Can California’s Youngest Minds Help Fix the Drought?

How A State-Wide Contest for Kids on Water Conservation Opened the Floodgates For Creative Ideas

While the actions of adults on water conservation will determine our fate, making kids aware of water and the drought is important too.

At the California Arts Council, we noticed that California’s 4th and 5th grade students must meet science, history, and social science standards that require water education. Fourth grade students trace the evolution of California’s water system into a network of dams, aqueducts, and reservoirs, while 5th graders are taught the human impact on earth systems such as water. And we know from research and experience that integrating arts into subjects like science and math can engage students and increase achievement. So why not combine art and science studies in a fun and creative project?

We decided to host a poster contest directly soliciting students’ ideas on how and why to save water. From this simple idea, the “Conservation Creativity Challenge” was born. The Department of Water Resources joined as our partner in this effort, and Project WET, a water education foundation, provided lesson plans for teachers to engage in water conservation classroom activities.

From January through April, as we Californians waited for rain, entries to the contest flooded in. We received hundreds of posters, from schools from Redding to Modesto, Tulare to San Diego. Students illustrated creative water conservation tips with headlines including “Be a super hero by saving water!” and “Save our H2O or else we’ll be no more!” They shared helpful tips such as bucketing shower water and reusing ice cubes to water plants.

Eight winners were selected based on the impact of their ideas, the persuasiveness of their messages, and their artistic merit. Teachers reported that participating students were conscientious about water use in the classroom (including the use of a small bucket of water to clean paintbrushes instead of running water from the sink). And they helped their families conserve at home, encouraging parents to clean sidewalks and driveways with a broom instead of a hose.

One teacher from Fresno shared that her students “were engaged in creating posters for water conservation, especially since many of the students have family and relatives working out in the fields. They were so inspired that many of the students researched water conservation on their computers and also kept a watchful eye on the amount of water we used in the classroom.”

Sometimes it’s hard to take advice from kids—the earth isn’t in imminent danger of becoming so dry it turns into Mars, as one of the posters suggests. But there’s nothing like having a set of young eyes watching to make families think twice about how they use water, with their insatiably curious minds asking questions that matter to our state’s future.

  • Stephen Dolle

    I love this effort in utilizing the arts for broader discussions on society and the environment. As you know, there are many different facets to the arts, modalities, and the many ways they serve society. One such initiative is what I’ve put together to help the drought in California, in Drumming for Rain. I’ve been involved in hand drumming and drum circles for over 10 years, and have organized over 100 events. My specialty is drumming for the brain and wellness. But I also have “intuitive” skills I utilize in drumming. So in drumming for rain, I look to have drummers play all over the state at the same time, in groups, to help make it rain. At the very least, it will help with dialogue for conservation and awareness. Here’s the link on my blog: