Classroom composting

Do you remember how excited I got about getting compost bins in the Blake garden?  Well, imagine how excited I am now that we’ve actually started using them!

The compost bins get floors.

The compost bins get floors.

While clearing out the garden in the fall, we slowly started using the compost bins.  With advice from FoodShare’s compost guru, Mike, I bought some wooden boards for the bottom of the compost bins. The floors were originally just wire mesh, but Mike said that it’s easy to accidentally poke holes in the mesh when digging, so he recommended adding wooden boards to the floors. Done.

To help the worms and other compost critters make their way up to the compost in the bins, we also dug up the grass and soil under the bins a bit.  And then an activity which the kids loved: finding twigs and breaking them into pieces, as well as digging up a bucket full of garden soil and sprinkling it into the bin. I had read that starting off a new composter with sticks at the bottom helps with aeration. And adding garden soil introduces some microorganisms to help the composting get started.

Garden composting has begun!

Garden composting has begun!

Throughout the fall, we put some dead garden plants into the compost, while avoiding putting in seedy weeds – we don’t want the compost we get from here to be full of weed seeds!

But the biggest step in really getting this compost project rolling has been starting to collect compostables inside the school.  Since Blake has a daily snack programme, we’re starting to collect compost in the classes (before moving onto the lunchroom, where sorting gets more complicated…).  From the end of November till the holidays, Kayla and I taught classes how to collect compost in their classes, how to make sure only the right things are going in there, and how to take the compost outside to the bins in the garden.

A classroom compost kit.

A classroom compost kit.

First of all, each class got one of these fancy little compost kits. Each kit includes a metal compost bucket, two pairs of gloves, two compost monitor badges (kind of like hall passes for those taking out the compost), a rubber spatula (in case anything sticks to the inside of the bucket when it’s being emptied), some paper towel (in case of spills), and a spray bottle with water and vinegar (to clean the bucket once a week).

Then, of course, we had to teach the kids how to sort their wastes in the classroom. We want to make sure that the compostables end up in the compost bucket, and that we don’t end up with anything in there that shouldn’t be. As I said, we’re starting by just collecting compost in the classrooms, where the students get their daily snacks. In the classrooms, the teachers can help with the sorting, and there’s also a smaller variety of foods being eaten in the classroom than in the lunchroom, making sorting easier.

With the youngest grades (Kindergartens and grade 1s), we started by having a quick chat to define composting, and then played a game called “Worm Squirm” (from LifeCycles) to introduce and review what can and cannot go in the compost. Even though the youngest kids won’t be taking the compost out themselves, Kayla and I still took them for a quick tour of where the classroom compost buckets get emptied so that they have an idea of the whole process. While we took half of the class outside, the others played compost-themed “Memory” (where they have to match cards that are placed face-down, and then when they made a match, they had to say whether that item should go in the compost, recycling or garbage).

With grades 2-4, we again started with an intro discussion about composting and what can and cannot go in there (and why – i.e. we don’t want meat, dairy, etc. in the compost, because it would attract animals).  We also discussed why we are starting to compost at the school.  The kids were pretty excited to get started!  We played a little game-show style game, where the kids were in two teams and had to identify which items would go in which waste category. With the grade 5s and 6s, we had them work in small groups to fill out a question sheet about composting and waste diversion, which we then took up as a class.  After the intro activity, Kayla and I would take small groups of students through the procedure of emptying the classroom compost buckets into the outdoor compost bins (steps like monitoring the compost bucket to make sure there was no garbage in it, putting on gloves, letting the secretary know they were heading outside to empty the buckets, which outdoor bin to dump the bucket into, etc.). Not a very complicated process, but important to take them through it step by step. (The teachers and classes are figuring out the exact logistics of who will be taking out the compoast and when, based on what works best with their schedule and students.) While we were doing that, the other students were in class with the teacher and worked on making compost posters to put up in their class, which show what food items can and cannot be composted.

DSCN0246

Classes have clearly been collecting some good fruit and veggie scraps!

It was exciting doing these lessons from week to week, and seeing how classes we’d already worked with were clearly starting to collect compost and bring it out – there were always new banana peels, apple cores, etc. in the outdoor bins since the week before!

Compost in the outdoor bin. Yes, I'm taking close-up photos of rotting fruits and veggies...

Compost in the outdoor bin. Yes, I’m taking close-up photos of rotting fruits and veggies…

It’s also exciting to see others in the school want to get involved. While we expected each regular classroom to get involved in the project, I also had the ESL and French teachers ask for buckets for their classrooms, as the kids often have their snacks there. They also figured it would be a good way to introduce new and different vocabulary. A couple of grade 1 student teachers also took on doing a compost survey with the whole school, together with their students, as part of their data management unit. We compiled a small survey that was given to all classes, to make a basic assessment of what students already know about composting. (Ideally, it would be great to do this again in a few months or a year to see if  things have changed as a result of the school compost project.)  The grade ones will now sort and graph the data, which we’ll then be able to post on the garden/compost info board. It’s great to see interest about this project reaching outside of just what Kayla and I teach.

We’re still trying to figure out a good carbon source, for layering between the nitrogen-rich fruit and veggie scraps. Let me know if you have any ideas of what has worked well in your school or community garden. Also, winter isn’t exactly the ideal time to start composting, as there isn’t much action in there when it’s frozen, but hopefully come spring, there’ll be lots of critters eager to move in!

Happy growing (and composting)!

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