User Tips

Rain Garden Activity for use on EnviroScape® models

On the Watershed/Nonpoint Source model there are circular depressions in the neighborhood where the trees are normally placed.  Place your trees on with clay anywhere else and use these small depressions as your rain gardens by homes.  Simulate these rain gardens catching runoff from driveways and rooftops.  

  1. Place  sticky tack or green electrical tape over the depressions (sticky tack is easier to remove than clay when wet).
  2. Rain over the houses and driveways to show the runoff going over the area and to the storm drain.
  3. Next dig your depression for the rain garden by removing sticky tack or tape from the depression.
  4. Plant a rain garden of cut up bits of felt and sponge and perhaps use something to show grasses (like craft moss). Place this absorbent material and a few pieces of aquarium gravel in the depression.
  5. Rain again  over the house and driveway directing the rain towards your rain garden, watch the rain gardens absorb the runoff and explain how the rain garden in facilitating infiltration and absorbing run-off!

This tip will also work by the sewage treatment plant — remove the treatment plant building and replace with a house or leave the treatment plant but refer to it as a library — cover up the indentations in the model as suggested above — during this part of the demonstration the runoff goes in the creek. Then “dig” a place for your garden and build up those indentations as described above.

The Wetlands model also works great for rain gardens — nice big depressions, but you would still want to start with these depressions “filled in” because placing a rain garden is all about strategically planning your depression.  


SCARCE in Illinois uses two of the watershed models (side-by-side) in each of their demonstrations

  • One model is the degraded watershed and they demonstrate runoff and other pollution issues on it.
  • On the other watershed model they build it up with pollution prevention, showing what they are currently doing in their community to help control water pollution.
  • Having the models side by side saves time in the demonstration but it also allows students to make an instant connection between land use and pollution prevention. The models can be rained on simultaneously so students can see the importance of pollution prevention techniques. 

  • Using caps from soda or water bottles SCARCE in Illinois makes "caps" for the clarifying tanksat the wastewater treatment plant, on their EnviroScape® Watershed Nonpoint Source Model. In Illinois, and around the country new wastewater treatment plants have to have such caps to prevent overflow and fish kills during heavy rains.
  • Use strips of flowered fabric, fastened to the model with clay to show planting of native plants to help control erosion.
  • Use small strips of flowered ribbon to demonstrate bioswales.
  • A checkered pattern of fabric, placed on backing, and cut to fit the parking lot area by the factory demonstrates permeable pavement.
  • Use small squares of yellow sponge to simulate straw bales to demonstrate how straw bales can be used in the creek as a water filter.
  • Last fall I did 26 presentations over a 3 and 1/2 day period, each 20 minutes long. Needless to say, I had to clean up quickly in between the presentations. I had a gallon jug of water each day to see me through, and I used some of it to clean. Most importantly (and accidentally!) I had a dark brown hand towel, which didn't show cocoa stains I could quickly swipe off the Enviroscape and be ready for the next group of 8th graders.
  • Showing motor oil: A college student in a Project Learning Tree training said she had seen soy sauce used to demonstrate motor oil on the roads.
  • The way that we have presented the Enviroscape with great success is to "brain storm" with students before using the Enviroscape about issues concerning non point solution. We brain storm with the question, "What are some of the ways/things we have done to impact our water systems/water ways?" After brain storming this question and listing on poster paper these (usually one word) statements, we then move to the Enviroscape and have the "students" begin to discuss these issues and have the students demonstrate the issues. In most every case that we have brain stormed and then demonstrated on the unit, we have found that the questions and examples can be matched up very well on the Enviroscape. (takes about 45 minutes when time is a factor).
  • Tips for Short Programs (20 minutes) for Models: With all the models you can pick and choose what elements (from the Users Guide and your experience) to focus on, depending on time frame, audience, key points. For example, you may pick a handful of areas/activities that represent the conservation principles or safe management practices and just focus on those to fit your time constraints.
  • If you have larger groups, here are some suggestions also:
    • Perhaps a lower table with a semi-circle with different height chairs (row sitting on floor, row sitting on chairs, row sitting on tables!?!) - or if possible, ask that sessions be in a science lab if graduated seating.
    • Another idea would be to have a large mirror to reflect what was happening on the table from a higher place - this has been done in presentations to large groups at conferences - but may be too cumbersome/difficult to do in the schools.
    • Of course, you can always rotate the front line - I have used 4 kids at once apply something on different areas of the landscape - each saying what they had done, then 4 others add water - this cycle gives 8 at a time the chance to interact - but you would need teacher support to make it work. And, pre or post info to reinforce the ideas.
  • To keep felt strips from sticking, take the backing off and soak in clean water to get it wet. Also remove some of the stickiness by repeating sticking it to your hand and removing it. It take some of the stickiness off. Goo gone works wonders to remove sticky!!!!!!!
  • Showing nonformal teachers how to be more successful in the classroom. Last fall we did a day long training showing nonformal teachers how to be more successful in the classroom. One way is to ask open ended questions and let the audience "brainstorm" discussion questions, ideas and solutions. A question we used for discussion was from middle school science on earth science, "Human activities change the earth's land, water and atmosphere. Some of these changes decreased the capacity of the environment to support life forms." From this statement we brainstormed and wrote the comments on an easel. We then went to the nonpoint source EnviroScape and discussed these issues. It was amazing that all the brainstorming and issues that were printed on the board by these nonformal natural resource educators was able to be demonstrated on the EnviroScape model.
  • To show the chemical reaction that can occur when different types of pesticides and fertilizers are mixed from various uses on land. . . Take a small amount of baking soda and sprinkle on the landscape (primarily on the agricultural area but could use residential or industrial area, too). Add a drop or two of standard vinegar. A REACTION OCCURS. The baking soda and vinegar mixture bubbles up and represents a compounded chemical reaction. Add rain to the landscape and, if you care to, even test the pH factor as an added experiment. The emphasis of this activity is to show the cumulative effects of mixing unknown chemicals, the reaction that can occur and its effect on the watershed. Remember, this mixture is great to replace oven cleaners and other toxic household products! (Don' worry -- the materials are non-toxic!)
  • To show plastic litter and marine debris in waterways . . . use multi-colored candy sprinkles, which float and look like mini-plastic bottles. In addition, Maureen suggests using chocolate jimmies to represent animal waste. What a combination.
  • Ever wonder how to get the pinkish tint out of your landfill collection pipes and tubes? Try soaking them in Formula 409 cleaner. It works like a charm and your pipes will look brand new. It also works on the Landfill trays.
  • Straw bales along roadways are easy to make and are often used for erosion control. Just get out a magnifying glass and sew the bales together using thread and small pieces of straw. Then place and reuse on the landscape as a BMP.
  • To show integrated methods for solid waste management, you can create management areas at your modern landfill for bulky materials, tires, composting windrows, etc. to represent the recovery programs you are operating. You can also move the recycling drop-off center to the landfill area if you would like to show a transfer site in its place. And, for home composting, use toothpicks to build a mini-composter for behind the residence and fill with real leafy material.
  • To show air borne pollution, bring along a small battery-powered fan when you are doing an EnviroScape demonstration. Use the fan to blow particles of drink mix or cocoa when applying to landscape. (Added note: baby power can also be applied from above with or without a fan to create a glossy-type residue on the surface of the model to emulate smog).
  • To make trash for your hazardous waste landfill, tear up bits of an old egg carton or styrofoam.
  • Wet items: Following a demonstration, place the very wet items in a well-ventilated laundry or hosiery bag for them to dry. An onion bag works well, too!
  • A rubber band will hold the storm drain.
  • For a working storm drain: Punch a hole in the plastic stoppers that come in your Nonpoint Source model, insert one in the vinyl tubing opening and you have a working storm drain that holds the storm pipe in place.
  • Use chocolate syrup for oil.
  • Use instant coffee for sewage.
  • Use Cocoa Krispies for manure and oatmeal for crop residue.
  • Use bits of plastic and paper for trash.
  • Use powdered Gatorade to demonstrate fertilizer or chemicals. It burns bright green when it gets wet therefore making it easier to follow the path of the pollution flow through the waterways.
  • Use real snow in the winter months.
  • Use a toothbrush to clean your buildings.
  • Cut your own felt pieces.
  • Use a Rubbermaid salt & pepper shaker for the cocoa and drink mixes.
  • Use sugarless Kool-Aid outside to avoid flies, yellow jackets, and clumps. You can also use water with food coloring to avoid insect problems.
  • Use sand or real soil for sediment instead of cocoa.
  • For carrying more than one model, use the nylon carrying bag for the different molded plastic landscapes and the heavy duty carrying case for the base(s), Groundwater Component and accessories -- you may even have room for handouts!
  • Use benzine (found in most hardware stores) on a rag to remove any sticky adhesive from felt pieces left on your model too long.
  • Use a rag instead of a sponge for faster clean-up.
  • Use 35 mm film canisters to hold the drink mixes.
  • Recycle your onion bags and use them to carry your wet items.
  • A few drops of blue food coloring in the rain and if using food coloring, use rubber gloves!
  • Clay is a wonderful thing...you can use it to cover the groundwater holes in the Nonpoint Source model, to plant trees in various places, to hold the train more securely on its tracks -- and you can even use it to plug up any holes or crevices on vehicles that may leak.
  • For those times when you don't have enough staff resources at an exhibit, create a static exhibit with your EnviroScape by using photos to show the model and numbers to identify the text with the nonpoint sources on the model.
  • Use mini chocolate chips for manure.
  • Cut cotton swabs in half for Wetlands root demonstration so that it's more realistic and uses fewer swabs!
  • Make small clay rolls (logs) for a base to hold fence pieces. You can also make clay bases for animals so they stand up better.
  • Use model railroad landscaping material - Life-Like brand Grass (Model #1107), and Earth (Model #1109) for a realistic representation of soil and grass clippings. When the material reaches the lake as pollutants, it floats.
  • Recycle punch hole circles -- sprinkle them on EnviroScape for trash or use in landfill on Hazardous Materials model.
  • Become a house painter and spray paint your houses if they become dull after repeated use.
  • Try cinnamon instead of cocoa -- when purchased in bulk, cinnamon may be less expensive than cocoa.
  • Use rubber bands for holding in wells as well as for storm drain.
  • Use two EnviroScape models at the same time - one showing pollution and the other with BMPs in place.
  • Affix a PVC pipe to your EnviroScape model to drain the lake into a 5-gallon bucket.
  • You can build a light-weight stand with an overhead mirror out of PVC pipe as a stand-alone demonstration table.
  • Use a "Moisture Magnet," similar to a chamois, instead of a sponge. These can also be cut to a smaller size. (For ordering information contact Ken Burnell, P.O. Box 9671, Sugar Creek, MO 64054.)

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Customer Testimonials



"We are continuing to get a lot of mileage out of our EnviroScape models. We set up the Hazardous Materials model as a static display as part of our agency's exhibit at the Florida State Fair. It was our "in" to get people talking and went wonderfully with the hazardous waste educational materials we were distributing."

PATTI SANZONE, Environmental Specialist, Florida Department of Environmental Protection

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