Composting With Kids

Cynthia Dermody
Toddlers & Preschoolers
15

green living guide

composting with kids

Photo by seakla

JoyeAustin was raised to throw the peels, skins, and ends of produce and other kitchen scraps in her family's garden long before composting became fashionable. Now this avid gardener is passing along the same organic and eco-conscious habits to her children, Sara, 2, Kristopher, 5, and 7-month-old Rose.

"Kristopher has been 'helping' for the past couple seasons," Joye explained. "At first, his assistance mainly involved stomping on seedlings, but he's a valuable asset now. Sara's main focus is to eat all the tomatoes she can get a hold of."

Composting is second nature to Joye, but she says even novices will find it easy once they get in the swing, plus it's also cheap and a great way to get toddler-aged kids involved in helping the earth.

Of course, you need to set up a composting process first. Here's what she suggests:

  • In your kitchen, have a bucket or pot where you add your scraps, including all fruits, vegetables, and nearly anything except meat, bones, or grease.
  • Use a lid to prevent fruit flies. You can buy a snazzy kitchen composting container from any gardening supply company, or just use an empty coffee tub.
  • Keep a pile of "brown" matter -- dead leaves, grass clippings, shredded newspaper, and non-woody garden clippings -- near your garden. This is your base.
  • Add to this your "green" matter, your kitchen waste. In a barrel or bag, keep some garden soil and moisture. You don't want your compost too wet, or else everything rots. You don't want it dry, or the microbes won't do their job.
  • You can also build a simple frame of wood, brick, or chicken wire. The fancy store-bought barrels and containers are designed to speed up the process and facilitate the steps you need to take, but aren't necessary.
  • A pile works, too, but you have to do the turning yourself and keep it covered with a tarp to generate heat. Turn your pile over no more than once a week.
  •  In a season's time, you will have dark, crumbly compost to feed your plants and enrich your soil with nutrients.

Ask your toddlers to help. "My son will carry the bucket out to the compost pile for me and he loves to give it all a stir with the spade," Joye says. "Everyone in the family is trained to NOT throw away banana peels and egg shells!"

In addition to composting, Joye is teaching her kids a general respect for the earth, and not littering is at the top of her list.

"There is nothing more disrespectful to our environment, and in turn, to ourselves, than throwing trash on the ground," she says. "I also teach them that the food we eat is grown from the soil itself, and so if we add all sorts of chemical pesticides, lawn treatments, and fertilizers to the earth, what kind of food can we expect to get out of it?"

In addition to gardening together, the family spends a lot of fun time outdoors, including hikes in the woods and going to the ocean, where her kids learn to appreciate the harmony and balance of nature.

"It's their responsibility to maintain that harmony and to not upset the balance," she says. "I want them to contribute to our global community in a positive way, and to be an active part in our local community as promoters of an organic, conscientious lifestyle. I believe it could make them and their own children healthier and happier people."

++What green lessons are you teaching your toddlers? Do they help with composting and gardening?

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