Getting Dirty: Five Fun Composting Projects for Kids
Have you told your kids the same thing?
It’s time to break the rules!
If you’re looking for a fun activity to get your kids outdoors, try getting dirty making fresh organic compost.
This article will show you five fun composting projects you can do with your kids.
The Dirt on Compost
Composting is very simple, costs virtually nothing and is one of the easiest outdoor family activities you can do.
Here’s some quick information to share with kids about the benefits and how-to’s of composting. I’ve also included a list of things that you can do with your kids to help make composting fun and educational for them.
The “behind the scenes” science is what makes composting pretty cool. All organic scraps or wastes break down over time. When nitrogen and carbon wastes are combined, tiny microbes, insects and worms help them to decompose.
What’s left is organic matter, or “humus,” a nutrient-rich medium that plants grow and thrive in. Compost comes from things you throw away every day and it costs nothing.
When you compost, you also reduce your carbon footprint on the Earth and help our fragile environment. To learn more about your family’s footprint, check out The Nature Conservancy for this easy interactive calculator.
What You Need to Make Compost
There are many great reasons to compost. It’s easy and the materials are readily available around everyone’s home.
1. Greens (Nitrogen): Collect produce scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, aquarium water (freshwater) and weeds that have not seeded.
2. Browns (Carbon): Add dried leaves, paper towel/toilet paper rolls, newspaper, cardboard, paper egg cartons and sawdust. Tip: The smaller the pieces, the faster they break down.
General rule of thumb. Maintain a 50/50 balance of browns and greens and you will be well on your way to achieving compost! There is plenty of research and information on ratio balance. Compost will happen regardless, so there is no need to do any complicated math.
3. Water: Without moisture, your compost pile will become too dry for the microbes and insects to do their thing. There should be a source of water nearby to keep the compost moist.
4. Air: Proper airflow will aid in the composting process. For larger compost piles, it’s best to stir it occasionally, exposing the inner layers to the outside air.
Make Composting a Family Affair
Now we get down to the dirty, fun part! Let me show you how my family shares in the joys of composting.
To help teach the kids about reusing and recycling much of the waste we produce, I make sure to involve them in every step of the process. They are thrilled to head out to our garden to do projects.
Here’s a list of 5 cool composting projects you can all do together.
#1: Make a Compost Bin
There are many solutions available for making a compost bin. You can use whatever you have on hand: discarded wooden pallets, cinderblocks, trash cans or even a plain old pile. Any these will work. For other great ideas, check out Organic Gardening and search for “compost.”
For this project, I will teach you to make a bin from wire garden fencing material. It’s an easy weekend project that’s fun for you and the kids. I used some that I had left over from last year’s garden, but you can buy some very inexpensively (under $20).
What You Need to Make Your Bin
- Wire garden fencing (36”x36” or 91×91 cm) available in most retail hardware stores and garden centers
- Wire cutters
- Safety glasses
Step 1: Wear safety glasses and gloves to unroll the fencing. Kids can help by holding it in place. Cut a 36” (91 cm) section, leaving enough wire to secure the bin together.
Step 2: Roll the section into a cylinder (cut edge to uncut edge). Bend the wires on the end you cut around the edges of the uncut side.
Step 3: Put into place and start adding waste to your compost bin.
#2: “Seek and Find” Compost Game
A great way to make composting fun for kids is to turn it into a game. We play this at home and the kids love it!
Step 1: Review the list of compostable materials, the browns and the greens they need to find. If you need a quick reference on what materials to use and what not to use, check out this handy guide (PDF) published by the EPA.
Tip: Create flash cards with pictures of what to look for. I’ve found this to be a very helpful visual.
Step 2: Create a chart with each family member’s name, with check boxes and dates for finding browns and greens.
It’s an easy way to track your 50/50 balance. If you see that they are collecting more greens, ask them to look for browns to even out your compost mix.
Step 3: Seek and find compostable waste! Give each kid an empty pail or sealable plastic bag (it can get messy!). Spend 20 minutes walking around the house—inside and outside—to look for materials to compost.
Step 4: Award prizes. At my house, each item the kids find is worth 1 minute of “screen time” on their electronic devices.
There are so many cool things about this game. Kids will go looking for materials everywhere…even outside! And they will do whatever it takes to win, like raking up leaves or grabbing the junk mail and newspapers to shred.
#3: Compost Bug ID
Once you get your compost started, you’ll want to turn it occasionally with a garden fork. This will help get air to the materials on the inside and speed up the decomposing process.
As it begins to break down, you will find all sorts of bugs and crawly things in the pile.
Let your kids take pictures of the bugs and look them up online together. It’s a great way to get kids outside to learn about nature. And it feeds their desire to play on the tablet!
#4: Give Your Compost Bin a Makeover
Decomposing waste may not be a focal point in your yard, but it doesn’t have to stick out like a sore thumb. Here are a couple of ideas that you and your kids can do to help dress it up.
Plant seasonal flowers and vines that can grow along the outsides of wire bins and add some visual color to your yard. Trim stray vines to keep it looking tidy and toss them right into the compost.
If you are using wood to support your compost pile, give it a coat of paint and let kids add their touches. Putting their hands in paint and leaving their mark all over the outside is just plain fun for them. It’s also like having kids’ artwork out in the yard too!
#5: Take a Compost Coffee Break
It may sound hard to believe, but composting can be addicting. Once you have seen the fruits of your labor you may just go a little compost crazy. Like me, you’ll always be on the lookout for more waste, wherever you go.
One good source is your local barista.
Many coffee shops will bag up coffee grounds for you for free!
Take your kids with you later in the morning and have them ask the barista for any left-over coffee grounds. Nine times out of ten, it works (as long as someone else doesn’t beat you to it!).
It’s also a great way to spend time out with the kids, get your morning latte and give your compost a mega-shot of nitrogen, all in one trip.
There you have it—5 great ways to get kids interested in compost while having fun and learning in the process!
A Pot of Black Gold
This compost bin project is a great way to introduce your kids and yourself to the fun of composting together.
Depending on the ratio of greens and browns that you’ve added to your pile, this compost project will yield itself in 4-6 months, just by filling your bin. For faster results, you can turn it with a garden fork once or twice a month to shorten the amount of time until you achieve the “black gold.”
You can also look into vermicompost, which opens a big can of worms on another exciting type of compost!
Once your compost is ready, you can use it to plant your favorite flowers, berries and vegetables. They will thrive in the nutrient-rich compost you made, all from items that would have otherwise made their way to the landfill.
Don’t panic if you make more compost than you can use. Just share it with family, friends or neighbors.
Or turn your black gold into a cool gift. Recycle an old pot. Add compost and some bulbs or flower seeds. Wrap it in some burlap with ribbon and you’ll have a great gift for grandparents or teachers.
Some Final Thoughts…
The most important thing about these five composting tips is that they provide a great way to spend time with your family while giving the environment a hand. And it’s pretty awesome to encourage them to get their hands dirty, too! (Shh…don’t tell Mom.)
What do you think? Do you teach your kids about composting? I’d love to see pictures of your composting project. Share what works in your family in the comments below.
Chris Sabbarese is a DIY gardener and landscaper with a passion for working in the yard and promoting green education. Chris enjoys connecting with growers everywhere via Corona Tools. Other posts by Chris Sabbarese »