What you'll need:
• Permanent marker
• Empty, clean plastic milk container with a handle
• Scissors or crafting knife
• Hole puncher (optional)
• String or ribbon (optional)
• Colored or decorative masking tape
Draw a ring around the top of the milk container’s handle.
At the end of the handle, draw a horizontal line that extends out to each side of the jug. Then draw two vertical lines down so they join at a center point.
Cut along the ring and the lines.
If necessary, trim the digger’s edges for a smooth finish.
Step 5 (optional)
With a hole puncher, create two holes in the sides of the handle that kids can tie string or ribbon through. That way they can hang up their tool or clip it to their backpacks on exploration trips.
Cover the handle’s top hole with a circle of tape, then wrap more all the way around the sides of the handle until you have a sturdy grip. If you’ve created holes for string, either leave the holes uncovered, or punch holes big enough for the string to pass through with a crafting knife or large needle.
Dig a hole in the dirt a few inches deep, scoop out some soil, and place it on a sheet of white paper. With tweezers, have kids explore the composition of the soil. (Tip: Use the magnifier from Challenge 1 to carefully inspect it.) Use these questions and activities to inspire curiosity and talk about the things that live in this microhabitat:
• What kinds of things can you see in the soil? Pebbles? Twigs? Worms? Insects?
• Why do you think these things are in the soil and not aboveground?
• Take a small clod of dirt and dampen the soil. Then add a little vinegar. If it fizzes, that means the soil isn’t very acidic and will support native plants that prefer this type of soil.
Now, have kids explore the hole they dug out:
• What can you see in the hole? How many critters versus how many plants?
• How does the soil change as it gets deeper?
• What do you think you’d find if you dug deeper? For extra fun, get out a globe (or check out this site with them) and have kids figure out where they’d end up if they dug all the way through! (This collection from National Geographic Education explains what’s really inside the Earth.)
• How many roots or stems do you see? Why do you think they’re underground?
• Pour some water in the hole and see what happens. Does the water pool in the hole, or is absorbed? How quickly is it absorbed? Talk about why this soil property might help the microhabitat thrive where you live.
After you’re done exploring the soil, be sure to place the dirt you scooped out back into the hole (except for the sample with vinegar) so the natural landscape isn’t disrupted.
Now that kids understand that soil under the ground is a living landscape of sand, clay, plants, and crawling critters, inspire them to protect it. Here are some ideas:
• Have kids help prevent soil erosion by planting bushes, trees, and other plants. Pick out several native plants and let children choose one to care for. (You can use the fizz test above to guide your selection.) Their roots will help hold the soil together to prevent it from being washed away.
• Overwatering your new plants or your yard can wash away soil and nutrients in the soil. Check with your local gardening center to find out how much water your garden or yard needs (most yards need only one to one and a half inches a week), then put kids in charge. For the yard, they can set the timer, then play in the sprinklers. For the garden, they can decorate fun measuring cups for each type of plant.
• Put kids in charge of collecting dinner scraps for composting, which adds important nutrients to the soil. (Here’s a kid-friendly article on creating compost.) Have them designate a container that will hold the scraps they’ll collect and combine with other compostable materials once the container is full.