Vernal Pool Activities for Kids


How You Can Help

Many people in our community have made it possible for you to explore life in our watershed with Splash – scientists, teachers, government workers, parents, and grandparents from all over Sacramento. Sharing our knowledge and appreciation of water and nature is one way we can show you that we care about you and this place we call “home.” We know that water and habitat protection starts with education.


Water Quality

Wastewater and Runoff

There are two kinds of “used water” that affect water quality. The water we use indoors is one. It flows from our sinks, bathtubs, showers, toilets and washing machines into underground pipes that make up our Sacramento sewer system. Once this indoor water enters the sewer system, we call it wastewater. Imagine what would happen if we dumped wastewater in the river!


Create an Origami Book


  • 2 squares (5″ X 5″) colored tag board
  • 4 squares (8 ½” X 8 ½”) white construction paper

Create Your Own Flower Guide

Using the Worksheet make you own field guide to the flowers of vernal pools.

Use information you gather while exploring vernal pool plants to fill in the blanks and then draw the flower or cut-and-paste a photograph.


Flower Facts

Why Do Plants Have Flowers?

The goal of every plant and animal is the same: To create the next generation. The way a plant makes another generation of its species is by making seeds. Flowers are the tools that plants use to make their seeds.


What’s For Dinner?
Sharing Energy in the Food Web

Plants Capture the Sun’s Energy

Chlorophyll is the main substance on Earth that can capture the energy in sunlight and store it. It is in all green plants. Chlorophyll allows plants to turn the sun’s energy into building blocks to build their bodies. These building blocks are called carbon molecules. They are too small to see (even with a microscope) but all plants and animals are made from them.


Critter Commercial

Once you have made a Critter Guide or two from Lesson 6, make up a little commercial to tell others the cool things you know about each one. You will impress your friends, parents and neighbors.

Use the Worksheet to help organize your message.


Create Your Own Critter Guide

Using the Worksheet make your own field guide to the critters of vernal pools.

Use information you gather while exploring this website to fill in the blanks and then draw the critter or cut and paste a photograph. 


Tools for the Pools

It’s a Matter of Size

Animals and plants come in all sizes and shapes. When you are searching for one, knowing its size can be as important as knowing what it looks like. How can you find something if you don’t even know how big it is?

Suppose you are searching for an elephant, a cat and an ant. You would not bother to look under the bed for an elephant, but you might check there for a cat or an ant. You could spot the cat right away, but you would have to look more closely to see the ant. Knowing what you are looking for and how big it is makes it much easier to find.


Looking Like a Scientist

The Classroom Laboratory

Question: How does a scientist look?
Answer: Carefully.

Most students are natural born scientists because they are curious and ask a lot of questions. It is the nature of a scientific mind to observe (watch) something and want to know more. Your observations can help you to understand what is going on in nature and to predict what else might happen.


Introduction to Vernal Pools

What are Vernal Pools?

California vernal pools are a rare type of wetland that exists in very few places on Earth. Around Sacramento, the pools are found in rolling grassland. What makes vernal pools different from other wetlands, ponds or lakes is that they are temporary pools. They are totally dry for eight months of the year during our dry season. In fact in order to have vernal pools, you need a wet season and a dry season, just like the Mediterranean climate of California.


The Watershed Connection

What is a Watershed?

A watershed is all the land connected by the fresh water flowing through it. Everybody lives in a watershed and everything we do takes place in a watershed. In Sacramento we live in the Sacramento River Watershed, the largest watershed in California.


The Three Phases of the Vernal Pool Ecosystem

The Wet Phase: Winter in the Vernal Pools

As soon as the winter rains begin to puddle in the vernal pools, tiny creatures called bacteria and protozoa spring to life. Many of them feed on detritus, bits of dead plants and animals that lie on the bottom of the pool. These detritus feeders are, in turn, eaten by many other tiny animals. Microscopic (very tiny) green plants called algae are the next to appear. They are like tiny floating food factories, providing the energy that powers most of the other species in a vernal pool.


Vernal Pool Activities for Kids

These pages and activities are adapted from the Splash Elementary Curriculum for 4th & 5th grade classrooms, Life in Our Watershed: Investigating Vernal Pools.  You can start by reading the pages listed below, printing out the PDF worksheets at the top of each page, and using the Vernal Pool Animal and Vernal Pool Plant pages.