How do you teach kids to compost?
Simple. You learn how to do it yourself, then make it part of your daily routine and family culture.
Composting is a great way to reduce your family’s waste, save money, and encourage your children to learn about nature and gardening. You’ll turn your food scraps and household organic matter into fertilizer instead of sending it to a landfill or a dump. You can use it in your raised beds or permaculture garden.
Since we’re an off grid family living off a remote highway in Canada’s far north, hauling garbage out to the dump is a pain. So we’re always looking for ways to minimize our trash. And because the soil quality here is poor, we’re learning how to add nutrients to the soil in our raised garden beds. Composting is a big help.
For the past two years, we’ve been composting indoors through the long winter months. Now that our two youngest are old enough to take on the composting chores, I decided to include composting as part of our off grid homeschooling routine.
Today I’m sharing these tips on teaching composting to kids at home, plus a Composting for Kids Free Printable Pack. You’ll find the link down at the bottom of the post.
What is Composting?
Composting is the natural process that occurs when organic matter breaks down into a granular material. This dark, soil-like matter is rich in nutrients and a valuable organic fertilizer for your home garden. Composting requires little to no investment, yet the payoff is huge. It saves money, reduces waste, and is a useful life skill to teach your children.
How to Teach Kids to Compost: 7 Tips to Get You Started
The easiest way to teach kids how to compost at home is to simply include it in your family routine. Use these tips to get started.
1. Teach Kids to Identify Compostable Materials
Your compost is only as good as your ingredients. So make sure you and your children know what can and can’t be composted. Compostable household materials include:
- fruit and vegetable scraps
- coffee grinds
- grass clippings
- leaves, twigs and branches
- coffee filters
2. Teach Kids What NOT To Compost
Once your children know what can get composted, show them what cannot go in the compost. If you add these materials, you’ll end up with a slimy, smelly mess. And if you’re composting outdoors, you could end up attracting unwanted visitors such as raccoons, neighbourhood dogs, foxes, and even bears.
Materials that should NOT get composted include:
- pet poop
- diseased plants or flowers
Even children as young as three or four years old can learn to identify what is compostable and what isn’t.
Tip: Post our “Can I Compost This?” printable on your fridge or kitchen wall for easy reference. It’s part of our Composting for Kids Printable Pack – link at the bottom of this post.
3. Countertop Composting is Easy
Make it easy for your kids to compost with a clearly identified compost container. Buy or make an indoor compost bin or pail.
Some people prefer a foot-pedal style kitchen garbage-can system. You’ll find them in your local hardware store or even online. Some models have three containers: one for trash, one for recyclables, and one for compost.
I loved the idea of this, but so did our yellow Lab Leo. As far as he’s concerned, a floor level compost bin is a bonus food bowl for him. So we decided to go with a countertop compost system.
At first, we had a stainless steel counter compost pail, but the charcoal filter didn’t seem to do much to keep the smell down. And it was annoying to have to replace them. Plus, it was difficult for little hands to lift the heavy lid.
Since we’re always trying to find ways to save money, we moved to a coffee can compost system. We just have a large coffee can on the counter right across from our kitchen garbage.
4. Make it Part of Your Daily Routine
As with most lifeschooling opportunities for kids, making composting a part of their daily routine from an early age is key to success. They’ll soon get the hang of putting apple cores, banana peels, vegetable scraps and eggshells into the compost before doing their dishes (hah!)
Related: Using Foraging to Teach
In our home, compostable scraps go into the coffee can on the kitchen counter. When it gets full, the kids dump it into our indoor compost bin (in the winter) or our outdoor compost bin (in the summer.)
5. Schedule Weekly Composting Activity and Learning Opportunities
Depending on where you live, you might get a deal on an outdoor composter.
In some parts of Canada, residents can take proof of residence to their local municipal office or waste disposal area and get a free or discounted outdoor composter. These easy-to-use big bins let you add your kitchen compost and yard waste to the top. As the compost “cooks” inside, it eventually turns into dark, soil-like material you can access through a little door at the bottom.
When you’re teaching your kids to compost, schedule weekly composting activities as a regular family chore you can all work on together. Depending on the state of your compost, this could be turning hot compost with a shovel, adding worms, or spreading it in the garden.
In addition to hands-on learning and lessons, composting also gives you an opportunity for many academic lessons. Depending on the age of your children, you could read picture books on composting, watch videos, complete unit studies, or do a science experiment. Scroll down the page for a list of free online resources to help kids learn about composting.
6. Fun With Worms: Vermicomposting With Kids
Let’s face it – fruit and vegetable scraps and coffee grounds might not appeal to all kids – or even all adults! When the “thrill” (and I use the term loosely) of composting wore off on our kids, my husband had a brainwave. It was time for worms.
One of our homeschooling friends gave us a tin of red wiggler worms. We released them into our indoor Rubbermaid compost bin and began our adventures with vermicomposting. It sits in our water tank room during the winter. Unless you live off the grid and pump your own water from the lake behind your house the way we do, chances are you don’t have a water tank room. That’s perfectly fine – just keep your compost bin in a room-temperature environment out of the reach of pets.
The kids were fascinated with vermicomposting. They spent hours watching the worms burrowing in and out of the fresh compost.
Adding red wiggler worms helped keep the odour down in our indoor compost bin. According to Red Wiggler Supply down in Vancouver, BC., one pound of red wiggler worms consume up to 1/2 pound of food scraps…per day!
7. Use Compost in Your Garden Containers and Beds
Once your compost is ready to use, it’s time to put it to use. Gather it in a pail, bin, or basket, and spread it in the garden with a small trowel. Work it into the soil. If you don’t have space for garden beds, start a container garden. This is a good way to introduce gardening to your children.
10 Links to Help You Teach Kids to Compost
Check out these free online resources for more tips on composting with kids.
- Texas A & M Extension – Composting for Kids
- Kids Gardening – Gardening Basics – Composting
- Environmental Protection Agency – Composting at Home
- University Corporation for Atmospheric Research – Kids’ Crossing – Nitrogen Research
- Learning to Give – Cool Kids Compost
- Meet The Greens- PBS – Izzy’s Kitchen Composting
- Gardening Know How – Composting With Kids
- QuietHub – Composting for Kids
- Homeschool Giveaways – Composting & Work Unit Study
- Homegrown Fun – Teach Kids About Composting Video
Do you compost? What’s your best tip? Let us know in the comments below.