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Stupendous Soils

Updated August 03, 2020

Aimee Ladonski

SDSU Extension Volunteer Development Field Specialist

Lesson Overview

A group of children observing a bed of garden soil with a teacher.

Written by Anna Barr under the direction and review of Aimee Ladonski.


In this lesson, you will answer the questions: “What is soil?” and “How can you make garden soil?”


  • Words:
    • Soil: Loose upper layer of the Earth’s surface.
    • Compost: Decayed organic matter that makes new soil.
    • Manure: Animal poop used to improve soil.
    • Minerals: hard, stony substances that form rocks, sand, and clay
    • Air: Tasteless, odorless, mix of gases that surround us.
    • Organic matter: Materials that are living or were living, capable of decay.
    • Nutrients: A substance needed for healthy growth, development, and functioning.
  • Activity: You can help children become familiar with the vocabulary words by having them clap along to the syllables in each word.

Resources and Activities


What’s the dirt on…dirt?: This video provides information on what dirt (soil) is made of. Courtesy of SciShow Kids.

  • Video follow-up questions:
    • What is the top layer that covers most of the land called? Answer: Soil or topsoil.
    • Is soil the same everywhere? Answer: No.
    • What are the 4 things soil is made up of? Answer: Minerals, water, air, and organic matter.


Up in the Garden & Down in the Dirt: Sometimes appreciating what you see in nature requires understanding what you can't. Courtesy of Mrs. Clark's Reading Corner.

  • Book follow-up questions:
    • What did you see down in the dirt? Answer: Soil.
    • What is the environment like in the soil? Answer: cool, damp, dark, many little creatures.
    • At the end of the story, what happened to the plants? Answer: They were harvested and the "organic matter" that was left began to decay into the soil.
Three clear jars revealing layers of soil and compost.

Soil Activity

Craft a Soil-arium: In this activity, kids learn about composting by crafting a “soil-arium.” Slowly, the contents will become soil to use in a garden. Courtesy of the Anaheim Family YMCA.

  • Activity follow-up questions:
    • What do you think will happen in the soil-arium? Answer: It will become garden soil.
    • What are the four things soil is made up of ? Are those things in the soil-arium? Answer: Minerals, water, air and organic matter. Yes.

Nutrition Activities

  • Dirt Made My Lunch: Listen to the song “Dirt Made My Lunch.” Follow along with the kids in the video to learn the words and motions. Courtesy of the Banana Slug String Band.
    • Video follow-up questions:
      • Where does everything we eat come from? Answer: The video says dirt. The true term is soil.
      • What did you have for lunch?
      • Lead your child though tracing each ingredient of the meal back to the soil like they did at the beginning of the video.

Art Activity

Soil Painting: For this activity, you will need different samples of soil, water, paint brushes, cups and paper.

  • Steps:
    1. Make mud with soil and water in the cups.
    2. Paint with the mud, comparing the color and texture of mud from different samples.
    3. Bonus: Go on a nature walk to find different colors in nature. Take samples of colorful items you find and “smash” them onto the painting for added color.
A view of Houdek Loam soil, five feet below the soil surface. The soil begins with a shallow dark layer, followed by a lighter tan, and then a deep tan layer at the three foot mark.
Figure 1. Houdek loam, South Dakota's state soil. Courtesy: USDA NRCS.

Adults, Learn More