It’s so important that children have opportunities to learn first-hand about the astonishing complexity and vitality of healthy soil! They need occasions to truly dig! Part of the fun of gardening is using the trowel to discover new worlds of strange and surprising little creatures, all busy with their own lives. Out in the garden, young people can begin to learn about these fellow travelers: how they survive, what they’re doing, and how they interact with one another. It’s also a context for students to learn how they themselves can interact with these beings in a kind and responsible way. Older children can actually study the specific roles that these creatures play in the great processes of material recycling, energy flows (food webs), seed dispersal, and assorted symbioses, etc.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has an outstanding Soil Biology Primer that that can provide background for educators and complement direct investigations: USDA NRCS Soil Biology Primer. Here’s another link to a much more concise yet comprehensive description of some of the key citizens of the soil. (My only reservation about this particular summary is that it doesn’t emphasize enough the cooperative relationships between plant roots and the fungi. Additionally, it mentions adding commercial fertilizers without explaining that synthetic fertilizers can disrupt and kill naturally occurring populations in the soil. ) That said, I think it’s still a worthwhile summary that could be read aloud by older students as their classmates worked on the page’s coloring and identification challenge. https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/secret-life-soil
While this activity page can be helpful with younger students, I think it’s most effective for those in second grade and above. I’ve used the illustrations and vocabulary words to prepare classes for “digging expeditions,” or to debrief after the planting of seeds or the transplanting of annuals or autumn bulbs. It’s served as a ‘field guide’ to accompany the turning of a compost pile, and provided visual support for verbal discussions about soil ecosystems. I often employed this page in January when we studied in greater detail the red earthworms in our indoor, composting wormery. I also referenced it when we were busy observing the fascinating sowbugs / isopods who lived in the big pots of geraniums that we over-wintered in our classroom.
Your students (individually, in teams, or as an entire class) can identify these various ‘citizens’ of the soil and write the letters that correspond to the creatures’ names. A procedure that results in even more learning (for the older students), is to request that they write out the entire name next to the pictures of the various living beings. That accomplished, the youngsters take colored pencils or crayons (marker colors tend to be too intense) and transform their pages into something more beautiful. The finished illustrations can be displayed in the hall or in the classroom where they’ll provide a reminder of what has been learned. They can also be taken home to prompt further conversations with families.
Click here for the printable PDF: Soil Citizens NOFA-NH