Growing up rurally, I loved playing outside. Living in the country, I loved riding my bike up and down the long gravel roads, taking photos of crops growing in the fields, butterflies, and wildflowers (a.k.a. weeds) along the ditches. I spent the days of summer vacation monkeying around on my backyard playground set, swimming in our pool, and playing kickball, baseball, and basketball with my cousins. I looked forward to summer vacation not only for a hiatus from homework, but also because I was able to spend time adventuring outdoors.
How children spend their leisure time in a post-pandemic world in 2023 is much different from how I spent mine. Although I grew up playing video games and loved to read, I didn’t have the internet at home or a cell phone until high school, via AOL dial-up and a Motorola flip phone.
According to an article entitled “Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature” by The Child Mind Institute, the average American child spends about 4 to 7 minutes a day playing outside and more than 7 hours a day in front of a screen. I fondly remember my time playing outdoors as a child, and it made me sad to learn that statistic.
Last fall, as Ag in the Classroom (AITC) Assistant Jill Drover and I were discussing upcoming programing, we realized that we weren’t offering a specialty program in the spring. For fall, we offer “Pumpkin and Apple Fall Facts” and for winter, we offer “Keeping Warm with Agriculture.” After brainstorming, we decided upon a program all about soil for the spring to connect to Earth Day, warmer weather, and seed germination.
When looking into which Illinois State Board of Education Common Core Standards our new program would align with, I realized that soil science is only mentioned in passing in earth science standards. Without it being a standard and an objective, that means that students may be missing out on learning about soil at all, at every grade level.
Our soil program, “What’s the Dirt on Illinois’ Soil?” is a free in-person presentation for fourth through eighth grades. Topics covered in the presentation include earthworms, Illinois’ rich minerals and resources under our feet, ice ages creating Illinois’ flat prairies, the Dust Bowl, how plants require nutrients found in soil, how to prevent soil erosion, how to conserve soil, and more.
In conjunction with the program, we are also providing free mailable soil kits to teachers of fourth through eighth grades. All of the materials required for lessons and hands-on STEM activities will be provided in the Ship-a-Kit Soil Kit. The kit includes lesson plans, hands-on activities, and Illinois Ag in the Classroom’s Soil Ag Mag, Ag-venture Worksheet, and Ag Reader. The kits will also include a URL link to additional lesson plans that will help educators continue teaching their students about soil. Additional resources, such as a list of ag-accurate books, websites, videos, and related lesson plans, will be provided virtually on CCFB’s website.
I recently read an Illinois Ag in the Classroom Jr. Reader that stated that “soil matters because it’s matter.” Soil isn’t just one thing, it’s a mixture of many, many things. Soil is made up of 45% mineral particles, 25% air, 25% water, and 5% organic matter. There are millions of species and billions of organisms in soil, including bacteria, algae, microscopic insects, earthworms, beetles, ants, mites, fungi, and more.
My hope with the new program and mailable kits is to spark students’ interest in soil, to help them realize the importance of soil conservation, and to foster a love for nature and the outdoors. Topsoil, which is used to plant and grow crops, is a depth of only 5 to 10 inches on average, or less than the length of two $1 bills. Only 1/32 of the earth’s surface is available for farming. Every minute of every day, the U.S. loses about an acre of farmland. Over 70% of America’s fruit, vegetables, and dairy products are produced on farms near cities that are expanding and developing. Since soil supports 95% of all food production, and soil is a nonrenewable resource, we have to do all that we can to conserve the soil we have and keep it healthy and full of nutrients for future generations.
Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first words upon stepping on the surface of the moon in 1969 were, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” I think learning about the surface of the earth – and its soil – is similar: it all starts with a small step.
For more information about the Ship-a-Kit Soil Kit: https://bit.ly/SoilShip
To request a Ship-a-Kit Soil Kit: https://bit.ly/SoilFun
For more information about the soil presentation: https://bit.ly/CCFBAgLit
To request a soil presentation: https://bit.ly/AgPlease
Katrina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.