every day you pass by, cross over, or maybe even travel upon a river. Consider the rivers that you encounter on a daily basis. Do you know which direction they flow? Do you know where they come from and where they are going? Do you cross over them on a bridge? Can you walk alongside the river? One way that rivers affect our daily life is by existing. Before people, rivers were places of great natural beauty and extensive wildlife habitat. In their natural, beautiful form rivers continue to carry our water, filter our water and support life. Some rivers are happily in their natural state with native vegetation and insects, birds, fish, and animals.

As you go about your regular day, pay attention to the natural beauty that rivers contribute to the area. Using pencil and watercolor, capture a moment of beauty involving a river that you encounter in daily life.

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Activity 2 – read a river

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All rivers have a beginning and an end. The four main points of a river are its head, its flow, its tributaries and its mouth.

First make a drawing in your journal of these paths. Draw a wiggly line (most rivers have some sort of wiggle) and diagram the parts of a river. Look at Parts of A River for help with identifying the components of a river.

Next, print a map of the area where you live. Now your quest is to locate a river close to where you live. Using Google Maps identify its main points. Label its source, body, branch and mouth. Identify its highest elevation and its lowest elevation. Track where it originates and where it ends up. Transfer your river map to the playground using chalk. It is easy to do. Grid your river map into 1” x 1”. Take colored chalk outside and measure out one yard by one-yard squares. Enlarge your map square to your playground square and let your school walk your river! Be sure to label key points and key areas of interest along its flow.

A river runs through it! Have you read your river?!

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Activity 3 – urban rivers

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People all over the world have settled by rivers for access to drinking water and fishing. As populations grew, the water became the first highway moving people, and products to and fro. Research the history of your city. Collect maps showing where the first settlements were. See how your city grew along the river. Write about the impact that development had on the life of your river. What industries came? What are industries still on the river? Write a paper about the importance of your city’s river.
Go out and take pictures of the river, and pay attention to anything that may contribute to the health of the river either negatively or positively. If you find a negative influence upon the river’s health, sketch a proposed idea to help alleviate the negative influence.

Watch this short film featuring the Chicago River.

Make a short film about life along your river.

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Activity 4 – rivers of the world

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Research the major rivers located on your continent. Locate the headwater for each river, and then locate the mouth of the river. Note all the points where a river intersects with another body.

Research major rivers and their tributaries around the world. Locate the headwater for the river, and then locate the mouth of the river. Note all the points where a river intersects with another body.

Make a map of the world’s rivers. Make a chart of the seven longest rivers noting their length, the headwater elevation, bodies of water encountered and their mouth.

Rivers are a worldly source!

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Activity 5 – importance of rivers

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Now that you understand how rivers work and what the various parts of a river are, it’s time to take this knowledge a step further and find out why rivers are important to us. Using the explore links, research why clean rivers are important to our health and health of the environment. Investigate the top endangered rivers in the world and their primary threats. Endangered means that rivers may be or become so damaged that their water quality is not fit for humans or animals to drink and therefore, not capable of supporting life. Write a short paper about current problems with rivers and what actions help the rivers become healthier.

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  • The start of a river is called the
  • When a river is flowing, it usually is moving water
  • Smaller streams flowing into a river are called
  • Which is the longest river in the world?
  • Do dams help or hinder rivers?
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