Stories on teaching composting to kids, please?

karenfromhingham(6a MA)September 19, 2001

Hi to all! (And thanks, again, Spike!)

My 4 year old goes to a co-operative nursery school and I've got a background in education (reading but not early childhood, nevertheless..) Being an avid composter and seeing how much my son's gotten into gardening and composting these last years with me has got me thinking. I'm toying with the idea of starting a compost pile and related "lessons" at the school (or, rather, suggesting this). Parent input is welcomed there and the kids do have a small garden patch they started last year. It seems like a natural progression.

Have any of you done something like this? I'd love to hear stories, both good and bad.


- Karen

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Hi Karen. I'm about to start a class like that at a local school. I'm going for my master gardener certificate and I need 35 volunteer hours to be certified. So I thought the school would be a perfect place to teach kids the importance of gardening. They have a big backyard that was planted a few years ago and no one has touched it since. It will be a big job, but I am looking forward to it! Unfortunately the school sprayed chemicals and pesticides on the overgrown weeds, so we won't be doing much composting this year. Composting is so important and I think kids are the best people to teach, after all they are the next generation! We need somebody to take care of the earth! Working with kids can be trying, but you will be the one to get them into gardening, and come away with a lot of satisfaction! My own kids are actually starting to get interested in it, and it only took 8 years! So, I'm behind you all the way! Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 20, 2001 at 8:31AM
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karenfromhingham(6a MA)

Thanks, Marcie. And good luck w/your program. Some day, I hope to go for the master gardening certificate, too, but not until I get the time.

Anway, I find this age group a DREAM to work with. They are so enthusiastic to learn new things. And I have a hands-on lesson in mind where each kid is asked to bring a green or a brown in for the pile and we make the pile as we talk about it. Each kid gets to add his ingrediant, say what it is, and (best part) stir it up with the fork. We'll start out with a before and after demo (kitchen and yard waste = dirt!) and then make the pile.

I wonder, though, about pile maintenance and stuff like that. And alleviating administrators'parents fears of the binned pile attracting vermine, etc. (Mind you, I've been doing this for years and never have problems but I know some uninitiated folks have lots of fears about composting.) Would love tips on approaching this before it's a problem.

- K

    Bookmark   September 20, 2001 at 9:29AM
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My daughter's co-op preschool started a small compost pile when they built their new outdoor classroom (aka playground). It was a simple chicken-wire bin that received plant clippings and other yard waste, as well as left-overs and scraps from snack. The finished compost was used to top-dress the blueberry bushes that lined one side of the classroom/playground and a small vegetable plot. Since the veggies and blueberries are adjacent to the school's major outdoor play space, they can easily be integrated into the daily routine. For example, each class could bring out the orange peels, grape stems or whatever organic snack waste there was at play time.
The outdoor classroom was finished the last year my daughter was in preschool, so the berries and the compost were really just getting going when she graduated. The last time I drove by the school the blueberries were maturing nicely and looked like they will have a good crop of fruit next summer. (Blueberry muffin baking for snacktine!) The veggie plot seemed to suffer in our late summer drought here in GA, but that can be remedied next season. (As you know, a co-op is only as good as its members!)
As to the concern about vermin--our pile was relatively small, and we never saw any rodents or other harmful vermin that I know of--just earthworms and bugs, which can provide their own educational opportunities. Our school was pretty laid-back, however, and I'll bet some of the teachers could have even turned mice into a plus!
Good luck with your proposal. Since your preschool is a co-op, my suggestion is that the best way to make it happen is for you (and maybe some friends) to take responsibility for setting up the bin and maintaining it for the first year.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2001 at 4:21PM
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How about a wormfarm - indoors, no odour and fascinating.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2001 at 7:35PM
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maymo(6a MI)

Here is a link that may help.

Here is a link that might be useful: click here

    Bookmark   September 24, 2001 at 9:31AM
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maymo(6a MI)

Here is another link!

Here is a link that might be useful: lessons links

    Bookmark   September 24, 2001 at 9:33AM
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Bill_G(PNW OR)

Unfortunately we lived in apartments most of the period our children were growing up. We finally purchased a home after our first born had moved out and when our second boy was in 9th grade. However, our neighbor children do come over often. I've found that the younger they are the more fascinated they are with adult activities. They are uncertain how to entertain themselves. Our society no longer has chores for kids to be involved with daily. They have no interaction with real world processes and they never get to participate in things that are important. So they end up seeking direction from everyone hoping someone will accept their help. At least that's my theory on it.

I'm sure I frighten the heck out of the neighbors sometimes when I let a kid use grass clippers to trim edges and pruners to cut branches. I draw the line at letting a preschooler run machinery. But I've let kids turn the bolts on my truck and lawn mower when I'm servicing them. They are not strong enough to do any damage and I can correct anything they might do wrong. But I tell you what, a 3 year old is extremely proud he could take fender bolts out or spray paint my furnace grates. Even the knuckle scrapes and finger dings that happen whenever you work with tools is part of the experience that help them understand that actions have consequences.

So it is with composting. I am Mr. Bill to the kids. My pile is legendary. It gets to hundreds of degrees with almost fire inside according to young master Darius who is 5. His brother CJ corrects him and explains the actual temperature today is only 120 and there is no fire but bugs who make it hot. Their oldest brother Clay wants nothing to do with it. It stinks. If he needs money for some cause he knows I'll let him borrow the mower or do chores around my house. But otherwise, nope. Yuck.

Other kids come over too. And the more kids who show up, the more that come. There's this herd mentality that dictates acceptance. I've had 10 kids helping me sometimes. The last 2 years there have been no little girls. That may be a factor that the dominate girls have grown and are now approaching 9 where other social forces are at play. I am unfashionable with the females right now. I roll with the punches. I just go with it. They will grow up and new kids will happen upon my yard when I'm out there pulling weeds by hand or cutting flowers.

My suggestion is to keep plenty of hand tools, small shovels, and small buckets around. Things need to be their size so they can manipulate them and actually accomplish something. And be really patient. You may have to dig the dirt and let them haul it out and then cut flowers and then make compost and then do some watering and finally return to the hole you dug to transplant the rose. Phew. But they will appreciate the opportunity to help a real adult and do something that is important.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2001 at 9:46AM
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annp(z5 ME)

My uncle who is a Master Gardener set up a worm bin in an aquarium for a children's exhibit at a local Garden show. A lid with holes (screen?), much dry bedding, and a light-impenetrable cloth cover would seem essential. Over feeding would be a problem and dry bedding would have to be added fairly regularly since you would have less air holes for moisture release than the usual worm bin has. Worm bins are a breeze and all the ingredients that go into an outdoor compost bin can go into a worm bin, excepting citrus. I've never had fruit flies in mine, but I had a lively flock (herd, pack?) of slugs once with my first gift bin. The slugs laid little round white eggs and were almost (not quite)(no where near) as enthralling as worms.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2001 at 5:59PM
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karenfromhingham(6a MA)

You guys! What great stories and ideas.

David - Thank you for your description and advice. Taking charge of the pile for the first year is a good suggestion and probably necessary. At this point in the year, I think I'll need to start approaching this to do when my younger son enters the school in a few years. By then, I'll have a plan in place and can approach the school before the academic year begins.

Bill - I wish I lived in your neighborhood. In my experience, your theory about 9-year old girls' social forces are correct. But there's a good chance at least one will come back when she's older. Or, at the very least, what she learns from you will be with her always and she'll find herself gardening in her adulthood, whether she remembers why or not. That's kind of how I got started.

Ann - I love the worm-bin-in-an-aquarium idea! THAT is something I think I can do for this year. Each parent is responsible for 2 "parent days" per year and, for the older kids, parents are encouraged to come and teach or share something. A worm-o-rarium would be perfect, fun, and might grease the wheel for the compost bin concept by establishing me as "that women who's into dirt and stuff."

Thanks, all. Anyone else, feel free to keep adding here. Good stuff.

- Karen

    Bookmark   September 25, 2001 at 9:56PM
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Should have posted this link with my earlier post.

Here is a link that might be useful: Inman Park Coop Preschool

    Bookmark   October 26, 2001 at 9:46AM
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Pre-schoolers (actually children up to about age 12!) aren't well able to wait long periods for composting to take place. My favourite composting method gives usable compost in about six weeks, no turning or forking required.
You'll need an iron drum with no ends. Stand it upright on bare ground. Get yourself a remnant of carpet and a couple of bricks. Trim the carpet so it well fits the drum.
The composting secret is layers. Layers of close-lying vege matter intermingled with bulky stuff that has air gaps. I've used vege garden trimmings (cabbage stalks, carrot tops, etc), egg shells, baby food cans (they add minerals), lawn clippings (always an airy layer above and below), raked leaves, (a friend used sea weed for more minerals).
No cooked veges, no meat goods. When the kids have a daily fresh fruit snack, the parings and leavings can be dropped into the top of the drum each day. Leftover cookies too!
When first set up, dowse it with the hose, and cover it with the carpet. (The bricks stop wind from carrying off the carpet, and contain any odour.) Rain will naturally stop it drying out too much (it can run through the carpet).
After five or six weeks, you can push the drum off centre (not right over!) and check the compost at the bottom of the drum. Scoop out what's ready. Anything not completely decomposed can be returned to the top of the drum to have another go. Just remember to let air gaps be.
Worms coming up out of the ground into the lower reaches of the composting drum are a good sign it's doing what it should.
When mine is working well, I can take compost every weekend. Not great quantities, but enough for a shrub here, a plant row there...

Don't forget a field trip to a commercial compsting company plant, that is always a good way to let kids see the importance of what they're learning.
Have Fun!

    Bookmark   October 29, 2001 at 8:40PM
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Good garbage breaks down as it goes
That's why it smells bad to your nose
Bad garbage grows and grows and grows
Gaaaa-arbage is supposed to decompose!!
Greast song, huh? It also has sign language to go along with it, and it's really fun to get a whole room of kids singing this.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 30, 2001 at 12:30PM
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