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Waitaki pupils have loved getting their hands dirty over the past year, as they dig deeper into soil science.

A year into the Soil Your Undies programme, pupils from Five Forks, Maheno, Weston, Waitaki Girls’ High, Waitaki Boys’ High and Macraes Moonlight and Waikouaiti schools have learned how to monitor soil health, and the importance of healthy soils.

The programme has been deemed a success, with a further $40,000 in extra funding secured to ensure it would continue for another year, and roll out to another six schools, North Otago Sustainable Land Management Group (Noslam) engagement officer Bridget McNally said.

Half of the money was coming from the Otago Regional Council ECO Fund and the other half from the Curious Minds.

Soil Your Undies is a research programme that aims to help children understand and measure the health of rural soils by burying cotton undies.

“Soil your undies is a fun, engaging and hands-on way for students, teachers and the community to learn,” Mrs McNally said.

Noslam was trying to share knowledge about good land-management practices, “and those seeds need to be planted at an early age”.

The schools which had already taken part would take their learning further in the second year, while the new schools, which were yet to be finalised, ould start with the first year of the programme.

Maheno School Enviroschools leader and teacher Stella Macrae said the first year had been “great”.

“The kids have really enjoyed it. The practical application for us is keeping our actual gardens healthy and well . .Just trying to use what’s available to us, to practically apply what we are learning.

“This is learning for life.”

She said the learning was particularly relevant for children who lived rurally, and whose families were farming or propagating.

“They’ll go home with this.

“While it’s a hobby for some, for a lot, it’s more than that.”

Mrs McNally said a key part of the funding was the “teacher professional development”.

“To take them along the journey.”

Soil Your Undies project co-ordinator and science communicator Michelle Cox said she did not want to be making a lot more work for the teachers, so it was about integrating the learning into the curriculum.

A lot of the children had a base level knowledge already, by living rurally.

“It’s been really nice to work with them, and to do a lot of outdoors, hands-on activities, which are simple to use but very informative.”

In the first year, the children had buried cotton underwear and other strips of cotton in different places around the school grounds and left it to see how it would decompose. The further the decomposition of the cotton, the healthier the soil.

Mrs Macrae said this year was about learning what soil was made up of, and continuing to understand what was healthy soil, “and how we can go about achieving that ourselves”.

“But it’s also that scientific understanding, so not just having a surface level understanding deeper understanding has happened.”

Soil Your Undies Otago will be showcased at this weekend’s New Zealand International Science Festival.