It’s so important that children have opportunities to learn directly 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 an occasion for them to learn how they themselves can interact with these beings in a kind and responsible way. Older students can actually study the specific roles these creatures play in the great processes of material recycling, energy flows (food webs), seed dispersal, assorted symbioses, etc., etc. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has an outstanding Soil Biology Primer that that can complement your older students’ first-hand investigations. USDA NRCS Soil Biology Primer
The illustration you’ll find here is useful for younger students as well. My students, aged six to twelve, have on various occasions referred to it. From my experience, I think it works best for those in second grade on up. I’ve employed it as a reference page to prepare my youngest students for a a “digging expedition”, as a tool for debriefing after the transplanting of bulbs or annuals, as a ‘field guide’ to accompany the turning of a compost pile, or to provide visual support for a verbal discussion about soil ecosystems. I often use this page in January as we study in greater detail the red earthworms in our indoor wormery, or the fascinating isopods in the big pots of geraniums that are also wintering-over in the classroom.
Your students (individually, in teams, or as a class) can identify the various ‘citizens’ and write the letters corresponding to their names (or better yet, the names themselves) next to the pictures of these living beings. That accomplished, the children can 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.
Here’s the printable PDF: Soil Citizens NOFA-NH