Fun River Activities for Kids and Mom: Learn, Play, and Protect Nature

5 min read
May 08, 2024
Fun River Activities for Kids and Mom: Learn, Play, and Protect Nature

“The secret with kids is to ‘just add water’, and everything resets”, my mother in law once told me, when I was lamenting about how rowdy my kids get when we’re all home. It sounded a little too simple… but over the years I’ve found this to be true. There’s just something about running water that resets the entire dynamic in our home. In fact, researchers have found that the sound of running water can trigger our parasympathetic nervous system; helping our bodies relax by lowering our heart rate, decreasing blood pressure, and moderating our cortisol secretion. 


But I don’t need a scientific publication to convince me: I can see it in my own children immediately. While I love an evening on our paddle boards, and the kids love an evening swimming at our rec center, there’s something so beautiful about simply wandering along our local river. It feels healing. “Just add water”.


Didya ____ Know About Rivers?!

One of the coolest parts of being a mom is that I get to teach my children the “secrets of the world”, and I get to choose to prioritize the information that I believe are the most important. But of course, we never get tired of “cool facts” in my family. My kids love telling people: 

“Did you know that the Nile runs through 11 countries?! 11!!”

“Did you know that some rivers run UNDERGROUND?! Where nobody can see them?! CRAZY!”

“Did you know that bull sharks can live in rivers for long periods of time? They’ve been found in the Mississippi river!!”

“Did you know there are teeny tiny microorganisms in rivers? Some are in the shape of a corkscrew!”

“Did you know you can find GOLD in rivers?!”


But just as importantly, I love teaching my kids how rivers play an essential role in the water cycle- and how our health and the health of all wildlife is reliant on our rivers. If WE want to be healthy, we need our EARTH to be healthy, which means we need our RIVERS to be healthy. And the coolest part? Even the littlest adventurers can help keep our rivers healthy! 

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Kid Friendly Activities Along The River

Richard Louv reminds parents in his book, Last Child in The Woods, that one of the best things we can do for the health of our planet, is to raise a generation of children who will be invested in CARING for the earth because they’ve grown up playing outside. Heading to the river with your little explorers is one of the best ways you can invest in long term care of our earth. We love heading to our local spot along the river a few times a week. Think you might be bored “just walking”? Think again! Here are some of our favorite activities to do:


Search for Frogs, Toads, and Crawdads

My children can spend HOURS barefoot in our favorite shallow spot along the river looking for critters. It keeps us in sync with the seasons of nature as we’ve paid attention to the life cycles of our local amphibians. Last week we saw THOUSANDS of tadpoles- it was one of the coolest experiences my littles have had on a hike. Our little beach along the river has been my favorite science classroom as a mother: I get to learn about the local species of wildlife as I teach my children. 


Look Under Rocks

It sounds so simple- but we can spend hours doing this. The number of species of different bugs is absolutely mind blowing- and it’s fascinating to see how our findings change throughout the year. Want to sit back while your little ones explore? Pack a seat, bring a book, and dip your feet in the water.


Pan For Gold

While I don’t expect that we’ll find enough gold to send them all to college, this is a great activity to keep our kids engaged during their treasure hunt. It’s also cool to remind them that rivers cause erosion, and have carried these flakes a long distance, before depositing these heavy particles along the river bed. We learned how to pan for gold a few summers ago- here’s a link to a gold panning kit to try your own luck.


Make an Underwater Scope

One of the more important lessons to teach my children is that there is so much “below the surface” that we cannot see; Literally, and metaphorically. There are whole worlds beyond our typical perspective. To help your little ones see “below the surface” of the river, you can make an underwater scope. Check out the simple tutorial! While you can’t expect to see the dense universe of microorganisms with your underwater scope, it’s a great opportunity to teach our little ones that our rivers are full of life.


Learn from a Naturalist

A few times a year we’ll attend an event with a naturalist. We’re lucky to live within a few minutes of an audubon center, with a wealth of opportunities to learn. Many State and National Parks and recreational areas offer these experiences, too. We always leave with a sense of awe and amazement, and a reminder of our footprint and impact. Do a quick search in your area and see what naturalist experiences are offered! 


Before Heading to the River

A few days ago we were hiking along the river, when I turned around to find that my 5yr old was juggling 4 empty beer cans, a handful of wrappers, and some chewed gum (insert all the meltdown emojis). “Ick!! Don’t pick that up!” I shouted. Her response floored me “Mom, we need to take care of the earth. This is our home. I’m cleaning up our beaches because I love our earth”. Every now and then you get that reward as a parent, that validates that you’ve done something right. 


Aside from teaching Leave No Trace principles, there actually ARE better ways to clean up the trail with your kids. You can assemble a little clean up kit (with gloves, a bag, and hand sanitizer), and give a quick reminder to little ones to call you over if they see anything sharp so you can safely remove it. Don’t forget some sunscreen! Since we want to minimize the chemicals in our water, opt for a mineral based sunscreen, like this one.


Keep the Conversation Alive Through Books

As always, some of the best learning experiences happen in our own home. I don’t know why this surprises me, but it’s always heartwarming when I hear my kids repeat something that we learned at home when I wasn’t sure if they were listening. They’re always observing, listening, and learning. Below are a few links to some books to read together.

We are Water Protectors

One plastic Bag

Mama Miti

What If There Were No Bees?: A Book About the Grassland Ecosystem (Food Chain Reactions) 

The River: An Epic Journey to the Sea

The River That Flows Beside Me (Look Closer)


Mothers are the change makers in our homes, and the work we do with our children impacts the world. Raising empathetic and kind humans is the best way to care for the earth. 

Brooke Murray loves to bike, hike, ski, and camp with her three kiddos in Colorado. 10 years ago she swapped her lab coat for a camera, and has never looked back after beginning work as a content creator and photographer in the outdoor industry.  These days you can find her shooting campaigns for major brands, encouraging children to splash in puddles during their family photo sessions, or leading hikes/rides/events for women and families. 

With the goal of getting more families out on the trail, Brooke Co-Founded WildKind Inc, a membership based community to educate and enable families to level up their outdoor adventure. With everything between creating a digital ski school, leading a backpacking festival, securing brand discounts/deals/giveaways for members, to helping mamas “reclaim their love for type II adventure”, Brooke loves inviting others to join her outside!