The First Grade of Environmental Education

Teaching Earth Friendly Science to Kids is Good for the Planet in the Long Run

– by Laura Mauney

Natural soil erosion carved out much of the planet’s most exquisite scenery.

Deep river gorges in eastern US forests are a consequence of soil erosion. Towering cliffs that wall the Pacific Ocean in the west are a consequence of soil erosion. Natural lagoons, harbors and bays are created by erosion.

The Grand Canyon is a breathtaking example of soil erosion, as are the volcanic core formations in the Monument Valley of the Navajo Nation. Soft sand – or sediment – in the beds and along the banks of rivers and lakes is the end product of eroded soil washed downhill by rain and snowmelt.

Soil Erosion can be Extremely Harmful to the Land

Poor farming practices, tree butchering, and ill-informed yard maintenance can cause terrible destruction that could result in property damage, eco-system devastation, and even drought and starvation.

This hillside yard is mowed to nubs each weekend, and then watered so excessively that the exposed soil runs onto the sidewalk.

This hillside yard is mowed to nubs each weekend, and then watered so excessively that the exposed soil runs onto the sidewalk.

Rutted roads, potholes, and mudslides are all caused by soil erosion.

The great Dust Bowl in the US midwest of the 1930s was caused by soil erosion tied to irresponsible farming practices. Many farm families lost their means of survival because of the devastation. Several million people were forced to migrate from the plains states to other parts of the country.

Preventing erosion is simply a matter of applying time tested methods for successful soil, plant and tree management.

Soil Erosion Prevention Techniques Include:

Good Gardening Techniques that Prevent Soil Erosion

The garden created for this landscaping project is designed to prevent erosion, and further includes “native” plants that consume less water.

  • Mulching gardens.
  • Terracing hillsides.
  • Planting ground cover to foster root cultures that hold soil in place.
  • Planting trees in general.
  • Using trees to form windbreaks across large tracts of land.
  • Rotating food crops with cover crops in agricultural fields, and never letting a field lie fallow.
  • Contour farming like that used in rice fields in the mountainous regions of Asia.

Proper soil management results in less environmental destruction during wet and windy weather, improves local ecosystems and air quality, helps cool temperatures on hot days, and generally enhances natural beauty.

Why Do I Know so Much about Soil Erosion?

Eco-Education For Teachers
These websites offer resources and lesson plans for teachers:

  • EPA for Teachers


  • I learned about soil erosion in the first grade, thanks to a student teacher who’d been interning in our classroom for several months.

    As part of her final test, she was required to present the class with a special science lesson.

    The topic she chose was “soil erosion,” a subject that at first glance sounded dull as toast to me.

    I was a townie kid. I lived in a suburban neighborhood with a grassy lawn and paved driveway. My concept of gardening went no further than fathers pushing lawnmowers and all us kids raking up mountains of leaves in the fall.

    Soil erosion, however, mattered to the student teacher because she had grown up on a farm.

    Eco-Education For Students
    These websites offer online eco-activities for students:

  • EPA for Students

  • NPS Web Rangers

  • 4-H for Students
  • The information she provided – and her various demonstrations – were clear, engaging, and informative.

    Sure, other popular initiatives of the era, such as the “Keep America Beautiful” and the “Smokey Bear” ad campaigns, contributed to my environmental awareness as a child, as did the seemingly endless supply of animal stories shown each week on The Wonderful World of Disney.

    However, there is a great difference between awareness and action. The key distinction between pro-planet PR campaigns and classroom lessons about soil erosion falls into the arena of DIY (do it yourself).

    As it turns out, I’ve never forgotten the student teacher’s science lesson. The time tested soil management techniques she taught have proved consistently useful throughout my life. I also grew up to teach my own children about protecting the environment. My kids were additionally so fortunate as to attend an elementary school that integrated environmental education into the curriculum.

    At EcoVillage in Los Angeles, porous sidewalk pavement and edible nasturtium ground cover is used to control erosion and better manage rain run-off. Photo © Laura Mauney

    At EcoVillage in Los Angeles, porous sidewalk pavement and edible nasturtium ground cover is used to control erosion and better manage rain run-off.

    Being “for” the environment, donating money to advocacy groups, driving fuel efficient or electric cars, installing solar panels, voting for pro-environment candidates, are all important actions.

    However, as with many causes, saving the planet from we-the-people is more likely to happen when ALL the people are engaged and wizened up to the how-tos of the game.

    As shown in the photos I’ve included in this article, a quick walk around my city block demonstrates the difference between property owners who know how to manage the land, and those who don’t.

    Educating adults into more sensible tree, plant and soil practices is a tough prospect and will probably require community or government help similar to the way New York City educates building managers into the art of recycling.

    Planting Trees Help Prevent Soil Erosion

    The trees shading this yard have been allowed to flourish into perfectly formed canopies that enhance the health of every plant in the garden, cleanse the air, and cool the property on hot days. The owner uses rocks to prevent soil erosion.

    Incorporating nature management into school curriculums for young children, however, potentially offers a more lasting impact that may ensure that sound environmental practices are passed along to future generations.

    Parents and teachers can help the process by advocating proactively to school officials for an environmental science curriculum in K-12 programs, and by expanding school gardening, tree planting and care, and other hands-on environmental projects.

    Read the next Chronicle…

    About Laura Mauney

    Laura Mauney is a writer who thinks she is a photographer. Professionally, she specializes in online marketing, and creating, organizing and managing creative assets and user-friendly information for websites. She is also a mother. Her photo blogs include Flowers in Urbia and Trees in Urbia.

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