At first glance, a pond might seem small and insignificant, but below its still surface there is a magical world waiting to be discovered. Pond dipping is a fun must-do nature adventure for kids. The great thing is that it’s so easy to do. All your child needs is a pond and a net (or a couple buckets). Dip the net into a pond and the fun has begun!
How To Go Pond Dipping
The best time of the year to go pond dipping with your child is from May to August. That’s when ponds are at their peak activity. Of course, there is no bad time to go pond dipping. There is still plenty to see in the early spring and fall too. My suggestion is to go pond dipping a few times from early spring to early fall and see how ponds change from week-to-week and month-to-month.
Step 1: Gather your gear.
You only need two tools to go pond dipping: a pond tray (bucket or container) and a net.
You can find the best variety of quality pond nets at your local pond shop. I encourage you to shop local if you can. You can also buy pond nets online, like this net. It’s fun to have a variety of net, big and small. Small nets work best for little hands and bigger kids like to try bigger nets. Make sure to choose a net that has very small holes so pond critter can’t swim through. Bug nets won’t work as pond nets. The holes are too big!
Don’t have a net? No problem. Just bring two buckets or containers along instead. White or clear buckets work best.
Pond dipping gear:
- A pond net
- A pond tray (a white or clear bucket or containers)
- A magnifying glass (optional)
- Spoons, pipettes, ice cube tray and/or turkey basters (optional)
- Identification sheet or book (really helpful – see free printable below)
Step 2: Find a pond.
A pond is small, still and shallow body of water that can be made by people or by nature. Look for a pond that is easy to access and that kids can easily dip nets into without falling in. When you have found a pond find a spot near the edge to set up all your gear.
Important! Be sure not to cross private property when pond dipping and to be respectful of sensitive nature areas when pond dipping.
Step 3: Fill a tray with pond water.
Staying close to the edge of the pond, preferably in a shady spot if it’s a warm sunny day, take your pond tray (pail or container) and fill it about 1/3 to 1/2 way full with pond water. This is where your child will bring their pond critters to observed them.
Step 4: Dip the net into the pond.
Time to start pond dipping! The best way to catch critters is to swish your net in a circle or in the shape of the number eight (8), called a figure eight. Pond minibeast are small and fast! If you’re having trouble finding critters, try swishing your net quickly near plants on the edge of the pond.
Step 5: Turn out the net into your pond tray.
Carefully but quickly scoop the net out of the pond and place it in the pond tray (bucket or container) that you filled with pond water. Gently turn the net inside out into the tray and let the water settle.
Step 6: Observe your pond minibeasts!
Look carefully into the pond tray to see what pond minibeasts you caught. Pond minibeasts can be very small. If you have a magnifying glass now is the time to use it.
A pond is home to many creatures, big and small. Birds like ponds and so do tiny little critters that live under the water. I like to call these critters pond minibeasts.
Pond minibeasts include critters that have bones inside of their bodies (vertebrates) like frogs, tadpoles and newts AND critters that have no bones inside of this bodies (invertebrates) like mosquito larva, leeches, dragonfly nymphs, and diving beetles.
There’s a whole zoo of weird and wonderful minibeast that live in ponds.
Identify your pond minibeast by using the POND MINIBEASTS IDENTIFICATION sheets.
**These journal pages are excerpts from My Spring Nature Journal.
Step 7: Gently Return Pond Minibeasts Back to their Home.
Don’t forget to return pond minibeast back into the pond! Pond minibeasts won’t live for very long if they are stuck in a tray or bucket for a lengthy period of time. On a warmer day we check the water temperature in our buckets and try not to keep our minibeasts in the bucket for more than 10-15 minutes at a time. Gently tip your bucket of water back into the pond.
Important! Please keep in mind that it is illegal to take wildlife away from their habitat to your home, so be sure to return all minibeast into the pond before leaving.
A Few Pond Dipping Safety Notes:
For kids that are very young or do not know how to swim, be very aware of potential drowning risks near ponds. To prevent young children from falling into the water encourage them to pond dip on their knees or laying on their bellies.
Ponds are teaming with all sorts of critters, some that we can’t even see. Some ponds have bad bacteria in them that can make us sick. Don’t drink pond water and be sure that kids wash theirs hands after pond dipping adventures, especially before they eat.
Also, make sure to clean nets and buckets before exploring a different pond. You can clean nets and bucket with water and let them throughout air dry. Or, if you are planning to visit another pond in the same day, clean your nets and buckets with a mild bleach solution. This will prevent cross-contamination of bacteria, protozoa and other tiny critters between ponds.
Great Book about Ponds for Kids
- A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America by J. Reese Jr. Voshell (recommended reference book)
- Be a Pond Detective: Solving the Mysteries of Lakes, Swamps, and Pools by Peggy Kochanoff (ages 8 – 12+)
- Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler (ages 5 – 8)
- Frogs, Toads and Turtles by Diana Burns (ages 5 – 8)
- In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming (ages 3 – 5)
- Lakes and Ponds!: With 25 Science Projects for Kids Johannah Haney (ages 7 – 10)
- On Duck Pond (On Bird Hill and Beyond) by Jane Yolen (ages 5 – 8)
- Pond by Jim LaMarche (ages 5 – 8)
- Pond by Donald Silver and Patricia Wynne (ages 5 – 8)
- Pond Circle by Betsy Franco (ages 5 – 8)
- Pond Life by George K. Reid (ages 8 – 12+)
- Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner (ages 5 – 8)
- The Frog Book by Steven Jenkins and Robin Page (ages 6 – 10)
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