Composting – What and Why?

Composting is a mesmerizing way for children to learn about the cycling of matter – and the actual continuity that exists between dead and living materials!  As fruit and vegetable scraps (left over from their lunches) feed earthworms and other small beings, the youngsters will be able to see and detect distinctive physical changes. These include color changes, fragmentation, and some odor (this should not be too strong or offensive if the composting is being done correctly). The dead plant materials will be gradually transformed as they are eaten by various small creatures (see the “Citizens of the Soil” coloring page) including bacteria and fungi. The materials will be be transformed as they are ingested and travel through the earthworms’ digestive tracks, and as they mold and are broken down by various microscopic beings. The rinds, discarded crusts, and broccoli stems will become – eventually – dark, rich, pleasant smelling humus. 

This material will be further transformed when the children add the finished compost to their garden. It will become part of the topsoil.  Of course from this point forward, it will become gradually incorporated into the living tissues of both the growing plants and the other beings within that vibrant garden ecosystem. Matter’s journey – its cycling and recycling – continues. What was dead, can contribute to the growth of the living. It can actually become part of life again.

All this is truly awesome – both thought provoking and encouraging.  The children’s nimble minds (and hearts) quickly move beyond initial disgust at the decomposing vegetables and squirming earthworms.  Soon they are vocalizing  wide-ranging – and often comforting – speculations about the implications of this entire (and very ancient) process of material cycling and energy flow.

Here’s a coloring page that you can use with children of various ages (and even with adults) to convey some of the essential technical science and reasoning behind composting – an earth-care practice that deserves to be fostered by us all!

Click on the following PDF title for the initial black and white coloring page: Basic Composting EB

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