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Learning Through Play: What Can You Compost?

Apr 9, 2015

To compost or not to compost? That is the question, isn't it? With Earth Day approaching, we have ramped up our discussions on how we can take better care of our planet. The kids love to brainstorm ways in which they can be better earth caretakers, so when the subject of composting popped up, they were more than eager to learn more about it.

What exactly IS compost, they wondered. I asked them that same question right back. What does "compost" mean? The answers were varied, some close to the mark, some way off the mark. In the end, we compared compost to feeding our plants a healthy smoothie, full of vitamins and nutritious goodies so the plants can grow big and strong, just like we would do for our own bodies. If we neglect to feed ourselves a healthy diet, we won't grow very well, will we? Our plants are the same. They need a healthy diet also. Compost is a health smoothie for plants. So we take our leftovers and some of our recycling and instead of throwing it away, we compost it! And the worms are the compost helpers, they can munch away on the items in the bin and poop them out to enrich our compost! And yes, talking about worm poop was the highlight of the whole discussion with the kids, let me tell you!


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To help the children create a visual for composting and what goes into it, I laid out a variety of toy food from our play kitchen, along with items from our recycling box, and some rubber worms. I also filled a recycling bin with some top soil and a few toy garden tools. I wrote the question "WHAT CAN I COMPOST?" on the table and designated a NO spot and a YES spot.

A chalkboard table covered with a variety of food toys, recycling and objects as well as a recycling bin filled with a layer of soil and a few garden toys. On the table, in chalk, is written

We talked about what kind of things can be composted and what kind of things cannot. Our list of good composting items included egg shells, top soil, nut shells, paper, wood chips, fruits and veggies, cow and horse manure, cotton and wool rags, hair, pet hair, coffee grounds, cardboard, grass clippings, pine needles and dryer lint. Our list of non-compostable items included fats, oils, wax, meats, dairy, cat or dog poop, metals, and plastics.

The children took turns choosing an item from the centre, identifying the item, and then we asked ourselves, "Can I compost this item?" If the answer was "yes", the item went in the bin with the potting soil. If the answer was "no", it was placed outside the bin in the "no" pile.

A little girl, standing next to the table, examining the pile of objects sitting on it.

There were some very big decisions to be made for these eager little minds. They analyzed each item and we had a thorough discussion of each one. The pizza was placed in the "no" pile because of the dairy and the meat, the doughnut because the children thought it had too much fat to be healthy for our compost bin. And bubble wrap? Well, of course "no", because worms would not want to eat plastic!

A child's hand holds a small piece of bubble wrap over the table.

Once all the decisions were made, we had created our very own compost play bin! We took the bin outside on the patio and the kids began an afternoon of rich, imaginary, worm-filled sensory play.

A child is dropping a rubber worm into a paper-towel tube inside of a bin filled with soil and

The worms were named and fruit playgrounds were built, along with paper tube slides and egg carton patios and cardboard houses. The worms nibbled on the veggies and burrowed in the soil, all the while, creating "pretend compost" for my garden.

A pile of

Helpful Hints:

1. Our worms are actually fish lures.
2. I purposely added items like tissue paper rolls, popsicle sticks and raisin boxes to the pile of compostable items to promote imaginative and fine-motor play.
3. The cloth food items can be placed inside of a pillowcase, tied and then tossed into the washing machine to clean off the potting soil.

Article Author Arlee Greenwood
Arlee Greenwood

Arlee is an Early Childhood Educator, earning her degree at BYU Idaho. She runs a government accredited care center in her home in Red Deer, AB. She studied with the New York Institute of Photography and she owns her own photography studio. Arlee is a mother of 6, an aspiring yogi, a lover of books, bento box lunches, travel, good food and wine. She’s a blogger in her “spare time” and she will never say no to chocolate. Find her at Small Potatoes, on Twitter and on Facebook.

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