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4-H clover Kids’ Groundwater Festival creates future conservationists

Kids prepare to answer questions for adults leading Water Jeopardy
Robin Trott, right, and Judy Johnston, left, lead a group in a rousing game of Water Jeopardy.

“What is carbolic acid?” 

That was a fourth-grader’s correct Water Jeopardy answer to, “Water plus carbon dioxide equals ‘blank’ acid.” Water Jeopardy was just one of 20 fun learning activities during the 30th annual Kids’ Groundwater Festival held at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria on May 3.

Robin Trott, University of Minnesota Extension horticulture educator, and Judy Johnston, Stevens County Soil, Water Conservation District (SWCD) education coordinator, played game show emcees. Local teachers work with students ahead of time to study, covering all aspects of the water cycle and motivating them with the opportunity to complete.

“It was scary to say the answer because I wasn’t sure it was right,” said the student with the correct answer. “But I did it and we won!”

Not all of the questions are so difficult. Many get young people thinking about how they can use less water and keep pollutants out of the water.

Learning by doing

Two boys smiling for the camera. They are wearing their Kids' Groundwater Festival t-shirts.
The Kids' Groundwater Festival gets people excited about water conservation when they are young, fourth-grade in this case.

The annual event put on by the Douglas SWCD gives hands-on learning experiences for fourth-grade students from Douglas County, Parkers Prairie, and West Central Elementary Schools. It takes many volunteers, such as the Alexandria Golden K Kiwanis members. Presenters represent many area businesses and government agencies.

”We get to go around with our friends and have fun and try all the experiments,” said one participant, who participated in Water Jeopardy and conducted a flotation experiment with Extension 4-H educator Jodi Hintzen.

“Youth in our session learned about how life jackets work, what makes submarines submerge, and how much cargo different kinds of boats can carry,” says Hintzen. “They got to make some guesses — or hypotheses — while we did some experiments with different materials.

”We get to go around with our friends and have fun and try all the experiments.”

Extension 4-H Youth Development works with kids from all over the state, putting hands-on learning to use.

According to a 65th-anniversary report in 2019, Douglas SWCD was organized in 1954 by farmers for the purpose of getting soil and water conservation practices applied to the land. They were already holding educational sessions with 4-H youth by 1957.

Sign next to lake pointing to Lake Carlos and also to Lake Darling in the other direction. There is also a no-parking sign. Sky is blue with a few white clouds.

We like the more hands-on learning,” says Jerry Haggenmiller, district coordinator for Douglas SCWD. “It holds the kids’ attention better, so they learn more.”

Locally relevant

Haggenmiller says the festival all started with an idea from the wife of a well-driller. The couple were parents at a science magnet school in Miltona and had seen similar activities in another state help young people learn that, no matter where you live, your actions have an impact on the environment.

It’s true everywhere, but the identity of many parts of Minnesota is very much formed around water. “You can’t throw a stone around Douglas County without hitting a lake,” says Trott. 

Much of her Extension role involves sharing current University of Minnesota research on yard and garden topics for homeowners and public land managers. 

“But I never want to miss a chance to share that knowledge with young people,” says Trott. “It makes a difference when people start learning about water when they are young.”

“You can’t throw a stone around Douglas County without hitting a lake.”


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