Red Flags
Find an outdoor area free from glass and other harmful objects. Wash hands after this activity.

Questions to Ask
During and after shaking, ask the children what is happening in the bottle? What do they see? What types of small items can they now see that they could not before? Can they think of something else that is made up of smaller pieces? Where does soil come from? Look at the sedimentator for clues.

Tips for Less Mess
If the soil is brought indoors, place newspaper around the area where children will be exploring. You might want paper towels, garbage bag, and broom and dustpan to be on hand.

Science Connection
Suspending soil in water allows it to separate into layers. Some of the soil sinks, and some of it floats. Larger, denser particles settle first, making the bottom layer in your sedimentator. After the soil has completely settled (which may take a day or two), you will see additional layers. You might see some tiny pieces of rocks, dead plants and animals. Rocks break down over time due to the effect of wind, water, and temperature.

To be a soil scientist by actually taking soil apart.

What You Need

  • Shovels or spoons
  • Funnel (optional)
  • Clear plastic bottle with cap
  • Magnifying glass

    What to Do
    Have the children pour soil into the bottle until it is about 1/3 full. Tighten the cap and shake it up. Examine what happens inside the bottle. Now slowly add cold water until it is almost full. Tighten the cap. Shake it again. Set it down and watch what happens! Let it settle for a day. What do you see?

    Sediment: A mixture of particles of different sizes that settles to the bottom of a liquid.
    Sedimentator: A tool used to separate soil particles and sediments of rivers and lakes.
    Soil: A mixture of loose material that covers most of the world’s land.

    Try This
    Collect soil samples from different areas and compare them. How are they alike? How are they different? Label each one—indicating its source. Place a soil sample on a white paper plate. Use a magnifying glass to examine it. What do you see? Collect some mud from the bottom of a lake, stream or pond and put it in a clear bottle. Add water, shake it up, and let the bottle stand for a day or so. What happens? Make a mud sculpture by adding just enough water to the soil to make it stick together. Mold the mixture, then place the finished product on a styrofoam tray or wax paper. Let it dry in the sun. What else would the children like to mix in a sedimentator…flour? salt? sand? What else might they do with the clear plastic bottle?

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