Water Cycle Lesson

The water cycle is something that we can see happening every day all around us, we can see the sun and the clouds, we can see lakes and rivers we can see rain and snow we can even see big old puddles appear and disappear, but kids sometimes need a smaller way to see a big concept in order to really understand how it works.

Water Cycle Lesson and Project for Kids

Water Cycle for Kids

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What is the Water Cycle? 

In simplest terms water from the earth becomes heated and turns to gas which rises up, that gas meets the cold air which turns it back to water that then falls back down to the earth.

Why is the water cycle important? Every living thing on earth needs water to live and thrive. The water cycle is how water gets to everyone and everything it needs to on earth.

Another term for the water cycle is the Hydrologic Cycle. One of the greatest impacts on the Earth’s water cycles is global climate change and the warming effect of Greenhouse gases.

We have a powerful experiment demonstrating the warming effects of Greenhouse Gases if you want to dig deeper into this area of scientific investigation.  

Why is the Water Cycle Important? 

Water is essential to life on this planet. Our own bodies are approximately 60% water. Without water, life on Earth ceases to exist. Scientists study the delicate balance of our Earth system, including water resources and their role in natural processes that keep our planet healthy. They do this to understand how these systems work and what we can do to keep them in balance. If we can keep our planet healthy, we can keep ourselves healthy. 

Water Cycle Vocabulary

There are of course actual scientific terms for the parts of the water cycle that your students will need to know and understand.

Evaporation: The process of water turning from its liquid state into vapor gas.

Transpiration: The process of water evaporating from plants through their stomata.

Condensation: The process of vapor gas being cooled and turning back into liquid water droplets.

Precipitation: Water that falls from the atmosphere to the earth.

Infiltration and Percolation: The process of water going into the soil and groundwater.

Hydrosphere: All the water on Earth makes up the Hydrosphere.

Hydrologic Cycle: Scientific term for the Water Cycle.

Water Cycle Explained

When we teach our students about the water cycle – or any cycle really, pull circles into the conversation. You can say that water goes up and then comes down, but something about putting that cycle on a circle diagram lets the students visually see how each part of the cycle moves into another in a continuous circulation of water all over the Earth.

So lets talk about the water cycle vocabulary and all! 

When the sun’s energy reaches Earth it warms the water found in lakes, rivers, streams, the ocean and even the groundwater and plants. As the water heats up it transforms from its liquid form into water vapor – water’s gas form. This process is known as evaporation. Sometimes you can see this happening in the form of fog. 

As this gas rises into the atmosphere the water vapour gathers together and forms clouds, this process is known as condensation. When these clouds get dense and full, gravity takes over, and the water falls back down to the earth. This process is precipitation – we see precipitation as rain, or snow or sleet. The water collects, feeds the plants and the animals, is stored in the lakes and river and plants and ground and then the process starts all over again! Hence the term water cycle!

This diagram is helpful for helping students understand the cycle water molecules go through. 

Water Cycle Diagram

So how can you turn this cycle into a visual project that make it easy for kids to see the process? I suggest – water cycle in a jar!

In this experiment, we will use heated water to simulate the natural cycle of water molecules so that kids can easily see what is happening and how the process works.

Water Cycle Experiment

We need just a few simple supplies to do a model of the Hydrologic Cycle in action. 

Water Cycle Experiment


A clear jar with a tight fitting lid.
measuring cup with hot water (it doesn’t need to be boiling, just hot enough to see steam rising from the surface).
Dry erase markers (completely unnecessary to the project, but you can draw the parts of the cycle on the jar to make it even more visual if you are using this as a science fair project).
Ice Cubes in a plastic bag (optional: but can speed the process of condensation when placed on top of the jar)


Carefully pour the hot water into the jar and close the lid as soon as you can. You will immediately see a vapor cloud form in the jar (the evaporation process). As the vapor reaches the top of the jar you will being to see water droplets form on the top of the jar (the condensation process). As the droplets continue to form on the top of the jar they will get too “heavy” and begin to fall back into the water in the bottom of the jar (the precipitation process).

Water Cycle Experiment showing condensation

The whole project couldn’t be simpler. It is the perfect straightforward and visual illustration of how the process works so that kids and see and hopefully understand the process that is so very vital to our existence.

Continued learning and reinforcement are easy. Any time we see the sun or clouds or rain or snow, ask your students questions. What is that process we see happening around us right now? Which part of the water cycle are we seeing? What happens next in the cycle?

You can also use these printables to review the concepts taught in this lesson. Simply enter your email to unlock this printable.

Extension Activities

You may have noticed that this is a simplified version of our Acid Rain Experiment. In that experiment we explored the impact of acid rain on plant life. Once your students have mastered their understanding of the Water Cycle, try the Acid Rain Experiment to see how pollution and acidity in the water systems are affecting plant life around the world.

Want still more? Check out this video from NASA on the Water Cycle.

Water Cycle Lesson, printable and activity

More Activity Ideas