by Maureen Ryan Thorpe
For K-2 kids, nothing is more fun than digging in the dirt. So why not turn a messy playtime activity into a fun lesson on sustainability?
A composting experiment is a great tool for teaching children ways to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. They’ll be amazed to find out that our leftover food will magically transform into soil! Best of all, these enriching experiences instill lifelong sustainable practices in young children right from the start. With a bit of help from parents or teachers, the following composting projects for K-2 students can help kickstart the process.
1. Build a soilarium and watch the soil grow
Think of a soilarium as a mini solarium, but instead of a large glass sunroom, you’re using a small see-through container. A mason jar or 2-liter soda bottle will do the trick. Follow these quick and easy steps from Tom’s of Maine to create one. Every two weeks, mark a line to show the “new” top as nature does her work and the contents settle. Be sure to label it with the date, so students can watch the progress of their microbes. Before their eyes, the organic matter will turn into a nutrient-rich soil that in about 12 weeks will be ready for a springtime garden.
2. Create a worm garden where kids do the composting
Kids will be delighted when you tell them that worms can turn organic waste into a rich fertilizer, called worm castings—aka “worm poo.” Worm farming, or vermicomposting, is the process of raising worms to create a natural, nutrient-rich compost you can use in your garden or on plants at home. It’s a fun composting project to do with your K-2 students and requires minimal materials. You can purchase compost worms online or from an existing worm farm. Foam vegetable boxes or coolers work great. You need two boxes for this project.
- Poke holes in bottom of first foam box, the “feeder box,” where the worms live and feed.
- Half fill the feeder box with worm bedding: bucket of compost, shredded paper or straw.
- If you use paper or straw, wet it first, then squeeze out excess water.
- Scatter a handful of worms on top of the worm bedding.
- Soak the newspaper in water and lay it on top of the worm bedding to keep the worms’ home dark and moist.
- Place the feeder box on top of the second box with no holes to collect the worm poo.
- Place your worm farm in a shady spot in summer and a sunny spot in winter.
3. Start the composting lessons at home
The easiest way to teach kids how to compost at home is to simply include it in your family routine. Ask your child to monitor the compost in your compost bin and regularly mix the contents while ensuring there is no excess water. Your child can add new organic waste periodically and check if the bottom layers are ready for use. Establish a schedule of chores for each member of the household to include composting tasks.
Once your compost is ready to use, it’s time to put it into action. Have your child place the soil in a pail, bin or basket and spread it in the garden with a small trowel. If you don’t have space for garden beds, start a container garden. For city dwellers, a community garden is a great way to introduce gardening to your children. You can also find out if your local farm offers composting programs (for service hours and compost contributions) like the one seen here at NSTEM resource, Barrington Farm School.
Do you want more resources on the topic of composting? NSTEM’s vast resources database provides thousands of STEM resources that are searchable by category, school level and state. This comprehensive library includes info on enrichment activities, curricula, internships, scholarships and more. Check out a free sampling here. Or get an NSTEM membership today to unlock the complete list.
K-2 is where it all starts with STEM Education. The National STEM Honor Society focuses on “From K to Career, NSTEM from the Start!” To start your K-2 Chapter of the National STEM Honor Society, click here.