Life in the Dirt – Background

Unless we are gardening, farming, or digging a hole, we don’t think much about the dirt beneath our feet. Yet it teams with life, and within it are complex food webs and a host of interesting creatures. Here nutrients that were once part of living plants or animals become part of the soil again, eaten and digested by a multitude of organisms. As they eat, grow, or tunnel through the earth, the many inhabitants of the soil have an important role in the making of soil and the ongoing life of terrestrial ecosystems, from the richest prairie to the rockiest northern forest.

Most people use the words “soil” and “dirt” interchangeably, meaning bits of earth we have to sweep up or wash off. But to a scientist, Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Background

Life in the Dirt – Activities

FOCUS: Life abounds in the soil, from plant roots to earthworms to moles and millipedes. All these organisms play important roles in the flow of energy and matter through an ecosystem. Many soil critters act as decomposers, breaking down plant and animal materials and returning them as nutrients to the soil where other living things may use them again. The soil is a rich ecosystem teeming with life in a complex food web.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about life in the dirt.

Provide a container of worms in moist soil. Have children wet their hands before handling worms or dampen them with the water mister. Set out paper plates covered with damp paper towels. Review how to use a magnifying lens. Place a worm (rinsed in clean water, if needed) on each plate. Give small groups of children time to observe and draw, and ask what they notice about the worms.

Materials: earthworms, one for each pair of children (any kind of garden worm is fine; night-crawlers are less active but larger, so the parts are easier to view; smaller worms are often more active and thus more fun; invasive jumping worms are oddly active); water mister, paper plate and damp paper towel for each worm; magnifying lenses.

Objective: To view some special characteristics of earthworms and consider how these make them well suited to life in the soil.

Have children work in pairs or small groups.

Things to Look for with a Lens:
Body segments – notice how the body seems to be made of many rings

The worm’s digestive tract full of dirt

The front end or mouth of the worm; the tail end – can you tell which is which? Does the worm have eyes? (No, though it can sense light through its skin.)
Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Activities

Life in the Dirt – Puppet Show

Worm Wonderings

Characters: Woggle Worm, Wiggle Worm, Dandelion, Cicada, Mole

Woggle Worm Is that you, Wiggle?

Wiggle Worm  Hi, Woggle! It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other. What have you been up to?

Woggle  You mean down to. I’ve just been enjoying the dirt. And now that we’ve gotten some rain, it’s so easy to get around!

Wiggle  And easy to breathe. When you breathe through your skin, the way we worms do, you need to stay damp. Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Puppet Show

Life in the Dirt – Standards


The activities in this unit help children understand the basic concepts in the Disciplinary Core Ideas listed here. You can use the following list as a guide for lesson planning. These Disciplinary Core Ideas are taken from Grade Band Endpoints in A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Additionally, our activities give children opportunities to engage in many of the Science and Engineering Practices and reflect on the Crosscutting Concepts as identified in the Next Generation Science Standards. Continue reading Life in the Dirt – Standards