Soil Education: There's an App for That

©. Center for Ecoliteracy

The new free Starting with Soil app offers a "playful, visually rich way" of helping kids (and adults) learn about healthy soil, which is a crucial part of our food system.

I have to admit that I'm somewhat of a soil snob, and tend to get up on my soap box when I hear people referring to the earth beneath their feet as 'dirt', as if it's just some inert substance, because this humble brown substance is often more full of life than what's above ground, or when referred to as if it's 'dirty' -- the opposite of cleanliness, which we've come to fetishize in modern culture. There's a huge variety and number of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, nematodes, and more in healthy soil, and it is this rich web of relationships which builds the soil that is at the root of our food system, literally. It's said that good farmers don't grow crops, they grow soil, because with fertile soil, the crops have everything they need for optimal growth and pest and disease resistance.

With rising interest in bringing gardens into schools, and in educating kids about how their food system works, there are a growing number of resources and guides, but there's probably no better place to start than at ground level, or rather, below ground level, with the soil itself. The importance of healthy soil for food production isn't nearly as obvious to the naked eye, as opposed to the plant itself with its easily visible leaves, flowers, and fruits, because soil organisms and their relationships to each other and the plant growing above them is somewhat mysterious, as it's mostly happening on the microscopic level.

A new free app aims to illuminate the fascinating world of living soil for kids, by offering an interactive experience that presents the topics of healthy soil relationships, and the roles of plants, animals, and humans in the process of building and nourishing this foundation of our food system. Created by Whole Kids Foundation and the Center for Ecoliteracy, the app is designed for tablets (iOS and Android), and includes virtual activities about planting seeds, building a compost pile, cover crops, viewing microscopic images of soil organisms, watching slow motion and time-lapse footage of plants, pollinators, and soil organisms, and more.

"Teachers will appreciate Starting with Soil as high quality supplemental content that kids can easily use on their own, or in conjunction with classroom instruction. The app is a helpful companion for teaching and learning in school gardens and other outdoor educations settings. Parents will enjoy the visual delight and playful tone." - Starting with Soil
Starting with Soil screenshot

© Center for Ecoliteracy
According to an interview at Civil Eats, the app was designed specifically with the tablet in mind, which spurred a question of whether the tablet-based curriculum would reach underprivileged kids, to which Zenobia Barlow, founder and executive director of Center for Ecoliteracy, replied:

"We felt the tablet offered something we wanted to leverage: the ability to show movement and sound, and convey the wonder of living diversity in ecosystems. We’ve also seen a trend in schools away from PCs to tablets, including iPads and Androids. They are cheaper than laptops and can be shared more easily. Also, because they don’t have a “lid,” it’s harder to hide things from the teacher. And they are more portable, which make them usable in outdoor and garden settings." - Barlow

Get the free Starting with Soil app at