Keywords: rain garden, storm water runoff, pollution, non-point source, conservation, paved areas, natural filter, absorption, downspout, ecosystem, native plants, pollinators; Grade Level: K-5 – activities and vocabulary can be adapted according to age level; Time Required: Two one-hour sessions; Setting: Outside the school and in the classroom

Subjects: Science, Math, Language Arts

Topics: Water Conservation, Pollution, Natural Resources, Environmental Education


Students will understand the negative effects of pollution on storm water runoff, will investigate the negative effects of paved areas on water runoff, will explain the importance of water conservation, will describe how rain gardens can help filter our water supply and improve our environment.

Materials Needed

journals, pencils and clipboards; pictures (local, if possible or can be downloaded from most sources listed at the end) of: water polluted with such things as motor oil, fertilizers, pesticides, sediment; pictures of paved areas like parking lots, streets, driveways; roof drain spouts, street drainage systems, rain gardens. Optional: cameras
State Standards Addressed:
Environment and Ecology: 4.1.3.A, 4.1.3.D, 4.1.3.E, 4.1.4.E, 4.1.3.F, 4.1.4.F, 4.1.5.F, 4.2.3.D, 4.2.4.D, 4.2.5.D, 4.3.4.A, 4.3.3.B, 4.3.4.B, 4.3.3.C, 4.3.4.C, 4.3.5.C, 4.4.3E, 4.4.4.E, 4.4.5.E, 4.5.3.A, 4.5.4.A, 4.5.3.C, 4.5.4.C, 4.5.5.C, 4.5.3.D, 4.4.D, 4.5.5.D, 4.5.4.E, 4.5.3.F, 4.5.4.F, 4.5.5.F

Teaching Model: hands on, small group, investigation, data collection, comparison, discussion, analyzing


First Session - Students walk around the school perimeter or neighborhood and list or draw in their journal all paved areas they see. Ideally this activity could be done after a rain storm where students could document any standing water. They could also document any pollution they see. They should label each area and its location. Students return to classroom and compare their results.

Second Session - Teacher shares photos of pollutants that enter the water supply and shows photos of drainage systems near paved areas where the polluted water enters from storm water runoff. Teacher asks students if they know where that water goes. Many people believe this water is filtered and treated in the sewage system and are surprised that it isn't and eventually ends up in our rivers, lakes and streams; often heated too high for fish to survive. Teacher explains that there is a natural way to filter storm water runoff and shares pictures of rain gardens which capture water from rooftops and hard surfaces and filters pollutants before they reach storm sewers and eventually pollute our streams. Briefly discuss conservation of water resources and how rain gardens can beautify and benefit the ecosystem in several ways.

Discuss (varies with age level) how rain gardens can be built with these general guidelines:
* Location: at least 10 feet from a building in a slightly depressed area downhill from a spout or paved area (first check with utility companies, local municipality/school)
* Design: size is usually 5-10 % of area draining, slope about 10-12%, depth is 4-8 inches with a level bottom(first dig 2 feet to loosen soil), length about twice width
* Site Prep: remove soil, test and may need to add sand or compost, ideally 50-60% sand, 20-30% topsoil without clay, 20-30% compost
* Plant Selection: native plants adapt to local condition, require less maintenance, provide habitat for beneficial pollinators and insects including bees, butterflies, birds
List of PA natives by sun/shade:
* Mulch: use 2-3 inches of shredded bark mulch (not chips which wash away)


Assessment will be teacher observation during activities, journal writings and drawings, class participation


Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance.

Fennessey, Larry. Editor. Penn State Stormwater. 2009. Engineering Services. The Pennsylvania State University. University Park, PA.

Loucks, Jennifer. Directions on How to Make Rain Gardens.

Matt Morrissey. Key Ideas for Installing a Rain Garden. May 12, 2009. University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension.

Pounders, Sarah. Rain Gardens to the Rescue.

Rain Gardens: An exciting new idea for your home or business.

Rain Gardens - Iowa Rain Garden Design and Installation Manual. 2009. USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Rain Gardens of West Michigan. in association with the West Michigan Environmental Action Council. Copyright 2000-2010.

Sherman, Brian and Trisha O'Neill. Rain Gardens in Fall 2008 publication Seasonings. Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. Fall 2008.

Three Rivers Rain Garden Alliance.

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Connie Horne, State College Area School District Guest Teacher K-5