composting with kids

With an early start to spring this year, I’ve stoked the compost bin already, mixing in dry leaves to get it back to a ratio of approximately two parts “brown” or dried material (leaves, in our case) to one part “green” (fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen). During the winter I added kitchen scraps to the bin whenever our small indoor bucket was full but only tossed in a layer of leaves when the leaf pile wasn’t covered with snow. Some larger masses of fruit and vegetable scraps froze all together. Once it all thawed, I was able to mix in more leaves. Now the contents of the bin are just wet enough to squeeze a drop or two of water out, which is the moisture level you want for optimal composting. I’ve noticed the composting microorganisms are now hard at work, generating heat in the process.  
The boys have been poking around in the compost too. Composting is a great way to introduce the concept of the earth’s recycling system while reducing the amount of solid waste that has to be hauled from our home. There are resources specifically for teaching children about composting, but for preschoolers, modeling is the primary method of instruction, I’d say (like so many other aspects of parenting). This activity allows you to introduce some science vocabulary too, such as the terms decay and decompose.
If you want to try it out, I’d suggest starting with a simple bin made from a trash can. The lid keeps the pests out – usually. We have two bins that we rotate, which is just right for handling all the kitchen waste for our family of four. When one is full, we let it compost while we fill the other. If one bin is empty, it’s easy to turn the compost by transferring it all from one bin to the other. 
Put a layer of dried leaves on the bottom, a thin layer of fruit and/or vegetable scraps, and then another layer of leaves. You can toss in a bit of dirt if you like, but it’s really not necessary, I’ve found. We just keep adding to to the bin whenever we have more scraps, mixing after each addition, until it is full. Once all the discernible bits of plant matter have been composted, you’ve got a dark, rich hummus that makes an excellent mulch or soil amendment. 
The University of Missouri Extension provides additional guidance on making and using compost.
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