Do your kids loving playing in the sandbox, or digging around in the garden in the summer? If so, then they’re going to love today’s indoor soil science and engineering activities and challenges!
Although you may only think of it as mud, soil is super interesting to kids when they have a chance to really play with it closely and get their hands dirty.
Today you’ll find some fun prompts and challenges to get your child exploring, learning and problem solving!
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Soil Science and Engineering Play
I know what you’re thinking…why would I want to bring dirt INSIDE my house to play with when I spent half my life trying to keep it outside and my house clean?!
But sometimes on those dreary winter days when the kids have been inside for weeks, bringing a little of the outdoors inside can be fun (and educational!).
If you follow my tips, this activity doesn’t have to be messy. Well not too messy anyway… and trust me, if you have a little scientist at home, or a little engineer – they’re going to love this opportunity to explore and play.
Materials You Will Need
- Kids Garden Gloves or plastic gloves
- soil – dig it out of the backyard, or pick up some Potting Soil from the local gardening store
- a large tub – a plastic storage tub or old baby bathtub works well
- water container – to hold and pour water
- an old sheet or table cloth to put on the floor to contain any mess
- small gardening tools – a shovel and rake are perfect, or try this Plant Tool Set kit
- small rocks – can often find these at the local dollar store
- popsicle sticks
- little cars (optional)
- little plastic sample containers – for “specimen” jars (optional)
- Magnifying Glass (optional)
Soil Safety Tips
Just a few things to keep in mind when playing with soil!
- Don’t eat soil
- Always wash hands thoroughly with soap after playing with soil
- Keep soil and water in the tub
Soil Science Challenges
Once you’ve got your materials set up – try asking your child to try some of the activities listed below.
1. What can you find in the soil? Place any interesting specimens in a sample jar. Look at them with the magnifying glass.
Your child might find evidence of insects, plants, rocks or foreign objects depending on where you got the soil. For some reason, kids just love collecting little specimens in plastic jars to examine and show to others.
2. How many different things can you find in the soil? Can you find more than 10 different things? Was there anything unexpected in the soil? How do you think it got there?
This challenge really gets kids looking at the teeny tiny things in the soil. It’s even better if they have a magnifying glass while doing this.
3. Can you sort your soil into groups? What would you name each group you find?
Your child might create groups like clumps or rocks, plain dirt, and plants. They’re learning to categorize and further examine the soil when they are asked to name groups of similar parts found in soil. There are no right or wrong answers here.
4. Can you tell what kind of soil you have?
There are 3 main types of soil: sandy soil, silt, and clay.
Can you make a ribbon snake with the soil when it’s wet? If you can, it’s likely clay or silt or loam (a mixture of the different types).
Silty soil easily makes balls or snakes when wet – kind of like playdough. If you squeeze a silty ball, it will easily break apart.
Clay soil is very sticky and also easy to shape into balls and snakes. A ball made with clay soil won’t break apart easily when squeezed.
Sandy soil feels grainy or gritty when rubbed between the fingers, where clay or silt feels smooth.
Soil Engineering Challenges
1. Can you make a small lake in your soil tub? Does the water stay in your lake? If it doesn’t, how can you use the materials to get the water to stay in the lake longer?
Break out the water – your child will love the challenge of trying to create their own little landscape.
2. Can you make a mini river through your soil? How can you help the water to stay in the river instead of soaking into the soil? Can you make the river “flow” from one spot to another?
Your child can dig with the shovel or the popsicle sticks to create a river coming from their lake. They’ll be exploring levelling of the soil and water flow.
3. Can you build a bridge over the river? Can you get a toy car to drive over the bridge?
Once your child has a river or lake, challenge them to make a little bridge across. They might discover that the footings of the bridge need to be quite stable and dry in order for a successful bridge.
4. How can you use the materials to build a road across wet soil? Will it let a car drive over it without getting muddy?
Your child might experiment with the rocks or the sticks, or even create a raised road to help keep the water away from the road – all techniques that are used in road construction!
Thinking Questions to Ask
Here are a few questions to ask your child before or after exploring soil. Try not to give the answers away – instead ask them where they think they could find this information out. Try Googling together, or experimenting more, or reading some great books together to find the answers.
Where do you think soil comes from?
A long time ago, lava cooled on the surface of the Earth to create rock. The rock began to wear down from the effects of wind and rain into smaller and smaller pieces. These particles eventually mixed with air, water and dead plants and animals to become soil.
What do you think soil is made of?
All soil is made up of rock particles, air, water and humus (dead plants and animals).
Why are there three different kinds of soil?
Depending on where the soil is from, there are different amounts, kinds, and sizes of rock particles, humus and air and water.
Even More Fun Soil Activities
Create a Soil Layers Jar to help your child see the different parts of soil settle into layers.
Have fun exploring the characteristics of sand with a Sandy Soil Sensory Bin that will get kids thinking about fossils and dinosaurs!
Favourite Books About Soil for Kids
Tiny Creatures is the perfect book to read before soil study. It introduces kids as young as 4 to the world of microbes and helps them to understand what living things are in the soil that they can’t see with their eyes!
Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt shows kids all the different things that may be found living in and around soil from birds and insects, to plants and fungi!
This National Geographic Kids’ Dirt book is a great introduction to all things soil. Lots of cool facts and fun illustrations!
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Today’s post is a part of a fun STEM and STEAM series going on this month hosted by my friend Anne at Left Brain Craft Brain. Be sure to drop by her blog to learn more about this awesome 28 day series full of fun activities for kids to try at home or at school!
Perfect for my class of sensory seeking early childhood special education class!
Sue Lively says
Thanks for dropping by Kristy – hope you have fun with it! I’ve done this activity with my son when he was 4 years old (as pictured above) as well as with grade 3 (8 year old) students at school for Science. It doesn’t lose its appeal as the kids get older.