Compost material makes plants grow healthy. I am not a fan of chemical fertilizers; I just want to grow my plants in an organic way. This is why I looked for ways on how to create great compost from a mixture of materials. Soon, my family and neighbours noticed my garden. They came over to visit me and asked me how my plants grew well despite being in an urban environment. Soon, many kids started helping me create compost for my plants! It was a fun and enjoyable experience! If you want to engage your kids in good gardening activity, why not turn them into compost makers! Here’s how to start composting for kids!
All of these activities are suitable for kids who are of primary school age, but the language and activities may be modified to suit smaller children.
Composting for kids is done to help kids understand what happens to our rubbish once it leaves our kitchens and lunch boxes. It also teaches them how to identify biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste and how we can use biodegradable waste in our compost bins.
Where does our rubbish go? We put it in the bin. What happens next? Where does it go? Rubbish that we throw away gets taken to a big rubbish dump (which we call landfill). What will happen to them? Some rubbish will decompose, become rotten, break down and will eventually ‘disappear’. This rubbish is biodegradable. Other rubbish doesn’t decompose (which means it stays at the rubbish dump forever). This is non-biodegradable.
Biodegradable rubbish will eventually disappear in the landfill but it will still emit greenhouse gases (methane) as it decomposes, and this is bad for our environment, as it pollutes the earth’s atmosphere.
If we reduce the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill, we can reduce the impact we have on our environment.
What ways can we reduce the amount of rubbish that goes to landfill? We can re-use it or recycle it. Some non-biodegradable material (glass, metal and plastic) is recyclable, which is why we put in the recycling bin to be used again in the future. This means it doesn’t get stuck in landfill forever.
What can we do with our biodegradable rubbish? Food scraps can be composted. This means recycling it in a way that doesn’t produce greenhouse gases. Rubbish can even be used as fertiliser to grow new plants. This is the time when composting for kids comes in.
Ask your kid to collect the rubbish they create from the food their family eats over one full day (wrappers, containers, tins, leftovers, fruit and vegetable peels).
Help your kid separate the rubbish you have collected into biodegradable and non-biodegradable piles. Discuss which items can be re-used, recycled or composted. What rubbish can’t be reused, recycled or composted? This is the rubbish that will go to landfill. Ask them for ways on how you can reduce your rubbish in the future. Choose items that can be re-used, recycled or composted such as choosing drink bottles rather than juice boxes, or choosing lunch boxes rather than plastic bags.
Once kids understand the term ‘biodegradable’, they will find out that this activity is a cool way of demonstrating the process of decomposition and how compost is made. This makes composting for kids easier.
Useful dialogue to introduce activity
What is compost?
Compost is from biodegradable materials, such as food scraps, grass cuttings, cardboard and straw that rot and decompose easily. Rotting happens when biodegradable waste is broken down by different organisms such as bacteria, fungi, worms and insects. These organisms use the waste as food and help to turn it into compost. When this process is completed, a brown crumbly mixture is left behind. It looks and smells like soil.
Composting is a natural process of death, decay, and re-birth. It is nature’s way of recycling.
Remove the label and rinse your soda bottle. Cut the top off the bottle (the end with the lid).
Throw a handful of soil into the bottom of the bottle. Follow this with a handful of food scraps. Repeat this process until the bottle is full, finishing with a layer of soil. Once your bottle is full, spray the bottle with water (it shouldn’t be too wet, but should be damp).
Place your composter in a sunny spot. When the top soil dries out, you should spray it with water to maintain a constant level of moisture.
Watch and wait as your food scraps decompose and turn to soil. You will need some patience – the whole process will take about 8 weeks. Take photos of the bottle once a week so that you can compare changes that take place from week to week. [A more advanced version of this experiment could include adding ‘green’ and ‘brown’ materials to your bottle, exploring the impact of nitrogen and carbon on the decomposition process].
A great follow-up to this activity is to build your own vermicomposter. Kids love worms! Building your own worm bin is a simple project that they can make an ongoing contribution to in the family home or in the school community. It’s an excellent way for kids to develop responsibility, take ownership and hopefully develop a love for building compost and using it to grow their own plants and food.
Follow my instructions for building a worm farm here. To add an extra element of fun, choose a container that they can decorate themselves, using colourful paints or stickers.
Once you have created your own compost, you may now observe the superior quality of compost while growing your own food and plants. If you have finished with all the activities, this will also mark the completion of the food/compost life cycle for your kids.
Take two similar sized pots. Fill the first one with regular soil and the second one with your compost. Next, plant a seed of the same variety in each pot. I recommend an edible plant because it makes you eat what you grow at the conclusion of the project. You should label the pots so that you will know which pot contains compost and which one contains regular soil. You should then place them next to one another on your verandah or in your garden because this ensures that both plants will grow under the same conditions.
Watch your plants grow and record the difference between the two plants. Which plant looks bigger, bears more fruit, or is tastier?
If you want to do these activities with some colourful pictures, light and sound, I would recommend the following books and clips which may help explain how to do composting in a fun and child-friendly way. I would love to hear any other recommendations which you may have, that I can add to this list!
Joanna Cole, Magic School Bus Meets the Rot Squad: A Book About Decomposition, (1995).
Linda Glaser, Garbage Helps our Garden Grow: A Compost Story, (2010).
Linda Glaser, Wonderful Worms, (1994).
Elise Gravel, The Worm, (2014).
Robin Koontz, Composting: Nature’s Recyclers, (2006).
Mary McKenna, Compost Stew, (2014).
Composting for kids – 5:56mns
Composting for kids with Peppa Pig (thrown in for younger kids) – 5:00 mns
Hannah is a passionate lover of plants and has a firm belief that even the darkest corners of the concrete jungle can be greenified. Her penchant for composting and bad plant puns led to the creation of the The Worm Monger, a website that allows her to thoroughly indulge all these passions.
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