— by Mary Quattlebaum
Celebrate soil this year, along with schools, communities, and families around the world! The United Nations has named 2015 the International Year of Soils, in honor of this amazing resource, which is vital to the health of our entire planet.
Soil is the “foundation of life,” says Dr. Susan Pell, a program manager at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC. Soil enables plants to grow, and it is home to worms, moles, insects, and billions of microorganisms.
But most people don’t think about soil, says Dr. Pell, because they don’t see it. So Dr. Pell and her colleagues designed an exhibit to help draw attention to soil. Take a peek online at these 15-foot-long roots. They look like Rapunzel’s hair!
Like Dr. Pell, I’m celebrating the International Year of Soils with a project that spotlights soil. Through my new book Mighty Mole and Super Soil, I can share information on life underground with readers and on school visits. The stunning illustrations by Chad Wallace let readers see what happens in a place largely invisible to most of us.
One important contributor to healthy soil is the mole. I’m a big fan of these shy, hard-working creatures. They are Nature’s superheroes! One lives in my backyard in the city, and my family and I like to look for its surface tunnels and molehill. My nonfiction story and backmatter include STEM-related activities and fun facts, including the two below:
- Moles can move up to 35 times their weight. That’s like you pushing an elephant or a small car!
- A handful of healthy soil contains more tiny creatures than all the people on Earth.
So how might you celebrate the International Year of Soils in the classroom or home? Here are some easy, playful ways:
- Make a list of interesting facts about soil or ask kids to research and share one cool fact each.
- Dig in the dirt! What’s down there? Let kids feel and smell this “skin of the earth.” Learn more about different types of soil from Mighty Mole and Super Soil.
- Create a mud pie or dirt cake—and eat it. Crushed cookies, ice cream, and gummy worms are the main ingredients in easy recipes from the Soil Science Society of America.
- Check website for World Soil Day (December 5). There are posters, educational materials, videos/movies, and a world soil map. If your class or school plans an event, you can register it on the site and see what other schools are doing.
- Find fun facts and resources, including a coloring book, for kids and teachers at the website for the Soil Science Society of America.
- Use a long, deep container (such as for a window sill) and have children help you fill it with potting soil. You might sow the whole area with wildflower seeds—or divide the container into four sections and plant four different types of easy-to-grow seeds (native grass, pansy, nasturtium, radish) in each. Have children research what the plants need to grow (sunny spot, water) and take turns tending and charting their growth.
In addition to the live links to the resources above, you might check
https://dawnpub.com/activity — Dawn Publications includes downloadable activities for educators, with Common Core connections.
www.maryquattlebaum.com — Mary Quattlebaum’s author site has information on and activities related to Mary’s books, including Mighty Mole and Super Soil and the Jo MacDonald nature series.
Mary Quattlebaum is the author of Mighty Mole and Super Soil and of picture and board books in the Jo MacDonald nature series. Mary loves speaking at schools and conferences and telling kids that she got the idea for this book from an ongoing argument with her brother about moles. She loves digging in the dirt, too, and tending the family’s wildlife habitat in her city backyard.