My almost-four-year-old knows we are in a drought.  At least she has heard me say it enough times that the term itself has started to register.

“Turn off that hose, we are in a drought!”

“No, I’m not going to fill the tub for you again, baby, California is in a drought.”

But, as all parents of toddlers can attest to, it can be extremely difficult for young kids to wrap their budding brains around certain intangible concepts that seem, well, “wider than the ocean, deeper than the sea.”  Especially when your routine playground backdrop is the entire San Francisco Bay and looks like all the water in the world to the eyes of my two tots.

How to teach young kids about water conservation

Our youngest and the San Francisco Bay at low tide

For instance, she can’t quite grasp the enormity of our current water shortage. She can’t be expected to understand the implications of our state’s status having surpassed “Extreme” and pushed, largely, into “Exceptional.”   I can’t be expected to successfully convey to her that “Statewide, California’s major reservoirs (representing more than 27 million acre-feet of storage, are at about 37% of total capacity and 54% of normal.”   

But the immediate effects of the drought became crushingly clear, four days ago, when our city started shutting off all of the playground water features at parks in our vicinity.

How to teach young kids about water conservation

It just got real

So, after doing a little research, and while the first rain clouds we’ve seen in months loomed promisingly overhead, I decided to make a day of impressing upon my daughter the importance of water conservation.  Here is our list of 5 simple things you, too, can do to teach your young ones about water conservation and best practices during our current drought crisis.  When we wrapped up for the day she even turned to me and said, “That was great. I want to do it all again tomorrow!”

That’s the idea, kid. That’s the idea.

1. Reinforcement From Their Favorites

To lay the groundwork I called in the reinforcements and found them, brilliantly, in two of her favorite things. Sesame Street and fish. We watched a few short YouTube videos where her favorite characters explained to her the necessity for conservation and what happens when we don’t practice it. The one that really resonated with her was one where a child leaves the water running in the bathroom as, outside, a poor little fishy’s pond water starts to deplete. There were plenty of others, equally poignant. Give it a search and see what hits home for your kids.

How to teach young kids about water conservation


2. Make A Game Of It

While we still had the laptop open, we spent a few minutes playing one of the wonderful conservation games from Water Use It Wisely. She was enthralled by the game, “Test Your Water Sense,” where she got to “Race through the pipes and meet the water wasters…” while I got my mid-80’s, psuedo-Pacman fix.  There are breaks in the maze action where I read simplified conservation and usage questions to her, a lot of which she, surprisingly, answered instinctively. 

how to teach young kids about water conservation

What is the best time of day to water your lawn? She knew. Do you?


 3. Hear The Hush While You Brush

Some of us have grown accustomed to the sound of running water filling the bathroom’s acoustics while we brush our teeth. While it may seem a small thing, teaching your kids to turn the faucet  off while brushing can make a monumental difference to conservation efforts. “If only one person in every hundred in the United States keeps the water running while brushing their teeth, 2,079,768,512 gallons of water will go down the drain wastefully,” according to this tester.  J was eager to demonstrate the practice after watching that poor fish video up there.

how to teach young kids about water conservation


4. Fix The Drips

Go around your house tightening all of the faucets.  It’s quick and easy and kind of like a leak hide-and-seek.  J found both garden hoses dripping ever so slightly and even noticed that I hadn’t fully shut the kitchen faucet off after breakfast dishes.  According to the EPA, “The average household’s leaks can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, or the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry.” Not to mention the poor fish.

how to teach young kids about water conservation


5. The Toilet Test

We, too, “let it mellow.” In the words of local City Councilman and devoted dad, Charles Stone, “Teaching our kids to be better stewards of our resources is serious stuff.  But the thing that sticks with my kids most is, ‘If it’s yellow let it mellow… ‘ They think it’s hilarious but they remember it.”  However, today, we took it a wee further.  A slow leak in your toilet tank can waste  hundreds of gallons of water every month! With this simple, colorful, test your kids will see how easy it is to overlook the smaller things we can do to conserve water.  Just have your kid drop a few drops of their favorite colored food coloring into the water in the toilet tank. Check back 20-30 minutes later to see if the water in the bowl, itself, has turned colors. No color, no leak.  We passed this test with flying…well, you get it.

how to teach young kids about water conservation


So that’s our quick, fun, list for those of you who’ve ever wondered how to teach young kids about water conservation.  A beneficial and informative way to spend our day, wouldn’t you say?  For more in depth analysis of California’s drought conditions be sure to check out The California Drought.  I will leave you with this mock PSA from Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter, who have teamed up with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the drought awareness program Save Our Water to help spread water conservation tips across social media. 

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Ciao for now,

Dada Mike