Composting 101

English: A picture of compost soil
English: A handful of rich compost soil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The topic of composting is huge, and a pretty great jumping off point for about a gazillion subtopics.  From composting you could easily move to exploring different types of soils, composting critters, vermicomposting (composting with worms), the benefits of organic gardening, or waste reduction/conservation.  I’ll eventually post activities  on all these topics, but for today I’ll start with just a couple.

Before starting any of these activities, you may want to check out some of the activities here to introduce the topic of composting.

How to compost:

English: Materials in a compost bin.
Materials in a compost bin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • I like to start a small indoor compost so that students can frequently observe and record the changes occurring.  You can use a boot box and line it with plastic, or just use a plastic bin with a lid.  Introduce the recipe for compost:  half green material, half dry brown material, water, air, and microbes.  For the purposes of this indoor compost, for green material use grass clippings or green leaves.  For brown material, use hay, brown leaves, wood chips, newspaper, or sawdust.  Add a little bit of dirt from outdoors to add microbes to the bin.  Sprinkle with water and mix.  Place the lid loosely on top.  You have started a compost!
  • Periodically stir the bin and add water to keep it moist like a wrung out sponge.  Insert a thermometer and keep a record of the temperature of the material, also recording any other observations.  Use these rules to diagnose any issues:
If compost is damp, smells pleasant, but does not heat up, add more green material.
If compost was accidentally over-watered, add more brown material to help soak it up.
If compost smells rotten or like ammonia, add more brown material, stir well, and keep the lid off by an open window when possible.
  • Provide students with a list of possible green materials, brown materials, and materials that should NOT go in the compost, in case they want to start a compost at home.  Check out pages 14 and 15 of this website for a good list of greens, browns, and non-compostables.
  • Make a container to collect kitchen compost materials at home for home compost piles.
  • Read the book Compost Stew,  by Mary McKenna Siddals
  • Play this online game  where you must keep the microbe happy in the compost pile by adding appropriate ingredients
Compost Critters:
Yellow-spotted Millipede, Almond-scented Milli...
Yellow-spotted Millipede (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Watch the short video, Creatures of the Compost, to learn about critters that help the compost in an outdoor compost pile.
  • If you have one, explore the outdoor compost pile to find and examine compost critters.  Use this critter id form (on the last page of the pdf).  There is also a crossword puzzle at that link which can help when learning about compost critters.
  •  Alternatively, go to a forested area thick with leaf litter.  The leaves are decomposing and creating compost on the forest floor (although with less green material it takes much longer).  Split your class into groups, provide each group with a tray or bin, a shovel, a magnifying glass, and a critter id form.  Tell students to place a little of the leaf litter in their bin as well as a small shovel-full of the composted dirt.  I like to tell students to record/draw EVERYTHING they find, classify it as organic (it once was alive) or non-organic material and identify any critters found..  Expect students to find seeds, dead leaves, soil, rocks, roots, critters, and more.  Use the critter ID form (found on the last page of the pdf).

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow! What a terrific approach to composting with kids! I’m impressed with your well laid-out progression of activities to provide an introduction that’s thorough and informative yet simple and fun. Thanks so much for suggesting Compost Stew to read with students, and keep up the great work spreading a little green in the world, one apple core at a time…


    1. Thanks for your input! I really appreciate comments, being a new blogger who is unsure if anyone is really reading what I’m writing 🙂 So many resources make composting seem like such a complicated topic, but really it’s so easy and satisfying to do!


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