There are probably plenty of ways to teach kids about how water flows naturally, but I haven't seen any as fun as the exhibit that's part of Water in Our World at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill.
Here kids push around kinetic sand - that mushy, moldable stuff that you see in toy stores these days - in a small sandbox. As they move it around to form mountains and valleys, an XBox Kinect measures the height of the sand and projects different colors onto it based on the sand's elevation.
My kids and a gaggle of others who were visiting the day we were there were absolutely taken with the piece, creating all sorts of islands and mountains and experimenting with what happens as you push the sand around.
It's one of several hands-on activities at the free exhibit, which will be at Morehead through February. Kids also can see the inner workings of Chapel Hill sewer pipes; try to lift a bucket that a young girl in an impoverished country must carry each day; or try and fix a "burst pipe" using shadows.
There are lessons about how gravity helps move water through our cities and how water can be conserved or reused. Kids will enjoy fun facts like how a dinosaur could fill a bathtub each time it urinated. And they might think a little bit about the water they use when they learn that the average American uses about 100 gallons of water each day, but nearly 1 billion people survive on less than 1.5 gallons a day.
"We hope kids and adults that come in here can take a lot of this information about water and take it home with them," said Nick Eakes, a Morehead science educator. "Just having a base of knowledge makes people more conscious of how they use water."
Water in Our World is free and open during Morehead's public visitation hours, which are usually weekends during the winter but include extended holiday hours.
While you're at Morehead, be sure to catch the new "Grossology & You" show and Gross Labs exhibit.