The Space Travelers need your help – again!       

Become a scientist and discover what makes up soil on Earth! Iinvestigate soil and use your imagination to come up with a soil “recipe” to help the aliens from Planet Zog! Created by Lauren Theis, Director of Education

Level: Elementary School

Duration: 30 minutes

Setting: Backyard


  • Small shovel/trowel
  • Spoons and/or tweezers
  • Containers to hold small amounts of soil such as buckets or yogurt containers
  • Sheet, drop cloth or newspaper
  • Egg cartons or other small containers
  • Paper and pencil

Have everyone sit quietly in a circle with their eyes closed. Read the following story:

“Imagine that we are alien scientists from the Planet Zog, journeying to planet Earth on the Star

Ship Life Lab. We have been chosen to make a most important journey. The future of our beloved planet is in danger as it has become so polluted that we are no longer able to grow our own food. Our astronomers have detected a very faraway planet called Earth. It appears to be green, lush and fertile. Our computers have analyzed the reason for this and it appears to be a brownish-gray substance called “soil.” It is difficult for us to believe that all their food comes from this substance. Our mission as scientists is to find this material called “soil,” dissect it, and record each and every ingredient for our computers. This will allow us to learn the secret of this material so we can make soil back on Planet Zog! Upon each scientist will use the specially designed tools that our engineers have created just for this purpose. Remember: it is crucial to the success of our mission that each and every substance found in the soil be recorded. Good Luck to all of you. Long Live Planet Zog!”

The Activity:

  • Designate a “lab” by placing a light-colored sheet, newspaper, or drop cloth in a central location for soil investigation. Also in the lab will be the spoons/tweezers, egg cartons and/or small containers.
  • Divide into pairs or work individually. Each pair or person should research the soil from a different part of the planet (yard or garden). Demonstrate how to dig up a sample of soil by inserting the shovel into the ground and lifting up a “pie slice” of soil and placing it into their bucket. Remind everyone not to disturb planted areas.
  • Send each small group to a different area of the garden.
  • When they return to the “lab” with their soil, have them use a spoon or tweezers to gently pick up the different items in the soil. They can use the egg cartons or small containers to sort their finds into different categories. Have them record on paper or in their journals the different things they find.
  • Share their lists of soil ingredients. Are they all the same? If not, how do they differ?
  •  Challenge the alien scientists to make some soil from the listed ingredients. Can they take rocks and bark and bits of leaves and make soil? Allow them to try until their patience has run out. Why can’t they make soil in a few minutes? Explain that each inch of topsoil takes 100 years to form in nature. (Bacteria, fungi, and other living things slowly decompose organic matter, recycling them into nutritious soil. Over 100 billion microorganisms live in a pound of soil. Our hands and tools cannot equal the power of the bacteria and fungi.)

Wrap Up

What is soil made of? Will a super computer on planet Zog be able to make soil? How is soil important to Earthlings’ lives? Is soil alive? Do all materials in soil break down at the same rate? What would happen if all our soil washed away?

How did you like this activity? Please share any questions, comments, or photos that you and your child have on the Raritan Headwaters Learning Community Facebook Page!

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