Composting with Kids Made Simple
If you’ve been meaning to give composting a whirl, our step-by-step guide will help you turn it into a fun activity the whole family will love…
Want to make some small changes to help the environment but not sure where to start? Composting is a great way to reduce your family’s carbon footprint and teach your kids some important life lessons.
Here are a few great reasons to get into composting with your kids:
- It’s great for our planet: Our food waste can’t decompose properly in landfills where oxygen can’t circulate. As it breaks down, it creates a harmful greenhouse gas called methane that contributes to climate change and pollutes our groundwater. Research shows that composting at home for one year can save global-warming gases equivalent to the CO2 a washing machine produces in three months!
- It produces free fertilizer: Once you’ve bought your compost bin, composting is free and provides you with nutrient-rich, chemical-free fertilizer for your plants.
- It’s educational: It teaches kids how to reduce waste and care for our planet, it introduces them to science as they learn about decomposition, and it teaches them to be patient as they wait for the slow process to unfold.
An easy composting activity for kids
If you want to gauge your children’s interest in composting before setting up a full-size bin, get them to make their own micro composters.
What you’ll need:
- 1 wide-mouth glass jar with lid per child
- Food scraps (fruit and vegetable peels, meat-free leftovers, teabags, coffee grounds)
- Dry leaves
- Spray bottle filled with rainwater
Have your kids throw a handful of soil into their jars, followed by a handful of food scraps and dry leaves. Alternate layers until the jars are full, finishing with a layer of soil. Spray the mixture with water until it’s damp, but not too wet. Place the lids on the jars and poke holes in them to let air in.
Write each child’s name on their jar and place them on a sunny windowsill. When the top soil dries out, spray it with water. Take photos once a week or make marks on the jars to indicate the new “top.” In about eight to twelve weeks, you should have beautiful, nutrient-rich soil.
Starting a backyard compost bin
Ready for the real deal? Here’s how to start a full-size compost in your backyard:
What you’ll need:
- A compost bin
- Green material: Fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, teabags, fresh grass clippings, fresh garden trimmings, dead houseplants and livestock manure
- Brown material: Dry leaves, brown garden debris (dried plants, vines and stalks), Christmas trees, straw, twigs and pine needles
- A compost aerator or garden fork
What you shouldn’t put in your compost:
- Meat and fish (you can compost them, but they may attract critters)
- House pet manure
- Colored paper
- Inorganic materials
- Synthetic chemicals
5 steps to making great compost
1. Buy a compost bin
You’ll find a wide range of compost bins and compost tumblers in a variety of materials at your local garden center. Talk to a salesperson to determine the best bin for your family’s needs.
2. Choose the best spot
Place your bin in a spot that’s easily accessible for your family, sunny (but not in direct sunlight all day), level and well-drained. It should be placed on bare soil to allow worms and other beneficial organisms to get in. Turn the soil beforehand for best results.
3. Prepare your compost bin and add material
Get your kids involved in the compost bin preparation so they understand how it works:
- Start by placing 4″–6″ of twigs and dead plant stalks in the bottom of your bin to help with drainage and aeration.
- Add a layer of dead leaves.
- Add a thick layer of food scraps and fresh grass clippings or fresh garden trimmings.
- Add 1″ of healthy soil or finished compost.
- Add water until your materials are damp but not too wet.
Great work – your compost bin is open for business! Don’t forget to get your kids to wear gloves or wash their hands every time they handle the compost.
Keep a tub on the kitchen counter or in the fridge to collect your food scraps. Whenever it’s full, get your kids to empty it into the compost bin along with any other green material you’ve collected in the yard. Top the green material with a layer of brown material (keep a pile beside the bin for easy access). Sprinkle each new layer with water until it’s damp but not too wet.
4. Turn your compost
Every couple of days to couple of weeks (depending on how much time you have), turn your compost with a compost aerator or a garden fork. You can even buy kid-size forks and get the little ones in on the action! This will introduce oxygen and speed up the breakdown process. If your compost looks dry and isn’t breaking down, add more green material. If it’s too wet, sticky or smelly, add more brown material.
Once your bin is full, turn your compost once a week. Your compost should be ready in three to twelve months depending on your methods and materials. You’ll know it’s finished when it’s dark, crumbly and smells like earth.
5. Use your compost
Get each child to fill a small bucket with compost. Use it to sprinkle it on flowerbeds, add it to houseplants, mix it into garden soil or spread it on the lawn. You can also help them make compost tea by filling an old pillowcase with four cups of compost, tying the top and letting it soak in a garbage can filled with water overnight. The tea can then be used to water your garden and plants.
Composting takes some work, but it’s a fun, rewarding and enriching activity that the whole family can enjoy and feel good about doing.
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