Teacher Feature: Toddler Classroom Explores Soil

It’s Teacher Feature Thursday!

This week we are featuring Megan Gallagher, Melinda Bernsdorf, and Meredith Osborne in one of our toddler classrooms. These teachers had been exploring the children’s book Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert with their students, as a means to familiarize the children with the way their environment changes in springtime. During this lesson, the teachers introduced the concept of soil, what it is used for, and one of the creatures that calls it home – worms!. While visiting the O. Orkin Insect Zoo in the National Museum of Natural History, these teachers found an innovative way to use a termite exploration tunnel to meet the developmental needs of their toddlers. They combined this museum visit with a stop outside to the playground to explore real soil in the garden, and a classroom extension to create a well-rounded experience for the toddlers.

Below you will find some photos of the lesson, and a reflection from Megan, Melinda, and Meredith.

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What were your topics of exploration?

Over the past several weeks, our class has been reading the book Planting a Rainbow, by Lois Ehlert. We have used the text as a basis for our exploration of Spring. Our initial exploration of the text was focused on the concepts of light and color. As the weeks passed, our discussion shifted towards gardening. During this week we focused our attention on soil and soil dwelling creatures.

Why and how did you choose the visit?

We wanted to discuss soil and worms in a way that would be accessible and engaging for toddlers. This is an age group that thrives when they are given the opportunity to learn with all of their body. Adding movement and sensory components to a lesson is a great way to add extra depth to their exploration of a topic and keep toddlers excited and engaged. The Insect Zoo at the Natural History Museum has a toddler-sized termite tunnel. We thought it would be great to have our students pretend to be worms tunneling through soil. After visiting the Insect Zoo we took a trip to our school’s garden for further soil exploration and a bit of planting.

What were your learning objectives?

Our objective was to increase our students’ understanding of the concepts of soil, worms, and gardening.

What was most successful about your lesson?

The most successful part of our lesson was the many different angles from which we were able to examine our topic. Upon arriving at the Insect Zoo we sat down for a quick circle to read Planting a Rainbow. After finishing the book, we flipped back to the page which says, “We sow the seeds and set out the plants in the soil.” We discussed how worms live in the soil and help take care of plants.


This discussion was aided by several objects. We brought along laminated pictures of earthworms for each child to hold. We also brought an iPad with a video of worms wiggling in soil so that the children could see how worms move.


Finally, we brought some real earthworms! The worms accompanied us to the Insect Zoo in a special case with a magnifying glass top, to give the kids an up close view of the worms. We explored these objects while discussing how worms tunnel through the soil by eating dirt and wiggling through the space they create.


After we finished exploring our objects, the teachers suggested that we could pretend to be earthworms. The kids were encouraged to wiggle on their tummies through the Insect Zoo’s termite tunnel. Wiggling through a tunnel without using our arms or legs proved to be both a lot of fun and quite the workout!


When we were done wiggling, we left the Insect Zoo and went to our school’s garden to release our worms and plant some seeds and seedlings that we had examined in the classroom earlier in the week.IMG_1772IMG_1767IMG_1797

After we were done planting, we had planned to give our students some time for self-directed exploration in the garden. Unfortunately, it was an unseasonably cold day. Due to the weather constraints, we decided to keep our garden visit brief.


After a quick planting session, we went back to the classroom to explore dirt in our sensory table. Our students were given scoops for digging and were encouraged to explore the dirt. We talked about what the dirt looked like and how it smelled. After we had played with the dirt for a while, we decided to see what would happen if we mixed water in with our dirt. We discovered that dirt mixed with water makes mud!


The many sensory and movement components of our lesson allowed our students to stay happy and engaged for the entire morning. It also provided opportunities for growth in many areas of development.

How did the lesson reach your objectives to expand the topic?

The various angles from which we examined soil allowed our students to gain a well-rounded grasp of the topic. We were also able to narrate quite a bit as we moved from activity to activity, which is great for developing language.

What was succesful in terms of your preparation and logistics?

The various objects that we prepared ahead of time, especially the purchasing of live earthworms, added depth to the lesson.

What could you have done differently to better achieve your objectives and expand the topic?

We could have added a book that was specifically about worms. Another great addition to our lesson might have been adding some sort of prop or costume for our students to use while they were pretending to be worms.

What was challenging regarding logistics?

The weather was very uncooperative. It had been beautiful and warm for several weeks while we were planning our unit on soil. It was unseasonably cold and windy during the week when we taught this lesson and it rained most days. We might have considered postponing until the weather improved, but we were concerned that our earthworms might not survive in our classroom while we waited for a pleasant day. We ultimately settled for a day that was cold, but not rainy, to teach this lesson.

What recommendations would you have for another teacher trying out this lesson?

As some of this lesson plan necessitates going outdoors, give yourself a window of time for this lesson. We were fine planting in our garden on a chilly day, but it would have not been possible for us to teach this lesson if it had also been raining. We had given ourselves a week’s window during planning, which turned out to be very helpful when the forecast showed rain for half of the week.


After discussing soil for several more days, the toddlers continued their exploration of Planting a Rainbow by discussing more creatures who live in gardens, how gardens are affected by the changing spring weather, and the types of plants and produce we can grow in gardens.Check out our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more ideas from their unit on Planting a Rainbow! See you in two weeks with our next Teacher Feature!