Discover This: Breaking Down Erosion

teaching about erosion

The other day, I was talking to my son about the local river we have flowing nearby and how rocks get broken down from all that flowing water. I explained that the rocks get broken down as the water flows because they bounce off other rocks along the way. I explained this created sediment and is a form of deposition. He was intrigued and that gave me an idea of how to turn it into a “teach about erosion” moment!

When we got home, I pulled out an empty old spaghetti jar (everyone just has those laying around for the perfect moment, right?) and some clay. Together we collected rocks from the yard and driveway and piled some up at the bottom of the jar. After molding my clay into a nice round ball, I dropped it into the spaghetti jar and filled the jar half way with water. I closed the jar with the lid and handed it to him. He stood there looking at me as though I was crazy.

I knew I wasn’t. I said, “Go ahead. Shake it – but shake it carefully.” (I knew my son. He could be a bit rambunctious. He’d shake it so hard the glass would break – that was his style. He’s been destroying things since he was a baby.)

As he shook the jar, I explained that this is similar to the motion of the river. The clay in the jar represents a rock that is being flung around by the water as the current takes it down stream. I asked, “Notice how it is bouncing off other rocks along the way and there are some chunks coming off in the water?”

The water was getting quite dirty looking. After he shook it for a while, we opened up the jar and took out the clay to look at it. It definitely had some dents. We talked about how the water was dirty because of the clay breaking down in the water and leaving behind sediment, or little tiny pieces of rock. Could that be how sand is created? Depending on the type of rock, most definitely! We discussed that all that sediment builds up and is deposited along the way. This of course lead to a great discussion about weathering, erosion, and even deltas.

Create a Mini-Erosion Learning Unit

  • The Grand Canyon was carved through weathering and erosion of water. You can take a virtual feild trip and explore the Grand Canyon (even if you have a fear of heights). After exploring this site, predict what you think the Grand Canyon will look like in a million more years. Draw a picture of it.
  • Explore some of the most beautiful creations on Earth from weathering and erosion. Look at each carefully and create a list of how each landform was created. Next, plot the location of each on a map. If you really want to extend this, create a travel brochure to encourage people to go check out the weathering and erosion. Would you like to visit any of these locations? Which one? Why?
  • Watch this time span video that shows the effects of weathering and erosion over the course of time. Before you push “play”, predict how far back the erosion will go. Afterwards, brainstorm a plan of how erosion can be prevented.

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  • Making it personal: Weathering is all about breaking things down while erosion is carrying it away. Have you ever experienced a moment in your life were it felt like things were just breaking down or falling apart? When that occurred did you get carried away with how it was handled? While weathering and erosion can never be stopped completely, we can slow it down. When you start to feel your life being weathered and getting carried away, what kinds of steps can you take to buffer – to slow it down a bit?
  • On my personal blog you will find more activities that will help demonstrate and understand erosion, such as exploring river erosion and beach erosion and Earth changes.


Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. homeschooled her children from kindergarten into college. Over the last 15+ years, she has also worked with families in creating individualized learning plans. As a professional curriculum developer, Alessa has created afterschool youth development programs for a Baltimore-based nonprofit, as well as teaching materials for homeschool parents and brick and mortar school teachers.

3 thoughts on “Discover This: Breaking Down Erosion

  • October 14, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    This is SO GREAT!! I love these teachable moments! I know that it’s kind of obvious when they are young and learning words (colors, animals, etc), but I hope that I can be intentional about this type of thing even when my kiddos are older. Thanks for sharing!

  • October 14, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    You could also make this a year long learning experience by finding a local stream and going to measure and track its erosion rate and then experiment by seeing what type of man made barriers can prevent erosion.

  • October 17, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    What a great learning experience!! Thanks for the ideas and resources!

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