Guest Post – Compost in the Classroom

Being green has become an increasingly important topic both at home and in our schools. Children, even the very young, are being taught far different ways to do things than my generation was taught at the same age. My own children, ages 7 and 10, often correct me when I mistakenly throw something away that should have been put into the recycling bin, or forget to turn out the lights. Hopefully with this knowledge, the new generation will continue to help save Earth and make this a better place for future generations to live and enjoy.

I am pleased to welcome a guest blogger, Anthony Garcia, who has written an informative article that correlates perfectly to teaching our children (and teachers) new ways of living green.

Compost in the Classroom

Composting has been used for centuries to create a healthy, fertilized soil using the scraps and vegetable remains one has after cooking and eating. People in masters programs in education online, and traditional students of agriculture and science often compost on their own. However, the idea of bringing it into the classroom as an education aid is relatively new, and is gaining popularity as a way for schools to embrace a greener image. In addition, composting in the classroom can teach children first-hand about science and decomposition, as well as help prepare them for practical activities like gardening. The benefits keep growing, as children who garden and are more familiar with fresh vegetable generally grow up to be healthier than children who are unfamiliar with fresh produce. Here are some ways to create a lesson based on the idea of composting, as well as how to get students involved.

Getting Started
The basic supplies you will need include compost bins, which can either be built or purchased. Then, you simply layer dead matter, such as leaves, with fresh matter, such as freshly cut green grass and vegetable peelings. It is best to daily aerate and water the compost with a pitchfork or similar material. Obviously, this type of composting is an outdoor activity, although if you want to build compost for inside as well, you can make temporary indoor compost in a reseal able container.

How To Get Students Involved
If you want your compost project to be long term, getting students actively involved can be a tricky challenge. It might be helpful to rotate a core group of students who are involved in the compost on a rotating basis as part of the class. These students might tackles the daily tasks required to keep a compost pile, as well as serve as ambassadors to other students. Your class can even be a source of inspiration for the school, as school districts like Connecticut have discovered. For composting, a chance to head outdoors in the middle of a school day might refresh students and help them to focus.

Depending on the age group, composting might seem thrilling or boring for students. Younger children generally love outdoor activities, and if you have worms present in the compost you will have a hard time keeping elementary age boys away! However, teenagers might generally be less excited about the prospect. For this age, you may need to use some extra incentives like pizza to encourage enthusiastic participation.

Where To Get The Materials
If students eat lunch daily at the school, their food waste is probably sufficient for a classroom. Try to make it a habit for students to separate their organic leftovers like apple cores from paper and plastic products which should not go in the compost heap. If possible, speak to kitchen staff about keeping aside items like vegetable peels and coffee grinds to use in the compost heap as a school in Portland does.

What Students Will Learn
On the surface, students will learn about the chemical breakdown of organic ingredients. This ties in well with a science or biology lesson, and the study of the necessary ammonia and nitrogen to make the process work is very good for chemistry and ecology. In a class more focused on environmental science, students can understand how composting can help with erosion control as landfill cover and in the place of harmful pesticides and fertilizers for gardening. If there is the possibility for using the composted material in a garden, children will also learn how to grow flowers or vegetables.

It is clear that composting in a school setting can be a valuable learning tool. Whether for young elementary students or a high school science class, composting has ties to education, the environment and hands on learning. Though starting up and procuring student involvement may be a challenge, the benefits are worth it, and the costs are minimal for compost maintenance as supplies are readily found in every school’s cafeteria.

 Anthony recently completed his graduate education in English Literature. A New Mexico native, he currently resides and writes in Seattle, Washington. He writes primarily about education, travel, literature, and American culture.

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