By Kristie Williams,
Soil Scientist and Mum of three kids (aged 4, 6 and 8)
Let’s Get Dirty
When your child asks “Why is this mud brown, Mum?” or “Where do the ants take my crumbs, Dad?”, it’s a great chance to stop and think about soil with your kids. What is soil? What grows in it? How would we survive without it?
Soil stretches across this planet like a living skin. Thick and dense in some places, while barely a scattering in others, this skin—soil—is a complex being. Have you ever studied, or even thought about soil? It isn’t exactly standard dinner conversation! Soil doesn’t seem very interactive and may look lifeless. However soil is one of the three major natural resources alongside air and water. It is a marvellous product of nature! Without it we couldn’t grow food, filter our air and water, or produce clothes and shelter.
How to get your kids to know about life in dirt
So how can we help our kids learn about soil and realise where their food comes from? The Soils in Schools program was launched in 2015 and is helping teach Australian school children the relevance and importance of soils in everyday life. But learning about soil isn’t something that just happens in the classroom! So we’ve come up with a few simple things everyone can do together at home or in the park to learn more.
- Get up close and see what’s happening underfoot.
Grab a picnic blanket, spread it out in your yard or at a park, lie face down and look closely at the ground. Look at the blades of grass.
Watch out for ants and other
insects—there is a whole world of life in soil. In fact, there are more organisms in one teaspoon of soil, than there are people on earth! Dig a little hole in the soil—you might be able to see an earthworm lumber by. Use a magnifying glass to zoom in even closer. Pick up a small handful of soil and examine it—look at the individual grains, which come in different shapes, sizes and colours.
- Make a soil worm.
Get a bucket of soil, some water and dig in! Make a worm out of the soil by grabbing
a handful of soil, adding enough water to make it sticky, and then roll it out between your hands. If possible, do this with different types of soil and see which soil makes the longest worm.
- Grow something.
It doesn’t matter if you live on a farm, in suburbia or in an apartment—plant some seeds, add some water, and let the magic begin. If you don’t have a garden, use clean butter or yoghurt tubs with a few holes punched in the bottom. If you don’t want to wait for the seeds to sprout, buy some seedlings and re-pot them, and voila, instant garden! To really reinforce that connection of healthy soil and healthy food, plant herbs, vegetables, or salad greens and use your very own produce in your meals. Get the kids to help maintain your garden/pots and harvest their rewards.
- Trace things back to soil.
Nearly everything we use on a daily basis can be traced back to soil—for example, wooden chair, leather football, silicon chip and books. More than 95% of our food comes from soil directly (e.g. carrots, strawberries) or indirectly (e.g. eggs, bread). Think of everyday objects and trace them back to soil. You can do this out loud (e.g. eggs → chicken → chook feed → corn → grows in soil) or you can play a card game.
The multiple roles of soil often go unnoticed. I encourage you to become more involved in soils. Look around you—everything you touch can be somehow related back to the soil. Think about what you can do to help protect our soil. But most of all, dig in and get your hands dirty!
Kristie Williams, Soil Scientist and Mum of three kids (aged 4, 6 and 8).
For more information:
For more information on the Soils in Schools program and to read one of the four teacher guides currently available, check out the program website (click here). For more soil activities, check out the Soil Science Australia website (click here) or the Soil Challenge book produced by the FAO (click here).
The Soils in Schools program is an initiative of Soil Science Australia. Soil Science Australia is the specialist body for scientists and technicians working with soils, soil management and soil policy. It was founded in 1955 and has branches in all States. It draws membership from industry, professional, academic and government bodies.