Thursday, May 15, 2014

Composting with Kids

In this guest post Mary Dudley from the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati explains how less is more when teaching children about composting.
As the Youth Education Coordinator at the Civic Garden Center I have a bit of experience gardening with children. Inevitably, when you garden the pulled weeds and spent flowers have to go somewhere and a compost pile is born. The concept of time is rather abstract for most young children and the thought that when they toss their apple core into the pile worms will eat it, digest it, and the result will be nutrient rich compost they get to TOUCH and add to the garden sparks an excitement that is contagious.
Photo provided by the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati

I leave out the fact that this process will take months if not years to complete. But our compost bins have been going strong for a decade so there is always something to dig into. Many people ask me what sort of bins and methods we use with the children and I suppose they expect some grand design to be described. When I tell them we really just toss it in a pile and start a new one the next year, I tend to get some cocked heads and furrowed eyebrows.
“You really just pile it up? No tumbler shaped like an animal? No fancy viewing area?”
While these products do exist and I’m sure are a big hit with children, I like to go old fashioned and use the compost area as a model of what happens in the forest. The leaves fall and no one rakes them. Bacteria, fungi and microorganisms feed on the dead leaves and moisture is added when it rains. The breakdown of leaves happens fairly rapidly in our Ohio forests with our humid weather.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that COMPOST HAPPENS whether you have a fancy tumbler or just toss your garden scraps in the corner.
As an environmentalist I secretly revel in the act of tossing unwanted items in the pile, it almost feels like I’m doing something naughty. When teaching children, I stick to the simplest method and they can take that lesson home and start their own pile, no materials needed! Keeping our plant waste out of the garbage is our gift to the Earth and there’s really nothing stopping all of us from doing our part.
If you have children who are interested in gardening or a teacher who may enjoy taking their students on a Compost Kids field trip, feel free to contact me at and we’ll connect you with information on our free programs.

Happy Gardening!

Mary Dudley

Photo provided by the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati

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