The World Beneath Your Feet: Dirt Bags

Adapted from Hands-On Nature, Vermont Institute of Natural Science

Pre-Visit Activity, All Grades


Students will be introduced to what is found on the ground through senses other than sight. 


The forest floor can be an especially fertile place to study what we walk on.  Much more than just dirt or grass, the ground serves as a habitat for millions of seen and unseen plants and animals.  Together they form a complex food web and an efficient recycling system. 


  • Cloth or paper bags with forest floor objects inside, one type of object per bag
  • (wood, small rocks, moss, leaves, bark, sticks, fungus, bone, pine cone, soil)


  1. Seat students in a circle.  Ask them to close their eyes and imagine they are walking barefoot in a forest.  What are they walking on?  What does it feel like?  What does it smell like?  (Some students have probably never walked barefoot in a forest and you may have to ask more leading questions.)
  2. Have children open their eyes.  Pass the bags, one at a time, halfway around the circle.  Explain that the bags contain things we walk on in the forest.  Each child feels and smells the object and gives an adjective describing it without giving away what it is.  The other half of the circle tries to guess the bag's contents.  The last child gets to reveal the object.
  3. Alternate the order you pass the bags so everyone gets the chance to guess and to feel.
  4. Have older children consider how the objects might change and decompose over time.  Have them try to arrange the objects in the order of decomposition rates.  This might initiate discussion as there will probably be more than one possible order.  The point to make is that smaller, softer, thinner objects will often break down more quickly, but that everything will eventually be aged, weathered, or decomposed by bacteria and other decomposers in the soil until it turns into what we may have thought of as "just dirt."


Take students outdoors to a nearby forest, field, or park.  Have students get down low and try to find some of the different soil components you felt in the classroom.  If the area is free of glass or other harmful trash allow willing students to walk barefoot. 

Bring along a plastic bag in case students find trash.  Discuss the decomposition rates of the trash items they find (for example plastic pop bottles will be around for hundreds of years).  Discussion of the trash items may lead older students toward a discussion of recycling. 

Soil samples can be collected from different locations (under a bush, in the middle of the field) for the Pre-Visit Activity, Soil Shakes.