Even though I have lived in Claremont my whole life, this is the first time that I have been involved with activities with the Sullivan County Conservation District. I had the opportunity to present at the School to Farm Day that fourth grade students from across the county participate in. This year, 235 students from 10 schools attended. Presenting at this event was an incredible learning opportunity for me and I am grateful for all of the amazing students that visited my station throughout the day.
The topics presented at the School to Farm Day included dairy farming, strawberry farming, fiber arts, maple sugaring, sheep, and numerous other farm related activities and stations. I was lucky enough to present at the soil station where I shared my knowledge of soil with nine different groups of fourth graders. We had fifteen minutes to instill our soil wisdom with these students.
The lesson about soil started with a brief introduction to who we were and why there was a station dedicated to soil. We explained that soil was important for growing crops for humans and animals and that healthy soil was good for the environment. We made sure to express that soil is much more than just dirt and that it was made of a lot of different materials. We then shared with the students our “soil recipe”: a splash of water, a puff of air, a handful of minerals, a dash of dead stuff, a tidbit of tiny critters, a pinch of bacteria, and a strand of fungus. We explained to the students that these materials were essential for healthy soil, then asked them to help us sort our soil into the different components so we could tell if we had healthy soil. Check out the soil map we used HERE.
The students were then split up into groups of 2 or 3 and were given a soil mat. The soil mat had a section for placing the soil and then other sections for separating the big rocks, little rocks, sticks, leaves, live animals, and other items that they might find in the soil. In their groups, the students took handfuls of soil and got to work helping us sort our soil. Even though they only had 15 minutes, the students did an incredible job finding rocks, sticks, worms, grubs, and even a cricket! After the searching was over, we asked the students to share their findings and we explained how soil is a great habitat for the critters they found. We then asked them to remind us of the “soil recipe” (we claimed to have poor memory, so needed their help to remind us of the ingredients). We thanked them for joining our station and they were on their way to their next spot.
I am sharing the soil mapping activity in case anyone wants to adapt it or use it themselves, but I also wanted to take the time to share my own experiences with the lesson. I was slightly worried that some students would not want to get their hands dirty. We had them digging right in, no tools, no gloves, just their hands. I wanted them to really know what soil felt like and give them an opportunity to feel comfortable getting dirty and being outside. Throughout the day, over 90 students visited the soil station and out of all of those students, there were only 2 that refused to touch the soil. Everyone else was covered in dirt by the time the 15 minutes was over (sorry to the teachers who had to help them clean off their hands before lunch).
Hearing shouts of excitement when a group found a worm or insect was the best part of the day. Presenting at the soil station reminded me why outdoor education and hands-on education is so important. Even if the students didn’t realize it, they were practicing real life communication skills and motor skills that they can use in their everyday life. If nothing else, the smile on the students’ faces as they were naming their “worm friends” made everything worth it.
Almost 250 fourth grade students attended School to Farm Day in Sullivan County, NH. A huge thanks to the teachers and chaperones for doing the work to get your students here. A big thanks to the 40 presenters, volunteers, and staff who make this day happen for the students. Thanks also to Sullivan County Farm Bureau and NH Ag in the Classroom for sponsoring this event and working with the Sullivan County Conservation District and Natural Resources Dept. to make this day a reality each year.