Year of Soils: Soil Ecology Activities for Middle School - Eva Varga

February 10, 2015

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) began its celebration of the International Year of Soils to highlight the importance of healthy soils for food security, ecosystem functions, and resilient farms and ranches.


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Healthy soils are the foundation of agriculture. In the face of mounting challenges such as a growing global population, climate change, and extreme weather events, soil health is critical to our future. Healthy soil is essential as global demands rise for food, fuel, and fiber. Soils also play a crucial role in food security, hunger eradication, climate change adaptation, poverty reduction, and sustainable development.

“Soil conservation is important because if we do not produce food , we do not eat.”

Over the course of the year, the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) and other partners, will impart the importance of soil via monthly themes. Along with resource specialists and educators around the world, I will share with you the lessons and activities that I use with my own children. It is my hope that you find inspiration and resources to integrate these soil science lessons into your homeschool curriculum.

To begin, I have created this post as a means of sharing with you the print and online resources that I will be using with my students. This page will be updated periodically as we progress in our studies.

Print Resources for All Ages

Did you ever consider that with no soil there would be no life? Know Soil, Know Life  will introduce you to an amazing world—the world beneath your feet. Published by the American Society of Agronomy, it provides a solid foundation about the world of soils. It is perfect for anyone desiring to know more about soil ecology. High school or undergraduate students will find Know Soil, Know Life is an easily accessible resource, but this book is for all ages. Everyone interested in being more environmentally conscious—the urban dweller, the young naturalist, the home gardener—can learn about the diversity of soils and their importance in our environment.

“We speak a lot of the importance of sustainable food systems for healthy lives. Well, it starts with soils.” ~ José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General

Also published by the American Society of Agronomy, SOIL! Get the Inside Scoop, provides a strong introduction to soil science for elementary students. Excellent descriptions of soil composition, importance of soil in the environment, and types of soil. This 36-page, full-color book explores how soil is part of our life ~ the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and even the houses in which we live. The clear photographs and clear graphics enhance the text. The voices of actual scientists discussing the importance of soil scientists speaking directly to students brings the message of soil conservation home.

“The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed. Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production.” ~ José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General

Another fabulous resources is Life in a Bucket of Soil (Dover Children’s Science Books) by Alvin and Virginia Silverstein. The text and illustrations combine to introduce middle school students to the world of soil. I selected this one as our unit study spine and will be using it as guide as we undertake numerous hands-on activities.

Though this is a revised edition of the original 1972 publication, it is an excellent resource for homeschool. I particularly love that the illustrations are simple enough that we can utilize them as guides for our own nature journal entries. I’ve learned over the years that kids sometimes need examples to help them with their own illustrations.

Online Resources & Lesson Plans

In February, the theme is Soils Support Urban Life. Join me as I share lesson plans and activities to explore how rain gardens, living roofs, and composting can improve soil ecology – Do Your Part with Rain Gardens & Composting.

The March theme is Soils Support Agriculture. In my post, I share ideas to integrate writing and a contest sponsored by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.

In April, I will share lessons and activities to teach students how Soils Clean and Capture Water. In May, the theme is Soils Support Buildings & Infrastructure.

For further soil ecology resources consider some of my earlier posts:

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