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Ideas for children, parents and teachers to explore and discover rivers, lakes and wetlands – Up the River

for children

Freshwater – in creeks, rivers, lakes and wetlands – is in the news a lot right now. People want to be able to swim in it and drink it safely. But people aren’t the only living things that depend on water. In Up the River, we’ve written about and illustrated the many creatures that make freshwater their home.


The more you understand about freshwater, the more you can make a difference to our waterways and help make them swimmable and drinkable. Simple actions like making sure you don’t throw rubbish into the environment, or reminding others that street drains go straight into rivers or the sea, will help. You can join a project too, helping to replant riverbanks or test water quality.

Whatever you do, make sure you stay safe around water and observe water safety rules. Rivers and streams can change quickly and be unpredictable.


The Water Safety Code

  1. Be prepared
    Learn to swim
    Set rules for your visit to a river, lake or wetland
  2. Watch out for yourself and others
    Make sure an adult is supervising any activity by water
    Always keep together
  3. Be aware of dangers
    River currents can be very strong
    Rivers, lakes and wetlands can change from day to day
    Always check for hazards
  4. Know your limits and the limits of others in your group


for parents and teachers

In Up the River, we explore and discover some of the intriguing animals and plants that live in New Zealand’s freshwater. In this book we wanted to show the living things that you would expect to find in healthy freshwater, so most of the images show healthy waterways. We also wanted to show that not all freshwater is in a healthy state – on pages 10–13 we show a landscape that has been modified by people, but where the river is still quite healthy. We hope that adults will discuss with children what impact the farms and towns will have on this waterway as it progresses to the sea. Similarly the text about lakes on pages 16–17 raises points for discussion about the health of our lakes.

Everyone lives close to freshwater of some sort, whether it’s a small creek or large lake. These are great places to explore and find out more about what insects, birds and other creatures live there. Even what looks like a ditch alongside a playing field can be explored and cared for. There are lots of opportunities to join projects or to take part in an education programme. Families might like to get involved in local or national restoration projects – some organisations that run these are listed below.


Make sure that children know and understand the Water Safety Code and adults should also consider the New Zealand Water Care Code When you are planning to get out and explore, talk to children about how we need to care for plants and animals in the environment.

In the list below ‘More information about Rivers, Lakes and Wetlands’ you will find some sources that are written for adults which will help you answer questions or find out more yourself.


reading the book – some ideas for talking about the book with children

Up the River explores freshwater habitats: a creek, a river, a braided river, a lake and a wetland. Cross-section diagrams link animals and plants to fact pages in the second half of the book (pages 22–35). This means that the book can be read in different ways.

For very young children, you may want to read the front section to page 21 and then just look at and talk about the pictures on the fact pages.

With older children, point out the page numbers on the corners of the fact boxes if they haven’t noticed these already, and let them choose whether they flip back and forth in the book or read each page sequentially.

As you read the book with children, think about what questions you can ask that will help them deepen their understanding of the text and illustrations. Here are some suggestions:

  • on the cover and on pages 4–5 there are clouds in the sky. Talk about what will happen when it rains, where will the water go?
  • look for images in the illustrations that are familiar, for example, they may have seen pukeko and swans like those on pages 4–5, or been to an area where there are braided rivers like the one on pages 14–15.
  • on pages 6–7 both ‘creek’ and ‘stream’ are used to describe this waterway, ask what other names they know for waterways e.g. ditch, canal, dam, waterfall.
  • pages 10–13 describe a landscape that has been modified by people, with willows planted, farming activity and a town downstream. This gives an opportunity for some discussion about the impact humans can have on freshwater wildlife, and whether the animals pictured will be able to live downstream as well.
  • pages 14–15 show a braided river and pages 16–17 a lake, there wasn’t space for more cross-section diagrams, so encourage children to look up the birds on pages 28–31.
  • most of the animals on the fact pages have names in both Maori and English, some Maori names, such as pukeko are used in both languages, talk about what other Maori names they know.
  • page 32 shows some common plants – look back through the book to see where they feature.
  • look at the map on page 35 and encourage children to figure out where on the map they live and talk about whether they have seen any of the places mentioned.


out and about activities

  • Visit a creek to explore the wildlife that lives there. Take a magnifying glass and containers. Make sure you carefully put back any animals you find.
  • Make a magnifying water scope and take it to look at life in the stream.
  • Use a waterproof camera to take photos of life in the stream.
  • Use the various tests and measures described in education resources listed below, such as GWRC’s ‘Take Action for Water’, to figure out the quality of the freshwater habitat.
  • Join a stream clean-up or planting bee.
  • Visit a lake, wetland or estuary to go bird watching. Take binoculars and see how many birds you can identify.
  • Go rafting or kayaking, taking safety precautions (see and observe the animals that live on or around the water.
  • Take a torch and go back to your creek at night to look for eels, fish and koura.
  • Play ‘Pooh Sticks’ or make simple boats, to observe the way a river or stream flows.

things to do at home or in the classroom

For activity ideas see Pinterest, these include:


information about Rivers, Lakes and Wetlands and things that live in them

NIWA–- Freshwater and Estuaries

Landcare Research Invertebrate Identification guide

Ministry for the Environment – Freshwater

New Zealand Birds Online

Fish & Game (including rules about freshwater sport fishing and game hunting)

Tuna Kuwharuwharu – The Longfin Eel by Joseph Potangaroa



Organisations Involved with Freshwater Care and Restoration, some of these sites also include educational material or material for children

Wetland Trust

Million Metres Streams Project

Working Waters Trust

Braided River Aid

Brown Teal

Whio/Blue Duck

Ducks Unlimited New Zealand

LERNZ lake ecosystem restoration

Land Air Water Aotearoa

Forest and Bird



Curriculum links

Te Whariki

Strand 5: Exploration

Goal 4: Children experience an environment where they develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical, and material worlds.


The New Zealand Curriculum: Science

Nature of Science

Investigating in Science, Communicating in Science, Participating and contributing

L1–2 Living World

Students will:

Recognise that living things have certain requirements so they can stay alive

Recognise that living things are suited to their particular habitat

Recognise that there are lots of different living things in the world and that they can be grouped in different ways.


L1–2 Planet Earth and Beyond

Students will:

Explore and describe natural features and resources

Describe how natural features are changed and resources affected by natural events and human actions.


L3 Living World

Students will:

Explain how living things are suited to their particular habitat and how they respond to environmental changes, both natural and human induced

Begin to group plants, animals and other living things into science-based classifications


L 3 Planet Earth and Beyond

Students will:

Appreciate that water, air, rocks and soil, and life forms make up our planet and recognise that these are also Earth’s resources.

Investigate the water cycle and its effect on climate, landforms and life.



Classroom resources and programmes

Department of Conservation Education resources include:


Whitebait Education Resource

Whio/blue duck

Wet Feet Investigating Freshwater–investigating-freshwater/

Braided Rivers

Habitat Heroes Wet Feet Investigating Freshwater


Science Learn Topics include – estuaries, water, whitebait, observing fresh water macro invertebrates, long-fin eels, frogs


Greater Wellington Regional Council – Take Action for Water


Whitebait Connection – freshwater community conservation education programmes

Building Science Concepts resources from the Ministry of Education include – Book 1 Waterways; Book 2 Weathering and Erosion; Book 15 Where’s the Water?; Book 31 Water and Weather

gillian candler (author) and
ned barraud (illustrator)

Freshwater is home to some amazing animals, many of them very small, learning about them made me look much more closely at freshwater and I enjoyed finding koura and ‘toebiters’ in bush streams and eels in small rivers. My favourite lake in New Zealand is Blue Lake in Nelson Lakes National Park, which is several days’ hike from the nearest town. The water there is stunningly clear and clean. It’s sad to think that most of our lakes aren’t like that anymore. I am really pleased that people across the country are now talking about the quality of our water and many are taking action.



Ned is an illustrator with a keen passion for the natural world. He loves nothing more than swimming in a beautiful, clean river and hopes this will always be possible in New Zealand. Ned lives in Wellington with his wife and three children.

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